Indian or Arabian? The Construction of Territorially Based Identities in the Raj, 1866–88

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This article examines the conflict between British colonial authorities and the Hadrami community settled in Aden and central India in the late nineteenth century. Between 1866 and 1888, as Hadramis struggled to retain their social, cultural and material interests throughout the wider Indian Ocean region, local British imperialists, wary of these transoceanic contacts, insisted that they pick one side of the ocean or the other, literally. The conflict illustrates how the social authority wielded by the colonial state, in both India and the Indian Ocean region, played an important part in the fracturing of transnational, hybridized identities fostered by diasporic peoples like the Hadrami, and their eventual replacement with national identities, defined and hemmed in by clearly demarcated borders. The article thus expands the spatial as well as the chronological focus on the emergence of the nation as it pulls earlier, regional networks and cultures into the narrative, arguing that the lingering cultural impact of regional units and structures (i.e. the Indian Ocean) must be analysed in tandem with the rise of nationalizing and racializing forces in the nineteenth century.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, Quinnipiac University, 275 Mount Carmel Avenue, Hamden, CT, USA;, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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