Moving life histories: Gujarat, East Africa, and the Indian Diaspora, 1880–2000

Savita Nair, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation in history is situated in the midst of a renewed interest in contemporary migration. It argues that the multiple and circular mobilities of Gujarati families expand the historical geography of modern India and challenge presentist claims about transnationality. Prior to the late-nineteenth century Indian indentured importation to East Africa that was initiated by British needs, Indians have had a long history of active and lucrative Indian Ocean trade. With the establishment of British East African territories, Indian migration grew. Settlement of families came to characterize overseas migration of Indians to Africa. The communities of East Africa Indians are the primary historical actors used to discuss modern social identity and cultural change. Life histories of migrants show how multiple communities, nationalized, regionalized, and diasporic, are created through movements between India, East Africa, England, and the United States. Interviews, court cases, newspaper reports, private correspondence, and state records are used to explore life histories of Gujaratis migrants, mostly business families, who migrated to East Africa but also others who resettled in western metropoles. Although nationalist biases in history writing have precluded the importance of regions within India, my project presents Gujarat as a significant region in the Indian Ocean and within India, and as a homeland for migrants. Furthermore, the idea of diaspora is reconsidered because migrants do not leave behind the homeland, but rather extend and attach it to regions that stretch out over space. East Africa and India, therefore, become lands active with family life, commercial pursuits, and politics stakes. While most histories of South Asia have limited understandings about networks that moved beyond mountain ranges, seas, and oceans, Moving Life Histories: Gujarat, East Africa, and the Indian Diaspora, 1880–2000 includes nineteenth and twentieth century Indian overseas migrants as historical subjects in India's world history.

Subject Area

History|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Nair, Savita, "Moving life histories: Gujarat, East Africa, and the Indian Diaspora, 1880–2000" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3015348.