Millions of Indians migrated internally within the British Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries. While some migrated as labor migrants, many others did so as merchants and other businesspeople. By the start of World War II, more than 200,000 Indians worked in trade outside of India. These merchants played key roles in the British Empire within India and the larger Indian Ocean economy. Several conditions facilitated and perhaps caused Indian merchant migration within the British Empire. First, precolonial Indian commerce continued and adapted to imperial trade patterns. Second, within India, British rule lowered transaction costs and opened markets. Third, British rule brought preferential access to British colonies outside India, access that was denied to merchants from outside the British Empire. Internal merchant migration within India shows the importance of distinct religious, caste, and linguistic groups, many of which were active before British control. Gujarati-speaking merchant migrants and Parsis were bulwarks of Bombay’s commercial class. Specific merchant communities migrated within trading networks across India as railroads connected the subcontinent. Outside India, merchants—often from these same groups—accompanied British expansion in Asia and Africa. In Burma and Malaya, Chettiars from the south formed banking and trading networks that tied these colonies closer to the Indian economy. Chettiar finance was crucial in the development of industry in both Burma and Malaya. Indian businesspeople dominated commerce in East Africa and played key roles in commerce. Indian businesses in Uganda developed local commercial agriculture and industry, and Indians in South Africa played a large role in commerce before legal restrictions reduced their involvement. Distant colonies in which indentureship was the dominant form of migration experienced a transition from labor to trade, with merchant migration playing a smaller role. These colonies do not fit the pattern of merchant migration seen in India and the larger Indian Ocean economy, but they illustrate the role of Indian tradespeople outside India.
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.
Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations. Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium ce or later. Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely. Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium ce, although it is impossible to rule that out. The safest assumption at present is that contact between Southeast Asia and Madagascar during the period of colonization occurred through the established network of coastal and monsoon passages and shipping around the northern perimeter of the Indian Ocean.
Anne K. Bang
The Hadramawt is a region of in the south-eastern part of present-day Yemen. Since antiquity, it has been vital in the network of ports that made up the Indian Ocean trade system. The main ports, Mukalla and Shihr have been the exit and entry points for the main cities in the interior Wadi Hadramawt, Shibam, Sayun and Tarim, as well as smaller towns and villages. Migration from Hadramawt to Africa dates back to at least the first century ce. The Islamic period is better documented than the pre-Islamic period, and it shows that there were four main destinations: (a) the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa; (b) the East African coast, including the Comoro Islands, Mozambique, and Northern Madagascar; (c) Southern Africa; and (d) the African interior (Tanzania, Congo, Kenya, and Uganda). The migrants were, from the early period until well into the 20th century, almost exclusively male, and they tended to marry strategically into local clans to obtain access to trade networks. Over time, many lost their connection to the Hadramawt, but they might reactivate that identity at times when “Arabness” was a political advantage, such as during the period of Bu Saidi rule in East Africa. The colonial period led to restrictions on movement to and from the Hadramawt, but also to new business opportunities for Hadramis in Africa. Decolonization was at times traumatic for the Hadramis in Africa too, but the new nation-states also offered opportunities for those who remained in Africa as citizens. Hadrami migration to Africa over the centuries also impacted the Hadramawt itself. The return visit was a tradition that emerged especially in the 19th century, when sons born in diaspora were sent to Hadramawt to learn about their ancestral homeland. These young men, known as muwalladun, spoke Swahili, Somali, or any other of their “mother-tongue” languages—but very little Arabic, which could make their stays in Hadramawt difficult. In the 20th century, descendants of Hadrami migrants to Africa tended to return to Hadramawt to seek employment or Islamic education.
Edward A. Alpers
Connections between India and Africa have existed for thousands of years, with the intensity of linkages varying over time. The earliest known relations involve the anonymous exchange of food crops and domestic livestock, which date to the second millennium bce. Commercial contacts are recorded from the beginning of the Current Era, while from the rise of Islam and the creation of Islamic states in India from the 14th century on enslaved and war captive Africans begin to appear in India. Trade relations continued throughout the early modern period (c. 1500–1750) and intensified in the 19th century, focusing on Gujarat and Zanzibar. Indian textiles were the most important Indian commodity during these centuries, while ivory and other primary products dominated exchanges from Africa. The consolidation of a British Empire in the Indian Ocean intensified these relations, giving rise to the movement of migrant labor to both South Africa and the East African Protectorate (eventually Kenya Colony). During the high colonial period an Indian merchant class developed from Ethiopia to South Africa. Indian nationalism played out in various ways in South Africa, Tanganyika, and Kenya. In turn, African nationalism and independence had its own reciprocal, sometimes violent, impact on Indians residing in East Africa, while Afrikaner nationalism and the creation of formal apartheid differentially affected Indians and Africans in South Africa. In the post-colonial era, state relations between India and the independent states of Africa focused on questions of both national and human development. Finally, Indian residents continue to seek their place in independent Africa, while African students in India face prejudice there.
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.
Matthias van Rossum
Slavery and slave trade were widespread throughout the empire of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Asia. The VOC was not only a “merchant” company but also functioned as military power, government, and even agricultural producer. In these roles, the VOC was involved in the forced relocation (and forced mobilization) of people in direct and indirect ways. This entailed commodified slavery and especially slave trade, in which persons were considered property and sellable, but also a wider landscape of forced relocations (deportation, non-commodified transfers) and coerced labor regimes (corvée, debt, and caste slavery). Much more research into the histories of slavery, slave trade, and wider coercive labor and social regimes is needed to shed light on the dynamics and connections of local and global systems.