CENTRE FOR MIDDLE EASTERN
SOCIETY AND CULTURE AROUND THE INDIAN OCEAN
Linking global cities; tracing local practices
Islamic literature and networks in the South-Western Indian Ocean, 1800-2000
NFR PROJECT 178634/V20
The religion of Islam is the paramount unifying feature of the port cities of the western Indian Ocean. In the past decade, a series of studies have viewed the Indian Ocean rim as a global world linked through persistent cultural contact, the religion of Islam and, later, the emergence of European colonialism. These studies have applied the concept of translocality, both as overarching research perspective and as reference to empirical realities. Furthermore, they have analyzed movements of people, goods and ideas between the port cities of the Indian Ocean, specifically with a view to the inter-civilizational encounters and ensuing cultural change. The result is the emerging field of Indian Ocean studies, which in turn address the ongoing debate on globalization.
Through detailed study of new sources deriving from northern Mozambique and coastal South Africa, this new project will fill lacunae in the empirical knowledge about Swahili regional identity and the spread of Islam through networks of learning. The project, funded by the Research Council of Norway, will produce fresh knowledge about Islamic literature and learning in South-Eastern Africa and link the missing cities in a string of ports and work towards a completion of a chain.
Ass. Prof/Researcher Anne K. Bang, University of Bergen
Prof. R. Sean O'Fahey, Department of History, University of Bergen
Elke Stockreiter, School of Oriental and African Studies/University of Bergen Prof. Abdul Sharif, Zanzibar Indian Ocean Research Institute
Ass. Professor Jeremy Prestholt, University of California, San Diego
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The Indian Ocean Programme: Hadrami diaspora:
migration of people, commodities and idea
The conceptual challenge of the programme is how to deal with the Indian Ocean in the 'long durée'. Links across the ocean date back to the first and second millennium BC, and such links have provided links between early communities and state formations earlier conceived as being fairly isolated. In this perspective studies on technologies for travelling and for communication have been important. This field affects both the way the Hadramis could travel on their migration and what it took to undertake such a travel, but also how and what type of links could be maintained between the Hadrami migrants in the diaspora and the communities back home. One important part of this brings us to the history of navigation in the Indian Ocean and the importance of the monsoon to the earlier phases of such navigation, compared to later technologies based on steamships and air traffic. Such links of communications did not only bring people around the region. Central was also the flow of commodities, coffee from Yemen, spices from India and South East Asia, slaves from East Africa, dried fish from Shihir, and also the considerable business involved in transporting people going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Hence issues such as the availability of trade capital, the ability to organize trading houses in rational ways and dealing with the issue of information about markets far away become central operational challenges.
The travelling of people also implied travelling of Islamic missionaries
and the propagation for the Shafi'i school of Islam. The dominance of
this law school throughout the Indian Ocean is intimately linked to
the migration history of the Hadramis that we are dealing with. Thus
there is a need to focus on such intellectual networks and how Islamic
teachers have maintained links to each other across the ocean, and how
they have related to local populations, be they fellow Hadramis or other
Muslims. Of particular importance in the historical studies is the role
played by the 'neo-Sufi brotherhoods' around the region.
It is this wider cultural historical perspective that the study of loanwards becomes of particular relevance, in order to document effects of the various phases of culture contact that have been indicated above.
The four-year project concluded with a conference in Bergen in December
Trade, migration and cultural change in the
The emergence of Islam in the seventh century and the subsequent spread of Arab-Islamic culture across the Indian Ocean brought a new dimension and intensity to already established networks. More specifically, the regions to the south and east of Arabia became linked for the first time through a common religion, Islam, and through the adoption of elements from Arab culture. On the eastern shores of the Indian Ocean and deep into Central Asia Buddhism spreading from India played a similar uniting role. As the Arab-Muslim networks spread it was not long before Islam started to replace Buddhism in some areas. A comparison between functions of these two religions in the creation of over-seas trading networks will definitively underline the broad perspective of this project. The establishment of Arab trade posts in seaports around the Indian Ocean was essential. There emerged an Arab diaspora bound together through trade links, marriage ties and travelling students and scholars. The uniting force of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca should also be included in the analysis. The Swahili culture on the east coast of Africa is one such result of Arab migration.
The overall aim of the project is to come to a better understanding of the connection between trade, migration and cultural change. Knowledge about commercial activities can be gained from archaeological evidence and written sources. We believe further that if one can reconstruct the trans-oceanic commercial links then one can also draw some conclusions about migration patterns. Then comes the question of who migrated, did they bring their families and how did they gain a living abroad. When we know the answers to these questions we may also be able to say something about the economic and cultural impact of migration.
Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies