- India in Africa/Africa in India: Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanisms, and: Afrindian Fictions: Diaspora, Race and National Desire in South Africa
While research in the histories and cultures of the Indian Ocean has been ongoing now for several decades, it has reached the shores of the Anglo-American academy in two main waves–the first in the aftermath of Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 and the second in the wake of South African apartheid when South Africans embraced their newly emergent "rainbow nation." The three decades that spanned those moments saw political economists move from dependency theory to models of world systems that were less characterized by notions of centers and peripheries, historians move from relatively Eurocentric histories to those marked by a greater attention to non-Western historical agency, and literary critics move from an almost exclusive focus on the Euro-American literary canon to greater interest and attention to the literatures and cultures emanating from places that had been marked by Empire. The two books reviewed here are a product of those interests and histories and are poised to be excellent harbingers of yet another critical wave of interest in the Indian Ocean and the peoples and cultures that surround it.
As its title suggests, John Hawley's collection brings together work both on Indians in Africa and Africans in India. The former refers not only to the indentured workers who were brought to South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius, and other Indian Ocean islands in the late nineteenth century, but also to the traders and merchants who have been engaged in commerce in some cases well before the arrival of the Europeans in this terrain. The latter refers not only to those enslaved Africans who were brought to India over several centuries for both domestic labor and military service (in which they often achieved high office), but also to those later arrivals who settled in India after being rescued from slave ships by the British. Interest in such African communities in India first emerged in the work of Joseph Harris in the seventies but has mushroomed significantly since then. Included in Hawley's volume is a very provocative essay by Gyn Campbell that challenges some of what he sees as the "essentialist" approach to Africans in India by scholars who have studied these communities. At the heart of the debate is the issue of assimilation and identity: while some scholars such as Pashington Obeng and John McLeod (both also in the volume) argue that descendants of the original Africans in India retain their sense of African identity through cultural [End Page 243] performance or religious practice and should therefore be considered diasporic subjects, Campbell argues that these communities have been so integrated into Indian society that the concept of diaspora is not only empty but politically disempowering to them. Read together, the essays in this volume on Indian Ocean slavery and the African settlements in India are a useful lens into the larger debates that surround this rapidly growing arena of scholarly study.
The section of the book that covers Indians in Africa is equally engaging. Here I would distinguish between two kinds of essays—those that serve primarily to introduce new material and those that work with the existing archive of knowledge but present new interpretations of this archive. Of the former, Dana Rush's essay on the idea of India in West African Vodun Art and Gwenda Vander Steene's essay on "Hindu" dance groups and Indophiles in Senegal most interested me. Rush's essay presents a captivating account of the travel of lithographs of Hindu deities into West Africa and the ways in which they are incorporated into indigenous religious practices, including the worship of Mami Wata. Vander Steene's essay provides a glimpse into the Senegalese world of "Hindu evenings"—"soirées indous"—the...