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Article

The East African coast is an interface between the continental world of Africa and the maritime world of the Indian Ocean, and the monsoons provided a convenient wind system to link them. It was inhabited by a littoral society that was best placed to play a leading role in economic, social, and cultural interaction, including intermarriage, between the two worlds. Its written history goes back at least to the beginning of the Contemporary Era, and it can be termed Swahili from the beginning of the second millennium when this branch of the Bantu languages spread down the coast to give it linguistic unity. Its speakers were organized in towns and villages from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique, which developed into city-states when there were major upturns in international trade and were integrated in the wider Indian Ocean world. The citizens spoke an “elegant” language that was further embellished through its interactions with Arabic and other Indian Ocean languages and literature. Islam spread with that trade, and mosques became a prominent part of the archaeological remains along the Swahili coast. In the process, the Swahili became thoroughly cosmopolitan. Any attempt to disentangle the different strands, “oriental” or “African”—which are two sides of the dense cultural fabric of the littoral people—is bound to be futile. They are two sides of the Swahili coin. This civilization was partially disrupted by the entry of the Portuguese in the 16th century when they tried to divert the spice trade to their channel around the Cape of Good Hope, but it revived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Article

Penda Choppy

Seychellois society is generally perceived to be matrifocal. This is because women’s influence is considered all pervasive, from the family unit to church and political activities and public service institutions. Since its social revolution in the last quarter of the 20th century, Seychelles has been considered very avant-garde in its promotion of women in responsible positions. It is important to note, however, that though this promotion of women has not specifically targeted any social class, it is working-class women who have benefited the most from it. In the first place, the working class in Seychelles has always been a much larger majority. The landowning and merchant class have, since the early settlement period and throughout colonial history, been restricted to a few but very influential people. Thus, though women in these classes have also benefited from social reform and emancipation, it has not been the norm to assess changes within their ranks simply because their numbers are negligible compared to the working class. Second, social reform in Seychelles was led by a socialist government, which emphasized a classless society, with the intention of leveling the field for working-class people. Thus, women’s emancipation has almost always been seen from a working-class perspective. If there is an economic middle class in 21st-century Seychelles, it has emerged from the working class. Thus, this article tends to focus on the working class. It is also important to note that a result of women’s emancipation and accession to prominent positions in government and middle management has been the perceived tendency to emphasize the failures of the male population. With no less than ten women’s associations in existence and the current global push for promoting women’s causes, Seychellois men have begun to feel marginalized and have formed their own associations to promote their cause and image. However, the matrifocal nature of Seychellois society might indeed be just a perception. In effect, men still hold the top positions in key domains of power such as the Cabinet and Parliament. Women ministers are often perceived as having been promoted through the benevolence of a male presidency. In fact, there is a certain amount of gender power conflict in Seychelles, which might result from (a) the clashing of patriarchal and matriarchal systems imposed by colonialism, (b) male subjugation and female exploitation during and after slavery, and (c) female emancipation during the socialist era.

Article

Edward A. Alpers

The Indian Ocean has occupied an important place in the history of Africa for millennia, linking the continental land mass to the peoples, products, and ideas of the wider Indian Ocean world (IOW). Central to this relationship are environmental factors, including the biannual operation of monsoon winds, which determined the maritime movement of people, things, and ideas. The earliest of these connections involve the movement of food crops, domestic animals, and commensals both from and into Africa and its offshore islands. From the beginnings of the Current Era, Africa was an important Indian Ocean source of valuable commodities, such as ivory and gold; in more recent times, hardwood products like mangrove poles, and agricultural products like cloves, coconuts, and copra gained economic prominence. Enslaved African labor also had a long history in the IOW, the sources and destinations for the export trade varying over time. In addition, for centuries many different Indian Ocean immigrant communities played important roles as settlers, merchants, sailors, and soldiers. In the realm of culture and ideas, African music, dance, and spiritual concepts accompanied those Africans who were forcibly removed from the continent to the different Indian Ocean lands where they were enslaved. A further indicator of Indian Ocean connectivity is Islam, the introduction of which marks an important watershed in African history. The human settlement of Madagascar marks another significant Indian Ocean connection for Africa. At different times and in different ways, colonial rule—Portuguese, Dutch, Omani, French, and British—tied eastern African territories to India, Arabia, and Southeast Asia. Since regaining independence, African nation-states have established a variety of new linkages to other Indian Ocean states.

Article

Richard B. Allen

The history of the Seychelles since the islands’ colonization in 1770 has been shaped by their physical geography, location in the western Indian Ocean, and peripheral status in the French and British colonial empires. The archipelago’s social, economic, and political history reflects its role in facilitating the slave trade that funneled hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans and Malagasies toward the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius and Réunion between 1770 and the early 1830s, the development of cotton and then coconut plantation agriculture, and its status as a Mauritian dependency until it became a separate British Crown Colony in 1903. Economic and political life after independence in 1976 included a coup d’état in 1977 that led to the establishment of a one-party socialist state in 1979, a return to multiparty democracy in 1993, and the country’s increasing economic dependence on tourism during the late 20th and early 21rst centuries.

Article

The Indian diaspora in Tanzania emerged in waves from the subcontinent. While its internal religious and cultural diversity has been a hallmark, the diaspora accreted into a political category and community identity through the crucibles of colonialism and nationalism. Its origins were more disparate. East Africa and western India—especially peninsular Gujarat and Kutch—were fused by the monsoon winds that drove premodern Indian Ocean trade, when small numbers of Indian merchants sojourned and settled across the sea. The diaspora received a fillip after the Sultan of Oman shifted his capital to Zanzibar in 1840, granting positions to Indians and attracting trade and migration, largely of Indian Muslims. Britain used the suppression of the slave trade—in which its Indian subjects had participated vigorously—as a wedge to declare a protectorate over Zanzibar and established Tanganyika on the mainland after German East Africa was ceded following World War I. This was a boom time for settlement from India, and while the migrants were mostly poor, they thrived in the transformation into an imperial diaspora, working within segregated colonial structures and attaining advantages denied to Africans. Indians—a majority of them Shia Muslims of several sects—numbered around 110,000 when African nationalism won independence in Tanganyika and Zanzibar in the early 1960s, and in the postcolonial period their privilege made them targets of public animosity and state action. While protected by the inclusivist first president of united Tanzania, the diaspora integrated into the new nation in limited ways. When socialist reforms nationalized housing and made business challenging in the 1960s and 1970s, almost half of the Indians left, largely to Canada and the United Kingdom. Those who remained suffered occasional moments of political pressure even after socialism collapsed, but in the early decades of the 21st century they continue to reside in urban centers as a secure but marked minority with lives revolving around commerce and diverse community institutions.

Article

Since the last quarter of the 18th century, the suppression of the transoceanic slave trade had been under way. A popular movement became active in Britain, while a number of US states abolished the trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. Denmark abolished the trade completely in 1803, Britain in 1807, and the United States in 1808. After the Congress of Vienna, the British took the initiative in creating a network of bilateral and multilateral treaties to legalize naval suppression of the slave trade in the Atlantic, and, accordingly, Britain, the United States, France, and Portugal stationed naval squadrons off the African coast. From the 1840s onwards, another network to suppress slave supply was formed with African rulers, those agreements providing in some cases both justification and the practical basis for European territorial expansion in Atlantic Africa. The Europeans’ antislave-trade activity caused the Atlantic African economy to shift toward so-called legitimate commerce, and, since the 1960s, evaluation of that economic transition has been at the core of debate among historians of West Africa. In the 1810s in the Indian Ocean, similar progress toward suppression of the slave trade took place almost simultaneously with that of its Atlantic counterpart, although progress was much quicker in the Atlantic. In fact, the suppression campaign in the Indian Ocean, which began with various treaties concluded by the British with local polities, gathered full force only from the 1860s. Interestingly, in Indian Ocean Africa the relationship between the suppression of the slave trade and imperial territorial occupation was more distant than on Africa’s Atlantic rim. The suppression of the transoceanic slave trade cannot be understood without a multifaceted perspective, because this subject is connected to and so must be integrated with various fields, including naval, political, economic, legal, and social history. The transoceanic slave trade must therefore be located within a much wider context.

