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African Diaspora in Asia  

Hideaki Suzuki

The presence of Africans in Asia and their migration around it is one of the least-studied subjects in all of Asian history. The same is true for studies of the African diaspora, but that does not mean that African migration lacks significance in either field. Existing scholarship reveals that Africans traveled to and settled in various regions in Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula to Nagasaki. While there were free African migrants in Asia, a larger number of them arrived as slaves, transported there by both local and European traders. Conditions for the forced immigrants varied and not all of them remained permanently un-free, with some even eventually coming to obtain political power. To understand their dispersal and presence in Asia does more than simply broaden our current understanding of the African diaspora; it also enables us to understand that the African diaspora is a global phenomenon. That improved understanding can in turn break down the geographical boundary of Asian history and connect it not only to African history but to European history too. To do that, the topic requires scholars to challenge the methodological limits of current historical studies.

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Bollywood in Africa  

Ned Bertz

The presence of Bollywood films in Africa has a long history, one embedded in larger cultural and commodity exchanges between the continent and South Asia. “Bollywood” is a modern signifier for older film industries located in colonial and postcolonial India, with the largest export being commercial Hindi-Urdu movies produced in Bombay. Their circulation played out distinctly in different parts of Africa, based on colonial connections, Indian diasporic networks, regional trading linkages, and audience tastes. East Africa first saw the arrival of Indian films in the 1920s, imported by diasporic Indian entrepreneurs who opened movie theaters and screened Hollywood and British films as well. Indian and African communities both consumed Bombay movies and they increasingly came to lead East African box office shares for decades, even as moviegoing declined toward the end of the 20th century. Bollywood films reached South Africa in the 1930s and later were the preserve of isolated Indian communities under Apartheid in cities like Durban, home to a large South Asian population as a result of colonial indentured labor flows. Hindi and Tamil movies formed a cultural touchstone for settled diasporic populations who engaged with representations from a perceived homeland, although Bollywood films were mainstreamed in South African society in the 1990s. In West Africa, lacking robust Indian diasporic networks, Lebanese traders introduced Bollywood films in the 1950s. They became immensely popular among African audiences in places like northern Nigeria and Senegal. As in East Africa, West African audiences interpreted foreign films in line with localized cultural and political values. By the 1990s, Nigerians were making some movies that riffed off popular Indian films in a global milieu of cultural mixing. In North Africa, distributors first marketed Indian movies in the 1950s to Egypt, where they attained a cult following. Bollywood stars and paraphernalia gained social prominence, although the public screening of films dwindled in the 1990s, forcing Arab fans to rely on alternate circulations, which continued into the early 21st century throughout the continent thanks to satellite television and other media technologies. The long-standing popularity of Bollywood in Africa should be no surprise given the worldwide spread of Bombay films from their inception, a tradition of exchange between South Asia and Africa, especially across Indian Ocean and imperial worlds, and Africans’ historically vigorous participation in regional and global cultural economies.

Article

Malagasy Diaspora in the Indian Ocean  

Jane Hooper

Since at least the 15th century, people from Madagascar have been leaving the Big Island and living in communities located around the Indian Ocean. Most of these migrants were unfree, having been forcibly transported to labor in East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the ocean, an unknown number of enslaved Malagasy had left the island on African and Arab vessels. Between 1500 and 1930, an estimated half a million people were carried from the shores of Madagascar, many of these Malagasy purchased by Europeans. The island’s west coast was frequented by Portuguese, Dutch, Arab, and English merchants, while the east coast was dominated by French slavers. Enslaved Malagasy comprised a sizeable proportion of slave populations on Mauritius, Réunion, and at the Cape during the 17th and 18th centuries. After the abolition of the slave trade, Europeans transported about 18,000 contract laborers from Madagascar to labor in plantations on Réunion, Mauritius, Mayotte, and Nosy Be. Throughout these centuries of intense migration, Malagasy contributed to the linguistic, religious, and cultural practices of their new homes. Memories of Malagasy ancestry remained potent into the 21st century and are made visible in performances such as sega that remind descendants of their continuing links with Madagascar.