Event — Indian Ocean Lecture Series

Emerging Afro-Asians: forgotten histories

During this lunch lecture, Dr Shihan de Silva will focus on African movement to Asia, both traversing land and sea, placing this history in a broader Indian Ocean context. How do Afrodescendants empower themselves and negotiate new identities at present? How do they relate to the global African diaspora? 

Lunch will be provided; registration is required. 

Organised by the Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies (IIAS; KITLV; Leiden University). 

The Indian Ocean, a web of socioeconomic and political networks connecting a vast area from southern Africa to China - incorporating the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Australia - is densely populated and holds fifty per cent of the world’s population. African movement to Asia, both traversing land and sea, mainly through the Middle East and across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, exposed migrants to a wide cultural spectrum. Transoceanic trade networks impinged on the forced movement of Africans. The Atlantic was also a source of labour supply for Asian colonial outposts. Were the demands for Africans driven solely by the need for labour? What was the trade-off in moving Africans across vast distances?

In Asia, Africans rose to unexpected heights commanding respect and authority. Acculturation en route and in their Asian host lands played a significant part in concealing their African roots. What facilitated the processes of acculturation? The contemporary Afro-diasporic presence in Asia is barely recognised and Afrodescendants are lost in the diversity of Asia’s cosmopolitan cities or hidden in its hinterlands. Moreover, postcolonial dynamics exacerbated the marginalisation of Afrodescendants. Their disadvantaged status has been partially acknowledged and some Afrodescendants are marked out for empowerment.

This presentation highlights the agency of Afrodescendants in empowering themselves and negotiating new identities. By next year (2020), the Indian Ocean region is predicted to become the leader in the world economy. As important actors in the region engage in strengthening their cross-continental networks, their past histories become significant.

African diasporas are usually viewed through the lens of the transatlantic slave trade. An understanding of the drivers of African movement eastwards and the status of Afro-Asians throughout space and time enhances the characterisation of the global African diaspora.

Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya is a Senior Research Fellow based at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London). He has published prolifically on Afro-Indian history and on Sri Lanka under Portuguese colonialism. His three most recent monographs are The African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), African Identity in Asia: Cultural Effects of Forced Migration (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2009), and The Portuguese in the East: A Cultural History of a Maritime Trading Empire (I B Tauris Academic Publishers, 2008). He has also produced and directed ethnographic films.


The Leiden Indian Ocean Lectures series is organised by the Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies (Leiden University, KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and IIAS).


Registration (required)

Please use the web-form on the right-hand side of this page to register (if you would like us to cater for your lunch, before Friday, 20 September, 14:00 hrs.).