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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2012

University of California, Los Angeles
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This article examines an Urdu travelogue written in 1901 to analyze the discursive frameworks by which Africa was rendered knowable to Indian settlers. As a vernacular ethnography written for a readership of Punjabi migrants associated with the Uganda Railway, the travelogue provides our earliest direct evidence of colonial Indian attitudes towards the peoples and landscapes of East Africa. Envisioning the region as at once an imperial and Islamic settlement zone, the travelogue documents the emergence of an ‘imperial-Islamicate’ discourse that incorporated both littoral and interior East Africa into an industrializing oceanic culture area.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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Thanks to Ned Alpers, Clare Anderson, Jonathan Miran, Julia Verne, and the anonymous readers for helpful comments and suggestions.


1 Cited in Metcalf, T. R., Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley, CA, 2007), 165Google Scholar.

2 Cited in Gupta, D., ‘Indian perceptions of Africa’, South Asia Research, 11:2 (1991), 162CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Metcalf, Imperial Connections, 166.

4 S. Nair, ‘Shops and stations: rethinking power and privilege in British/Indian East Africa’, in J. C. Hawley (ed.), India in Africa, Africa in India: Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanisms (Bloomington, IN, 2008), 77–94.

5 Alpers, E. A., East Africa and the Indian Ocean (Princeton, NJ, 2009)Google Scholar; Loimeier, R. and Seesemann, R. (eds.), The Global Worlds of the Swahili: Interfaces of Islam, Identity and Space in 19th and 20th-Century East Africa (Berlin, 2006)Google Scholar; Miran, J., Red Sea Citizens: Cosmopolitan Society and Cultural Change in Massawa (Bloomington, IN, 2009)Google Scholar.

6 See, for example, Gregory, R. G., South Asians in East Africa: An Economic and Social History, 1890–1980 (Oxford, 1993)Google Scholar; Mangat, J. S., A History of the Asians in East Africa, c.1886 to 1945 (Oxford, 1969)Google Scholar; Seidenberg, D. A., Mercantile Adventurers: The World of East African Asians, 1750–1985 (New Delhi, 1997)Google Scholar.

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8 Hodgson, M. G. S., The Venture of Islam: A Short History of Islamic Civilization (Chicago, IL, 1961), vol. 1, 59Google Scholar.

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11 I have adapted this phrase from Banerjee, S., Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-Victorian Empire (Durham, NC, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Anonymous, Safarnāma-e Ūgandā wa Mumbāsā (Lahore: Khādim al-Ta‘līm Istīm Prēs, 1904), 4–5, passim. I have used a copy that I located in the Vernacular Tract holdings of the Asia Pacific & Africa Collections (formerly Oriental and India Office Collections), British Library.

13 Safarnāma, 3–4.

14 Railway, Uganda, The Uganda Railway, British East Africa: From Mombasa to Lake Victoria Nyanza, and by Steamer Round the Great Lake (London, 1911)Google Scholar.

15 Metcalf, Imperial Connections, 200.

16 Ibid. 188.

17 Cited in Ibid. 188.

18 The Final Report of the Uganda Railway Committee, cited in Metcalf, Imperial Connections, 200.

19 Among a rich body of work, see Anderson, C., Convicts in the Indian Ocean: Transportation from South Asia to Mauritius, 1815–53 (Basingstoke, UK, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Carter, M., Voices from Indenture: Experiences of Indian Migrants in the British Empire (London, 1996)Google Scholar; and Ghosh, D., ‘Under the radar of empire: unregulated travel in the Indian Ocean’, Journal of Social History, 45:2 (2011), 497514CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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21 Nair, ‘Moving life histories’, chs. 2 and 3.

22 Ebrahimji Noorbhai Adamji, ‘My journeys to the interior’, trans. V. Chavda and S. Keshavjee, in C. Salvadori (ed.), Two Indian Travellers: East Africa 1902–1905 (Mombasa, 1997), 1–97.

23 Aiyar, S., ‘Empire, race and the Indians in colonial Kenya's contested public political sphere, 1919–1923’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 81:1 (2011), 132–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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27 On Punjabi dominance among the Uganda Railway migrants, see Forster, P. G., Hitchcock, M. and Lyimo, F. F., Race and Ethnicity in East Africa (New York, 2000), 83CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and M. Mann, ‘“How many people were crying oceans...”: Südasiatische Migranten im Indischen Ozean’, in D. Rothermund and S. Weigelin-Schwiedrzik (eds.), Der Indische Ozean: Das afro-asiatische Mittelmeer als Kultur- und Wirtschaftsraum (Wien, 2004), 136.

28 Mir, F., The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab (Berkeley, CA, 2010)Google Scholar.

29 Safarnāma, 4–5, passim.

30 Kerr, I. J., Building the Railways of the Raj, 1850–1900 (Delhi, 1997), 65–8Google Scholar.

31 Safarnāma. On other Urdu texts dealing with Africa, see Green, N. S., ‘The dilemmas of the pious biographer: missionary Islam and the oceanic hagiography’, Journal of Religious History, 34:4 (2010), 383–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Green, ‘Urdu as an African’.

32 Mawlwī ‘Abd al-Khalīq Khān, Sayr-e Barhmā (Lucknow, 1310/1893).

33 Green, N. S., Islam and the Army in Colonial India: Sepoy Religion in the Service of Empire (Cambridge, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 On the religious effects of this transformation on South Africa, see Green, N. S., Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915 (Cambridge, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 7.

