Shihan de Silva

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Contact details

Name:
Shihan de Silva
Qualifications:
DipLCM, BSc (Econ)(London), MSc(Finance)(London), PhD (Linguistics) (Westminster)
Position/Fellowship type:
Senior Research Fellow
Institute:
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Phone:
020 7862 8844
Email address:
shihan.desilva@sas.ac.uk
Website:
http://commonwealth.sas.ac.uk/index.php?id=171

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Colonies & Colonization, emigration & immigration, Communities, Classes, Races, Contemporary History, Cultural memory, Globalization & Development, History of art, Human rights, International Relations, Social Sciences
Regions:
Africa, Asia, Europe
Summary of research interests and expertise:

migration, commerce and cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean; the Malay and Portuguese diasporas; the history of African migration eastwards; the origins of Afro-Asians including ethnomusicological and linguistic research

Shihan serves on the editorial boards of African Diaspora and Transnationalism (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers) and African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage (California: Left Coast Press).

She served as a Member and Rapporteur of the International Scientific Committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project (Paris, France).

http://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/south-asias-africans/

Across South Asia, there are isolated communities of African origin – often disadvantaged and with only tenuous links to the continent of their forbears. Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, a London-based researcher, explains how her interest in these communities was first aroused, and how diverse patterns of migration still shape the situation of people widely known today as ‘Sidis’:

Project summary relevant to Fellowship:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shihan's book - The African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories (UK: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010) concerns the global movement of Africans, the routes of migration and cultural survivals.

http://www.mellenpress.com/mellenpress.cfm?bookid=8062&pc=9

http://www.historyandpolicy.org/research/new-books/newbook_2.html

http://www.royalafricansociety.org/events/details/1057-the-african-diaspora-in-asian-trade-routes-and-cultural-memories.html

With increase of migration, diaspora studies have become a more significant part of global history. The African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya (Published by Edwin Mellen Press, UK) contributes to building a more comprehensive narrative of the global African movement. Concerned with Africans who migrated beyond the Indian Ocean, even to China and Japan, the book aims to stimulate scholarship on African movement to Asia and also to increase awareness of the history of Afro-Asian communities who still live in isolated pockets of Asia.

Uncovering a slave route from Madagascar to Sumatra, the author identifies points of origin of slaves - Mozambique, Madagascar, Angola. Dr de Silva Jayasuriya argues that Africans played a vital role as interpreters, musicians and facilitators of cultural transformation and theorises on how Africans themselves were affected by the process of migration.


http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/the_african_diaspora_in_asia_trade_routes_and_cultural_memories/

 

Publication Details

Related publications/articles:

Date Details
01-Feb-2019 A Hybrid Performance: East African Spirit Possession and Sri Lankan Manhas.

Journal articles

 Journal of Africana Religions

01-Oct-2018 Recognising the Intangible Heritage of Afro-diasporic Communities in South Asia

Chapters

 Hyderabad: Mapin Publishers

11-Jul-2017 Lost Narratives and Hybrid Identities: Afro-Asians

Chapters

 Barcelona: Indialogs

30-Jun-2017 African diaspora in South Asia: A Theoretical Perspective

Chapters

Paris: UNESCO

01-May-2017 Land and Maritime Empires in the Indian Ocean

Monographs

 Beatrice Nicolini & Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, Educatt, Milan, Isbn: 9788893351867, PP. 288.

31-Jan-2017 Unexpected Outcomes of the Portuguese Encounter in Sri Lanka: Innovation and Hybridity

Chapters

 Bielefeld: Transcript

11-Oct-2016 African Roots of South Asians

 UK: John Wiley

01-Jun-2015 African Roots of South Asians

Abstract In this paper, I will be exploring the historical links between Africa and South Asia, with particular reference to South Asians with African ancestry. The number of South Asians in this category are small in comparison to the total populations of these countries but the numbers are significant and cannot be ignored. How do these communities fit in with the local societies? What has been their role? Issues of identity and belonging will be considered with specific reference to cultural loss and maintenance through language and music.

10-Jan-2015 Afro-Sri Lankans and their emergence from invisibility

01-Jan-2013 Sidis of India

Articles

 

Sidis of India

There were several waves of African migrations to India over the centuries, numerous pushes and pulls with Africans finding new homes in different parts of India.

Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya

 

Movement of Africans to Asia, their achievements in the hostlands and their role in modern India is little known. An estimated 60,000 Sidis (Indians of African origin), go unnoticed in a country with a population of 1.2 billion whose diversity is as wide as the Indian Ocean.

Africans in India were known as Sidis and by many other terms through time and space. Habshi or Makrani, associated them with the geographic region from where they originated (al Habash – Ethiopia) or settled down (Makran Coast). They were also known as Cafre (from Arabic qafr – ‘non-believer’) or Chaush (a Turkish word which means ‘military commander’ or ‘officer in charge’) and by several other local terms.

Africans ruled parts of India from the 16th century

African sailors, missionaries and traders moved freely to Asia. After all, part of Africa’s coast is on the Indian Ocean. Janjira, an island off the west coast of India, became the base for African traders from the thirteenth century. Three hundred years later, from the sixteenth century, the same island became a power base for Africans who ruled parts of India. In 1948, a year after independence, when India’s princely states were absolved and incorporated into the new India, two States, Janjira and Sachin, were ruled by Sidis. Murud Ganj Palace, in Janjira, is being restored by its current occupant, the grandson of the last Nawab of Janjira, Sidi Mohammed Khan III.

The democratic system of electing leaders based on merit, aptitude and capability, rather than on social rank and heredity, contributed to the longevity of African rule in Janjira. Sidis ruled Janjira for 330 years (from 1618 to 1948) and Sachin which was an offshoot of Janjira, for more than 150 years (from 1791 to 1948).

 

A century before Africans ruled western India, they ruled Eastern India for a short spell of seven years. At the end of the fifteenth century (1487 to 1493), there were four Habshi rulers. From their intimate position as palace guards in the Bengal Sultanate, Habshis overthrew the ruler and gained control.

Elite slavery channelled slaves to prominent roles

Prominent Sidis such as Malik Ambar have been written into Indian history. Ambar, an Ethiopian, was sold to slavery by his parents, but became the Regent Minister of Ahmednagar in 1600. Ambar’s extraordinary life and achievements are unsurpassable. Yet he was not the only Sidi who reached the corridors of power. Elite slavery channelled slaves to prominent roles and leadership positions. The tomb of Malik Ambar in Khuldabad indicates the respect he commanded as a military leader, strategist and philanthropist.

 

The majority of Sidis are, however, lost in the forests or villages. Those in urban areas are mistaken for tourists until they begin to speak in the local languages. Their presence was brought to the fore when tourism was developed in the Gir forest (Gujarat). There are about 25,000 Sidis spread out in various parts of Gujarat. Given the importance of western India and the Malabar Coast in Indian Ocean trade, it is not surprising that Africans found their way to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala and Goa. Slaves running away from the Portuguese in Goa formed maroon communities in the neighbouring State of Karnataka, where there are about 25,000 Sidis.

In the South Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, there are about 10,000 Sidis (also known as Chaush). Their ancestors were brought from Yemen by the Nizams of Hyderabad to form an African cavalry. After India’s independence, Sidis lost their important role within the power structure. Disempowered and impoverished, they continue to live in Hyderabad, in an area called African Cavalry Guards.

Most Sidis now speak local languages and they are Indian

In Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) the Sidis are the descendants of the Nawab’s African cavalry and female bodyguards. Africans fought, bravely and fearlessly, for the losing Nawab, during the Indian Mutiny, in 1857, the turning point for British rule in India. English soldiers were not aware that the brave soldiers who fought so courageously against them were women until after their deadbodies were found in the Sikander Bagh. A few Sidis also live in Madya Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Africans were exposed to different religious systems en route to India and even in India. Conversion was common and there are Muslim, Christian and Hindu Sidis. Wherever Sidis have assimilated, identification becomes problematic. Physiognomical features alone are not sufficient to identify Sidis. Inter-religious marriages prevail among Sidis. Religious identity can wash over ethnic identity. Marriages between Muslim Sidis and other Indian Muslims is acceptable. At times, ethnicity overrides other identities. Religious beliefs and practices vary and there is no homogeneity in terms of the Indian languages they speak. Nor is there uniformity in their status today.

