History of the Indian Ocean World in Five Objects | CAS MillerComm lecture by Isabel Hofmeyr


Welcome! Hi, I’m Chris Higgins. I am the chair of the Miller Programs
Committee and I’m here to welcome you to the second Miller Comm lecture of the year. Our first, maybe ever in Krannert. I assume, I don’t know, we’re
usually in the Spurlock. It’s nice to be in the new.. [inaudible] Okay. We’ve been here. Yep. But it’s still nice to be
back, and to welcome you here. We’re a little old fashion, we have this
funny tradition where I stand up here and I tell you a little about Miller Comm and about the man whose name the
Miller Comm Lecture Series bears. And the problem is like, I see at least
ten people who were here last night for the proshad (0:43) over at Spurlock. And I don’t know how fast
I can rotate my material. Like there’s only, there’s a limited
number of George A. Miller jokes. I’m not Louis C.K. so I have to, you
know I have this that already feels. It feels, you know, stale. And I don’t know. So that’s my shtick. There it is – meta humor. Okay, so let me tell you a little bit
about Miller Comm and about George Miller. So the lecture series is all about bringing
people to campus, scholars, creative artists, public intellectuals who
speak across disciplines. And that’s, that’s really important,
whose work can attract a broad audience. And George Miller was an interesting guy, he was
a fairly well-known mathematician of his time. He taught at Michigan, Cornell,
Stanford, and then he came here. He was known for his work in something
called the “Theory of Finite Groups”, there’s a joke coming later,
exactly one, so get ready for it. He received the International
Mathematics Prize in 1900. And was president of the Mathematical
Association of America in 1921. But for all of that he was
a very unassuming figure, one of the things he did towards his later
years was he took his meals, as they say, in the company of undergrads
in the Illini Union. And he was a very thrifty man, see the
aforementioned theory of finite groups. There was my joke, okay. And quietly amassed a fortune of 1 million
dollars, and he left the whole thing to the university, remarking “everything
I have I’ve received from the University and I simply want to repay my obligation”. So I just wanted to say thanks to George
and welcome you all to tonight’s lecture. And here’s Allyson to introduce its speaker. Thanks for much, Chris. I’m Allyson Purpura and I’m
senior curator and curator of Global African Art here
at Krannert Art Museum. And I really want to thank all of you
for coming, this is really very terrific. I know we’re all very eager to set sail with
Isabel’s five objects, but I do want to begin by thanking our many generous
co-sponsors of the event. Those include, of course, the Center for Advance
Studies, the Illinois Program and Research for the Humanities, the Center for
Global Studies, Asian American Studies, Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern
Studies, Center for African Studies, the Department of History, English, Comparative
and World Literatures, and Anthropology, the School of Art and Design, International
and Area Studies, and libraries and KCPA. Thank you all very much. And a special shout out thanks to
Antoinette Burton and to Nancy Castro for co-organizing tomorrows IPRH seminar
which will feature Isabel Hofmeyr’s work. It is my exquisite pleasure to welcome
Professor Isabel Hofmeyr to Krannert Art Museum. An internationally recognized scholar and
public intellectual, Dr. Hofmeyr is professor of African Literature at the University at the
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. And Visiting Global Distinguished
Professor of English at NYU. She was also Acting Director at the
Center for Indian Studies in Africa, University of the Witwatersrand,
to which she also helped to create. Dr. Hofmeyr is a scholar of
extraordinary breadth and rigor. She has broken new ground in the study of
global intellectual histories with her work on the critical study of literacy and
oral history, excuse me, oral literature, the trans-national circulation of print cultures
and texts, and on the movements of people between the Indian subcontinent
and Southern Africa. She was among the first to recognize the
Indian Ocean as an important analytic site for grappling with post-national post-area
studies and global forms of cultural production. She has shown us that the Indian Ocean
is at once a theoretical terrain, a geographical space, and a historical
network of human connectivity. One of Dr. Hofmeyr’s significant and lasting
contributions has been to foreground the place of Africa in imperial and oceanic frames. To draw out the implications of Indian
Ocean Studies, Indian Ocean Studies has for African scholars, Africa,
and African Diaspora. And to provide a critical genealogy of
why Africa has in fact been all but erased from global studies in the Indian Ocean world. Highlights from Dr. Hofmeyr’s extensive
accolades and publications include, “We Spend Our Years as a Tale That
is Told Oral Historical Narrative in a Southern African Chiefdom 1994”, “The
Portable Bunyan: a Trans-national History of the Pilgrims Progress 2004”
and “Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiment in Slow Reading 2013”. She has also authored numerous articles, book
chapters, and coedited vines including one with our very own Antoinette
Burton called “Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire
Creating an Empirical Commons”. Dr. Hofmeyr’s wide ranging work on the Africa and the Indian Ocean has deep
resonance with KAMs exhibition. The KAM exhibition that actually
inspired this invitation. “World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across
the Indian Ocean” which opened just last week, reveals that Swahili arts are marked by
multiple histories and aesthetic trends that are themselves itinerant and subject
to divergent claims and interpretations. As such, they prompt us to undiscipline our
historical cannons and museological frameworks that have long kept Africa, Asian,
and Europe apart and in place. Dr. Hofmeyr’s work advances our explorations
of these unmoored objects and the new ways of knowing that they make possible. So please, join me in welcoming Isabel Hofmeyr. Thank you! Thank you Allyson for that
wonderful introduction. It is really such a great pleasure and an
honor to be here to deliver this lecture, but more importantly to be associated with this
exquisite and extraordinary exhibition “World on the Horizon” and if you haven’t seen
it, it really is a quite remarkable. As you’ll see, a remarkable kind of
collection of objects from all over the world. My thanks also to Antoinette Burton, to
Allyson, and to Prita Meier for this invitation and it’s a really great pleasure to be here. Okay, so let’s get going. And let’s begin with one, I think one of
the great books about the Indian Ocean: Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel By the Sea (slide). The narrative opens in Zanzibar and traces the
story of two families feuding over property. The feud is set in motion when a dashing
Persian merchant from Bahrain arrives in the monsoon season and seduces
the young son of one of the families, while ensnaring the other in a
complicated loan using the house of the first family as collateral. So, a complicated plot. Also important is a beautiful ebony table
which the Persian trader buys as a gift for the young boy he is seducing,
and which he purchases with cash and a twenty-pound packet of
rare incense from Bangkok. There is of course much more in the novel
but I think for our purposes this evening, what is important is that the plot
is set in motion from the ocean. The arrival of the Persian trader