35 Kālīdās Guptā Rizā, Hindustānī.

36 Kālīdās Guptā Rizā, Bahār-e Urdū, 18.

37 M. Alam and S. Subrahmanyam, Indo-Persian Travels in the Age of Discoveries, 1400–1800 (Cambridge, 2007).

38 Al-Azmeh, A., ‘Barbarians in Arab eyes’, Past and Present, 134:1 (1992), 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Safarnāma, 12, 14.

40 Ibid. 12.

41 The loanword naychar is used in Safarnāma, 32. On the export of imperial conceptions of nature, see D. Arnold, The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800–1856 (Seattle, 2006).

42 Safarnāma, 17, 31.

43 Ibid. 51. On the incident, see also Metcalf, Imperial Connections, 202–3.

44 J. H. Patterson, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures (London, 1908).

45 Safarnāma, 19–22.

46 Ibid. 6, 20.

47 Ibid. 9, 25.

48 Munshī I‘tisām al-Dīn, Shigarfnāma-e Wilāyat, Urdu translation by Amīr Hasan Nūrānī (Patna, Bihar, 1995).

49 Green, Bombay Islam, ch. 2.

50 ‘Abd al-Karīm Munshī, Pēdrō Shāh Sāhib kī Karāmāt (Bombay, 1321/1903). For further discussion, see Green, Bombay Islam, 80–9.

51 Safarnāma, 6.

52 Ibid. 6.

53 Ibid. 6.

54 Ibid. 7.

55 Ibid. 7.

56 Ibid. 7.

57 Ibid. 8.

58 Green, Bombay Islam, 69–75.

59 Safarnāma, 8–9.

60 On early twentieth-century Kikuyu conversions, see Sandgren, D. P., Christianity and the Kikuyu: Religious Divisions and Social Conflict (New York, 2000)Google Scholar, ch. 2.

61 Safarnāma, 9.

62 Ibid. 9–11.

63 Ibid. 11–12, 16–17, 22–5, 28, 33, and 39.

64 Ibid. 11.

65 Gregory, R. G., ‘Co-operation and collaboration in colonial East Africa: the Asians’ political role, 1890–1964’, African Affairs, 80:319 (1981), 259–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar; on ‘Muslim-European collaboration’ (albeit an expression I do not find particularly helpful), see especially 261–5.

66 Kālīdās Guptā Rizā, Hindustānī.

67 On accounts of Africans in earlier Arabic ethnographies, see Al-Azmeh, ‘Barbarians’, 9–12. Arab sources also recognized varying degrees of African ‘civilization’ and ‘barbarism’.

68 Glassman, J., ‘Sorting out the tribes: the creation of racial identities in colonial Zanzibar's newspaper wars’, Journal of African History, 41:3 (2000), 395428CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

69 Safarnāma, 33.

70 Mungō Pārk [Mungo Park (1771–1806)], Safarnāma Mungō Pārk Sāhib Kā (Calcutta, 1853). A copy of this work is also held in the Vernacular Tract collection of the British Library.

71 Safarnāma, 25; for example, Ngoma.

72 Ibid. 25–6.

73 Ibid. 25–7.

74 Safarnāma, 29–30 and 43.

75 Ibid. 43.

76 Ibid. 43.

77 Ibid. 43–4.

78 Ibid. 44.

79 Ibid. 50.

80 Ibid. 35.

81 Benjamin, N., ‘Trading activities of Indians in East Africa (with special reference to slavery) in the nineteenth century’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 35:4 (1998), 405–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82 Benjamin, ‘Trading’, 417–18.

83 Safarnāma, 46.

84 Ibid. 46.

85 Ibid. 50.

86 Ibid. 40.

87 On the use of official reports, see Safarnāma, 6.

88 Safarnāma, 47.

89 Ibid. 48.

90 Ibid. 49. For the classic colonial account, see G. W. Briggs, Gorakhnāth and the Kānphata Yogīs (Calcutta, 1938).

91 Safarnāma, 24, 27, 33.

92 Ibid. 17, 27–8, 50.

93 Ibid. 11, 23–4, 42.

94 Ibid. 28. For statistics on Punjabis in East African regiments around 1900, see D. S. Tatla, ‘Sikh free and military migration during the colonial period’, in R. Cohen (ed.), The Cambridge Survey of World Migration (Cambridge, 1995), 71.

95 Safarnāma, 28–9.

96 See also Loimeier and Seesemann, Global Worlds of the Swahili.

97 In contrast, see Pearson, M. N., ‘Littoral Society: The Case for the Coast’, Great Circle, 7:1 (1985), 18Google Scholar.

98 Brennan, J. R., ‘South Asian nationalism in an East African context: the case of Tanganyika, 1914–1956’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 19:2 (1999), 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99 Manzūr Husayn Māhir al-Qādirī, Siyāhat-nāma-e Māhir al-Qādirī (Lahore, 1987). Technically, from 1947 onwards, Mahir al-Qadiri was Pakistani, but the larger point remains. For critical discussion of later pejorative Indian notions of Africa, see Gupta, ‘Indian perceptions’; and Hofmeyr, ‘The idea of “Africa”’.

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