Maloya: Performing Reunionese Identity


Maloya is a vernacular style of dance and music, born in the former French colony of La Réunion at the time of slavery. Slaves from Madagascar, Africa, indentured labourers and workers from India, China and France brought by the French colonisers to the sugarcane plantations led to a diverse mix of ethnicities, languages, customs and beliefs – the roots of Reunionese Creolisation.
Maloya is a multicultural artform gathering of ancestry, slavery, resistance, resilience, reconnection. This unique communication system, which consequently alienated the French colonial authorities and landowners was unofficially banned until 1981. Accordingly, the importance of acknowledging the past and preserving the cultural heritage by passing this artform from one generation to the next is significant. In 2009 maloya has been recognized by UNESCO as pertaining to have intangible cultural heritage value. At a glance, the dance invites the body parts to converse with each other similarly to the different ethnicities in contact on the plantations. The music, rich of various intertwined influences, uses complex rhythms with call and response patterns and melodic intervals. I argue that Maloya embodies the spirit of the Reunionese identity. Through a practice-led research methodology including research methods from autoethnography and artography I investigate how this powerful symbol of freedom from colonial oppression is a celebration of multicultural contemporary 'postcolonial' La Réunion. I investigate how performing maloya dance and music means to perform Reunionese identity/identities.

Author Information
M-Muriel Hillion Toulcanon, Edith Cowan University, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: IICEHawaii2020
Stream: Challenging & Preserving: Culture

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon