“Contemporary globalization rhetoric regularly obscures pasts that never easily conformed to the distances, dichotomies, and differences that we often imagine to have constrained human relationships across space…We should be cognizant of forgotten routes of human connectivity and understand how we have come to see the world as we do.” – Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World (2007).
As globalization has become a big topic over the past few decades and has been made more apparent by the tremendous speed with which people can connect with others across the world, an implicit assumption in globalization discourse is the suggestion that in the past people were primarily restricted to small scale interaction and ultimately isolated. Part of my purpose for taking up this project is to challenge this assumption through the example of the Hadrami diaspora, an old diaspora that through its dynamism is connected to the “modern” and highly cosmopolitan. Starting in Hadramawt, a coastal region in southern Yemen, Hadramis over centuries have established communities along Indian Ocean trade routes and port cities in the Red Sea region, East Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. As my family is partly of Hadrami ancestry, this topic is intimately connected to my family history and this project is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about the different cultural influences that make up my background. Growing up, I never really knew why my parents predominantly spoke Swahili instead of Arabic and why my mother’s family resides in Tanzania rather than Yemen. Moreover, another big motivation for me in pursuing this project is to bring to the forefront the Indian Ocean region which is often forgotten in discussions of globalization and global migration. Migration stories too often present an image of a person traveling from the Global South to reach a better life in the Global North. Instead, the Hadrami diaspora is a story of South-South migration that challenges Eurocentric teleology and suggests an alternate worldview.
As this diaspora is not stagnant and spans across multiple regions for centuries, the main challenge for me is making decisive decisions to focus on a particular time period and location, as to represent the diaspora in its entirety would take far longer than six weeks. Given that I will be working mostly with mapping, I possibly plan to mediate this by representing the various regions and timelines of travel with brief information. Within this broader representation, I can then have a more intensive case study of a particular region or community. As the Indian Ocean region is underrepresented in relation to Atlantic networks, this also presents a challenge in gathering data. Fortunately, I have consulted different professors to find more sources on the Hadrami diaspora. Moreover, there are an array of colonial archives written in places like India and Southeast Asia which I can also reference to trace these patterns. Ultimately, by experimenting with different mapping orientations, over the course of these six weeks I expect to visually represent the interconnectivity of the Indian Ocean region as well as highlight Hadrami cosmopolitans who have been important players in global trade for centuries.