SOAS Workshop on Hadrami Emigration

by Linda Boxberger
University of Texas at Austin

Yemen Update 37 (1995):27

More than thirty papers contributed by participants formed the foundation for three days of round-table discussions on the following topics: Economic Origins of Emigration from Hadramaut and the Economic Impact on Hadramaut of the Diaspora; Political Origins of Emigration from Hadramaut and the Political Impact on Hadramaut of the Diaspora; Social Divisions within Hadrami Society; Religious Divisions Between Hadramis; Hadrami Social Identity in Relation to Host Societies in the Diaspora; Hadrami Roles in the Internal Politics of Host Societies; Economic Niches Occupied by the Hadramis in Host Societies; Relations of the Hadramis with other Diaspora; the Hadramis and Colonial Rule. Each topic was introduced by a discussant who gave a summary overview of the topic, indicating salient points from various workshop papers and raising issues for further discussion.

During the three days of lively and sometimes contentious discussions, new questions were continually raised and old assumptions were questioned. How do you define Hadrami communities of the diaspora? Do you count number of generations away from the homeland and how do you take into account self-identity of the community members? What were the political and economic "push and pull" factors contributing to emigration? How did they differ for emigrants of different social strata and economic class? How was emigration affected by the economic cycles of the host communities and the Indian Ocean region as a whole? What were the relationships between the homeland and the diaspora communities and among different Hadrami communities of the diaspora? Between emigrants and the host communities? Between new emigrants and the foreign-born in the emigrant communities? To what extent was the social stratification system prevalent in the homeland replicated in the diaspora? How did marriage function as a means of assimilation into the host communities and how did different marriage patterns of host communities affect the process of assimilation? What was the religious influence of Hadrami emigrants in the region? How much of their influence was direct, due to proselytizing, and how much indirect, due to their example and intermarriage? What were the advantages and disadvantages of colonial rule for Hadrami emigrant communities? How did the colonial powers' perception of the Hadrami communities correspond to those communities self-perceptions and to reality? What role did Hadrami communities play in anti-colonial and nationalist movements of their adopted countries?

Discussions were frequently punctuated with calls for additional research in order to provide a fuller picture of this unique culture of migration. Further study of Hadramaut and its emigrant communities is needed to identify the "social technologies" available in the "cultural tool-kits" (in Abdalla Bujra's terms) employed by Hadrami emigrants which enabled them to survive and thrive in different host communities, economies, and colonial environments. At the same time, further study of the emigrant communities and the social, economic, and political conditions surrounding them in the host community environment is needed to elucidate the differing courses of development which took place in different areas of the region. This workshop provided a first step in the process of bringing together those familiar with the Arabian homeland of Hadramaut with specialists in the societies which hosted Hadrami emigrants. One hopes that there will be more opportunities in the future for collaboration across disciplinary and area studies boundaries in order to illuminate this unique aspect of Indian Ocean history.

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