Article

The Comoro Islands were first settled toward the middle of the 1st millennium ce by Arab or Austronesian traders and navigators and their African slaves. Strategically located in the southwestern Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the African mainland, the islands were well embedded in regional trading networks and served as an entrepôt for goods, particularly slaves, as well as producing livestock and foodstuffs for export. The islands continued to prosper following the arrival of Europeans in the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century, and developed a niche supplying ships, particularly those of the East India Company (EIC), on their way east. During the 19th century, however, shipping declined and the islands fell within the French sphere of influence. Cut off from their trading partners and suffering from a lackluster plantation economy, the islands stagnated, and were a neglected corner of the French colonial empire for much of the 20th century. In 1975 the three westernmost islands attained independence, while the fourth, Mayotte, remained a French possession. The newly independent state was plagued by a string of coups d’état, lurching from one crisis to another as a socialist revolution that bankrupted the country was followed by a mercenary-led dictatorship aligned with South African interests. Toward the end of the 20th century, and despite (or perhaps because of) the restoration of democracy, the country fell apart: two of the three islands not only declared independence, but also called for recolonization by France. A new constitution in 2001 provided for a renewed, if fragile, stability founded on principles of equality between the islands and greater decentralization; but the economy remains weak, based on vanilla, spices and perfume oils, remittances, and foreign aid, while a steady flow of undocumented migrants to Mayotte continues to foment discontent on the latter island, a French department since 2011.

Article

Tropical Africa has been in communication with the global economy since at least the last centuries bce through either land travel across the Sahara to the Mediterranean or navigation along the Indian Ocean coast. Despite recent archaeological research, not too much is known about this earliest trade. Only after Islam was firmly established in North Africa and the Indian Ocean do we have evidence of significant trade (slaves, gold, and ivory) and cultural exchange across these frontiers. Entrepôt cities now flourished in both the West and Central Sudan and the Swahili coast, where either camel caravans or large dhow vessels received export goods from indigenous Muslim merchants. During the 15th century European navigators opened up the Atlantic coast of Africa as well as a direct water route to the Indian Ocean. For the next 500 years Europeans dominated Africa’s global connections, initially seeking gold, then slaves for New World plantations, and later large quantities of less costly commodities such as vegetable oils, cocoa, coffee, and cotton. Initially Africa’s trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean commerce continued to operate under the control of Muslim rulers and merchants and even grew in volume, although declining in global significance. By the early 20th century European powers had established colonial regimes in almost all of tropical Africa, providing new infrastructures of political administration and mechanized transport (mainly railroads) that overcame the geographical barriers impeding commerce between the coasts and the continent’s interiors. However, limited capital and the spatial orientation of colonial transport undermined the dynamism of such advances. In the last stages of colonialism (c. 1945–1960) and the first decades of political independence, greater investments were made in both infrastructure and industrialization but with poor results leading, from the 1980s, to the global imposition of “structural adjustment” policies upon African states. During the early 21st century African economies experienced “miraculous” growth linked to a major new relationship with China.

Article

Toyin Falola and Abikal Borah

Since the late 1950s, the field of African historiography has undergone many changes. While discussing African philosophies of history, one must acknowledge shifts within the discipline of history and the Afrocentric vision of historical scholarship as two constitutive processes through which different historiographical trends have come into being. It is difficult to take an essentialist position on African philosophies of history, because Africa has been at the center of various transnational and global processes of historical formation. As a result, the scope and scale of African historiography signals a variety of entanglements. The imperative lies in recognizing such entanglements in the longue durée of Africa’s past, to dislodge the narrowly framed imagination attached to African historiography. Considering the complexity of the terrain, it would be appropriate to view African philosophies of history and historiography from three different vantage points. Firstly, historical scholarship centering on Africa has produced critiques of the post-Enlightenment philosophy of history in Europe and elsewhere. This strand highlights the interventions posed by African historiography that decenter a globalized philosophical tradition. Secondly, the inclusion of African indigenous epistemological formations into historical scholarship has transformed the scope of African historiography. This shows shifts in the methodological approaches of historical scholarship and highlights the question of access to the multiplicity of Africa’s past. Thirdly, Pan-Africanism and Afropolitanism expanded the scope and scale of the African philosophy of history by thinking through the transnational and global connections of Afrocentric thought. In other words, Afrocentric historiography attends to the ideas of globalism and cosmopolitanism within its scope and scale.