by sea precipitates the storyline. It is hence a story that comes from the sea. Also important are the objects that arrive
from across the ocean: the ebony table, possibly from Ceylon or Macassar
and the incense from Bangkok. This novel is a tale of the seductive (and
at times destructive) power of the stories and objects that come from far away, from
across the ocean, or as the title suggests By the Sea i.e. by means of the sea. Now I start with these themes, since
they resonate with this exhibition “World on the Horizon” which is
concerned with objects and the sea, or as the advertising material indicates “the
affective power of objects to create networks of affinity across different cultures.” As Prita Meier says in her book, Swahili Port
Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere (slide), and I quote “exotic objects
fulfilled a desire to possess and amass the materiality of faraway … these objects paid tribute
to mobility and the ability to make the exotic one’s own …”. She calls
these objects “relational loci”, you know, objects that configured different cultural
traditions and such objects could, as she said, they could not “be traced back
to one place or one society … The Swahili coast asks us to reconsider
where Africa, Asia, and Europe begin and end” (10) Now my talk this evening
is intended as a broad orientation for this remarkable and exquisite exhibition —
and I’ll attempt to take some of its concerns and explore these, in order to give you some
sense of the big themes of Indian Ocean history. So what I’m going to do I begin with a
short-ish section really of Indian Ocean 101 to give you some very basic background
and I hope it’s not too basic, and then I’ll explore these themes
through five objects: a style of cloth, a shrine, a ship, a book and a jellyfish. Okay. Let’s begin our 101 section, and we
begin with a figure who will be familiar to all of you, Mark Twain, who in 1896
undertook a world trip (slide). In April of that year he travelled
by steam ship (or ocean greyhound, as he called them) from Calcutta
in to Mauritius. Which, Mauritius just being
to the right of Madagascar And in his diary he noted: “We are … upon the smooth waters of the Indian Ocean … nothing in sight from horizon to horizon; … a cooling breeze; there is no mail
to read and answer; no newspapers … ; no telegrams … If I had my way I would sail on forever and
never go to live on the solid ground again”. Now there is much that one could say
about Twain’s Indian Ocean travels, but what concerns us this evening
is one rather circumstantial detail, namely the cooling breeze that he mentions. While the movement of the steamer would
certainly have generated something of a breeze, a vessel travelling southeast (?) at that time of year (April) would have
been heading into the monsoon winds, just beginning to blow quietly
from the southwest before picking up in intensity a few weeks later. Then six to eight months later, the winds would
reverse direction and blow the other way around. (map) This seasonal regime
of winds is one of the “paramount environmental factors”
of the Indian Ocean world. The word itself comes from the Arabic
mawsim meaning season, and the system arises from the fact that the Indian Ocean has a kind
of ‘ceiling’ i.e. its northern edge blocked by a massive continental land mass. Land and water deal with heat in different ways
producing patterns of high and low pressure, and consequently of wind, as well as of rain. As Edward Alpers explains in his book (slide):
and I quote “From November through January, pressure builds up over continental
Asia and blows dry winds …. from Arabia and western India toward eastern
Africa, and from China toward Southeast Asia. … From April to August this process
is reversed, as high pressure zones in the southern hemisphere push
strong winds toward the north.” Now the seasonal regime has shaped
the rhythm of life around the ocean for millennia bringing rain to farmers, blowing
dhows across the ocean, and enabling trade between the different ecological zones
of the Indian Ocean arena (slide). So this monsoon makes the Indian
Ocean basin a “benign environment for long-distance voyaging” (unlike the Atlantic
which is difficult to cross both ways by sail, given the prevailing winds blow in
one direction throughout the year). The Indian Ocean is hence the world’s oldest
long-distance trans-oceanic trading arena which has been crossed for millennia (and is
sometimes known as the cradle of globalization). There is of course much of the Indian Ocean
that falls outside the monsoon created world, the monsoon created region which you see there
as the pink (map) but as we’ll see later, the influence of the monsoon-created
world reaches well beyond its borders. Now given these long millennia
of trade and exchange, one key concern of Indian
Ocean studies has been a focus on cultural interaction and cosmopolitanism. Port cities around the littoral of the ocean
(map) have sustained deep forms of material, intellectual and cultural exchange, so that the
denizens of these ports often had more in common with each other than with their fellows inland. This early cosmopolitan world has famously been
explored in Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land which contrasts the rigidity of borders
in the 1980s when the book was written with the relative ease of movement in
the late medieval Indian Ocean world, a theme explored through the
travels of Abram bin Yiju, a 12th century Jewish Tunisian
merchant, also a calligrapher and poet based in Cairo and then in India. Now central to these histories of mobility and
exchange in the Indian Ocean has been the spread of Islam across land and
sea from 7th century CE. These religious networks energized
existing long-distance trading interactions, providing an enabling framework in terms
of commerce, shared legal, educational and spiritual structures, as well as
the centrifugal power of the Hajj. By the 14th century, mercantile networks were
almost entirely in the hands of Muslim traders. In their wake, came scholars, theologians and
Sufi divines (Sufism, the mystical version of Islam, being an extremely important strand
in Indian Ocean history and there are traces of Sufism in the exhibition as you’ll see). So Islam in the Indian Ocean arena came to
constitute “the largest cultural continuum in the world”, as Abdul Sheriff has argued in
his excellent book on the Indian Ocean (slide). When the Portuguese rounded
the Cape in the 15th century, they entered what many have termed a
Muslim Lake, dominated in the north by the Turkish Ottoman, Persian Safavid
and Indian Mughal empires (map). When the Dutch arrived in the Indian Ocean a bit
later, “they were able to go from one end of it to another by carrying letters of introduction
from Muslim sultans on various shores” (98). Now as the scholar Engseng Ho has
indicated, these sprawling networks of Muslim commerce were transacted
without the backing of an army or a state. And I quote from him, he
says “The Portuguese, Dutch, and English in the Indian Ocean were strange
new traders who brought their states with them. They created militarized trading-post empires
in the Indian Ocean, following Venetian and Genoese precedents in the Mediterranean, and
were wont to do business at the point of a gun.” While early European entrants to
the Indian Ocean world had initially to accommodate themselves to the trading orders
that they encountered, by the 19th century, European empires dominated
the Indian Ocean arena. With their military, transport
and communication infrastructure, these empires intensified the movement
of people across the Indian Ocean world. Much of this mobility was forced and
