Crawley Chagos Islanders’ tell their people’s history on the stage

The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders - picture submitted
The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders - picture submitted

The Hawth studio was filled to capacity last Thursday (September 1) as 60 members of Crawley’s Chagossian community brought their story to life on the stage.

It was an historic occasion as singers and musicians of the exiled community put on ‘Chagos is Calling’ portraying the emotive story of their people through music, song, poetry, prayer, dance and art.

The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders - picture submitted

The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders - picture submitted

The evening was put together by the Chagos Islanders Welfare Group, supported by Crawley Borough Council, Crawley Youth Arts and produced by Patrick Allen.

The evening began with traditional music and dance of the Chagos Islands led by original islander Adeline Jaffar, her cousin Ancy and the Babale, a Chagossian singing star from Mauritius, who now lives in Crawley.

Narrator and host Julie Botford told the tragic tale of exile and injustice, leading to their arrival in the town with passion and energy.

Singers sang of loss, regret and injustice supported by musicians of the highest calibre with their tunes embracing modern and traditional Chagossian styles.

The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders. Pictured is Babale - picture submitted

The Crawley Chagossian community put on an evening of music, dance, song and poetry at The Hawth telling the story of their people, the Chagos Islanders. Pictured is Babale - picture submitted

The islanders were evicted from their home in the British Indian Ocean Territory 50 years ago to make way for a US naval base. Around 3,000 now reside in Crawley and they were told in June the Supreme Court ruled against allowing them to return home.

Jean-Noel Narainen’s exceptional songs gave a heart-rending account of the arrival of the American military base on Diego Garcia, and he was joined on stage by his son Shane Blackwell who also sang his own compositions. Songs reflecting on the effects of this loss on the younger generation came from Marvin Alexis, Jessica Jeanne and Annabella Botford.

The evening ended with an energetic and virtuoso session of the celebrated drumming group, formerly of Ifield Community College, who led into a magnificent and colourful finale with all the singers and dancers on stage.