Highfield, Jonathan Bishop

  • Jonathan Bishop Highfield
  • Literary Arts and Studies, Rhode Island School of Design
  • Abstract Title: Riding the Indian Ocean’s Waves: Displacement of People and Movement of Food Across Four Continents

Abstract: The trans-Indian slave trade and its successor, the trade in indentured workers, transformed the regions bordering on the Indian Ocean in the 17th-20th centuries. The transportation of the first enslaved people by the Dutch to South Africa creates both the apartheid “Coloured” designation and Cape Malay food, perhaps one of the first fusion cuisines, as the enslaved combine foodways from their homes in India, Java, the Philippines, supplement the ingredients from their homes with Khoi-Khoin knowledge of local ingredients and the uniqueness of the terroir, as demonstrated in works by Rozena Maart and Zoë Wicomb. In their novels, both Lindsey Collen and Amitav Ghosh unpack the ways cultures and cuisines overlap with the influx of indentured workers and their overseers in Mauritius. In The Buru Quartet, Pramoedya Ananta Toer illustrates how Chinese laborers transform the Dutch East Indies in the early years of the 20th century, bringing newspapers, food customs, and unionization to the attention of the local population of the Indies. All around the Indian Ocean, from the east coast of Africa to the north shore of Australia, from the region bordering the Red Sea to the Bay of Bengal, the mengelmoes of cultures caused by forced transportation creates new ways of living and eating.


Bio: Jonathan Bishop Highfield is Professor of Literary Arts and Studies and Graduate Program Director for Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies at Rhode Island School of Design and is the author of Food and Foodways in African Narratives: Community, Culture, and Heritage (Routledge) and Imagined Topographies: From Colonial Resource to Postcolonial Homeland (Peter Lang). His writing on postcolonial ecocriticism and foodways has appeared in numerous book and journals. He teaches courses on postcolonial literature and food studies and enjoys cooking.