conscripted, and involved slaves, indentured laborers, political exiles
and prisoners who were transported between regions of the Indian Ocean world. At times, these systems built on existing
foundations of labor exploitation. So as some recent research indicates, South Asian indentured labors (of whom we’ll
hear a bit more later) were often taken from regions in India where slavery existed. Old and new systems of unfree labor articulated to produce what some have
called a carceral archipelago of prisons, plantations and penal colonies. Now an archive of such depth
and density going back millenia, the Indian Ocean has become an important site for relativizing European-dominated
accounts of world history. In such a schema, the age of European
empires is but one tiny little sliver of time in a much longer arc of history. A view from the Indian Ocean also unsettles
notions of European colonizers as purveyors of global grand schemes as
opposed to colonized groups, who are often seen as local and parochial. The encounters between Indian Ocean societies
and European imperialisms were not simply a case of globalizing colonizer
versus a provincial colonized. Instead as historians like Engseng Ho
and Sugata Bose (slide) have argued, the Indian Ocean world became an arena
of competing universalistic claims. The ambitions of British
imperialism, for example were countered by the equally grand visions of Islam; the
ancient diffusion of Hinduism and Buddhism from India into East and South-East Asia
was held up as a benign mode of imperialism that showed up the shortcomings
of European colonialism. Indeed, the Indian Ocean arena has
produced a very rich repertoire of transoceanic ideologies be it
pan-Islam, Hindu reformism, or pan-Buddhism. Such ideologies inevitably came to carry an
anti-imperial inflection which subsequently fed into ideas of Afro-Asian
solidarity and Non-Alignment arising out of the Bandung Conference in 1955 at
which 29 newly independent nations gathered to forge a new path rather than falling
in line with either of the rival camps in the emerging Civil War, sorry, Cold War. Maritime plex, in?nite horizon, interregional,
gensl arena, ?oating cosmopolis, Afrasian sea, poet’s muse, linguistic caravan, coastal zone,
superpower battleground, bookseller’s highway, aquatic maelstrom, girmit passageway,
civilizational basin, trade circuit, piecework carrier, pilgrim path, monsoon
corridor, seafarer’s route, mobile marketplace, province of pirates, burial
ground – the Indian Ocean is all of these things and much more besides. These long centuries of interaction produced
cultural forms of great complexity and layering; and the exhibition really
captures this wonderfully, there was a multi-directional
fusion of religious, intellectual and political styles, currents, and genres. Let’s turn then to our five objects to explore
these layered interactions in more detail. We’ll begin now with some fabric which you
see in these images of festive occasions in the very far north of South Africa with
women dance, decked out in their dancing gear. Of particular interest for us
this evening, are their skirts. These are known as xibelani (slide) and
are made up of some fifty yards of material which is strung on a cord and then gathered and
pleated to produce a kind of swirling effect. For the past two centuries, and still today, the
fabric has been known as Salempore and retails under that name, still today, so here
you can see this fabric being sold as Shangaan Salempore (Shangaan
being one of the terms for one of the ethnic group in the far north). The name salempore originally comes from
fabric produced on the Coromandel Coast of India (slide) and it was exported to the West
Indies where it was used for slave clothing. In southern Africa however, the term is
widely believed to be a Portuguese word. It’s believed to be of Portuguese origin. When I first began preparing this talk,
I assumed, I jumped to the conclusion that this combination of this cloth
plus the Portuguese link pointed to a well-known Indian Ocean trade route
linking Mozambique as you can see up to Gujarat. And it was a trans-oceanic trade largely
of African ivory for Gujarati cloth. And it’s been wonderfully studied
in Pedro Machado’s work (slide) and he has outlined this trade, and explained
how Gujarati merchants established themselves in the Mozambique region from the 18th century,
and they built up a trade with the design of the cloth was driven by African
consumer tastes and each season, brokers from Mozambique would kind of
pick up the desired color and style take that information back to weavers back in
Gujarat who used the cloth which then came back. However, when I thought about it more
carefully I realized that there were some pieces that didn’t fit into this picture. How, I wondered did cloth from the
Coromandel coast make it’s way to Mozambique? So to sort this out, I wrote to Pedro
who kindly explained matters and sketched out a much more complex and interesting picture. So I think the first part of this
picture involved the complex routes along which this fabric, salempore traveled. It was produced, Pedro tells me, at about
20 points along the Coromandel Cost as well as in Surat, Bengal and Ceylon/Sri Lanka. From these points it was traded by South
Asian and Dutch merchants into much of South East Asia and as far as Japan. Salempores were also shipped around
the Cape to Europe where they were used for printing imitation Indian chintz, and
so they also became known as chintz cloth. From Europe, they were re-exported,
to West Africa and from there into the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. So Pedro went and did some research
for me on the Mozambique link, and he indicated that in the early 18th
century there were probably small amounts of cloth making their way from the
Coromandel Coast to Mozambique. However, by the 19th century this route
no longer operated and the cloth lists of the merchants that Pedro has
researched do not show the word salempore. So we are then left to speculate:
did the name linger on and attach itself to another type of cloth? I think the question points to the
difficulties that historians of cloth face: or as Pedro noted to me: “Part of the
challenge is that cloths are often treated in overly generalized ways by historians
who have not spent enough time thinking about the materiality of textiles
and its particular demand logics.” But now fortunately a new book by Pedro, which
I think came out yesterday or the day before, will help us with these problems (slide). Now whatever the real situation,
these trade routes and pathways point to the diverse meanings that
objects acquire as they travel. Salempore in southern Africa, as a said
is firmly believed to be a Portugese word and to have come via the Portuguese and very
importantly has also come to be associated with ethnic tradition, so that when families
up in the north of South Africa converted to Christianity their daughters disassociated
themselves from what they called salempore girls and the dances that they
performed in their skirts. So salempore here being a sign of heathenness. Now this traditional association
of salempore has been explored by the contemporary South African
artist Samson Mudzunga (slide). He’s a sculptor and performance artist,
and he is noted for his carved drums, also known as ngoma (and there’s a wonderful
example of an ngoma on the exihibition, and it reminds us of one of the themes of the
exhibition is how far these Swahili forms travel and how forms from that monsoon
created world move further south). Mudzunga’s drums frequently feature salempore. So here you can see it’s a drum that he’s