Article

The African diaspora in the Indian Ocean is inextricably intertwined with slavery and slave trading in an oceanic world that encompasses southern and eastern Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, South Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, and parts of East Asia. A combination of factors, including the cost of free labor, high morbidity and mortality rates from diseases such as malaria and smallpox, and the perceived attributes of different African peoples spurred the exportation by Arab, Muslim, and Swahili merchants of an estimated 2.9–3.65 million men, women, and children from diverse populations in southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar, and the Horn of Africa to Arabia, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Southeast Asia between 800 and c.1900. European involvement in this transoceanic slave trade began during the early 16th century and continued well into the 19th century. This diaspora’s legacy includes the presence of communities of African descent in modern Iran, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Article

Abdul Sheriff

The East African or Swahili coast is at the confluence between the continental world of Africa and the maritime world of the Indian Ocean, giving rise to a cosmopolitan culture. The Zanzibar archipelago is geographically at the center of the East African coast, and was ideally located in terms of the monsoons for trade and social interaction with the African mainland as well as across the Indian Ocean. The first golden age of the Zanzibar archipelago blossomed from the middle of the first millennium ce when transoceanic connections began to be forged between the western seaboards of the Indian Ocean as far as China in the east. It was spearheaded by Unguja Ukuu, followed by a number of ports on Pemba and Unguja, including Kizimkazi with its unique 12th-century Kufic inscription. The Portuguese intervened from the 15th century to monopolize and divert Indian Ocean trade to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, although they did not succeed. Nevertheless, they disrupted the former patterns of trade and social interactions in the Indian Ocean. After the Portuguese interlude, the Swahili civilization tried to recover its initiative, but it could no longer hold its own. The Swahili city states had to seek assistance from Oman. Zanzibar developed as the seat of a vast commercial empire in the 19th century based on the clove economy on the islands and commerce that extended from the Indian to the Atlantic Ocean, and a vast hinterland that extended as far as the African Great Lakes. It flourished, but it could not withstand the onslaught of the European colonial powers in their scramble for Africa to monopolize its natural resources and markets for their industrial revolution. With the colonial partition of Africa, Zanzibar was reduced to a minor British protectorate by 1890.

Article

Edward Pollard

The continent of Africa has had a lengthy involvement in global maritime affairs and archaeological research with Middle Stone Age people using marine resources on the coasts of southern Africa, the Classical Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria, and Medieval Indian Ocean trade on the Swahili coast to the Atlantic triangular slave trade. Maritime archaeology is the identification and interpretation of physical traces left by people who use the seas and oceans. Middle Stone Age sites in South Africa such as Klasies River Mouth and Pinnacle Point have the earliest evidence for human use of marine resources including birds, marine mammals, and shellfish. This exploitation of marine resources was also coincident with the use of pigment, probably for symbolic behavior, as well as the production of bladelet stone tool technology. The extensive timespan of human activity on the coast around Africa occurred during changing relative sea levels due to Ice Ages and tectonic movement affecting the location of the coastline relative to maritime archaeological sites. Geomorphological changes may also take place over shorter periods such as the 1909 ce shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia lying c. one and half thousand feet landward of the shoreline. Ancestors of sea-going vessels have been recorded on rivers from dugout canoes excavated at Dufuna in northern Nigeria and the first plank-built boats, such as the Old Kingdom Royal Ship of Cheops of Khufu, found at the Giza pyramids, which imitated the shape of earlier papyrus rafts. Classical documents such as the Periplus Maris Erythraei and Ptolemy’s Geographia record Arabian and Indian trade with eastern Africa including ivory and rhinoceros horn and describe fishing practices using baskets and sewn-hull boats of the inhabitants. The increase in oceanic trade links here during the medieval period encouraged the formation of Swahili port cities such as Kilwa and Mombasa. The former was in a strategic position to manage much of the gold trade between Sofala in Mozambique and the northern Swahili Coast. Portuguese forts, constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries on their trade routes around Africa, such as Elmina Castle in Ghana, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya, and Fort São Sebastião on Mozambique Island, dominate the ports and harbors. The first sub-Saharan underwater scientific investigations took place in 1976 of the Portuguese frigate Santo Antonio de Tanna that sunk during an Omani siege from 1696 to 1698. At Elmina in West Africa, studies were made of wreck-site formation processes around the 17th-century Dutch West India Company vessel Groeningen, which had caught fire when firing its guns in salute to Elmina Castle after arrival. More broad-based studies that interpret the functioning of the African maritime society in its wider environmental setting, both physically in the context of its religious buildings, harbors, fishing grounds, sailing routes, and shipwrecks, and by taking account of non-material aspects of the beliefs that influence behavior of coastal societies, have led to interpretations of their maritime outlook.

