Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s.

Ulrike Freitag and William G. Clarence-Smith, editors,
Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s.
Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East and Asia, vol. 57.
Leiden: Brill, 1997. x, 392 pp. ISBN: 90-04 10771 1 LC# JV8750.5.H33 1997

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 40 (1998):#5

According to the flyleaf, "this volume covers the long neglected history of Hadhramaut (southern Arabia)during the modern colonial era, together with the history of Hadhrami'colonies' in the Malay world, southern India, the Red Sea, and East Africa." With the publication of Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s, the recent history of the Hadramawt (spell it as you will) is no longer neglected. Thejoint editors deserve much credit for a most informative contribution. Ulrike Freitag is a lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern and Gender History at Freiburg University and William G.Clarence-Smith is a reader in Asian and African Economic History at SOAS, University of London.

Several things are remarkable about this book. First, it is a valuable and original (at this point even seminal) contribution to Yemeni Studies despite the fact it started off as a conference. Second, it was published within two years ofthe original conference in 1995 at SOAS in London. This conference comprised some 31 papers, although not all of these have been published here; rather the papers of some participants were substantially revised for publication. The result is laudable -- a series of generally well-written articles as opposed to a mismatch of what showed up at the conference. I would seriously advise any editors seeking to edit conference papers in the future to use this volume as a guide.

Almost everything about this volume deserves praise. The introduction indeed serves as an introduction and sets the stage for the reader in a concise and clear way. This is particularly important given the wide spread of Hadhramis in their"diaspora." The notes on contributors are a good idea for volumes of this sort, especially when a reader wants to follow up on something read (and there is much one might want to follow up on here). It is encouraging to note the international range of contributors,including those from Malaysia and Indonesia. The glossary is predominantly of Arabic terms, but a few Indonesian, Swahili, Urdu and dutch terms are also included. The bibliography is a valuable guide to resources on the subject. Even the index is done inconsiderable detail. In short, here is a volume that has the reader in mind. And I have yet to discuss the contents...

As can be readily seen from the list of articles (given below), these 21 selections cover a lot of territory with regard to the study of Hadhramis in the past few centuries. These will be of interest not only to scholars of Yemen, but to anyone interested in the Indian Ocean trading network, East Africa,India or Indonesia. While the overall emphasis is on social history,several anthropologists include ethnographic data as well.

This book is first and foremost about Hadhramis, especially those who went abroad. As Clarence-Smith sums up in concluding his introductory survey:

Two fundamental and related points arise from this survey. Firstly, the history of Hadhramaut in the modern colonial era can only be understood in the context of its far-flung diaspora. Almost every aspect of life in Hadhramaut was conditioned by the fact that so many men resided outside its borders at any give time. Secondly, Hadhramis played a much greater role in societies scattered around the Indian Ocean than the small size and population of their homeland might have warranted, because they were able to create and sustain networks essential to successful diasporas.

In a comparative perspective, the Hadhrami diaspora displayed certain traits which would repay further treatment. One particularly was the remarkable Hadhrami ability to blend in with host societies, while still retaining a distinct identity. Another was the close intertwining of religious, political and commercial activity, which gave an added resilience to Hadhraminetworks. Both strategies were largely dependent on limiting the diapora to the lands of Shafi'õ Islam, however, which lessened the impact of the Hadhrami diaspora on the global stage (p.18).

It is important to explain the concept of"diaspora" as used in the volume. As Clarence-Smith comments, "diaspora studies" is relatively recent, since the 1980s. It is interesting to note that the journal Diaspora was initiated in the early 1990s with Armenian backing. The definition of diaspora taken as the starting point is that of Gabriel Sheffer, who said they were "ethnic minority groups of migrant origin residing and acting in host countries, but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin" (p. 1). Alatas (p. 24) further refines this to the hadhramis as a "trade diaspora." He goes on to note that diaspora studies were hindered by a tendency to define the concept soley by the Jewish example, with an emphasis on persecution. Obviously, this is not the case for the Hadhrami migrants. Alatas(p. 26) argues for a broader definition of disapora as "comprising dispersal from an original centre, collective memory or myth of the original homeland, a feeling of marginality and alienation in the host country, and continual relating to the homeland, physically or emotionally." This fits the Hadhrami case quite well, as several of the articles illustrate in detail.