made and he has these little hinged doors to the drum, and the inside the drum
is then lined with this fabric (pic). In some cases, he creates huge coffin drums. (slides) And he climbs into these
drums in his performance pieces. So here you see he’s climbing into the coffin
and then once inside, he changes his clothes and he re-emerges as a reborn figure and you
can see the salempore is an important part of the whole work. Like all trade objects, salempore has been
made across many different sites and circuits, so that it’s origins cannot
be traced to one place and, in contemporary understandings it can be
both Portuguese, ethnically ‘traditional’, and part of a modernist performance
installation at the same time. Let’s move along onto our second object which
is a shrine, (slide) this time in Singapore. And if you’ve been in Singapore it’s
apparently quite a tourist attraction so you might in fact have seen it. It’s the grave of Habib Noh, a Sufi saint noted for his spiritual talents
and his work among the poor. He was born at sea in 1788, to Yemeni parents
and he settled in Singapore as a young man. He died in 1866 and his shrine
soon became a site of pilgrimage, a keramat to use the Malay term
for the graves of notable figures. As Sumit Mandal’s work indicates,
such shrines quote “dot the … landscapes of much of Muslim Southeast Asia
and the Indian Ocean region as a whole”. While the ‘resident’ of the keramat,
the shrine, was generally Muslim, these sites attracted people of
diverse faiths and ethnicities. In addition to being Muslim,
the person commemorated in keramats shared two further features,
many of them were sayyids (male descendants of the prophet) and they were Hadramis
from the Hadramaut in Yemen (Map). This group of Hadrami sayyids played a
major role in extending Islam to Africa, to west India and the Malay archipelago. They traveled as traders, merchants,
administrators, bankers and religious teachers, and they created pathways of
mosques and schools in their wake. They married local women,
often in more than one port and integrated themselves
into these communities. As Engseng Ho (slide) indicates in his
magnificent account of this diaspora, this book called The Graves of Tarim
“the breadth of the Indian Ocean, from Ethiopia to Sumatra, became a frontier for missionary settlement of
the Hadrami sayyids” (118). Being diasporic, they retained a strong
allegiance to Hadramaut and as Ho indicates, they generated textual corpuses to recreate
their imagined links to the homeland and their position in the
line of prophetic descent. Towards this end, they generated genealogies,
biographies, family histories, chronicles, pilgrimage manuals which Ho examines
as the “travelling representations of a mobile people” This theme of text and
textuality is taken up in the exhibition, where one section is called In the
Presence of Words and explores language and writing-both Kiswahili and Arabic-as
a form of Swahili aesthetic expression. It examines Swahili book illumination as a
mode that expresses the sacred significance of writing as an affective and spiritual mode. Another scholar who has taken up these
themes is Ronit Ricci in this book called “Islam Translated” (slide) where she traces
the spread of the religion from South Asia into Southern East Asia through the spread
of popular religious forms and genres. She examines how these were disseminated,
translated, adapted and rescripted across Arabic, Tamil, Javanese and Malay. One example she considers is the shahada,
the two-sentence profession of faith “There is no God but Allah and
Muhammad is His messenger.” She examines the power and
mobility of this tiny little text and discusses an 18th century Javanese
story that demonstrates its power. So let me tell you the story in her
words: Entitled Serat Pandhita Raib, the story is a “rather fantastic retelling of
the Prophet’s early struggle with the people of Kebar, the oasis where a
large Jewish population resided. The central figure, Pandhita Raib,
is a Jewish leader and teacher who persuades kings already converted to Islam to forsake their new faith and
battle the Prophet’s armies. One day, when Pandhita Raib is about to go
on a journey, a letter falls from the sky. Upon opening it and realizing that it contains
the shah ada, Pandhita Raib is aghast. He commands that a great
fort, surrounded by moats, be built around the letter,
barring entrance to all. However, when Pandhita leaves on a journey,
his son Saib-saib is drawn irresistibly to the fort and, through divine intervention,
is able to enter it, finding the letter with the luminous words of the shah
ada appearing magically in his hands. From that day onwards he is sick with
longing for the Prophet and will not rest until he reaches him and embraces Islam. … the appearance of the shah ada marks
a turning point that leads ultimately to Saib-saib’s conversion, the oasis
falls, and Pandhita Raib’s is killed.” As Ricci notes, “It is a sign of the futility
of defying Islam, an object of beauty and light, and a set of words so powerful that it conquers
even the most wise, strong, and cunning.” The “document [is] a form of sensory power, …. an agent capable of shifting
circumstances in the world.” It has the power to seize
people and change them entirely. It is also a text that is destined
to travel and even a might fortress and moat cannot keep it from circulating. Let’s move onto now to our third object
the HMS Columbine, there’s no picture of the actual Columbine but apparently
it looked something like this. The ship formed part of a British anti-slaving
patrol established in the Indian Ocean after the abolition of the slave
trade in the British empire in 1807. The number of vessels available for this mission
was however woefully inadequate and at times, the entire East African coast
was patrolled by one ship. Even when dhows were apprehended, it
was difficult to know who was a slave, as Johan Mathew’s recent book indicates (slide). British navy officials, influenced by the
Atlantic slave trade, were invariably searching for barracoons and shackled Africans. Slaves in the Indian Ocean travelled in small
numbers and it was difficult to tell if people on dhows were crew, relations,
wives, children or slaves. Influenced by Atlantic images of slavery,
British officials were searching for Africans, hence they often overlooked
Baluchis and Circassians who were indeed being transported as slaves. Yet these difficulties notwithstanding, the
HMS Columbine did manage to capture a number of dhows, with people they’d
decided were slaves. And they did this in part by disseminating false
reports of its destination, leaving the harbor in one direction and then going
over the horizon, elsewhere. Between 1860 and 1890, the ship seized between
2 and 3,000 slaves from dhows and delivered them to Port Victoria in the Seychelles (map). Once there, they were declared to be free
and were known as “liberated Africans”. Their fate was far from being free and they
were parceled off as indentured laborers, on five year contracts to plantations
in the Seychelles and beyond. These registers, (slide) as you can see, are lists of “liberated Africans”
landed from the HMS Columbine. These lists come to me via a poet,
Yvette Christianse who has used part of these registers in a poetry collection. And she’s produced this poetry
collection called Imprendehora (slide). Imprendehora was the name of a slave
ship that was seized by British patrols in the Indian Ocean with
those on board being declared “liberated Africans” before being delivered
to St Helena as indentured laborers (map). I’m sure you all know where St Helena
is, but there’s a picture anyway. This volume is hence not only about
