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Burkhard Schnepel

The Art of Hubbing: Port Louis (Mauritius) and its Role in Transregional Connectivity across the Indian Ocean

Max Planck Fellow: Burkhard Schnepel

Burkhard Schnepel in the harbour of Port Louis, Mauritius. Zoom Image
Burkhard Schnepel in the harbour of Port Louis, Mauritius.


For many centuries now, the Indian Ocean has been traversed in all directions by vessels not only circulating and transporting human beings and goods of many different kinds, but also spreading religions, ideas, ideologies, political systems, technologies, languages, flora and fauna, and unfortunately also waste and diseases. While some of these issues have been well studied by historians, geographers, anthropologists and other scholars with great enthusiasm and scholarly expertise, the particular modes of circulating ‘things’ and the various translations in meaning and function which take place before, during and after such journeys need to be considered further and in greater depth.

This research project proposes to do this by showing greater awareness and consideration of the seminal and salient roles of small islands and their port cities. It will be argued that some of these functioned as important transregional hubs in these processes of networking, translating and circulating. In order to substantiate my argument empirically, I shall use as a paradigm the example of the island of Mauritius in the southwest Indian Ocean and its principal port city, Port Louis.
 

Political Map of Mauritius(Source: http://www.weltkarte.com/afrika/mauritius/landkarte-mauritius.htm - Public Domain Map) Zoom Image
Political Map of Mauritius
(Source: http://www.weltkarte.com/afrika/mauritius/landkarte-mauritius.htm - Public Domain Map) [less]


My research is based on the basic idea that it is the raison d’etre or, in other words, the prime function and the most basic character of this island/port city to function as a ‘hub’. By ‘hub’ I mean a knot in a network of transportation systems (including the transportation of information and knowledge through the WorldWideWeb), that is, a knot in a global stream of human beings, things, finances, ideas and pieces of knowledge. By ‘hubbing’ I mean the activities and movements which this knot or hub organizes, triggers, sets in motion and keeps going. By ‘art of hubbing’ I mean the special expertise and capacity to be a hub and/or to hub successfully. Port Louis and Mauritius as a whole are, I argue, masters in ‘the art of hubbing’.

In order to substantiate this claim, I intend to do research in various forms and dimensions of the Mauritian ‘art of hubbing’. All of these, I argue, made use of and transferred the most basic and prime form of hubbing in Mauritius, which I call ‘maritime hubbing’, into other fields and dimensions. From the very beginning of its inhabited existence, starting in earnest in the eighteenth century, the island functioned as a port of call for ships traversing the Indian Ocean, mostly to and from India. It functioned as a stop-over to rest and refresh both men and ships, giving them a break, a haul-up, and to refurbish the latter with food and water for the long and arduous journey ahead.
 
This basic capacity of ‘maritime hubbing’ was constantly refined and extended, and consequently being made use of outside the maritime world as well at various levels and in different domains or dimensions of socio-cultural, technical, economic and political life. Thus, the island was not just a port of call and not just well-versed in the art of ‘maritime hubbing’, but, closely connected with this kind of hubbing, it developed its skills in the art of ‘mercantile hubbing’. Armateurs, traders, merchants and, last but not least, pirates were always ready to bring goods on to the island and sell them from there. These combined maritime and mercantile dimensions of the art of hubbing need to be considered as the first and most basic aspect of the island’s expertise in this art. These are, as it were, the two most essential and twinned forms of hubbing that lie at the base of all others.

In my project, however, I also wish to investigate several other, derived dimensions in the art of hubbing, namely ‘communicative hubbing’, ‘human hubbing’ (‘individual’, ‘family’ and ‘ethnic’), ‘knowledge hubbing’, and, last but last but not least, ‘financial hubbing’.

For further information I can be contacted at burkhard.schnepel@ethnologie.uni-halle.de or see under http://www.ethnologie.uni-halle.de/personal/burkhard_schnepel/

 
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