May 14, 2012

The Hadrami people and the Beja people

The Hadrami people live in South Yemen, but thousands of them have moved to sites along the coast of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Professor Leif Manger explored the Hadrami Diaspora, a $60 book published in September 2010. We offer some excerpts from the book.

Quick look at Turkish rule in the 1800's
Britain had watched the growth of Egyptian control of north east Africa under Mohamad Ali in the 1820's and 30's with concern. The regional developments played a role in its decision to occupy Aden in 1837. From Aden [in Yemen] the British could also keep an eye on Ethiopia, especially the important trading town of Massawa. But Egypt was the regional centre of power.
Khedive Islamil Pasha of Egypt, inspired by his grandfather, Mohamad Ali (died 1849), dreamed of creating an African empire. The proximity of the three trading centers of Suakin, Massawa, and Jeddah linked Africa to the Hijaz and the Muslim pilgrimage... [From 1863 Ismail Pasha secured control of the Red Sea region for Egypt and began administrative reforms.]

Soon they were developing plans for transport links, telegraph lines, and water works. The region suffered from a lack of health services, schools, mosques, and basic housing, so new systems of taxation and local administration were introduced.... Economic development was also promoted. Increased production of cotton and dura was a priority in areas that could be irrigated. The cultivation of such cash crops were introduced to areas such as the Tokar Delta, Gash and, in the south, Aqiq [beside the modern Sudan/Eritrea border.] Cotton was a priority in order to exploit international market shortages caused by the American Civil War.

Mining was another activity, as was salt, which was shipped to Jeddah to be resold to Indian boats. To better reach markets, improved transport between Sudan and Egypt became another priority. 

Egypt began to borrow from foreign sources. Times were exciting in Egyptian controlled regions. The Suez canal opened in 1869. Railways were built. Palaces were constructed. Coastal towns were improved.  Kassala had been established as an army outpost in 1840. But Egypt's ambition was greater than her capacity and funds.

Egypt had a war with Ethiopia in 1875-76. But Egypt lost the war.

In 1875, to manager her debt, Egypt was forced to sell its shares in the Suez Canal to Britain. Ismail was deposed. In the Soudan, the Mahdi declared his role in 1881, which became independent from Egyptian control after Khartoum was captured from General Gordon in 1885. During this tumultuous time, the British became more deeply involved in Egyptian affairs. Professor Manger writes:
It is during this time of general unrest and foreign occupation that we find the early migration of Hadramis.... The migrants travelled to Aden, the Red Sea ports of Jeddah and Suakin, as well as to Cairo. They went to Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya. Shipping was an important activity.
Trade in slaves was common; slaves were also commonly used as crew on the dhows. Trade in coffee to Egypt was important, as was the arms trade to Djibouti.

Less important trade items included millet and sesame from Somalia to the Hadramis home region in Yemen, and hides millet, and camels out of Massawa. Moneylending was also common, in which the Hadramis competed with Indians.

The Beja and Hadramis in Suakin
Suakin has a unique geography. As a very small island in a good harbour a clear difference existed between the inhabitants of the island, and those people living on shore. The island was an Indian Ocean merchant town with houses made of limestone and coral. The island is made of coral. The Hadramis have had a long association with the town.
The development of new buildings was slow until the building boom of the 1860s and 1870s, led by the policies of Khedive Ismail. The town of Suakin included two mosques, some warehouses, and coffee houses. There were few houses on the mainland, as the area was mostly inhabited by the Beja people who traditionally lived in semi-permanent huts or shelters. There was a mosque as early as 1822, according to Burkhart. While mainland culture was dominated by the Beja, the island's inhabitants represented Arabic culture, speaking Arabic and dressing like hijazis. The mainlanders spoke Ti-Bedawyet and wore traditional clothing.
On the island were "Turks" which included people from everywhere in the Ottoman Empire; and "Banyans" a term used for a group of non-Muslim Indians engaged in trade with India and also moneylending. The group included merchant castes from northern and western India (Sind and Gujarat), most of whom were Hindu but who could also be Jain. Finally there were also local elite religious groups like the Beja Hasanab and the Artega.
On the mainland, meanwhile, the inhabitants were Hadariba and Beja (Bishariyyin, Amarar and Hadendowa, collectively known as Sawakini). The Hadariba were related to religious elites among the Beja dating from pre-Islamic times and who claimed ancestry from Hadramaut in Yemen. It is unclear at what time this occurred, indicating a lack of  clear genealogy, and perhaps also that the term Hadariba is more of an ethnic label for people who advanced claims about Hadrami descent in general.  [pp. 69,70]

Goods and Trading in Suakin
In the early nineteenth century most of the trade from Suakin went to Arabia, with sorghum (dura) being the most important export item. The grain came from Kassala-Gedaref (Butana) and the Gash, but some also came from agricultural areas along the Nile.
 The Beja brought animal products mats, dom fruit, nabaq, camels, and a few cattle. Fishermen provided fish and some pearls. Slaves and gold made up the luxury goods together with ivory, tobacco, incense, gum arabic, ostrich feathers and eggs, horses ebony, and musk. Cloth was also traded.
Indian goods were among the imports, including textiles, spices, perfumes, ornaments, and rice. From Jeddah, traders imported household utensils, dates, onions, sugar, coffee, tobacco, iron, and steel. All imported goods went through customs in Suakin.
In 1822, Burkhart thought that Suakin may have had 3,000 on the island and 5,000 on the mainland. In 1853, Munzinger put the numbers at 6-8,000 and 10,000. But in 1905, after the Mahdi's rule and British/Egyptian recapture had devastated Sudan, only 490 houses were on the island and 300 properties on the mainland. Port Sudan opened in 1905 and Red Sea trade shifted there. Suakin swiftly declined, and the island was essentially a ghost town by the 1920's; without maintenance, many buildings began to collapse.

Roles were different for Hadramis and Beja
In the mid 1800's, the Hadramis had the international contacts, as their community was spread through East Africa, Yemen, Arabia and even India. Their local agents were everywhere.
From Kassala they bought butter, which they carried in a liquid state, and dura... The town also provided waterskins and other leather product. Mats were acquired  from various Beja groups, while the famous racing camels were obtained from the Bishariyyin, one of the groups within the Beja confederation. 
Imports from India, shipped through Jeddah included women's dresses and ornaments, Indian sugar, coffee, dates, and iron. The iron was used to make knives and swords treasured by the Beja. These goods were brought across the Red Sea by small boats run by Arabs. 
Sudanese goods came on the Berber-Suakin caravans, but also from Khartoum via Kassala. As the slave trade diminished, gum Arabic from the Kordofan region of western Sudan rose as an important export crop.
Grain was transported by the Hadendowa and marketed by the Hadariba. The trade in so-called luxury goods was in the hands of Arabs.
So the caravan trade was managed by the Beja, and the selling of goods by the Hadrami. Manger notes that "The Beni Amer have an aristocratic ruling class and claim Arab Hadramouti origin. The beni Amer were Islamized by Funj holy men, but only with the Khatmiyya did they really become Muslims."

Manger's book explores the Hadrami Diaspora on site, with stories from Singapore, Hyderabad, Sudan and Ethiopia. He analyses the difficulties of maintaining an ethnic identity when people are far from their homeland, and he even looks at the role of the west, and it's influence on the muslim world in the middle east.

Did you know? The Ottoman Empire outlawed slavery in 1857.

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