slavery but it’s very much a volume, she’s interested in the articulation
of unfree labor across both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. The poetry collection is
divided in just two sections. There’s one called “Atlantic”
and one called “Indian”. And she’s juxtaposing or asking us to
think comparatively about those two oceans and to relativize the Atlantic which has
long dominated understandings of slavery and has tended to obscure the Indian Ocean slave
trade and its dynamics (which, very briefly, these tended to be that there were more
women than men, it was more household than plantation slavery; the boundaries
between slave and free being more porous and the institution of slavery was
less racialized than in the Atlantic). Although of course the Atlantic and
the Indian Ocean were not discrete and there was plantation slavery
in the Indian Ocean world. So just to give you a sense of what
Yvette has done with these registers, you can see if you look there’s a number,
male or female, a name, a photograph, mothers name, and so forth and so on. And as you can see she starts
a 343, 344 etcetera, and she’s transcribed that
slave register exactly. And then what she’s done is she’s
inserted these voices of what we assume, or that’s not clear are these
liberated Africans on the ship. And as the poem progresses these
fragments of voices pick up momentum. And eventually sort of, you know, expand
to sort of slightly overwhelm the register. This interaction of different
systems of servile labor in the Indian Ocean world constitutes
an extremely important historical theme. European empires relied on
slave, penal and bonded labor to build much of their infrastructure. And in constructing these infrastructures, they
engineered an articulation of different systems of unfree labor to create
racialized hierarchies. So for example in the Natal sugar plantations, Africans worked alongside South Asian indentured
laborers, but Africans would at times be used to punish or flog South Asian laborers. Thereby creating these kinds of hierarchies. And of course the whole South Asian
indentured labor system came about in the wake of the abolition of slavery in the British
empire in 1833 and resulted in millions of South Asian men and women being
recruited to work on plantations in South-east Asia, Natal, Fiji, the Caribbean. This coerced movement, whether of
slaves, prisoners, indentured workers, constitutes a conscripted and coerced
form of modernity in which groups from very different parts of the
world were forcibly hurled together. Clare Anderson has undertaken significant work on what she calls these carceral assemblages
while Amitav Ghosh’s famous novel Sea of Poppies has fictionalized these experiences,
putting together characters sentenced to penal transportation and
indentured laborers on one ship. This conscripted modernity leads us
to our second last item which is one of the world’s more famous
books, Gandhi’s “Hind Swaraj”. And you can see here, this is
its first English translation, although subsequent English
editions came to be known as “Hind Swaraj” rather than “Indian Home Rule”. A manifesto of sorts, the
text is directed against those in the Indian anti-colonial movement
who favored violent forms of resistance. Gandhi regarded this strategy as reproducing
the logic of imperialism itself as wanting quote “English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger”. The text also weighs in against the political
uses of vast abstractions like “nation” and “freedom” and is skeptical of grand schemes in which freedom can be claimed
on behalf of others. So, in a very famous quote, he says “What
others get for me is not Home Rule” (112), everyone has to claim their
own freedom by learning to rule themselves, or to exercise self-rule. The book itself was written in Gujarati
at sea as Gandhi returned from London to southern Africa in late 1909 and it
came to him famously in one great rush, with him turning to use his left-hand
when his right hand was too tired. Early in 1910, the Gujarati text
appeared first in Gandhi’s newspaper “Indian Opinion” and then as a book. The English translation, and you see
it here, was printed later that year. Gandhi’s first ashram just north of Durban
and virtually everybody on the ashram, and here you see a picture of them, was involved
in some aspect of its production (photo). Durban was colonial port city shaped by
the Indian Ocean currents and diasporas. Like other port cities around the Indian Ocean,
it both produced and received printed matter, part of the blizzard of periodicals,
pamphlets, leaflets, tracts, and newspapers that wafted
around the Indian Ocean. This print formed part of the
communications infrastructure of empire and as Mark Ravinder Frost has
shown, anti-colonial elites in these port cities utilized these
opportunities to share ideas, personnel, publications and technology, turning the Indian
Ocean littoral into a kind of quoting circle as activists and intellectuals used
each other’s strategies and insights. Many of the visions and schemes emanating from
these port city intellectuals were ambitious and were intended to draw together people in
trans-oceanic formations that could dislodge, or least subversively inhabit
the power of empire. Some of these grand schemes (which we’ve
touched on earlier) included, Hindu reformism, theosophy, Sufism, pan-Islam, pan-Buddhism,
Sikh transnationalism, African nationalism, and also the idea of imperial citizenship, that
everybody should have equal rights under empire. Gandhi’s ideas in “Hind Swaraj” emerged from
these diasporic dynamics and when in Durban, Gandhi encountered a motley collection of different South Asian communities thrown
together through these patterns of mobility and force circulation in the Indian Ocean. As many have pointed out, the
juxtaposition of these different communities in South Africa constituted a kind of miniature
India, and allowed Gandhi to grasp ‘India’ in a way that was not possible on the
vast sprawling sub-continent itself. Yet, the difficulties of trying to
forge a polyglot, polyreligious, polycaste nation out of a set of determinedly
sectional units were not inconsiderable. One response on Gandhi’s part
was to radically recast the idea of the nation and sovereignty itself. What if a nation was less an abstract
cloak thrown over a congeries of people and was more an ideal that had to be fostered
from the ground up, one person at a time? One important method for realizing such
self-rule in individuals was satyagraha, non-co-operation or passive resistance,
which Gandhi first trialed in South Africa and then exported to India to such good effect. So Gandhi of course is one of the figures
that has dominated the twentieth century. And I think one important point, I
suppose, that I’m making here is that he, his thinking was crucial shaped
by the intellectual currents and movements of the Indian Ocean world. Let us move then onto the final lap and our last
object for this evening, which is a jelly fish. The idea to focus on this particular creature
was in part prompted by reports in 2015 of Indian Ocean jelly fish
invading the Mediterranean. (Slide) And apparently this has been caused
because the Suez canal had been widened, the density of salinity in the water
had weakened allowing jelly fish to migrate from one ocean to another. The symbolic weight of these reports is of
course striking with the jellyfish being seen as an insurgent force, perhaps appropriately
enough since the Indian Ocean has been described as the third world ocean or the subaltern sea. While this theme is important, the
jellyfish themselves also point us I think in a slightly different direction,