Their fates and fortunes follow their exposure to activists and politicians. Sidis in Shaurashtra and Uttar Kannad have been accorded Scheduled Tribe status, which entitles them to reserved quotas in employment and educational establishments. All Sidis wish to benefit from India’s affirmative action plans but most Sidis are classified as Other Backward Castes.

There were several waves of African migrations to India, and the history of Sidis is multi-layered. Over the centuries, there have been numerous pushes and pulls with Africans originating from various points of the continent and finding new homes in different parts of India. Many legends and histories surround their arrival in India.

African languages have been lost in the process of settling down and indigenisation. A few elderly can recall KiSwahili and their songs have preserved a few words of their ancestral language, though KiSwahili was not necessarily the mother-tongue of African migrants. Africans came to India as servants in the 1920s, 1930s and even later on and the elderly Sidis say that they learnt KiSwahili from their grandparents. As most Sidis were born in India, they now speak the local languages: Gujarathi, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu.

Colonisation, slavery and globalisation were drivers of migration. Concentrations of Sidis from the same ethnolinguistic group was rare as they were often separated for fear of rebellions. The trend in the Indian Ocean World was for slaves to drift away from their own cultural identity, and to adopt a new one. Inevitably there is tension between integration and assimilation.

Several generations of Sidis were born in India and now they are Indian. They are able to reconcile their hybrid identity saying: “We’re Indian and African”. Sidis blend in with the multicultural mosaic of India. In terms of clothing, housing and language, they cannot be differentiated from others. What really draws Sidis apart from other Indians is their artistic traditions. Melodies and themes in Sidi music have been identified as Tanzanian or Ethiopian. Their cultural memory is strong; music and dance connect them to Africa. Sidis believe they are descendants of Prophet Muhammed’s first Muezzin, Hazrat Bilal, an Ethiopian whose beautiful voice and devotion to the Prophet won him this important position. This underscores the importance of music and dance in their identity.

Noble courts were entertained by Sidi servants playing ngoma on drums, rattles and conch shells. Goma has been a vehicle for Sidis to travel outside their villages. Dressed in animal skins, pinned with peacock feathers and with painted faces, Sidis have performed in Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and United States.

A few Sidis have visited Africa. A Sidi who just returned to India after performing Goma at a cultural festival in Nairobi, told me about his pleasant experiences of visiting his ‘homeland’. Diasporic consciousness also grows with increased awareness of Africa and visits to Africa. Music and dance anchors Sidis to Africa, whilst adapting to their hostland.

In Gujarat, Sidis have carved out a new identity and were able to maintain certain aspects of their heritage by gathering at the shrines of their Saints: Bava Gor, Bava Habash and Mai Misra.

Sidi Sufi practices involve music, song and dance. With their polyrhythmic drumming, Goma brings their African roots to the fore. Beating African drums (mugarman which stands on feet, musindo which is similar to a dhol only played with the hands, armpit drums which resemble talking drums), strumming braced musical bows (malunga), shaking coconut rattles (Mai Mishra) and blowing conch trumpets (nafir) all contribute to the authenticity of the performance whilst signalling their difference. In western India, music and dance, have become entwined with religious practices which altogether have ascribed a new role for Sidis.

Sidis dream of an All India Sidi Association

In Gujarat, Sidis themselves have established the Sidi Goma al Mubrik Charitable Trust. The goals of the Trust are to enhance the economic, social and educational needs of the community. The family who initiated this Trust served the Maharajah of Bhavnagar and was rewarded for their loyal services. A sense of Sidi identity and their African heritage is developing further as scholars and journalists take an interest in these Indians who are still identifiably African. Together with their sense of ethnic identity, solidarity grows and also dreams of an All India Sidi Association. Due to the diverse linguistic situation in India, on the rare occasions that Sidis have met their kinfolk from other regions, they cannot speak to each other without an interpreter.

The heterogeneous origins of Sidis, add to the complexity of their cultural survivals. In Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), where the Sidis have originated from Yemen, drum bands beating out their African connections, are popular at local weddings and other social occasions. Also popular are their Daff groups, the Daff being a round single-headed frame drum. Association with Africa is, at times, played down due to the stigma of slavery and the slave trade. Sidis in Hyderabad stress their Yemeni origins. The recent trend in Gujarat also has been for Sidis to highlight their association with India’s royal households. They speak with nostalgia about the important positions they held within the royal palace and they cling to their pleasant memories. Sidis remember with nostalgia their families’ associations with the Maharajahs, Maharanis, Nawabs and royal households when they held important positions as bodyguards, chief cooks and guardians of the jewellery boxes due to their unfailing trustworthiness.

