The Black Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Augsburg College]On: 28 June 2014, At: 09:17Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Social Dynamics: A journal ofAfrican studiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsdy20

    The Black Atlantic Meets the IndianOcean: Forging New Paradigms ofTransnationalism for the GlobalSouth Literary and CulturalPerspectivesIsabel Hofmeyr a ba University of the Witwatersrand , South Africab University of the Witwatersrand , E-mail:Published online: 11 Aug 2008.

    To cite this article: Isabel Hofmeyr (2007) The Black Atlantic Meets the Indian Ocean: ForgingNew Paradigms of Transnationalism for the Global South Literary and Cultural Perspectives,Social Dynamics: A journal of African studies, 33:2, 3-32, DOI: 10.1080/02533950708628759

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02533950708628759

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  • SOCIAL DYNAMICS 33 .2 ( 2 0 0 7): 3 - 3 2

    The Black Atlantic Meets the IndianOcean: Forging New Paradigms ofTransnationalism for the Global SouthLiterary and Cultural Perspectives'Isabel Hofmeyr

    AbstractWith the recent transnational turn in the humanities and social sciences,questions of translocalism have come to dominate the academic agenda.Where southern African studies has engaged with transnationalism, this hasgenerally been pursued through the framework of the black Atlantic. Thisarticle argues that we need to supplement this perspective with a systematicengagement with the Indian Ocean. The article outlines various majorhistoriographical traditions associated with the Indian Ocean and thenseeks to draw out how these themes challenge assumptions which have beentheorised on the basis of black Atlantic patterns. The paper concludes witha discussion of how a consideration of the Indian Ocean would enlarge themaps ofSouth African literary and cultural studies.

    As the humanities and social sciences take an increasingly tra nsnationalturn, the acade mic marketplace has become crowded with models thatseek to explain the phenomena of globalisation and translocalism. Almostwithout exception, this scholarship has focused on north-south modes oftran snationalism. Indeed the terminology itself, like the word globalisation,thro ugh its apparent neutrality appears to imply transnational processesemanating from the west and the n radiating outward.

    But what of transnationalism within the south itself? What of non-western sources of globalisation, or processes of transnationalism thathappen without reference to Europe? That these questions are of pressingimport is apparent if we turn to some stati stics . Trade between South Africaand India shot up from R300 million in 1993 to R16.5 billion in 2006. By

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  • 4 T H E BL A C K A TLANTIC M EETS TH E I N D IAN OCE AN

    2005, Chinese tr ade with Africa as a whole had reached $30 billion. South-south tr ade is expanding faster than any other trade flow in the world - atabout 11 percent per year.

    From a number of perspectives, th en, it is critical to engage with debateson transnat ionalism in th e global south. This paper seeks to outline onepossible framework for addressing such a task. In brief, it suggests thatwe look qu ite literally at our locat ion in southern Africa - between twooceans - and see what ana lytica l purchase that may provide. Put in slightlydifferent term s, what can we der ive from th inking abo ut th ree intersectingframeworks: the black Atlantic , the Indian Ocean and Africa itself? Ininvestigating these issues, th e paper argues that insofar as southe rn Africa nliterary studies has pursued transnational the mes, these have generally beendone in a framework of the black Atlanti c. These approaches have producedwork of value. We need to bui ld on th is legacy and at the same tim e extend itby th inking more abo ut the Indian Ocean and its intersectio ns with, but alsoits differences from , the black Atlantic.

    The paper proceeds in three parts. It begins with some historiograph icalclear ing of the decks and draws out the major trajectories of anglophonescholarship on the black Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Secondly, I ask whatdifference the Ind ian Ocean makes. W hat broader theoret ical issues doesit raise? Does it unsettl e and relativise some of the Atlantic categories th atwe have come to acce pt as 'nor mal'? Thirdly, I atte mpt to translate thesecategories into the field of southern African literature and to demonstratehow a consideration of the Ind ian Ocean alongside that of the black Atlanticwould produce novel definiti ons of southern African literature.

