Place Replaced: Colonial Nostalgia and Pied-Noir Pilgrimages to Malta

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Essay Excerpt

Among diasporic communities that maintain an ideology of return (Bicharat 1997; Slyomovics 1998), the politics of memory and constructions of homeland are mutually implicated. However, what role does homeland playfor displaced people who have no hope of returning? In this study of exiled settlers, we find that here too the politics of memory plays no less a pivotal role. At first glance, their trips to Malta could be construed as representing yet another instance of a population that has been displaced, doubly in this case, making sacred journeys to their ancestral homeland in conjunction with an ethnic revitalization movement (for instance, see Basu 2001). However, as I show below, the reasons for these trips and the widespread longing for Malta aremore complex. Important clues emerged on the trip I took with Joseph and the other association members in September 1995. Although the travelers made the obligatory comments about the sites they were visiting, most of the timethey discussed not Malta but their lives la-bas (back there), the pied-noir euphemism for Algeria. When they did discuss Malta, they highlighted aspects of the natural and cultural landscape, including the plants or the older stone houses, and their similarity to those "back home." Language is of special significance here, for Maltese is a Semitic language closely related to North African Arabic. As I illustrate below, for these elderly pieds-noirs, Malta servesnot as an ancestral homeland but as a replacement for their "real" homeland, Algeria. When these trips are viewed in the wider context of colonial nostalgia, the politics of memory and of forgetting, and the sensory memory of place, we find here that one homeland, Malta, serves as a metaphor for another, Algeria. Malta has become, for these travelers, a place replaced (p. 331).

From: Smith, Andrea. "Place Replaced: Colonial Nostalgia and Pied-Noir Pilgrimages to Malta." Cultural Anthropology, 18.3(2003): 329–364.

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