Article

Nigel Worden

Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force of the Cape Colony between its foundation by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1652 and abolition in 1834, by which date the Cape was under British rule. Slaves were transported to the Cape from a wide range of areas in the Indian Ocean world, including South and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Some were owned by the VOC and labored on the Company farms, outposts, and docks. The majority were sold to settlers and worked as domestic servants in Cape Town or as laborers on the grain, wine, and pastoral farms of the Cape interior. Throughout the 18th century slaves outnumbered settlers. Although there were few major revolts, individual resistance was widespread and desertion common. Some runaways joined indigenous groups in the Cape interior, while others formed more isolated maroon communities. Toward the end of the 18th century some slaves claimed individual rights, reflecting the influence of wider revolutionary movements in the Atlantic world. A revolutionary uprising took place in 1808, shortly after the abolition of the slave trade and the takeover of the colony by the British. In the early 19th century slave resentment continued to grow, especially as a boom in wine production increased labor demands. In the 1820s and early 1830s abolitionist voices were heard in the colony, and slavery was ended at the same time as that in the British Caribbean and Mauritius. Unlike these other British colonies, Cape slaves largely continued to work as farm laborers, and their living and working conditions produced the continued impoverishment of farmworkers in the western Cape region. Slaves played an important part in the creation of a distinctive creolized Cape culture, notably in the development of the Afrikaans language and Cape musical and culinary traditions. They were also responsible for the growth of Islam in Cape Town and its hinterland, which took a distinctive form influenced by its Southeast Asian origins.

Article

Jonathan Miran

Together with the Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades, the Red Sea slave trade is one of the arenas that comprise what is still referred to as the “Islamic,” “Oriental,” or “Arab” slave trades that involved the transfer of enslaved people from sub-Saharan Africa to different parts of the Muslim world. It arguably represents one of the oldest, most enduring, and complex multidirectional patterns of human flow. It animated a series of routes and networks that moved African enslaved people mainly to Arabia, the eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf, Iran, and India. The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden slave trade also constituted part of a broader commercial system that comprised, in varying degrees, the greater Nile Valley trade system through which enslaved people from the northeast African interior were moved via overland routes to Egypt and beyond. Unlike the Atlantic slave trade system, where slave cargoes were commonplace, enslaved people were most often shipped across the Red Sea on regular sailing boats carrying a variety of other commodities. At the peak of the trade during the nineteenth century, a large majority of enslaved people exported through the Red Sea were in their teens. The sex ratio heavily favored females. Enslaved individuals from northeast Africa were exploited in a host of occupations that varied from “luxury” slaves (eunuchs and concubines) to domestic servants to labor-intensive enterprises such as pearl divers, masons, laborers in ports, and workers on agricultural plantations. Others were employed in urban economies in transportation, artisanship, and trade. Estimates based on a notoriously weak evidentiary base (for most periods) put Red Sea slave exports for the entire period between 800 ce and around 1900 ce at a total of just under 2,500,000, though this figure may be higher or lower. The heyday of the Red Sea trade was in the 19th century with estimates of around 500,000 enslaved people exported during the period. The abolition and suppression of the slave trade proper in the Red Sea region took a century to accomplish. It is infamously known as one of the most enduring slave trades in the world and it was only in the mid-20th century, when slavery was legally abolished in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (both in 1962), that illicit slave smuggling across the sea was choked off. But legal abolition has not ended various forms and practices of human trafficking, smuggling, forced labor, debt bondage, commercial sex trafficking, and in some cases enslavement. These persist in the third decade of the 21st century in most of the modern countries bordering the Red Sea and, as in the past, with a reach that extends far and wide, beyond the region proper.