Shaping Membership, Defining Nation
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Shaping Membership, Defining Nation : The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia

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A compelling analysis of the complex history, identities, and self-determination of diasporic Africans (Habshis/Siddis) of Karnataka, South India. It addresses African Indian religious beliefs and practices, their deployment of expressive cultural expressions and forms of social and political power through which they engage effecitvely Indian's multi-religious, and complex social stratification systems.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 498.95g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 073911428X
  • 9780739114285

Review quote

In this timely and seminal contribution to the ever-expanding field of African diaspora studies, Pashington Obeng offers a detailed discussion of the history, culture, and religion of Afro-Indians, especially the ways and means of their struggle to asserttheir complex identities as Indians of African descent. In a political and cultural environment that does not naturally include them in the national imaginary, this far-flung diasporic group has struggled to maintain a distinct identity. By bringing thediscussion into the present and highlighting the ongoing efforts to gain official recognition, Obeng presents a complex picture of a community which in spite of history and regional isolation continues to manifest both Indianness and a certain interconnectedness to African diasporic realities. A must-read for all with a serious interest in Africana and diasporic studies.. -- Anani Dzidzienyo, Brown University This new study of a centuries-old Afro-Asiatic group, the Siddis of Karnataka, offers poignant witness to the persistence of ethnic and religious identity among forcibly relocated peoples. Written by a leading scholar of the African diaspora and groundedin years of field research in India, Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia is a fascinating window into a world that remains little-known in the West. The book introduces us to the Siddis, the descendants of African slaves brought to South India by Europeans, and shows us what has become of them there through historical research, social analysis, primary documents, first-person narratives, transcribed stories and descriptions of ritual life in all three of their adopted religious traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) -wherein continental African practices and beliefs, although at times occulted, remain to this day. The author also interrogates the historical phenomena of cultural assimilation, showing in rich detail how social and racial hierarchies play out in their particular Indian contexts, and what collective survival has really meant for the Siddis in lived experience. Obeng confronts the question of how the Siddis are viewed by ot -- Kimberley C. Patton, professor of the comparative and historical study of religion, Harvard Divinity School African scholar and pastor Pashington J. Obeng has written a new chapter in the 1,300-year-old history of Africans in South Asia. Today's African Indians, or 'Siddis,' are the descendants of African merchants and slaves, some of whom effectively ruled South Indian principalities. Obeng charts the colonial and postcolonial circumstances of the Siddis' marginalization and impoverishment, but not only that. Instead of reducing Siddi experience to a set of historical types or sociological generalizations, the author documents with pathos and detail the public performances, healing practices, financial decisions, legal claims, ethnic organizations, political strategies and, above all, multiple and hybrid religious expressions through which Obeng's living acquaintances have fought for wellbeing and respect. To wit, Obeng observes an emerging Siddi consciousness of and pride in belonging to a global African diaspora. This vivid portrait of black oppression and hope in South India will be an eye-opener for all students of the African diaspora. -- J. Lorand Matory, professor of anthropology and of African and African American studies, Harvard University; author of Sex and the Empire That Is Very few people within India-much less abroad-have heard of Indian people of African descent, and South Asian academics are no exception. It is thus refreshing to see a book on this subject from a native Africanist with appropriate academic training. Academics and non-academics alike are familiar with European slave trade that forced thousands of African people into cheap labour in the Americas, Caribbean islands, and elsewhere. Less familiar are the elite soldiers that Muslim rulers brought into medieval and early modern India as praetorian guards. Obeng compliments the works of historians by writing on the subject from the perspective of a student of religion... The book is recommended for advanced students of Indian religious history and anthropology and African diaspora studies. The Muslim World Book Review "A ground breaking contribution to the unwritten social politics, religion, and cultural history of Africans in India. Here, Obeng explores the history and ritual practices of Africans in India and shows how their socio-political life is shaped by intriguing forms of ritualization, various cultural adaptations and innovative practices that make possible new enclaves of African Indians in Karnatika. A must read for anyone wanting to understand the post-slavery adaptations of Africans in South Asia. Its richness is in its explorations of ritualization in everyday practice." -- Kamari Maxine Clarke, Yale University, author of Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities and Globalizatio In this timely and seminal contribution to the ever-expanding field of African diaspora studies, Pashington Obeng offers a detailed discussion of the history, culture, and religion of Afro-Indians, especially the ways and means of their struggle to assert their complex identities as Indians of African descent. In a political and cultural environment that does not naturally include them in the national imaginary, this far-flung diasporic group has struggled to maintain a distinct identity. By bringing the discussion into the present and highlighting the ongoing efforts to gain official recognition, Obeng presents a complex picture of a community which in spite of history and regional isolation continues to manifest both Indianness and a certain interconnectedness to African diasporic realities. A must-read for all with a serious interest in Africana and diasporic studies. -- Anani Dzidzienyo, Brown University This new study of a centuries-old Afro-Asiatic group, the Siddis of Karnataka, offers poignant witness to the persistence of ethnic and religious identity among forcibly relocated peoples. Written by a leading scholar of the African diaspora and grounded in years of field research in India, Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia is a fascinating window into a world that remains little-known in the West. The book introduces us to the Siddis, the descendants of African slaves brought to South India by Europeans, and shows us what has become of them there through historical research, social analysis, primary documents, first-person narratives, transcribed stories and descriptions of ritual life in all three of their adopted religious traditions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) -wherein continental African practices and beliefs, although at times occulted, remain to this day. The author also interrogates the historical phenomena of cultural assimilation, showing in rich detail how social and racial hierarchies play out in their particular Indian contexts, and what collective survival has really meant for the Siddis in lived experience. Obeng confronts the question of how the Siddis are viewed by other Indians, and even more importantly, the far more complex question of how they view themselves. A valuable and eye-opening book. -- Kimberley C. Patton, professor of the comparative and historical study of religion, Harvard Divinity Schoolshow more

About Pashington Obeng

Pashington Obeng is assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College and Harvard University, and the author of Asante Catholicism: Religious and Cultural Reproduction among the Akan of Ghana (E.J. Brill).show more

Table of contents

Chapter 1 Brief History of African Presence in India Chapter 2 Education, Economic, and Occupational Patterns Chapter 3 Churches, Mosques, Dargahs, and Shrines Chapter 4 Fugidi,Damman, andSigmo: Constructing Identities Chapter 5 Family Systems: Marriage, Funerals, and Ancestors Chapter 6 Social and Political Organization Chapter 7 Conclusionshow more

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