This project addresses transformation of Indian Ocean imaginaries and memories in East and South Africa, Indonesia, Oman, Iran, Diego Garcia, China and India. Our research has so far demonstrated the limiting nature of the ‘Indian Ocean’ approach since Afrasian (Africa-Asian) interactions go beyond the littoral states of the Indian Ocean to Indonesia and beyond. This project therefore studies the cultural production and transformation of “Indian Ocean imaginaries” and "Indian Ocean memories” which we perceive of as “Afrasian imaginaries” and ”Afrasian memories“ (see Karugia 2017, Schulze-Engler 2014) within transcultural settings (Erll, 2011).
The central research question focusses on transregional connections between imaginaries and memories of the Indian Ocean region generated by historical African-Asian interactions on the one hand and the representation of today’s African-Asian interactions. We ask how the Indian Ocean works as a space of memory in Asian and African memory cultures. The ‘Afrasian Ocean’ world connects multiethnic communities. In some of these Afrasian spaces, we observe a paradigm-shift from competitive towards multidirectional memory (in the sense of M. Rothberg 2009). With our focus on Afrasian imaginaries and memories, we target the historical emergence and contemporary constitution of new transregional concepts of space. With its historical focus, this project contributes to lending historical depth to the analysis of African-Asian interactions within the AFRASO research programme as a whole.
Regarding Afrasian imaginaries, the project is based on the assumption that Afrasian imaginaries differ vastly throughout East Africa. We therefore analyze the corpus of East African literature in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) from 1960 to the present day with a special focus on: concepts and images of the Indian Ocean area as a transregional cultural contact zone, representations of Asians, Asian culture and Asian countries and different versions of Afrasian imaginaries in coastal regions and the East African hinterland. The combined analysis of dhow literature in English and Swahili and the corpus of anglophone East African writing is designed to produce new insights into the complex genesis and transformation of Afrasian imaginaries and to provide differentiated answers to the question if and how contemporary images and concepts of the Indian Ocean as transregional contact zone build on earlier Afrasian imaginaries, or whether representations of current African-Asian interactions are characterized by a break with these historically generated imaginaries.
As regards Afrasian memories, we perceive them as „connective memories.“ They connect, reconnect and articulate transregional historical imaginaries. We analyze how the long history of exchange between Africa and Asia is remembered today and which functions such memories fulfil in the light of current interactions. Our assumption is that the centuries-old relations between both regions (trade, migration, slavery, indentured labour, soldiers etc.) are not simply forgotten in the face of today's Afrasian interactions (such as labour migration, tourism, transnational media cultures), but that they constitute a "space of experience" (R. Koselleck) against which the present situation is understood and expectations for the future are articulated. Museums, literature and other media, memory institutions and memory sites across the world of the „Afrasian Ocean“ address human interactions and power dynamics across time and space. We ask how Afrasian imaginaries and memories contribute to an understanding of present and future African-Asian interactions.
In the framework of AFRASO, our goals are to understand, first, the significance of historical imagination for transregional conceptions of space and, second, the importance of local imaginary and memory cultures for the representation and interpretation of current African-Asian interactions. In light of the foregoing, we are analysing the production of contemporary transnational imaginaries of citizenship, the complex negotiation of transcultural identities amongst old Asian-African and new Asian diasporas, claims of long-standing transregional socio-political and cultural links, new and old memory sites built or claimed by certain Afrasian communities and Afrasian bio-politics within old and emergent Afrasian diasporas.
'Memory', in this project, describes on the one hand elements of explicit, official memory culture (e.g. the remembrance of Gandhi in South Africa); on the other hand, we reconstruct what John C. Hawley (2008, 4), drawing on James C. Scott, has called "hidden transcripts": implicit, non-official, private and subaltern forms of memory, which, however, can be articulated in literature, photography, film and other media. Such imaginaries and memories have especially come to the fore in interviews we conducted with various groups of people in South Africa, East Africa, Oman, China and India as well as in our recent investigation of ‘travelling afrasian objects’ and ‘multidirectional mnemoeconomics’ (see Karugia 2017).
An Afrasian framework has allowed us to investigate transregional dynamics of interactions and relations between Africa and Asia across the vastness of time and space. This perspective has counteracted the danger of perceiving ‘Afrasia’ as a new transregional ‘container.’ Our research on Afrasian imaginaries and memories conceives of Afrasian’ as a sensitizing term that opens up new perspectives and as a new way of looking at and analyzing various contemporary dynamics in this transregion. We critically self-reflect on limitations of our ‘Afrasian’ perspective. This Afrasian way of looking at this transregion can only become productive if blurred spaces and places like its connectivity with Afrabia (Africa and Arabia) are adequately addressed (see Karugia, 2018 in preparation).