    Historiographies

    The Black AtlanticLet us begi n with th e easies t part of the histor iographical equatio n, namely,th e black Atlantic. The term is of course so well known that, like a famousguest, it requires no intro duction. In brief, the phrase has become a shorthandterm for understanding th e Atlantic seaboa rd as the site for the emerge nceof capita list modernity as a tr ansnational system. This articulating systemin and across th e ocea n draws in the African slave trade, the Americanplantation eco nomies and the Europ ean industries that these enabled. From

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  • ISA BEL HOF M EYR

    the sixteenth century onwards, the peoples of the Atlantic are hurtled intothis vortex of modernity, some more violently than others (Gilroy, 1993;Rediker, 1987; Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000). In C.L.R. James's famousdictum, slaves become the first modern people (1992 [1962]: 296-97).

    Historians like Marcus Rediker (1987) and Peter Linebaugh (2000) havedescribed the historical networks linking Atlantic ports, jails, barracoons,ships and plantations and how ideas of freedom and equality are made bysailors, slaves, prostitutes, dockworkers and pirates working in and acrossthese sites. Building in part on Rediker, Paul Gilroy (1993) has deepened theanalysis to understand the Atlantic as a site of transnational black modernityneither African nor American, Caribbean or British, but a complex translationof these various traditions into something new.

    The paradigm of the black Atlantic (whether known by this term or not)has long been active in southern African literary studies. As Laura Chrismanhas indicated, it has informed Sol Plaatje's thinking and is apparent in hisinteractions with W.E.B. du Bois (2003: 89-106). In Songs of Zion , a historyof the African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Africa, James Campbelldemonstrates how ideas of heaven have been shaped in the black Atlantic(1995). In The Af rican Image, Ezekiel (Es'kia) Mphahlele describes the roleof black Atlantic cultural formations in South Africa as a 'dialogue acros s thesea' (1974 [1967]: 96). Tim Couzens (1982) has written of the 'transatlanticconnection' and the impact of American-sponsored philanthropic projectsin the 1920s and 1930s in dampening the radical edges of black urbancultural formations, a th eme that Bheki Peterson has taken up more recentlyin Monarch s, Missionaries and African Intellectuals (2000). The world ofAfrican-American music , style and fashion has been a powerful influenceand much work has traced out the interplay of African-American and SouthAfrican imaginaries. On e thinks of Rob Nixon (1994) exarriining Harlemin Sophiatown, or Dorothy Driver (2001) studying the images of women inDrum magazine, or Michael Titlestad (2004) exploring transatlantic musicalforms and their improvisor y interaction with literature.

    There are of course voices que stioning the limits of the paradigm of theblack Atlantic. Chrisman has pointed to the generalisations produced by it,one of which celebrates all transnationalism as good and all nationalism asbad. As her work oil Plaatje and Peter Abrahams indicates, nationalism isnot the opposite of transnationalism and the one can foster the other while

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  • 6 TH E BLAC K ATLA N TIC M EET S THE I N D IAN OCE A N

    transnationalism can produce its own forms of exclusion (Chrisman, 2005:252-71). Another questioning voice has been Ntongela Masilela (1996), whohas pointed to the virtual absence of Africa in Gilroy's discussion of the blackAtlantic.

    The Indian OceanLet us move now to the Indian Ocean, a cultural and economic system ofconsiderable antiquity, in some accounts stretching back 5,000 years. SugataBose in his recent book A Hundred Horizons: The Indian Ocean in an Age ofGlobal Imperialism has characterised the Indian Ocean as an 'interregionalarena' (2005: 6), a set of articulating trade systems that have interlinkedMalays , Chinese, Indians, Arabs and Africans. It is an arena in which Britain,Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the USAcame into contact with Africa, the Middle East and the Orient.

