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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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East African Asian Writing and the Emergence of a Diasporic Subjectivity

Project Summary

Although the history of Asian literary production and engagement in East Africa dates back to 1948, (Gregory 1981; Desai; 2012), it was not until the first decade of independence that emerged what might be described as East African diaspora literature written by authors of South Asian origins writing in English. The emergence of this literature was part and parcel of the literary developments that were taking place in East Africa in the 1960s and which in a way were associated both with the anxiety of independence. This research seeks to trace this emergence and read East African Indian writings as texts that are not only framed by the ambivalent and diasporic histories of Indians in imperial and postcolonial East Africa but also as writings that consciously construct ambivalent diasporic subjectivities as the basis of new forms of East African Indian identities. Such ambivalence reveals itself in the way the authors disavow dominant, nationalistic, even binaristic accounts of colonial relationships and create, instead, narratives that skirt the borderlines of both colonial and nationalist discourses. This constitutes a strategy of contesting both colonial history and the hi/stories of the postcolonial nation-state in East Africa.

The consequence of this strategy though, is that while histories of the Indian people in East Africa are uncovered as “scraps” of imperial history their narration tends, on the other hand, to silence those aspects of Asian experiences that align them to African anti-colonial resistance. This research will seek to answer how this irony is resolved by recasting Indian histories in East Africa in diasporic terms even as they indicate their uncertain affiliations to, and identifications with, nationalist narratives of resistance which are themselves already in competition. In this respect fictional works will be read against life history narratives, biographies, autobiographies and art works and thus meet one of the main objectives of the RS which seeks to understand how artists relate to other artists and artworks, for instance through appropriation or rejection of ideas, repertoires of imagery, sounds or other texts and narratives.


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