Margaret Mishra


This article sets out to undo colonial constructions of the ‘madwoman’ in Fiji during the indenture period. It will critique how lunacy, or more specifically the condition of dementia, was sometimes presented as the colonial response to ‘uselessness’ in the sugarcane plantations. When archival fragments relating to an indentured woman named Dhurma, are retrieved and situated within a historical context they demonstrate how unproductivity was perceived as a signifier of an ‘unsound mind’ because it conflicted with the utilitarian logic of universal and individual economic advancement espoused by the British colonial administration. The article will also present brief accounts of other indentured women who were diagnosed with ‘dementia’ to illustrate how the ‘useless madwoman’ phenomena was not an isolated one. If the allegations of dementia presented here are reassessed in light of definitions of lunacy including the usage of this term in The English Lunacy Act of 1838, it may be possible to read against the dominant (male) voice in the asylum records and thus deconstruct murky projections of madness vis-a-vis colonialism.

Note on the Author

Margaret Mishra is a senior lecturer in the School of Government, Development and International Affairs at the University of the South Pacific. Her published articles aim to recover minor historical fragments relating to women in Fiji during the period of indenture and colonialism more generally.