P 65

Africans Across the Indian Ocean

Panel abstract
Africa’s Indian Ocean littoral – from the Red Sea to the Cape of Good Hope – has long been a place of passage: seamen and migrants, traders and scholars from across the Indian Ocean came to work, settle, do business, teach, and convert, both on the coast and in the hinterland. Likewise, Africans moved outwards with similar aims and intentions, taking ideas and their material culture with them. For centuries, slaves were exported, but others moved of their own free will, and continue to do so, in increasing numbers: scholars and pilgrims to the Arabian Peninsula, traders and labourers to China and Japan, migrants and refugees to Australia. In a contemporary world, they come not just from the Swahili coast but from all over the continent.
How do these Africans negotiate encounters across the region? How are links maintained with homelands, and how do contemporary forms of technology shape practices and worldviews? What are the political, social, and economic implications of these transnational networks? How do these movements, the diversity of experiences of those who move, the multiple encounters with different ideas, practices and cultures, shape those who are touched by them, directly or indirectly – those who move as well as those who do not? This panel discusses papers that explore African endeavours in the greater Indian Ocean region, including but not limited to the personal and collective initiatives that prompt movements, the networks that sustain them, and links with the homelands as well as activities in the host countries.

Time: Saturday, 30/06/2018, 11 am - 1 pm
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 18

Iain Walker (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Caio Simões de Araújo (Graduate Institute, Geneva, Switzerland)
Anthony A. Lee (University of California, Los Angeles, USA)
Christoph Kohl (Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, Braunschweig)
Beatrice Nicolini (Catholic University Milan, Italy)


Paper abstracts

Caio Simões de Araújo
‘Dancing with Africans’: Afro-Asian Solidarity, African Students, and the Nehruvian Imagination, ca. 1950-1961

Recent years have seen an increased historical interest on the politics of Afro-Asian solidarity during the decolonization era. Crucially, this recent scholarship has moved away from a romantic reading of Afro-Asian politics as an expression of unequivocal solidarity to focus instead on the complexities, contradictions, and tensions inherent in this project. This paper engages with, and contributes to, this research agenda by examining a relatively understudied aspect of India’s foreign policy: the scholarship programme that, in the 1950s, invited hundreds of African students to pursue university degrees in India. I will first situate the scholarship programme in the broader canvas of Nehru’s ‘African policy’, which intended to (a) offer support to African claims for decolonization and, in so doing, (b) advance India’s position as a natural leader of the postcolonial world. I will argue that, to the Indian government, the training of ‘educated African elites’ with strong ties to India was a strategic step in pursuing both these goals. I will then examine the challenges and difficulties in implementing the programme. On the one hand, the programme tacitly reproduced a problematic view of Afro-Asian friendship whereby India was construed as more advanced, experienced and powerful than ‘Africa’ (which remained ambiguously imagined). On the other hand, the lived experience of African students in India often involved disagreement, hostility, and allegations of racial discrimination. The last section of the paper will follow the archival traces of these experiences as a window into the complexities of Afro-Asian politics.

Anthony A. Lee
An Enslaved African Woman in Iran: the Life of Ziba Khanum of Yazd

Historians of African history estimate that between one and two million enslaved Africans were exported from the east coast of Africa into the Indian Ocean trade in the nineteenth century. Most of these were sent, at least initially, to Iranian ports. Some two-thirds of African slaves brought to Iran were women, intended as household servants and concubines. The story of Africans in the Iranian Diaspora is almost unknown. Ziba Khanum (d. 1932) was, an African woman, a slave in the city of Yazd, in central Iran, in the second half of the nineteenth century. She bore her master a son who, in accordance with Islamic law, should have inherited part of his father’s wealth but did not. Information about her life and the life of her son, Ghulam ‘Ali Siyah, can be recovered from family oral histories and histories of Yazd in Persian. The son, an Afro-Iranian merchant, travelled to Palestine and to India. He became a wealthy and notable person in Yazd. Ghulam ‘Ali became a Baha’i, a member of a persecuted minority religion in Iran. Ziba Khanum lived in her son’s Baha’i household, with his children and grandchildren until the end of her life. Some of the grandchildren now live in the United States. This paper will discuss issues of race, gender, slavery, assimilation, sexuality, and religion as experienced by an Afro-Iranian family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Christoph Kohl
Creole Connections Across the Indian Ocean Past and Present

African connections across the Indian Ocean are not a new phenomenon. Yet, while transatlantic connections are well known and have been well researched for a long time, links between Africa and Africans across the Indian Ocean have actually lived in the shadows. Only in recent years, more scholarly attention has been paid to African migrations across the Indian Ocean. The paper starts by giving a brief overview of African migrations enforced and facilitated during colonial times, leading to the emergence of various African diasporas and creole groups. Over time, they have interacted with host societies in different contexts at different times. Some present-day communities continue referring to Africa to construct and reconstruct their identities, drawing boundaries to majority populations. The presentation will draw attention to historical and social science research on these communities –such as the Siddis in India and Pakistan, as well as the Kaffirs in Sri Lanka–, trying to examine differences and similarities regarding the construction of identities in both historical and contemporary perspectives. The paper intends to analyse how these groups have been referring to Africa, how encounters between these communities and other parts of societies have been negotiated, and if, and how, transnational links to their ancestral homelands have been maintained and imagined. At the same time, the paper will also point to gaps in scholarly research, outlining future prospects of anthropological research.

Beatrice Nicolini
African Presence Between Oman and Makran in the Indian Ocean – 19th-20th Century

During the 19th century, there was not one but numerous main slave routes in the Indian Ocean from East Africa and the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, to Western India, and to South Central Asia. Therefore, within these long-distance trades of goods and people, Islam strongly influenced, and in many cases modified, the concept of slavery. The fluid space of the Indian Ocean was full of different forces of capital and of knowledge–power relationships during and after the colonial period. Many stories remain untold inside this cosmopolitan interregional arena. The social, political, and economic functions of African slaves in Asia were divided in the following categories: a) domestic - patriarchal, b) productive - agricultural (bonded labour directed into intensive wet-crop agriculture), and c) military - administrative. African slaves came mainly from the coastal strip of Sub-Saharan East Africa towards Oman and Makran. Considering the African presence in Asia and its further changes within local societies, this paper will try to investigate on the multiple interconnections between different groups, and the movements between the leadership and the tribal groups. It will also show the interconnections between the land and the sea, and along the littorals within slavery, society, and the maritime new economies during the 19th and 20th century. What was the African legacy in Oman and in Makran? How the regional societies reacted to African new elements and how the translocal political and religious powers behaved? These will be the main objects of a methodological challenge towards new perceptions.