Negotiating Hinduism in East Africa, 1860-1960

Gijsbert Oonk

Abstract

This paper describes how Hindus in East Africa developed from ‘South Asians in Africa’ to ‘Asian Africans’ between 1880-1960. It shows how the Hindu community in East Africa realised their own geographical spaces and areas of interaction. The various cultural encounters of Hindus traders and businessmen with African, Arab and European communities may have been economically profitable, but they harmed cultural pillars of Hindu identity, like notions of caste, purity, food habits and marriage patterns. Obviously, this was not a harmonious process, but one with conflicts in which painful decisions had to be made and legitimised. For others, however, it was an opportunity to free themselves from the burden of religious patronage. The research is based on the history of more than twenty Hindu Lohana families who have lived in East Africa for three generations or more.

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