Converging cultures: the Hadrami diaspora in the Indian Ocean

Project description

In this project I used the Hadrami diaspora as a case study. Driven both by economic constraints and by political unrest, the people of Hadramawt (southern Yemen) have historically emigrated to various parts of the Indian Ocean, taking a range of influences with them (particularly religion) and returning with other cultural influences (food, clothing, architecture, ideas). The Hadrami presence is particularly visible in Singapore and parts of Indonesia; in India; on the Swahili coast; in North-East Africa; and in the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia. I analysed the strategies that individuals and groups employ in the pursuit of economic, religious, political or social ends, with particular attention to the way that links among and between kin-based, religious and cultural groups are activated and consolidated to achieve these ends.

I investigated how the diaspora (in East Africa, South Asia, and the Arabian peninsula) and the homeland sustain one another through enduring links of various kinds. I looked at how convergences (or reconvergences) of diasporic activity on the homeland provide for a parallel reshaping of homeland identity and renewal of diasporic identity.

Key research questions

  1. What do the transnational relationships that people maintain reveal about their life trajectories?
  2. How do these people use their embeddedness in a transnational Hadrami diasporic community to move, following the whims of international economic growth and decline, the opportunities for jobs and the desire for a ‘home’ to which they may finally retire?
  3. How do Hadrami men reconcile the ideal of endogamous marriage with gender-based constraints on movements that do not permit women to move?
  4. How does the establishment of different families in different places contribute to the reproduction of the diasporic community?
  5. How does the repetition and renewal of links lead to convergence and reconvergence in the diaspora?
  6. How do all these kin links facilitate land ownership or religious practice, and open up opportunities for business or education?


Research was spread over two years and was largely based on fieldwork – semi-formal interviews and participant observation – with additional archival research. Fieldwork was first carried out in Hadramawt, where already established networks were renewed and trajectories mapped outwards, to south India, the Gulf states and to East Africa. Following Hadramawt, research visits were made to specific areas in the three regions under consideration: Zanzibar and Comoros in East Africa; Abu Dhabi and Jeddah in the Gulf states; and Kochi and Kozhikode in Kerala (south India). I then returned to Hadramawt to meet individuals and families whose kin and friends I have met elsewhere. By tracing these networks and links I was able to answer the questions outlined above.

Mukalla port, Yemen. Photograph: Iain Walker

Project lead

Iain Walker, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society

Project-related outputs

> Book chapters
> Journal articles and working papers
> Media contributions
> Presentations