N. Bertz: Diaspora and Nation in the Indian Ocean

Diaspora and Nation in the Indian Ocean. Transnational Histories of Race and Urban Space in Tanzania

Bertz, Ned
288 S.
$ 59.00
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Julia B. Held, Universität Konstanz

Titles do not always speak the truth. Yet, Ned Bertz has written a truly transnational history of the Indian Ocean World. In analysing the notion of nationhood and the diasporic life of Indian immigrants in Tanzania, the author illustrates how non-African minorities negotiated their social and cultural space within a multiracial colonial society and after independence within the context of African nationalism. The book further analyses how social spaces were shaped by political actors such as the colonial administrators and African nationalists to control urban space in their own interest.

Bertz opens the book by criticising the separated and separating approaches of research on diaspora and on nationalism as incomplete, which, according to him, puts its emphasis on more divisions than on interracial interactions. Bertz’s declared aim is “to consider nation and diaspora in a dialectical relationship in order to study how interactions between groups gave rise to racialized public discourses that shaped the nature of urban space in Dar es Salaam“ (p. 21). Bertz’ book needs to be considered in the context of the recent boost of research on race relations in East Africa.[1] “Diaspora and Nation in the Indian Ocean” ties in with this former work, yet adds its individual approach by embedding the Tanzanian history of race relations stronger than any former work in the context of the Indian Ocean world.

The author considers his books a continuation of historical research which has been significantly influenced by the work of James Brennan on urban space and race in Dar es Salaam.[2] Bertz spins this continuation to the world of schools and cinema and successfully shows the everyday interracial experience of Tanzanian Africans and Indians alike. He vividly evaluates how ideas of race shaped urban spaces during and after colonial time. At the same time, he shows that urban spaces, such as cinemas and schools, equally altered imaginations and racial thought. The book manages to put these local spaces in a wider context of the Indian Ocean World. This way, the reader can understand those spaces as local, national and transnational all at the same time.

The book has a long-durée approach covering almost a hundred years of cross-Indian Ocean experiences and connections. The settings of the books are, as the title reveals, the urban space of the Indian Ocean World, specifically Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba) with some reference to India at points. Bertz is using a wide range of historical sources with archival material from Tanzania and India. He further uses self-conducted interviews with Indians and Africans to capture the experiences of individuals within the transoceanic context which he is writing about.

The book is organised in five main chapters. The first chapter serves as a further introduction to the topic by giving a theoretical overview of the two central frames of diaspora and nation in the Indian Ocean context, and at the same time discussing cross-ocean migration patterns as well as the making of an Indian Diaspora in East Africa in the context of Indian nationalism during the British Raj and the Partition. The chapter further sheds light on the individual experiences of identity and mobility through Gujarati migrants’ memories of their travel and their own entangled life. These memories are based on interviews the author held in Gujarat and tell powerful and varying stories from below. The chapter then moves on to analysing how Indian nationalism and its actors tried to nationalize the Indian diaspora abroad and therefore created “an added layer of complexity to diasporic identity while further fusing together the categories of diaspora and nation in the Indian Ocean world” (p. 48). Bertz argues that this left Indians in East Africa trapped between two national identities (p. 59).

Chapter two looks at colonial education policy and how it shaped categories of race by making schools racially segregated public spaces with different schools for Africans, Indians and Europeans. At the same time, racial categories which classified people as African, Indian and European were contested by the inner religious and ethnic divisions within the Asian minority as the author shows by discussing the case of “Ismaili speratism” (pp. 70–75) as well as Muslim schools (pp. 83–88). Yet, the different Indian communities acted united representing the Indian communities as a whole when protecting their educational privileges which included better school funding than the African population received. In this context, the chapter discusses the different forms of funding and quality of education within the segregated school system which prevented most Africans from the access of economic opportunities through education.

Chapter three moves on to recounting the rising popularity of cinema in colonial Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The chapter discusses the work of Censorship Boards which sometimes categorized movies to be unfit for “natives.” Cinema in colonial time offered another public space in which racial ideas were formed. Bertz exemplifies the different tensions which cinema culture evoked within the colonial society: Indian discontent over movies which were seen as religiously insulting, African protests over the fact that even highly educated Africans were not allowed to attend films rated for “non-natives” only while less educated Indians were permitted. By showing how cinema became one of the most popular leisure time activities for the colonial urban society the author demonstrates how cinema created racial divisions (through censorship and ticket pricing) but at the same time endowed commonalities between Africans and Asians through the shared experience of film watching and the accessibility regarding themes and plotlines of movies from India.

In chapter four, Bertz discusses how African nationalism and subsequently Tanzanian socialism and self-reliance influenced educational practices and experiences. Starting in the 1950s, African Nationalism challenged forms of racial segregation and colonial privilege through educational policy. However, African nationalists were using the language of race to contest inequality based on privileged schooling by labelling it antinational or capitalistic. With the beginning of Liberalization, the door opened for a new widening of class differences and social segregation through the rise of private schools and increasing school fees.

Chapter five continues to show how protests by African nationalists in the 1950s, as well as the Tanzanian state in the 1960s, shaped cinema as a space of racial tensions. Here, Ned Bertz depicts cinemas as a national space of transnational film experience. The chapter further shows the way Tanzanian state policies, as well as transnational connections, influenced cinema habits over time. The urban space of cinemas was, similar to schools, a target of African nationalists’ protest against racial segregation and Indian privilege. In the time after independence, state intervention – while not always successful – was used to make cinema a public space of racial integration.

One of the biggest strengths of the book is the longue durée approach Bertz is applying: from the period of early colonial time, the post-World War II years and rise of African nationalism in the 1950s, through the period of Tanzanian socialism and liberalization until the 2000s. The author virtuously manages to tell microhistory within big-time frames and meanwhile catches longer developments, as well as different moments in time. This book proves Bertz’ talent as storyteller most notably thanks to his rich historical sources and the striking oral history he combines with archival material from two different continents.

Throughout the book, the structure is consistent with the author’s line of argument with the small exception of chapter one which seems to be functionally trapped between an introductory purpose of theoretical nature and setting the colourful scene of the Indian experience in the world of diaspora.

Ned Bertz’ book about race and urban space is a successful addition to the Indian Ocean and East African Coast literature offering an entertaining and insightful glimpse in the cultural life of urban Tanzania. The author offers a form of transnational microhistory which is accessible for Historians of the East African region, the Indian Ocean world and all readers with an interest in Global History alike.

[1] Sana Aiyar, Indians in Kenya. The Politics of Diaspora, Cambridge 2015; Ronald Aminzade, Race, Nation, and Citizenship in Post-Colonial Africa. The Case of Tanzania, Cambridge 2013; Margret Frenz, Community, Memory, and Migration in a Globalizing World. The Goan Experience, c. 1890-1980, New Delhi 2014; Jonathon Glassman, War of Words, War of stones. Racial thought and violence in colonial Zanzibar, Bloomington 2011.
[2] Notably: James Brennan, Blood Enemies. Exploitation and Urban Citizenship in the Nationalist Political Thought of Tanzania, 1958-75, in: Journal of African History 47 (2006), pp. 389–413; James Brennan, Taifa. Making Nation and Race in urban Tanzania, Athens 2012.

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