that of thinking below the waterline, of thinking about the sea as sea, and to
think about the depths and materiality of the ocean rather than
simply looking at the surface. Oceanic studies has taught
us a lot about the people, objects and ideas that traverse
the surfaces of the oceans. This work has tended to be human-centered and
concerned largely with the ocean as a backdrop. The rise of ocean levels, a
tangible sign of climate change and the Anthropocene has however
precipitated a new awareness of the ocean, inaugurating a new critical oceanic studies
which directs our attention downwards, below the waterline, asking us to engage
with both human and non-human aspects of the sea, with the depth and the surface. These intellectual developments I think, opened up really interesting
vistas for humanities scholars. Changing ideas of the ocean demand
radical interdisciplinary where, for example literary studies must engage
with oceanographers and visa versa. This is of course, an area where
a lot of people are doing a lot of really interesting and exciting work. And let me just talk briefly about
one example from Stacy Alaimo and her influential piece called “Jellyfish
Science, Jellyfish Aesthetics” (slide). As she just indicates, jelly fishes is of course a misleading term
covering several different categories but let’s stick with jellyfish for the moment. So she begins by pointing out to a
contradiction, she says on the one hand, jellyfish are a source of environmental
panic (as oceanic acidification allows their populations to expand dramatically they’ve come
to be known as the “Cockroaches of the sea”). But on the other hand, jelly fish have
become objects of aesthetic pleasure, apparent in the jewel like photographs
of jellyfish, one of which was used for the poster for this evening (slide). Yet, of course there’s a further
contradiction that these sorts of images are largely consumerized
and extract jellyfish from the complexities of their environment. There’s a further complicating
dimension is the fact that while the jelly fish can look gorgeous,
it is difficult to identify with them. Jellyfish, it has no nose, it has apparently
no tongue or no eyes, and as Alaimo indicates, it does not provoke a sense
of interspecies solidarity as a polar bear marooned on
a small piece of ice might. Yet, in their inscrutability, jellies remind
us of the limits of human understanding since we know so little about them. They erode our claims to sovereign
knowledge, and modes of being. Quoting a scientist who works on jellyfish,
she notes: “Perhaps it is not enough to simply think our way through the world. More important, how do we
sense it, or absorb it?” In short, Jellyfish invite us to
reconsider the boundaries between nature, art and science to move towards what
she calls a post-humanist humility. Now the question, of course, of how we
will integrate a material engagement with the Indian Ocean and
its submarine inhabitants with existing oceanic studies have,
I think, only started to unfold. They will certainly add further
complexity to a rich history of scholarship on this multifarious ocean. To close, let me take a quote Antoinette
Burton’s work on the Indian Ocean. She provides this wonderful summation of the
meanings of the Indian Ocean “Maritime complex, infinite horizon, interregional arena,
floating cosmopolis, Afrasian sea, poet’s muse, linguistic caravan, coastal zone, superpower
battleground, bookseller’s highway, aquatic maelstrom, indentured passageway,
civilizational basin, trade circuit, pilgrim path, monsoon corridor,
seafarer’s route, mobile marketplace, province of pirates, and burial ground. Thank you very much. Questions? I was wondering if you could talk a little
bit more about Africans on the continent as producers or originators
of Indian Ocean histories. I struggle with this when I see the
Indian Ocean [inaudible] as it stands now. Where, there is an overwhelming amount of
proportional dissimilarities to origins of the outside of the sea that is India. And what I do not find, or struggle to find, are
stories originating on the African continent. And that leads me to second
order, sort of question, where.. I’m wondering to what degree does [inaudible
“skill”?] shape how we see the Indian Ocean. In terms of practical, in practical terms
are Indian Ocean histories largely histories of port cities. How inland do they go? And how much more inland do they go
for [inaudible] on the African side. I mean this question came to me when
you were talking about the artist, the performance artist using the drum
and I was reminded of Phillis Martin, and all the work in East Africa and
[inaudible] drum is used in many societies. And many societies on the coast are extremely,
often quite rigidly classified internally between inland, tribal Africans with their
backwoods forms of music and Zandsibari, more coastal, more cosmopolitan
Africans also more Islamic influences. So there I see friction, there I see you
know it’s coastal but more inland and yet there is friction and I see more
African participation in the history. As oppose to how it stands historically
now, so I’m wondering if in a sort of long winded way how we place skill, Africans
as originators or more rooted in Africa sort of stories that come out of there
and how the two can sort of play out in the historiographical frame. Okay, thank you. A series of responses. I think part of the question, one
way to think about it is the question that this exhibition raises of what is the.. Where does Africa and Asia begin and end. So one often thinks, for example, you know,
if you’re thinking about what is the sort of maritime activity in the monsoon world. Then I think it’s also difficult to
say this person would [inaudible] and this person wouldn’t, okay. So partly because it’s been such a, a
world of such a layered interaction. I think maybe, also category of Africa
itself has to be brought into question. And I think that’s very much
partly what this exhibition does. I think part.. as I understand your question you’re
also asking about the extraversions of Africa into the Indian Ocean world. So those are when it’s, medieval and early
modern movements of slaves and scholars and administrators so all of those
sorts of things, who end up as cities. City communities in India. So if you work in African studies,
a lot of what is available is work on particularly African slave trades around
Madagascar and the Nascarians so a lot of stuff that you could, if you’re interested
in scale and numbers of people moving. There’s also, I think, a lot of work
starting to be done on African sailors, but again it’d be very difficult,
I think, to say. And perhaps slightly pointless
often to say I’m going to go and decide this [inaudible]
is African and this one isn’t. So I think maritime history would be
another period that one could look at. There’s quite interesting work being done
on the southeast African coast and numbers of African sailors being
seen as kind of adventures, reinventing themselves through
maritime activity. It’s also a lot of work now
being done on African travelers and travel logs in the Indian Ocean world. There’s also interesting work on, for example,
African political exiles in India is another. A lot, obviously, of African soccer
players in India is another group that is quite prominent and well-known. So I think that in all of these different sites,
obviously you know if you inhabit African, then there’s huge amounts of very rich work,
looking at all sorts of complex interactions. Like [inaudible]’s work for
example, you know, looks.. raises a lot of those questions
in relation to Tanzania. It’s in interesting thing,
