Not many people know, that European colonial powers deporte almost as many Africans as slaves to Asia as to America. But the indigines population of America was reduced to 10% in the 16th and 17th century, mainly due to infectious diseases imported from Europe, whereas the original Asian population was much more numerous right from the beginning and increasing ever since. This is why people of African origin never became a significant minority in colonized Asian countries. Furthermore, they were less isolated groups in Asia than on American plantations. Many locals had to work under similar conditions. And Africans had better opportunities of integration and advancement. They were systematically divided into settlements to prevent them from organizing themselves politically and were even encouraged to assimilate by adopting languages, religions, rituals and even names of the local peoples. Today many people don’t know anything about the dimension of slave trade to Asia and not only to America.
By the away, slave trade from Africa to Asia was not a European or Christian invention. The slave trade between Africa and Asia predated the Atlantic one. It already existed during the area of Muslim seafarers dominating the trade on the Indian Ocean prior to the arrival of the Portuguese. Many African chiefs were eager to sell captives to be part of this trade. Even during the infamous European colonial era in Africa, most slaves were hunted and captured not by Europeans but by local African trading partners of the Europeans.
Slavery in British India was abolished in 1860, the British Slave Trade Act of 1807 only abolished slave trade but not already existing slavery.
Some minority groups of descendents of African still exist in South Asia. They are called Afro-Asians or African Asians. Of these communities, the Siddis at the Indian west coast and mostly in the Karachi area in southern Pakistan are the most significant one. Even as slaves, Siddis were allowed some degree of social mobility. Particularly Muslims of African origin achieved high posts in the military and civil administration. The Siddis speak Swahili and and worship African Gods, which is not a big issue in a Hindu culture that has integrated various local traditions for centuries. Makrani are another Afro-Asian community in Pakistan, inhabitants the coast of Baluchistan, they speak Pakistani languages.
The Sri Lankan Afro-Asians were originally one of the Muslim minority groups on the island, besides Moors of Middleast origin and Malays. But most of today’s Kaffirs are Christians, many others converted to Buddhism. The Sri Lankan Afro-Asians are called Kaffirs. This term is derived from the Portuguese name “cafrinhas”. They are called Kapiriyo in Sinhala and Kapilo Tamil. Kaffirs are descendants of African slaves deported to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese in the 16th century. We will discuss this particular group in another article on Friday.
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