Academic journal article History In Africa

The Indian Voice : Connecting Self-Representation and Identity Formulation in Diaspora

Academic journal article History In Africa

The Indian Voice : Connecting Self-Representation and Identity Formulation in Diaspora

Article excerpt

Abstract : This article examines a previously overlooked publication titled The Indian Voice of British East Africa, Uganda and Zanzibar . Printed in Nairobi between 1911 and 1913, the Indian Voice has been dismissed by some scholars as "insignificant" in the wider context of Kenya's militant press. As an important tool for discovering, exploring and analyzing the nature of racial hierarchies, diasporic identity and belonging, this article argues that the Indian Voice can be used to understand how "new kinds of self-representation" both emerged and dissolved in early twentieth-century East Africa. By contextualizing the historical significance of the newspaper, it demonstrates how the Indian Voice offers an invaluable means of generating new insights into the complex cultural and political formulations of Indian identities in diaspora. In doing so, this article contributes to remapping the historical perspective of East African Indians within the early colonial period.

Résumé : Cet article a pour objet un journal que l'historiographie a négligé jusqu'à présent, The Indian Voice of East Africa, Uganda and Zanzibar ['La Voix des Indiens en Afrique de l'est, en Ouganda et à Zanzibar']. Publié à Nairobi entre 1911 et 1913, The Indian Voice est jugé par certains historiens "de peu d'importance" dans le contexte de la presse militante au Kenya; or, il s'agit d'une source importante pour mettre en lumière, explorer et analyser la nature des hiérarchies raciales, des identités diasporiques, et de la construction des appartenances. Cet article soutient qu'on peut utiliser The Indian Voice pour mieux comprendre l'émergence ainsi que la dissolution de "nouvelles sortes de représentation de soi" en Afrique de l'est aux débuts du vingtième siècle. En replaçant l'importance historique du journal dans son contexte, il montre que The Indian Voice offre un moyen précieux de produire de nouveaux aperçus de l'élaboration culturelle et politique complexe des identités indiennes dans la diaspora. L'article contribue ainsi à redessiner la perspective historique des Indiens de l'Afrique de l'est à l'époque coloniale.

Introduction 1

East Africa's minority Indian populations have received considerable historical attention. 2 Following the processes of decolonization, a growing body of literature has emerged that has addressed the social, cultural, economic and professional development of Indian settlers within the Indian Ocean realm. 3 Yet, despite this there remain several areas worthy of further inspection. The first of these areas relates to the relative paucity of historical information concerning the early history of Indian settlements in East Africa. As observed by Robert Gregory: "since very little remains to chronicle this early relationship," scholarship pertaining to initial Afro-Indian interactions has proved difficult to come by. 4 Although Gregory makes particular reference to early trade relations, the same can be said for early twentieth-century diasporic encounters when, as argued by Isabel Hofmeyr, notions of African Indian citizenship were constructed within the boundaries of Empire. 5 Thus, while some aspects of revisionist literature have documented the political and economic dimensions of Indian immigration - especially in the 1920s and the late colonial period - little emphasis has been placed on the processes of identity formulation and the negotiation of diasporan boundaries during the earlier period. As a result, it can be argued that the significance of the "era of liminality" has not only been overlooked, but continues to compete with the contemporary imagination of pre-1920s East Africa in which the narrative of Indians as "coolies" and the myth of man-eating lions hold prominence. 6

Second, there has been a tendency, particularly amongst nationalist and colonialist texts, to examine the history of Indian communities in East Africa in terms of territorially bound categories such as the nation state. …

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