chapter  21
23 Pages

Toward an archaeology of the other African diaspora: The slave trade and dispersed Africans in the western Indian Ocean

N o topic pervades historical African Studies more than slavery. Millions of Africans were extracted from local settings and forced to labor over much of the tropical and subtropical world. Research on this forced diaspora overwhelmingly focuses on the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the USA, Brazil, and the Caribbean. Yet, another slave trade, oriented toward the R ed Sea and Indian Ocean, thrust Africans abroad as early as Pharaonic times.1 Reaching its height during the middle to late nineteenth century, the Indian Ocean trade scattered eastern, central, and southern Africans as far afield as Egypt, Persia, India, Indonesia, and Madagascar (Figures 21.1 and 21.2). Slaves served as soldiers, sailors, field laborers, domestic servants, concubines, and pearl divers, among other roles. The socioeconomic systems in which these Africans were entangled and the details of their lives at home and abroad are poorly understood, especially as one delves deeper into antiquity. As Harris (1989: 5) laments, “ [U]ntil serious ... studies appear [on the African diaspora to the East] ... we will remain grossly uninformed about the scope and impact of the global dimension o f the African diaspora.”