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Sugar and spice: Wealth accumulation and the labour of Indian women in Fiji, 1879-1930

This thesis examines the connection between the fact of 'femininity' of Indian women workers and the accumulation of wealth in Fiji over a period of fifty-one years, 1879-1930. This was the period during which sugar became the country's number one revenue earner. It is argued that Indian women's centrality to the (re)production of capital and labour stemmed from the exploitation of their labour on plantations and farms. As coloured indentured workers Indian women produced surplus for white industrial planters, and as unpaid domestic workers, they produced goods and services for Indian men. In turn, the surplus that women produced for free in the domestic arena enabled the white planter and miller to depress the wages paid to Indian men in the sugar sector and to create stability for male workers. Thus Indian women's labour in both public and private spheres created wealth which accumulated in the hands of both a class of non-producers and men. Using an array of theoretical debates derived from Marxist Thought, Feminist Theories and Race/Third World Analyses, and fieldwork examples I argue that between 1879 and 1930 the awareness that Indian women possessed certain physiological and social attributes encouraged both white and Indian men in Fiji to exploit these women in such a way that money was made out of exchanging the products of their labour as well as their bodies as merchandise. These exploitative practices were submerged under a multitude of oppressive ideological messages, much of which had originated in other social and spatial contexts. The recipients absorbed messages of dependency that extolled the virtues of heterosexual coupling within which male dominance was seen to be in the interests of women. The private/public split, which relegated men and women to different areas of work, was maintained on the basis of power, violence and control over paid work by men. Despite these obstacles however, Indian women in Fiji continually resisted all attempts to control their bodies and wrest the products of their labour from them. The struggle between men in the Colony and Indian women for the possession of Indian women and the products of their labour forms the substance of this thesis.
Type of thesis
Shameem, S. (1990). Sugar and spice: Wealth accumulation and the labour of Indian women in Fiji, 1879-1930 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12119
The University of Waikato
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