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Welcome My name is Tess. I'm a 9-5 New Yorker and traveler. My hobbies include destroying suitcases, photo-bombing tourists in Times Square, and taking long romantic ADHD walks around the globe. Welcome!

Jun 19, 2013

Can We Talk About The Indians In The Room?


As a handsome young, Indian commuter & I  discussed the severe winters in the NYC Metro area, he said that he considered moving back to the year-round tropical weather of his own country in fifteen years time. "India Tropical?" really?  

 When I told him that I too considered "expat-ing" abroad, in East Africa, perhaps Tanzania, he jumped in excitedly and said, "Really? That's where I am from!" Habari Gani! He then proceeded to talk to me in perfect Swahili.

Miss Tanzania 2007 Richa Adhia -
Her victory ignited an ethnic debate

Many people are aware of how the entrails of colonialism in Africa, left behind large numbers of Germans, Dutch, & French to name a few.  And although many of these groups left en mass, as African countries began gaining their independence; those who remained now consider themselves to be Afrikaners, a separate ethnic group of non-indigenous Africans.   

But by what name do we call the Indians of Africa? How many people know about the Asian population that settled in Africa, beyond South African borders?  Ethnic Indians can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa by the hundreds of thousands. And their presence however small, is still noteworthy.


Did you know that Tanzania has an Indian Embassy?

But what brought them to Sub-Sahara Africa in the first place? Indentured servitude, the British, and the early scramble for African development play a prominent role. For example, when Britain commissioned the construction for the Kenya-Uganda Railway in 1896, the project brought over 30k Indians to Sub-Saharan African for work over a 30 year period.

However, this doesn't explain why when work related contracts ended, or when dictators, like Idi Amin expelled them after having a dream in which "God told him to do it", (sure blame God) still many of them chose to stay behind. One reason seems to have had much to do with what the British began doing - enterprising


Asian-Africans - Rwanda

During the 1900s' Indians in Kenya held significant economic strength & political positions over indigenous Blacks.  In 1905 a merchant named Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, became one of Kenya’s first Indian politicians. He also founded The African Standard - Kenya's first newspaper, which is still in circulation today.  And did you know that by 1948, 183 of Uganda's 195 cotton ginneries were Indian run? Indians also largely controlled the trade in Zanzibar.

Presently, East African countries like Tanzania not only have an Indian embassy but have had former beauty queens of Indian descent.  Zambia Mozambique and Rwanda also have thriving Indian communities. And Zanzibar is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, of the band Queen

Mombasa a coastal region in Kenya is a popular wedding destination.  

Over the following decades, Indians amassed a comfortable amount of wealth, owning properties establishing businesses and cornering commercial trade markets in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Malawi.  "A Bend in the River written by Indian-Trinidadian author, V.S Naipaul, is said to have best described the experience of the Indian population in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Like most Africans, these Southeast Asian descendants speak several languages; English, one or two ancestral Indian languages (i.e. Gujarati) and of course, the national language of the African country they are from (i.e. Swahili).  Historically, Indians have moved throughout the world in search of work, for centuries. They can also be found calling home to a number of Caribbean countries like Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname & Jamaica.

Take a look as writer/director Steve Sander's tells the tale of these trans-continental Indians or "Indian-Africans" in a documentary called African Raga.  And the next time someone of  Indian descent tells you they can't wait to visit home, be sure to ask "where" exactly home is.