South Asians of African descent also live in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Movement from Africa and the formation of communities united by a common cultural heritage and memory of migration may be a surprise to many as acculturation, disenfranchisement, marginalisation and the diversity of South Asia have led to the concealment of these communities. Sidis have various African roots and their forebears came to South Asia on different routes, both over land and by sea. Regardless of their roots and routes, today Sidis enhance the diversity of India.

 

01-Jan-2012 India's Hidden Affican Communities

Global October 2012

01-Jan-2012 Musing on Kaffrinha and Baila

Journal articles

Ceylankan Journal 60, Vol.XV, Number 4, November 2012 (Australia) 

01-Jan-2012 Survival Against All Odds: Longevity of Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole.

Edited Book

In:  Language Contact:  A Multidimensional Perspective.  Ed:  K Ihemere.  Newcastle:  Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2012). 

01-Jan-2011 African Migration: Understanding Trends and Traditons (Special Guest Editor)

African and Asian Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers)

01-Jan-2011 Recruiting Africans to the British Regiments in Ceylon: Spillover Effects of Abolition in the Atlantic

African and Asian Studies 10 (2011): 15-31

This paper focuses on the displacement of Africans, spurred by the tradition of recruiting soldiers to serve in both Asian and European armies. It considers the pressure to recruit Africans to the British regiments in Ceylon (called Sri Lanka since 1971) as documented in historical records in the National Archives and how this process was affected by Abolition in the Atlantic. It highlights the spillover effects, of abolishing the transatlantic slave trade, into other oceans.

01-Jan-2011 Language Maintenance and Loss among Afro-Asians in South Asia.

In: Language Contact and Language Shift: Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Ed: K Ihemere. Munich: Lincom Academic Publishers.

01-Jan-2011 South Asia’s Africans: A Forgotten People

Journal articles

History Workshop Online: UK

Across South Asia, there are isolated communities of African origin – often disadvantaged and with only tenuous links to the continent of their forbears. Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, a London-based researcher, explains how her interest in these communities was first aroused, and how diverse patterns of migration still shape the situation of people widely known today as ‘Sidis’:

01-Jan-2010 Persisting Portuguese Linguistic Imprints in India and Sri Lanka

In: Portuguese in the Orient (Kandy: International Centre for Ethnic Studies)

01-Jan-2010 The African diaspora in Asian trade routes and cultural memories

Monographs

Edwin Mellen Press, UK/USA

01-Jan-2010 The African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories

UK: Edwin Mellen Press

With increase of migration, diaspora studies have become a more significant part of global history. The African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya (Published by Edwin Mellen Press, UK) contributes to building a more comprehensive narrative of the global African movement. Concerned with Africans who migrated beyond the Indian Ocean, even to China and Japan, the book aims to stimulate scholarship on African movement to Asia and also to increase awareness of the history of Afro-Asian communities who still live in isolated pockets of Asia.

Uncovering a slave route from Madagascar to Sumatra, the author identifies points of origin of slaves - Mozambique, Madagascar, Angola. Dr de Silva Jayasuriya argues that Africans played a vital role as interpreters, musicians and facilitators of cultural transformation and theorises on how Africans themselves were affected by the process of migration.

02-Jun-2008 Crossing Boundaries: Africans in South Asia

Afrika Spectruk

01-Jan-2008 Uncovering the History of Africans in Asia

Edited Book

Brill Academic Publishers: Leiden, Netherlands.

The presence of Africans in Asia has been overshadowed by the tragedy of Atlantic slavery. Identifying Africans in Asia therefore challenges contemporary scholarship. Within this context, the processes of assimilation and marginalisation hinder identification of African migrants. This book demonstrates the multiplicity of roles performed by Africans and the heights that a few of them reached, even in a single generation. Drawing on a variety of sources, both oral and documented, this book reveals the extent of the African presence in Asia.

