Western Indian Ocean

Professor Robert Thornton (031RTHOR@MUSE.ARTS.WITS.AC.ZA)
Wed, 14 Jun 1995 03:41:25 -0400

Gudrun Dahl of Stockholm university requested information and
indication of interest on the Western Indian Ocean as cultural
corridor. Incase others on the list are interested in cultural
history of this particular sort, I'll post it on the list.
I have found this topic fascinating for years. My Ph.D. research
was in Tanzania, and I speak Swahili since i had lived in East Africa
for years before that, and have been interested in the history of
the language. Before that I lived in India, and went ot school there
for some time, so I have some experience on the other side of the
Indian Ocean as well, and have been aware of the fact that there are
people of African origin in India, and that some of the Ind. Ocean
Islands are inhabited by African people speaking Swahili-like
langauges, or even Swahili. I have not been able to travel or do
research in the area myself, however.
There is one researcher that is unlikely to have been heard of by
Dahl and her colleagues. He has an extremely indiosyncratic view of
the region, but I know of no one who has done more extensive
research, or who has a better command of the languages involved. His
name is Cyril Hromnik. He lives in Cape Town, and works on a sort of
full-time amateur basis, altho he has a PhD from Syracuse U on Goan-
Mozambiquan contact. He speaks/reads Portuguese, Tamil, Swahili,
English, with some Dutch, German and French, not to mention his
native Slovak, and a bit of Russian! He can 'sound out' material in
Hebrew and Arabic scripts as well, although he does not read these
He has been possessed for the past 15 years with the idea that
there was a significant Indian presence in southern Africa, people
who were mainly speakers of Dravidian langauges and early Shivites by
religion. His 'hypothesis' is that they were a significant enough
presence to have been responsible for the construction and workings
of many of the ancient gold mines in SA, Moz. and Zimbabwe retion,
and that they also were responsible for some of the stone work as
well. They were traders and miners, primarily, and were responsble
for the early gold workin in Africa that supplied India and the far
East, as well as Arabia. When the trade in the Indian Ocean
collapsed after early European intervention, some stayed in Africa
and blending in eventuallywith the locals, and some returned, by then
looking rather more African than Indian. There is a certain cultural
logic, since he argues that they traded animals and animal products
from India for gold and ivory from Africa. Since one can not get
married in India without gold, nor in Africa without cattle, there is
certainly strong motive on both side. It is clear that there were
people recognised as 'Indian" in the southern AFrican region when
Europeans first appeared (1460s-1700s), and it has always been a
vexed question why they were there, if they were 'really there' or
just figments of Portuguese imaginings (but Portuguese and Dutch were
pretty clear about these thinkgs in all other instances we know
In any case, Hromnik has 15 years of notes, and has done extensive
archaeological survey work, but published vbery little. There is one
book that might be interesting"

Cyril A. Hromnik, Indo-Africa:towards a new understanding of the
history of sub-saharan africa. Cape Town: Juta and co. ltd., 1981.

He has published quite a few articles, but mostly as ephemera. The
methodology is quirky, and the whole undertaking rather nineteenth
century-ish, but it is fascinating.
Hope this might help Gudrun Dahl and her associates. I will send
your email notice to him (he is in the bush for a couple of months
now however), and will make a note of it for myself. I would like to
be kept informed.

=====Professor Robert Thornton, Department of Social Anthropology====
University of the Witwatersrand, PO Wits, 2050 Johannesburg
South Africa
Office tel. : (011) 716-2900
Secretary, fax and answering machine: (011) 716-2766
Home tel: (011) 646-2578
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