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date: 12 May 2021

Hadramis in Africalocked

  • Anne K. BangAnne K. BangDepartment of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen

Summary

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.

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