01-Jan-2008 Portuguese in the East: Cultural History of a Maritime Trading Empire

London: IB Tauris Academic Publishers

Vasco da Gama's voyage to India in the late 15th Century opened up new economic and cultural horizons for the Portuguese. At the height of Portugal's maritime influence, it had created an oceanic state ranging from the Cape of Good Hope to China. While Portugal's direct political influence in Asia was comparatively short-lived, its linguistic influence remains. Here Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya charts the influences of the Portuguese in more than fifty Asian tongues, illustrating the extent of Lusitanian links. Luso-Asian influence became engrained in eastern cultures in more subtle ways than other European empires which followed, such as the Portuguese oral traditions in folk literature, now embedded in postcolonial Asian music and song. These Portuguese cultural legacies are a lasting reminder of an unexpected outcome of seaborne commerce.

01-Jan-2008 African Identity in Asia: Cultural Effects of Forced Migration

New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers

In contrast to the dispersion of slaves across the Atlantic, African movement to Asia has received scant attention, because forced migrations across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, which endured for centuries, were not part of a significant economic network.

However, Britain’s commemoration in 2007 of the bicentennial of its abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade has now stimulated interest in other African migrations.

In a book that encompasses the strong military impact made by even first-generation African migrants in Asia, as well as the descendants of the royal Africans who governed Sachin and Janjira (India), Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya further demonstrates that African music and dance have not only survived the brutalities of forced migration but have also contributed to the local Middle Eastern and South Asian arts scene. Even though spirit possession ceremonies have been preserved as a form of cultural identity, new, blended forms of music that evolved in Asia have now become indigenized in the host countries. Forced African migrants have become inadvertent cultural brokers between two continents.

Combining historical accounts, both documented and oral, this groundbreaking work explores—through case studies, and through the processes of assimilation, social mobility, and marginalization—the silent history and conflicting identity of Asia’s Africans.

01-Jan-2008 African migrants as cultural brokers in South Asia

Paris: UNESCO.

African migrants found themselves in Asia, largely due to the slave trade. This paper explores cultural flows between Africa and Asia, highlighting the role of music. The lyrics of the Afro-Asian songs are a database exposing African linguistic links with Asia. The musical talents of the Afro-Asians need to be nurtured. Their music is internationally marketable but needs a market-maker.

01-Jan-2008 India and the African Diaspora

In: Encyclopedia of African Diaspora. Ed: Carole Boyce-Davies.

01-Jan-2006 Trading on a thalassic network: African migrations across the Indian Ocean

Articles


International Social Science Journal
Volume 58, Issue 188, pages 215–225, June 2006


African migration eastwards has received far less academic attention than that across the Atlantic. While westwards migration was concentrated over a few centuries, migration across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean has been continuing for over a millennium. Migration eastwards was both free and forced. Nevertheless, slavery and the slave trade were a major force in this phenomenon. Displaced Africans found themselves amongst people who had diverse cultural values and who spoke different languages. Within this context, the ethnicity of the slaves was not important to the slavers. Often slaves were separated from their kith and kin. This situation gave rise to cultural transformations but music and dance are among the striking cultural retentions. Creolisation resulted in some instances, while contemporary Afro-Asian communities are marginalised. This article considers the plight of the descendants of African migrants to the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka.

01-Jan-2003 The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean

Edited Book

Although much has been written about the African Diaspora in the Atlantic Ocean, the Diaspora in the Indian Ocean is virtually unrecognized. Concerned with Africans, who lived south of the Sahara and were dispersed by free will or forcefully to the non-African lands in the Indian Ocean region, this books deals with a topic that has long been overlooked.


Eight scholars, researching the African Diaspora in distinct geographical locations in the Indian Ocean region and with expertise in the areas of history, anthropology, linguistics, international relations, politics and sociology, have contributed papers to this book.

Afro-descendants in Asia

Articles

Afro-descendants in Asia: Introduction

Afro-Sri Lankans and their emergence from Invisibility

Articles

African migrants in South Asia

Articles

 UNESCO

Identifying and Mapping Afrodescendants in South Asia and the Gulk

Conference papers

https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Racism/WGEAPD/Session24/SdSJDay3.pdf

Publications available on SAS-space

Additional Publications

Consultancy reports:

Date Details
2009 Slave Route Project: Meeting of the International Committee

Report to the Executive Council UNESCO

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