    Before the rise of steam power in the Indian Ocean, the core of its tradenetworks resided in the alternating monsoon winds blowing from thenortheast between November and April and from the northwest betweenJune and October. The historiography of the Indian Ocean is not quite asancient as these winds, but has been blowing for millennia, particularlyin the dominant written langu ages of the Ocean, namely, Arabic, Persian ,Gujarati and Swahili.

    The modern anglo phone historiography of the Indian Ocean World ,while of relatively recent provenance, constitutes an extensive and complexarchive. Firstly, there have been numerous popular traditions of representingthe Indian Ocean, parts of which belong to a type of orientalism at sea. Theseinclude popular accounts like Richard Hall's Empires of the Monsoon (1996)and T.Y. Bulpin's excellent Islands in a Forgotten Sea (n.d.). Other examplesare Tintin's adventures, som e of which unfold in the Indian Ocean (Herge ,1960), as well as numerous stories of pirates and boy's own adventure andtales of derring-do.

    With regard to more academic analyses, the Indian Ocean has beenconsidered from a range of vantage points. There are of course voluminousscholarships devoted to the different geographical regions around theIndian Ocean littoral (Mozambique; the Swahili Coast; the Horn; etc.), thesegenerally falling under the various categories of Area Studies that dividethe Indian Ocean World (lOW): Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, South

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  • ISA BEL HOFME YR 7

    East Asia and Australia. Our concern is somewhat different and engages thetraditions of scholarship that have sought to understand the Indian Ocean asa network (Kearney, 2004; McPherson, 1993; Pearson, 2003; Toussaint 1966;Verges, 2003).

    A central focus in this work has been an emphasis on the mechanics,scope and scale of the long distance trade that shuttled between the majorport cities of the lOW and well-beyond. One emphasis in this work has beenon the non-violent nature of the trade. Amitav Ghosh, in his remarkabletravelogue /history/memoir In an Antique Land (1992), has explored thispeaceful long -distance trade of the Indian Ocean as a way of drawing acontrast with .the contemporary world divided into militarised nations.Engseng Ho makes a similar point in his work on the Hadrami diaspora inthe Indian Ocean; th is ancient diaspora that reached out from south Yemendeep into the Indian Ocean was not backed by an armed state:

    The Portuguese , Dutch, and English in the Indian Ocean were strangenew traders who brought their state with them. The y created militarizedtrading-post empires in the Indian Ocean, following Venetian and Genoeseprecedent s in the Medit erranean , and were wont to do busin ess at thepoint of a gun. Hadr amis and other non-Europeans - such as Gujarati s,Bohra s, Chettiars, Buginese, and Malays - did not. (Ho, 2006: xxi)

    In Ho's phrasing, 'non-Europeans entered into relations with locals that weremore intimate, sticky, and prolonged than the Europeans could countenance'(ibid).

    As Bose points out, while there is a rich tradition of work on the distantpast of the Indian Ocean world , there is comparatively less on the nineteenthand twentieth centuries. One notable exception has been the work of MarkRavinder Frost (2002), which has started to outline a distinctive IndianOcean public sphere that flourished from the 1880s to the 1920s. Basedin the port cities of the Indian Ocean and sustained by the intelligentsiasof intersecting diasporas, this public sphere was rooted in pan-religiousmovements, be these Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. As Frost notes, thediasporic intelligentsias of the port cities shared 'similar concerns forreform and oversaw parallel campaigns for religious revival, educationalimprovement and constitutional change' (2002: 937). These intellectualcircuits produced a world of crosscutting and contesting universalisms,

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  • 8 THE BLA CK ATL A NTIC MEE TS THE IND IAN OC EAN

    producing a view of colonialism less as an encounter of the local and theglobal than as a contestation of different universalisms.

    The Indian Ocean provides an arena in which such universalisms ofthe south become apparent. What have some of these universalisms been?Another way to phrase thi s issue is to ask: what are the unifying themes ofthe lOW? Given the breadth and depth of the Indian Ocean scholarship,there are numerous answers to this question apparent from the differentways in which scholars 'carve up' the ocean analyticall y. Recurrent rubricsare trade, capital a...

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