It is hard to know where to start (and how much detail to go into) in reviewing a compilation of this kind. I can make a rough distinction in my mind between the information presented about Hadramis in Hadramaut and those outside in the"diaspora." Much of the volume discusses the role of Hadhramis outside Yemen, as the contents indicates.

I will focus here in the Hadramawt. Hartwig, for example, provides a short and valuable summary of Hadhrami political history in the last century (I write this knowing that in two more years such a time-biased statement will notwork...), especially on the struggle between the Al Qu'aytõ (from1843) and the Al-Kathiri (from 1881) sultanates and their interaction with the British. There is also a chronological chart of events comparing South Arabia and India between 1803 and 1888 (p. 49-50). For those interested in the skeleton history of 19tn century Hadramawt, Hartwig sums it up in a nutshell:

The political transformation of Hadhramautcan be divided into three different phases. In the first phase,between 1803 and 1843, several severe conflicts destabilized the region. The subsequent intervention of Hadhrami mercenaries from Hyderabad marked the second phase, when between 1843 and 1849 the AlQu'ayti and Al 'Abdullah al-Kathiri bought and conquered several villages in the interior. During the third phase, from 1850 to 1881,both families tried to gain possession of all important strategic and economic positions in the region. A long and exhausting context for power ensued, during which the whole country was divided up between these two families. British intervention in 1881 and support for the Al Qu'aytõ brought this period of bloody warfare and destruction to an end.

Linda Boxberger picks up where Hartwig leaves off and examine the period from 1888-1967. The year 1888 is the start of the protectorate agreement between the British and 'Abdallah ibn 'Umar al-Qu'aytõ. She examines local politics with the tribes, Ottoman intrigue, disputes over succession in the sulanates,World War II and its aftermath and the last years of British influence before the 1967 revolution. There were some tough times in here for Hadhramis in the homeland. A famine due to drought and loss of remittances in world War II led to the death of some10,000 people in Hadramawt, with poverty so bad that some people were buried in grain sacks for lack of available cloth (p. 61). One canal so read about the last al-Qu'ayti sultan, Ghalib, who only recently returned to Hadramawt on a visit.

Among the other articles discussing Hadramawt per se, the selections by Engseng Ho and Alexander Knysh (which is the same article as that published in New Arabian Studies, volume 4) are especially interesting. Engseng Ho, ananthropologist, discusses the role of the muwallad in the region. The term muwallad, used primarily in reference to those of"mixed blood," is brilliantly analyzed through ethnographic and textual information. Here the focus is on Hadramis who return to Hadramawt although their birth was some place else; most, it would seem, are not well satisfied back home in the motherland. After looking at several textual accounts, the author concludes:

The muwalladõn whose stories are briefly told here are neither exceptionally good people nor exceptionally bad ones, in the local scheme of things. Although Yüusuf used to live it up in Kenya and chews qat now, he came because he concurred with his father's judgement, and now bears the burden of supporting two of his father's seven wives and ex-wives, and their families.

Yet there are many who would maintain that Yusuf simply wants to go back to Kenya to resume his haram activities, just as you can see him chewing qat in the coffee shops. For those so concerned, the movements of these muwalladin, on the large and small scale, are all of a piece. There is not much room for dialogue. This can be seen in the argument between two brothers-in-law over whether to stay in Mecca or return to Tarim. The moral discourse concedes no ground. It cannot be modified by seeing the other's point of view. Thus if a solution is found, it is done by creating an interstitial space, through the use of partitions which break up the ubiquitous, homogenised, moralised space.

One article that fails to achieve its purpose is the discussion of social stratification by Sylvaine Camelin. While her own ethnographic data on al-Shi'r are interesting and betoken more work to appear in the future, the review is too limited to constitute a survey of the literature. While it is most certainly true that "it would be erroneous to believe that there exists one system of stratification applicable to the whole of the Hadhramaut" (p. 156), more needs to be examined than the out-of-date studies of Bujra on Hureidah and Hartley on the Nahd. For those who are not aware of Hartley's unpublished dissertation work on the Nahd tribe,the summary might prove of value. To be fair, the editors note that they asked Camelin to write the piece on short notice, so perhaps they should be chided rather than the author.

