The project asks how the Indian Ocean works as a space of memory in Asian and African memory cultures – especially in South Africa, East Africa, South Asia and China. 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 China and beyond. This project therefore studies the cultural production of "Indian Ocean Memories” which we perceive of as „Afrasian memories“ (see Karugia 2016, in preparation). Afrasian memories are „connective memories“. They connect, reconnect and articulate transregional historical imaginaries. 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).
The project's key question is 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. The project starts from the assumption 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 memories contribute to an understanding of present and future African-Asian interactions.
In the framework of AFRASO, the project's goals are to understand, first, the significance of historical imagination for transregional conceptions of space and, second, the importance of local 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, the project wants to 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 memories have especially come to the fore in interviews we conducted with various groups of people in South Africa, East Africa, China and India as well as in our recent investigation of ‘travelling afrasian objects’ and ‘multidirectional mnemoeconomics’ (see Karugia 2016, in preparation).