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The Graves of Tarim

The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean

Engseng Ho
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 406
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  • Book Info
    The Graves of Tarim
    Book Description:

    The Graves of Tarimnarrates the movement of an old diaspora across the Indian Ocean over the past five hundred years. Ranging from Arabia to India and Southeast Asia, Engseng Ho explores the transcultural exchanges-in kinship and writing-that enabled Hadrami Yemeni descendants of the Muslim prophet Muhammad to become locals in each of the three regions yet remain cosmopolitans with vital connections across the ocean. At home throughout the Indian Ocean, diasporic Hadramis engaged European empires in surprising ways across its breadth, beyond the usual territorial confines of colonizer and colonized. A work of both anthropology and history, this book brilliantly demonstrates how the emerging fields of world history and transcultural studies are coming together to provide groundbreaking ways of studying religion, diaspora, and empire. Ho interprets biographies, family histories, chronicles, pilgrimage manuals and religious law as the unified literary output of a diaspora that hybridizes both texts and persons within a genealogy of Prophetic descent. By using anthropological concepts to read Islamic texts in Arabic and Malay, he demonstrates the existence of a hitherto unidentified canon of diasporic literature. His supple conceptual framework and innovative use of documentary and field evidence are elegantly combined to present a vision of this vital world region beyond the histories of trade and European empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93869-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Dates, Abbreviations, and Transliteration
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  7. Preface: Hadrami Society, an Old Diaspora
    (pp. xix-xxvi)
  8. I. BURIAL

    • CHAPTER 1 The Society of the Absent
      (pp. 3-26)

      In a society of migrants, what is important is not where you were born, but where you die. This, if nothing else, makes a diaspora entirely different from a nation, both in concept and in sentiment. Persons belong to nations by virtue of being born into them. Individuals claim entitlement issuing from place of birth. Thenationitself takes its name from the act of giving birth,nasci.

      For migrants, by contrast, place of death is important because it often becomes the site of burial. Tombstones abroad acknowledge the shift in allegiance—from origins to destinations—that migrants take whole...

    • CHAPTER 2 Geography, a Pathway through History
      (pp. 27-62)

      Buried as he is in the port town of Aden, on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, the Adeni lies between two geographical media: land and water. Buried in 1508, he also lies between two historical periods: the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. This double location is significant because it marks the point in space and time at which the Hadrami diaspora ventured out into the Indian Ocean, and thus into the new currents of what many historians now call world or global history (Eaton 1990; Frank 1998; Pomeranz 2000; Wallerstein 2004). The Indian Ocean, which hosted trade routes...

    • CHAPTER 3 A Resolute Localism
      (pp. 63-91)

      In the early 1990s, when one entered Tarim, one of the largest towns in the southern Yemeni region of Hadramawt, one had a choice of perhaps two restaurants for lunch, if that. At the edge of town, right by the cemetery and bounded by remnants of the ancient town wall encircling the settlement—the wall had been torn down by socialists dismantling feudal ramparts—stood the Kenya Restaurant. While the restaurant was unlikely to have a full hot meal ready to serve, it was likely to be open and to serve tea and snacks such as French fries and sugar-glazed...

    • CONCLUSION TO PART I: Making Tarim a Place of Return
      (pp. 92-94)

      In the historiographic descriptions of chapter 2, it was possible to maintain a narrative of a one-way flow of value arriving with the sayyid descendants of the Prophet in Tarim in the twelfth century, and then outward from Tarim. From Tarim, mobile sayyid migrants bore the gift of revelation, which no return could equal. Their very persons were in a sense gifts to local populations. In the ethnographic descriptions of the current chapter, however, the unidirectional flow cannot be upheld. People and things keep coming into Hadramawt and Tarim from the outside: mercenaries,muwalladcreoles born abroad, brothers, nephews, money,...


    • CHAPTER 4 Ecumenical Islam in an Oceanic World
      (pp. 97-115)

      In part I, “Burial,” we saw how Tarim was transformed from a destination to an origin, as the ͑Alawī sayyids from Iraq moved in and became domiciled, and their ͑Alawī pathway developed and became discursively interlaced with landmarks on the ground. By the mid-nineteenth century, Tarim had become a place of return as well, for persons from across the Indian Ocean. Between origin and return, a story remains untold, a whole history of travels. This middle part of the book, “Genealogical Travel,” tells that story. The story is not complete, for not all travels became tales. And not all tales...

    • CHAPTER 5 Hybrid Texts: Genealogy as Light and as Law
      (pp. 116-151)

      The advent of a new world of ecumenical Islam in the Indian Ocean gave rise to new opportunities abroad for Hadramis, who traveled, settled, or were born abroad, and chronicled parts of the diasporic experience in texts. In the main, the authors of such accounts were sayyids, and the resulting volumes, which chain-link back to predecessors, themselves form a coherent genealogy. The two main works I examine in this chapter were composed in Gujarat and Mecca. In later centuries, subsequent titles were written in Hadramawt, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. They were abridgments and augmentations that conformed to a pattern set...