One of the strengths of the volume is that it actively addresses what is yet to be studied. Freitag's conclusion (pp. 327-329) should be read by any scholar thinking of doing research on Hadramis. Among those areas thus far neglected is the 18th century, diaspora communities in Egypt, the Hijaz, Ethiopia,Eritrea, Somalis, the Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique, north-western India, mainland Southeast Asia, China, and the Philippines (p. 327). Freitag notes that the archival records of the various East India companies "should be trawled systematically for references to hadhramis in the eighteenth century" (p. 328); in this respect the trawler should examine C. G. Brouwer's masterful project (also reviewed in this volume of Yemen Update) doing just this for early 17th century Mocha. Similarly, the Ottoman archives have yetto be explored on the topic. And the closing word I leave to the closing remarks of Freitag's conclusion:

Transcending these segmented approaches, a most interesting field for future research would be the attempt to recover the stories of prominent Hadhrami families, this showing religious as well as economic links, uncovering issues of identity and assimilation, the changing nature of the diaspora and much more. While research has, until very recently, been conducted with little cooperation between various regional and academic specialisations, such a task requires the transcendance of compartmentalism. Most of all, however, it requires the close collaboration of all those interested in this topic, Hadhramis and non-Hadhramis alike, based on a common view that diaspora research does not mean altering national boundaries or disturbing particular minorities, but aims at a better understanding of a particular type of international society.

One final comment on a personal note. In the first sentence of his introductory article, Clarence-Smith quotes Sir Richard Burton that "it is generally said that the sun does not rise upon a land that does not contain a man from Hadramaut" (p. 1). A fitting anecdote from a now much-maligned scholar of the past. Any book that starts with a quote from Burton deserves a reading. This one is its own reward.


List of Maps

Preface and Acknowledgements


Hadhramaut and the Hadhrami Diaspora in the Modern Colonial Era: an Introductory Survey, William G.Clarence-Smith ... 1

Hadhramaut and the Hadhrami Diaspora: Problems in Theoretical History, Syed Fared Alatas ... 19

Politics, local and international

Expansion, State Foundation and Reform: the Contest for Power in Hadhramaut in the Nineteenth Century, Friedhelm Hartwig ... 35

Hadhrami Politics 1888-1967: Conflicts of Identity and Interest, Linda Boxberger ... 51

The Hadhrami Role in the Politics and Society of Colonial India, 1750s to 1950s, Omar Khalidi ...67

Hadhramis in the Politics and Administration of the Malay States in the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,Mohammad R. Othman ... 82

Dutch Colonial Policy Pertaining to Hadhrami Immigrants, Huub de Jonge ... 94

Hadhramis in International Politics c.1750-1967, Ulrike Freitag ... 112

Social stratification and integration

Hadhramis abroad in Hadhramaut: the Muwalladõn, Engseng Ho ... 131

Reflections on the System of Social Stratification in Hadhramaut, Sylvaine Camelin ... 147

Changing Patterns of Hadhrami Migration and Social Integration in East Africa, Francoise le Guennec-Coppens ...157

The Hadhrami Diaspora in South-Western India: the Role of the Sayyids of the Malabar Coast, Stephen Dale... 175

Natural Leaders of Native Muslims: Arab Ethnicity and Politics in Java under Dutch Rule, Sumit K. Mandal ...185

Religious and social reform

The Cult of Saints and Religious Reformismin Hadhramaut, Alexander Knysh ... 199

Religious Links between Hadhramaut and the Malay-Indonesian World, c. 1850 to c. 1950, Peter G. Riddell ...217

Islamic Modernism in Colonial Java: theal-Irshad Movement, Natalie Mobini-Kesheh ... 231

A Hadhrami Religious Scholar in Indonesia: Sayyid 'Uthman, Azyumardi Azra ... 249

Economic dynamics

The Impact of Remittances on the Economy of Hadhramaut, 1914-1967, Christian Lekon ... 264

The Economic Role of the Hadhrami Diaspora in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, 1820s to 1930s, Janet Ewald and William G. Clarence-Smith ... 281

Hadhrami Entrepreneurs in the Malay World,c. 1750 to c. 1940, William G. Clarence-Smith ... 297


Conclusion: the Diaspora since the Age of Independence, Ulrike Freitag ... 315

Notes on the Contributors ... 331

Note on Transliteration ... 335

Glossary ... 337

Archival Sources and Bibliography ...343

Index ... 367

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