Panel Two

Roots & Routes: Labor and Migration in the Indian and Atlantic Ocean Worlds

Reserve your seat at the colloquium here.


Panel Chair: Dr. Jeanne Toungara, Department of History, Howard University

“By Appearance She is an African”: A Short History of Africans’ Presence in Arabia and the Mekran Coast Prior to the 1920s

Dr. Alaine Hutson, Huston-Tillotson University

A short history of Africans’ presence in Arabia and the Mekran Coast prior to the 1920s and the racial contexts they lived in over the different eras. This is part of a larger project which focuses on African and Baloch people enslaved on the Arabian Peninsula from 1926-1938. The finished project will make a significant contribution to the historiography of Middle Eastern slavery by filling a gap in our current knowledge. Most Middle Eastern slavery scholarship has been on slavery at the center of the Ottoman Empire and on elite harem, military or administrative slaves. This work will focus on non-elite commercial, domestic and agricultural slaves in Arabia. This history will discuss the writings of Black Arabs and about Africans in Arabia and how African peoples came to the Mekran Coast.


Abyssinians in India: Malik Ambar and the Western Indian Ocean World

Dr. Omar H. Ali, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The life of Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian who becomes de facto ruler of an Indian sultanate in the early 17th century, is an extraordinary example of the African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean world. Enslaved as a child and taken to Baghdad, he was educated and becomes part of the military slave system in the western Indian Ocean world. Arriving in India’s Deccan as part of thousands of Africans serving in the various sultanates of the Deccan and Mughal armies, Ambar rises through the ranks and becomes Regent Minister of Ahmadnagar, leading the quarter-century resistance against the incursions of the imperial Mughals to the north into the Deccan. A consummate diplomat, military leader, and administrator, Ambar’s life gives insight into the culture, trading systems, and polities of the western Indian Ocean world during the early modern period.


The Last African Kings in India: The Sidi Nawabs of Janjira and Sachin

Dr. John McLeod, University of Louisville

In the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, African kings and strongmen governed various parts of India. The Habshi sultans of Bengal and Malik Ambar of Ahmadnagar are particularly well known, but it is often forgotten that there were other African-Indian dynasties as well. Indeed, nowhere in the world did African ex-slaves or descendants of slaves reign over mainly non-African populations for as long as they did in India. In this illustrated lecture, John McLeod discusses the 330-year history of the Sidi (African-Indian) Nawabs or rulers of the small kingdoms of Janjira and Sachin, which lasted until the middle of the twentieth century. He will focus particularly on their survival and self-identification as African-Indians, and their architectural heritage.


The Other Black Ocean: White Affectivity and Indo-Portuguese Slavery in Margaret Mascarenhas’ Skin

Dr. R. Benedito Ferrao, The College of William and Mary

Margaret Mascarenhas’ novel Skin (2001) takes as its subject the overlapping histories of a slave-owning Goan family and a line of once enslaved women descended from the Angolan prophetess, Kimpa Vita. My paper will argue that Indo-Portuguese colonization remade Portuguese identity in the colonial context and recast South Asian racialization in the same milieu by affectively aligning somatic whiteness with modernity. Conversely, as the novel evidences, what lies below the skin – that bodily archive of what conjoins the histories of slaves and slave-owners – constantly arises as a disruptive counter-history.

In illustrating the early modern period in Goa as one in which colonial subjects could operate as agents of colonization because of the presence of enslaved black female bodies, Skin constitutes the Indian Ocean as a theatre of racialized biopower that shaped the modern identities of colonizer and colonized. Within multicultural colonial Goa, as Mascarenhas’ novel strives to represent it, the “subaltern compatriot” stood in for the colonial patriarch by perpetuating gendered and classed distinctions along raced “fault lines”.

This paper will extend usual readings of blackness and slavery by focusing on Portuguese colonization in the Indian Ocean, while still drawing connections to the Black Atlantic. I aim to underscore literatures and racializations which should be differentiated from Anglo-centric post/colonial perspectives, so as to centre affective bio-power and the role played by gender and sexuality in colluding and subverting such design.


Plantation Dispossessions: Tracing the Global Travels of Caribbeanity

Dr. Kris Manjapra, Tufts University

This paper traces the global expansion of the “plantation complex” during the Age of Abolition in the British Empire from the Caribbean Sea to the Indian Ocean. In that period, the monumental migration of indentured laborers from Asia to the West Indies was matched by other large-scale migrations that traveled in the opposite direction: the movement of assets, capitalists, biota, and discourses about labor mobilization and labor control from the West Indies to Asia. The relations between the Black Americas and Laboring Asia are deep and long-standing. They pre-date and foreshadow the forms of political recognition that emerge in the twentieth century.