    • CHAPTER 6 Creole Kinship: Genealogy as Gift
      (pp. 152-187)

      We have seen that genealogy emerged as a genre of writing in the Hadrami diaspora and as a collective representation that could take on different guises. In ͑Abd al-Qādir al-͑Aydarūs’sThe Travelling Light Unveiled, genealogy is embedded in a plural world of places, dates, and persons, on the one hand, yet is somehow autonomous, on the other, beginning with God’s earliest creations and moving through history in esoteric, mystical ways. InThe Irrigating Fount, in contrast, genealogy becomes part of the exoteric science of law, a guide to moral action. As law, genealogy determines whom one can and cannot marry,...

    • CONCLUSION TO PART II: Local Cosmopolitans
      (pp. 188-192)

      In this second part of our study, “Genealogical Travel,” we have followed the travels of Hadramis abroad through their texts. These texts focus mainly on the Hadrami sayyids, combining their genealogies with other textual genres such as mysticism, history, and law. As genealogies, they are, at base, collections of names. The Hadrami canon that evolved in the diaspora thus articulated a universalizing narrative of Prophetic mission in a language of names. As we have seen, these names circulated through many lines of descent and many territories across the Indian Ocean. Their genealogies represent mobile and expansive naming practices that construct...


    • CHAPTER 7 Return as Pilgrimage
      (pp. 195-222)

      In downtown Singapore, ten minutes’ walk toward the sea from the gleaming, golden skyscrapers of the ministry of finance and the central bank, lies the grave of the Hadrami sayyid Ḥabīb Nūḥ al-Ḥabshī. The building that houses the grave is shaped more like a Hinduchandithan a Muslim saint’s tomb; it is a rectangular structure rising many dozens of steps above the ground. The tomb within is covered by the green cloth of Islam and surrounded by golden yellow drapes, the color of Malay royalty. Pilgrims and supplicants from all ethnic groups—Malays, Hadrami Arabs, Chinese, and especially Indians...

    • CHAPTER 8 Repatriation
      (pp. 223-243)

      We have seen how the imperative of asymmetrical marriages, as set forth in the legalized genealogical vision of al-Shillī and practiced by sayyid communities in Malay port towns, led to the rapid accumulation of descendants under a patrilineal cover in the diaspora. Such persons were creoles whose mothers or grandmothers were Malay, Javanese, Buginese, Indian, or Chinese, rather than Arab. The patrilineal genealogies were not restricted to particular phenotypes, languages, or cultures; they were commodious enough to accommodate all in the matrilateral dimension. The genealogies enabled the Hadrami diaspora to travel transculturally. At the same time, the lines of descent...

    • CHAPTER 9 The View from the Verandah
      (pp. 244-293)

      The theme of mobility lies at the heart of this book, and we have seen how the Hadrami diasporic canon couched returns in the language of pilgrimage and moralized movement. In earlier centuries, the mobility of Hadramis throughout the Indian Ocean was wide-ranging and untrammeled; the diaspora had a reputation and renown that gave its members relatively easy entry into many places. All this changed in the twentieth century. At the century’s end, in the previous chapter, we met individuals who were stuck in places not of their choosing, whether because of family reasons, lack of money, or passport problems....

    • CHAPTER 10 Evictions
      (pp. 294-320)

      For over a century, since the 1870s, the rivalries of Great Powers—first the newly industrial European nation-empires, then the Cold War protagonists—have churned the world. Through this period, the unbundling (from the Indian Mutiny of 1857 to the First World War), bundling (from the Second World War to 1989), and re-unbundling (from 1989 to the present) of sovereignties at the state level has been accompanied by similar processes lower down the hierarchy of power and its representation, drawing and redrawing the boundaries of social collectivities. The leveling of society by government, in which a multitude of local sovereignties...

    • CONCLUDING REMARKS: Names beyond Nations
      (pp. 321-328)

      As we saw at the beginning of this book, the 1994 civil war in Yemen came with a few surprises, notably the appearance of many sayyids in the cabinet of the newly declared secessionist state. After suffering decades of property confiscation, stigmatization, eviction, and exile, Hadrami sayyids had in the late 1980s become visible in the higher echelons of socialist-state administration, and even in the governing politburo. Now, their numerical domination of the secessionist cabinet resuscitated all the old issues of trust that had plagued the colonial regime. Were they in it for self-interest, for the good of the people,...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 329-358)
  12. Index
    (pp. 359-379)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 380-380)