Calling my Children Home

Our American Journey

Today I have listened with great pleasure to a Chanticleer CD called Our American Journey. Of the 18 songs on the CD I was particularly attracted (maybe because I was in the mood) by the song titled ‘Calling my Children Home’ (in the arrangement of Joseph Jennings). Music expresses both hope and deep longing, but also a shadow of despair rooted in uncertainty. The words of the song, which I have pasted below, express the hopes of parents towards their beloved children, that they turn out well, after all the investment parents made in them; though, there can be no guarantee. I guess one has to be a parent to be able to grasp this strange combination of joyful and tragic thoughts.

To my unprofessional judgement, the best interpretation of this song I could find on YouTube (there is none by Chanticleer, unfortunately), is one by Ifield Community College Choir, in Crawley, UK, performed at Birmingham Town Hall, on the occasion off the National Festival of Music for Youth, in July 2010. The song is dedicated to the tragic struggle of the Chagossians for their legitimate right to return to their ancestral home. You don’t know who they are? I didn’t either, But I know now, and I will tell you, at the end of this post, after you listen to the song.

Music and words attributed to:
Doyle Lawson, Charles Waller, and Billy Yates
from “The Country Gentlemen” around 1950’s

* * *

Those lives were mine to love and cherish,
to guard and guide along life’s way.
Oh, God forbid that one should perish,
that one alas should go astray.

Back in the years with all together,
around the place we’d romp and play.
So lonely now, I often wonder,
oh, will they come back home some day?

I’m lonesome for my precious children,
they live so far away.
Oh, may they hear my calling
and come back home someday.

I gave my all for my dear children, t
heir problems still with love I share.
I’d brave life’s storms, defy the tempest
to bring them home from anywhere.

I lived my life, my love I gave them,
to guide them through this world of strife.
I hope and pray we’ll live together
in that great glad here after life.

* * *

The Story of the Chagossians

The Chagossians (also Îlois or Chagos Islanders) are the previous inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, British Indian Ocean Territory. The Chagossians resided in the islands of Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos, and the Salomon island chain, and had settled in other parts of the Chagos Archipelago, like Egmont Islands and Eagle Islands. Most of the Chagossians now live in Mauritius and the United Kingdom after being deported from their homeland by the British government in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This mass deportation was carried out so that Diego Garcia, the island where most Chagossians lived, could serve as the location for a military base shared between the UK and the United States. Today, there are no Chagossians that live on the island of Diego Garcia, as it is now the site of the military base Camp Justice.

The Chagossian people’s ancestry is mostly of African heritage, particularly coming from Madagascar, Mozambique and other African nations including Mauritius. There is also a significant proportion of Indian and Malay ancestry. The French brought some to the Chagos islands as slaves from Mauritius in 1786. Others arrived as fishermen, farmers, and coconut plantation workers during the 19th century.

The Chagossians speak Chagossian Creole, a mix of Indigenous languages and French-based creole language and part of the Bourbonnais Creole family. Chagossian Creole is still spoken by some of their descendants in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Chagossian people living in the UK speak English.

The Archipelago later passed to the control of the United Kingdom and came to form part of the Colony of Mauritius.

In 1965, as part of a deal to grant Mauritian independence, the Chagos Archipelago was split off from the Colony and came to form the British Indian Ocean Territory. The territory’s new constitution was set out in a statutory instrument imposed unilaterally without any referendum or consultation with the Chagossians and it envisaged no democratic institutions. On April 16, 1971, The United Kingdom issued a policy called BIOT Immigration Ordiance #1 which made it a criminal offense for those without military clearance to be on the islands without a permit.
Abandoned church at Boddam Island, Salomon Atoll.

Between 1967 and 1973, the Chagossians, then numbering some 2,000 people, were expelled by the British government, first to the island of Peros Banhos, 100 miles (160 km) away from their homeland, and then, in 1973, to Mauritius (For the relationship between the Chagos Archipelago and Mauritius, see Chagos Archipelago). A number of Chagossians who were evicted reported they were threatened with being shot or bombed if they did not leave the island. One old man reported to Washington Post journalist David Ottaway that an American official told him, “If you don’t leave you won’t be fed any longer.” BIOT commissioner Bruce Greatbatch later ordered all dogs on the island killed. Marcel Moulinie, who was in charge of managing the island, carried out this task by using raw meat to lure them into a shed for drying copra, gassing them with exhaust from U.S. military vehicles, and then setting their carcasses ablaze. Meanwhile, food stores on the island were allowed to deplete in order to pressure the remaining inhabitants to leave. The forced expulsion and dispossession of the Chagossians was for the purpose of establishing a United States air and naval base on Diego Garcia, with a population of between 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. soldiers and support staff, as well as a few troops from the United Kingdom.

(Source, HERE. Read more about it in this article on Wikipedia.)

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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