there’s a lot of stuff there, but I suppose it’s just never been somehow.. going back to [inaudible]’s work.. where somehow South Asia became the
center of the Indian Ocean [inaudible]. It’s surprisingly hard to unseat that. I have a much less intellectual question. It’s about the word ‘salem’. Allyson, isn’t there something
from your exhibit that’s salem. Yes I thought that’s where it was
going to go, but it clearly didn’t. Yeah and so, is the word in
the cloth that you showed us. Is the part of salempore, not a
reference to a North American Salem. I’ve got absolutely no idea, if
Pedro were here he could help us. No, I’ve never really thought about it that way. I had thought that I was just the term
that had arisen on the Coromandel coast and but thank you, I’ll certainly
go think about that. Allyson what do you think? What do you think? I would also have to differ to Pedro on that
[inaudible] I mean, it’s probably unlikely because the kinds of materials that were
coming out of Salem were actually a very, very, simple white cloth [inaudible] which is
actually [inaudible] indicate it’s origins. It was a white broad cloth, that was coming
from the United States into eastern Africa. A whole different sort of direction. Instead of the cloth coming out of
India, in fact there was a competition between the Americony and a
lot of the South Asian cloths that were coming out of [inaudible]. So I think there..whether or
not , and those were not called, there was not a nominal connection
with Salem that’s in place. So I don’t know, but of course it was
the first thing I thought of when.. I thought that’s where the story was
going to go and in fact it didn’t. That’s really interesting. But I think that’s why it’s probably not. We can defer to Pedro. I wonder if you could elaborate
[Inaudible] a lot of different systems [inaudible] a
very small [inaudible] lots of stuff and connect people [inaudible] I’m curious
about how that would play out [inaudible] and you mention [inaudible] but often we
find cosmopolitanism [inaudible] foreigner [inaudible] where are you from. People want to know where you are from [inaudible] it just
struck me and then [inaudible]. I think that’s a really interesting thing,
because I think that question of where are you from is arguably a product
of the British Empire. Because it was really.. the whole kind of racial
bureaucracy of empire that tended to produce those sort of
questions of provenance. [Name]’s work is really interesting
on this and what he argues is that [inaudible] are both diasporic, but they very much integrate
themselves into local communities. Which is an interesting thing to maintain, but a
lot of this production of the textural material that is produced is to keep that link open. But very often [inaudible] is a sense that
you sequester yourself from the society in which you arrive in order to keep in.. order to manage to.. straddle this boundary and be both
integrate themselves into the places where they’ve landed but also keep.. I think it’s probably also I would
say maybe just to think about it sort of pre-British Empire and
post-British empire terms. I’m gonna go back to that Salem person, because
it’s interesting I always see it in writing. This was the very first time I heard somebody
pronounce it salemport and whenever I saw it in writing I thought it was salemport. Because coming from the Persian
Arabic word of healthy strong and poor very [inaudible] offspring, so I always
thought that that’s the connection, you know. And actually that’s sort of an
interesting intrigue there to bring back in what we were talking earlier about the
boundaries of how we draw these boundaries and we bring in that kind of [inaudible]
to that word perhaps that would also help to map another geography for this. I mean I might be totally wrong,
you know, it’s in interesting kind of misinterpretation on my part, perhaps. Because I’ve never heard
Salem, but I read it salem. So I don’t know maybe that would take
you to another direction altogether. Well it is, it’s funny because returning
to the exhibition was this sense of that you can’t really ultimately know.. escribe something as coming from one place. It’s a wonderful.. these conversations really interesting because
I was thinking of the southern African context. Terry was thinking of Salem here, and you were
thinking really of the sort of Persian world. So it’s.. and probably all of those
have some barring on the topic. Thank you so much, it was
a wonderful presentation. I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I’m going to add one more thing
to the salemport conversation. Starting to coordinate Terry’s
sort of observation, I mean, my first thought was Jeremy Prestholdt’s
“Domesticating the World” and the sort of circulation of malacali cloth but also
he makes the point of sort of African taste for cloth intervening more broadly
in markets, Indian Ocean markets. I don’t know if that’s worth mentioning but my actual question has
nothing to do with that thankfully. I was really sort of struck by this, the sort of
irreconcilability between the sort of human form and the jellyfish and the
broader question of materiality of the sea itself, and I’m wondering.. I don’t know if.. maybe just talk about this but like how.. you know.. thinking about the sea itself, the jellyfish,
sort of etcetera etcetera how can we even fold that into the existing sort of
thematic touchpoint of geography of the Indian Ocean world politics of
empire of nationalism of third worldism. They seem, there seems to be
a sort of gap that I can’t.. Thank you, I think it’s I think it’s really
you’ve sort of hit the nail on the head there because partly you need to keep your eye
on the surface because if you’re interested in broadly the questions of social
justice and history then you know.. because a lot of the stories on the surface
are stories of slavery and indenture and so you’ve got to keep
that within your focus. So it’s this really interesting
question of how you keep your eye both on the water and below the water level. And it’s something just.. a group of us in Johannesburg have started to
grapple with this so what we did was we signed up for an oceanography course partly just
also to put oneself within a vocabulary for thinking about different kinds of water. You know temperature, salinity, pressure,
current, wind, all of those sorts of things. So partly just also to get a vocabulary to
start somehow thinking about these things. We’ve also started, just as an experiment,
to run conversations because if you go to have an interdisciplinary thing.. often the best way to do it is just to
get the conversation going and see just to see what comes out of it so we ran an event
called “Sound on Water” which had a musician, and a musicologist, and an
engineer, and a social scientist. And that was really interesting
to see what came out of that. There is of course I mean partly
of course is a lot of work that has a strong environmental concern. There is Marcus Rediker work on the shark and
the slave ships, John Horton has done work on the current and wind in the slave trade. There’s very interesting work emerging that
I’m aware of because I’m in literature. Thinking about how to read literature
texts for the sea as actent. There’s also a lot of interesting
work thinking about coastal form and aesthetics, so those sort of.. so I think there’s sort of.. there seem to be a lot of interesting
initiatives in different directions. Thank you I think it’s really hard, you know I.. I’m very much grappling with it
and I find it really difficult. So much of world history has been the history
across land and empires, the silk roads, and here we have an example
of maritime that unites. Another way of conceding history is in large
