Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
15 Malcolm X Boulevard New York, NY 10037
Africans and their descendants long played a military and security role inthe Indian Ocean world. They were regarded as exceptional warriors, andsince they were outsiders, with no filial connections to indigenouspopulations, they were seen as trustworthy by rulers. While people of African descent sometimes bore arms in the Atlantic, Africans were longrecruited in the Indian Ocean world to serve in armed capacities.3.
In comparison to the Americas, there were significantly more womenthan men taken out of Africa to various parts of the Indian Ocean world.The ratio was approximately two to one, whereas it was roughly reversedin the Atlantic, where men were in greater demand for their labor inagriculture and mining; women were prized in the Indian Ocean asconcubines
in addition to working in a range of capacities as domesticservants.4.
Finally, skin color does not necessarily identify people of African descent in the Indian Ocean world since there is a much wider spectrum of skintones and other physical traits among the indigenous peoples (forinstance, southern Indians and Sri Lankans are usually very dark-skinned). Consequently, Africans tended to assimilate more easily.
“Race,” perhaps best understood as having been socially constructed in
the Atlantic world to maintain political authority, does not have the samesignificance in the Indian Ocean world, where distinctions based onfactors such as religion, ethnicity and caste were more influential.Africans and their descendants Africanized the Indian Ocean world,contributing their cultures, talents, skills and labor, and helping shape the societiesthey entered and made their own. This diaspora is an epic story of soldiers, servants,sailors, merchants, mystics, mothers, musicians, linguists, dancers, divers,concubines, commanders, administrators, nurses, nannies, palace guards andbodyguards living a range of experiences across diverse societies, cultures, conditionsand periods of time.