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The Development of Communalism among East African Asians

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Abstract

The social and ritual exclusiveness of South Asian settlers and their offspring in East Africa has been stressed by a number of writers. None is more outspoken than Prem Bhatia, the journalist-turned-diplomat, in his account of the Indian Ordeal in Africa (1973). There, Bhatia suggests that Punjabis socialized more freely across caste and sect lines than more exclusive Gujaratis, accepting that rich Asians’ rudeness towards African leaders during his time as Indian High Commissioner to Kenya during the later 1960s (as in the account of the rich Asian shouting to him in Punjabi at an African politician’s party not to spend too much time with his host as he had provided the whisky on offer) was balanced by African politicians’ attacks upon poorer Asian shopkeepers in the same country, citizen and non-citizen alike. At the same time, Bhatia outlines the great diversity of Asian social groupings he encountered — Patels, Lohanas, Brahmins and Shahs among Gujarati Hindus; Jats, Ramgarhias and Nandlanis among Punjabi Sikhs; Ahmadiyas, Sunnis and Shias — further subdividing into the Aga Khan’s Ismailis, Ithn-Ashris and Bohras — among the Muslims; Christian Goans; and Parsis. All these South Asian communities had separate places of worship, sports and welfare facilities. This struck Bhatia as being unlikely to encourage greater social contacts with Africans, if the South Asians themselves were divided into such sharply competing communities.

Keywords

British Colonial Slave Trade South Asian Community Oral Testimony British Official 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Prem Bhatia, Indian Ordeal in Africa (New Delhi: Vikas, 1973) pp. 14–18, 43,57.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Yash Ghai, ‘The Future Prospects’, in Dharam P. Ghai (ed.), Portrait of a Minority: Asians in East Africa (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1965) is a basic text.Google Scholar
  3. Yash Ghai and others in Racial and Communal Tensions in East Africa (Nairobi: East African Institute of Social and Cultural Affairs, 1966).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Robert G. Gregory, South Asians in East Africa: An Economic and Social History 1890–1980 (Boulder, Colo: Westview 1993) p. 25.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Several researchers closely associated with Robert Gregory have also written important studies of East African Asians. They include Charles Bennett, ‘Persistence Amid Adversity: The Growth and Spatial Distribution of the Asian Population of Kenya, 1903–1963’ (PhD dissertation, Syracuse University, 1976)Google Scholar
  6. Martha Honey, ‘A History of Indian Merchant Capital and Class Formation in Tanganyika c. 1840–1940’ (PhD dissertation, Dar es Salaam University, 1982)Google Scholar
  7. Dana April Seidenberg, Mercantile Adventurers: The World of East African Asians 1750–1985 (New Delhi: New Age International, 1996).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See, for example, Tim Allen, ‘Ethnicity and Tribalism on the Sudan-Uganda Border’, in K. Fukui and J. Markakis (eds), Ethnicity and Conflict in the Horn of Africa (London: Currey, 1994) p. 126Google Scholar
  9. Michael Twaddle, ‘Ethnic Politics and Support for Political Parties in Uganda’, in Transfer and Transformation: Political Institutions in the New Commonwealth (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1983) pp. 155–65Google Scholar
  10. John Saul in the Review of African Political Economy, 5 (1976) pp. 24–5, 32Google Scholar
  11. Michael Twaddle, ‘“Tribalism” in Eastern Uganda’, in P.H. Gulliver (ed.), Tradition and Transition in East Africa: Studies of the Tribal Factor in the Modern Era (London: Routledge, 1969).Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    My earlier account of Maini’s testimony appears in Michael Twaddle (ed), Expulsion of a Minority: Essays on Ugandan Asians (London: Athlone, 1975).Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Gervase Clarence-Smith, (ed.), The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade (London: Cass, 1989) for further details.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Michael Twaddle, ‘The Founding of Mbale’, Uganda Journal, 30 (1966) pp. 25–38.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    J.S. Mangat, A History of the Asians in East Africa c 1886 to 1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969) is still a useful introductionGoogle Scholar
  16. Michael Twaddle, ‘Z.K. Sentongo and the Indian Controversy in East Africa’, History in Africa, 24 (1997) pp. 309–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 14.
    H.S. Morris, reviewing Mangat in the Bulletin of SOAS, 33 (1970) at p. 234.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    Shanti Pandit, Asians in East and Central Africa (Nairobi: Panco Publications, 1963) is the most detailed biographical dictionary, paid for principally by those included in it.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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