bodies of water, oceans, [inaudible] separate. The Mediterranean is one such body of
water that’s united the [inaudible] so that’s another one you can see the unity
of the history and transmission of culture and the Atlantic is also, can
be seen, not as a divider, as an ocean that transmits
[inaudible] sort of unifying. I think it’s a really interesting question
because partly you know this idea of.. the question is often asked you know why do
you want to study the Indian Ocean, you know, why do you want to study the Atlantic and
increasingly there’s a sense of there’s so many interactions and
intersections between all of these so maybe we should just think
about the world ocean. So that is one position, some people say,
well if you want to hang onto these categories of Indian Ocean or Atlantic it’s
a kind of area studies of sea. So you know Africa was an
area, South Asia was an area, now the Indian Ocean’s become
simply a maritime area. So I think, I mean it varies you know but then
they’ve both very good reasons for wanting to keep those categories and there groupings
to also deconstruct them in some ways. But I think the interesting thing is that the.. if you look at the scholarship of the
Mediterranean became a very great model that people often then wanted to reproduce. So when scholarship on the Indian Ocean
really started, it was people wanting almost to reproduce the scholarship that
had happened on the Mediterranean and there was this huge search for
this finding of things that unify to treat the Indian Ocean as a system. And then there are a lot of people say that’s
really perhaps that’s not the most productive way to proceed in fact because certain things
like cosmopolitism in the Indian Ocean, but there’s equally as well
you know, huge division, huge bureaucratism, all of
those sorts of things. We were talking about how the
Indian Ocean sort of exchanges in that the Indian Ocean contributes to
the proliferation universalisms [inaudible] So I’m just wondering if you could just
speak a little bit more to what is it about this transcontinental
experience that tends to have this tendency towards
creating these universalisms. [inaudible] So this move
towards ideology [inaudible] So it’s moved towards ideology
[inaudible] what is going on there? It’s not just a matter of
connecting nodes there must be more than that [inaudible] I suppose it is, that
one argument would be that it’s a response to imperialism and that particularly
it’s a response to Protestantism because Protestantism establishes itself as
this is what a religion is supposed to look like and you’ve got to package it in this way
and you’ve got to have these grand claims and you’ve got to have politics
in the mist of it. So that’s one argument that’s
often made that Hindu reformism through organizations like
the [name] march become.. start to model themselves
as Hindu Protestantism. So I think that’s the one argument. The other one is, of course, that it’s.. it has a sort of anti-imperial impetus that
you’re trying to trump another grand scheme. Causing some people to say well
why do you want to, you know, should we not, why do you want to look at that? Are we not, now, more interested in those
who said I, no grand schemes for me. So, you know, so I think it is partly.. Although some people might
say that versions of Islam, pre-empire don’t have sort
of universal aspirations. I’m going to ask one more question. I was just thinking about peoples respect
and fear of oceans and I don’t actually know that much about the Indian Ocean. Somebody once told me that you could tell
a Midwesterner if they knew all the verses about the Edman Fitzgerald which is all
about a tanker that sank on the Great Lakes and I’m wondering, if you don’t know all
the verses you’re not a Midwesterner, so there’s that. But I was just wondering about, I mean we always
talk about the Indian Ocean as kind of a highway and people skipping around the edges of it. Are there parts of it where no one wants to go? It’s really.. it’s a very interesting.. the parts that nobody initially wanted
to go, were the parts below the monsoon. Because the monsoon means that
it was relative, it wasn’t easy, but it was relatively easy to cross. And so the area that’s sort of
just below northern Mozambique, where the monsoon stops was
considered to be completely wild and uncivilized by Muslim navigators. So that was. And also the lower down you get, you get
into that wild southern ocean and also of course the sea around the Cape. And it’s one argument that there was no sort of pre-colonial southern
African maritime exploration because the sea was just really difficult. But do you think that questions
also about you know the whole sort of attitudes towards the
sea are really interesting. And you get, if you think around the coast
of Africa, you get in east Africa the idea of [inaudible] that are often
associated with the ocean. In parts of Southern Africa
you get the sense that people.. sometimes in [inaudible] when you hear people
say we have nothing to do with the ocean because it belongs to the ancestors. So it’s also that realm. You go around the corner and you
enter the realm of mummy water. You know it’s a very interesting kind of .. the sort of mapping. Yeah, as I’m listening to your presentation,
which, just make it sound like you inhale and out comes these observations. It’s very fluid but you’re citing lots of other
authors and attributing units of your talk to them, and I’m wondering
if this is the kind of work that can only be done as a collaboration. To study Morocco, you learn your Arabic
and you learn your geography and everything in those borders is Morocco and
then it’s kind of easy, right? Every now and then someone
leaps across to Spain, but the minute you start studying a water body
there are 18 different languages there are you know these mobilities where we don’t
even know, as you said, whether someone.. what they are, what category, what box
we put them in those normal categories. So this is a kind of almost
a methodological question. Can you talk about that? Because here you are taking oceanography so
now you’re definitely working collaboratively with people in the jellyfish world. I suppose it’s a really fascinating
question and the problem that people grapple with is presented to use by global
histories and world histories and those large scale forms of analysis. That we all now you know, that we do. And I mean I was trained originally in African
studies and my first book was this microstudy of a little village up in the north of South
Africa, and I can’t tell you how I miss that. You know, you could read all the archival work
on it, it was, and, from there I just sort of kind of launched myself up into the world. You often have the sense.. I often have a sense of sort
of intellectual vertigo. But at the same time it’s a really fascinating and interesting methodological
challenge about how you do that. And I do think there are really interesting
collaborative projects that have sprung up, and just a really interesting one was a
Kai Kresse who worked on the Swahili Coast and Edward Simpson who was an anthropologist
of Gujarat got together and they changed sides. So Edward to the Swahili
Coast and Kai went to Gujarat. So I suppose you just have to keep trying
and exploring things and see what happens and long desperately for that little
microhistory that you used to do. A final question. Do you have a favorite object in the exhibition? Do I have a favorite object in the exhibition? Oh they were all so fantastic. I think it was the shoes. Well please everyone join me [applause].

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