Over the course of nearly 20 centuries, millions of East Africans crossed the Indian Ocean and its several seas and adjoining bodies of water in their journey to distant lands, from Arabia and Iraq to India and Sri Lanka.
Called Kaffir, Siddi, Habshi, or Zanji, these men, women and children from Sudan in the north to Mozambique in the south Africanized the Indian Ocean world and helped shape the societies they entered and made their own.
Free or enslaved, soldiers, servants, sailors, merchants, mystics, musicians, commanders, nurses, or founders of dynasties, they contributed their cultures, talents, skills and labor to their new world, as millions of their descendants continue to do. Yet, their heroic odyssey remains little known.
The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World traces a truly unique and fascinating story of struggles and achievements across a variety of societies, cultures, religions, languages and times.
You should know Aliette De BoudardThis is the home page of Aliette de Bodard, writer of fantasy and science fiction (and the very occasional horror piece). Aliette has won a Nebula Award, a BSFA Award, as well as Writers of the Future. She has also been nominated for the Hugo, Sturgeon, Locus and Campbell Awards.
She lives in Paris, France, in a flat with more computers than she really needs, and uses her spare time to indulge in her love of mythology and history–as well as her love of cooking (the recipe page can be found here).
As a Franco-Vietnamese, Aliette has a strong interest in Ancient Vietnam and Ancient China, and will gladly use any excuse to shoehorn those into her short or long fiction.
One of my fav of those essays is this: Drawing Inspiration from fantasy further afield:fantasy set in nonwestern culturesThe main goal when starting a piece is to move my default thinking from 21st-century France to, say, 15th-century Mexico, for the duration of writing. I always want to get to the point where it is mostly unconscious: this ensures I don’t need to think about making my characters “feel” Aztec, but can instead focus on their motivations and behaviour as individuals, while being sure that I don’t have them say anything spectacularly wrong (such as, for instance, expressing atheist ideas in a culture where religion remained a bedrock). The problem, I’ve noticed, is my default: when I’m not paying attention, it reverts to what I was raised with (and I think most people are the same. It takes an effort to see things from the perspective of someone else. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that it’s seldom unconscious). This means that, in the midst of a scene, I can have characters spouting ideas about male and female equality (a superb notion, but a totally anachronistic one); or that my plot twists will suddenly rely on something typically modern such as belief in individual freedom (again, anachronistic for the time period). So I’d rather have a thick layer of period thinking underneath when writing. This involves reading. A lot. I pick primary sources (literature from the time period); secondary sources (scholarly articles, books for the general public); and children’s books (which tend to be sparser on the grander details of history, but a lot more focused on the nitty-gritty details of everyday life, invaluable for a novelist). It’s not always obvious to find such sources: it is way easier to find books about Medieval England than about Ming dynasty China or the Aztecs. But they do exist, and there are also a precious few internet resources which can be looked up online (with the usual caveat on reliability). MORE
The Nyau Dancers
Nyau (also: Nyao meaning mask or initiation) is a secret society of the Chewa, an ethnic group of the Bantu peoples from Central and Southern Africa. The Nyau society consists of initiated members of the Chewa and Nyanja people, forming the cosmology or indigenous religion of the people. Initiations are separate for men and for women, with different knowledge learned and with different ritual roles in the society according to gender and seniority. Only initiates are considered to be mature and members of the Nyau.
The word Nyau is not only used for the society itself, but also for the indigenous religious beliefs or cosmology of people who form this society, the ritual dance performances, and the masks used for the dances. Nyau societies operate at the village level, but are part of a wide network of Nyau across the central and part of the southern regions of Malawi, eastern Zambia, western Mozambique and areas where Malawians migrated in Zimbabwe. During performances with the masks women and children often rush into the houses when a Nyau performer threatens, as the masks are worn by only male members of the society and represent male knowledge. At that moment in the performance and rituals, Nyau masked dancers are understood to be spirits of the dead.
Photos by Vlad Sokhin