Steeping Gendered Labour: Nostalgia and the Sri Lankan Tea Plantation Economy
Vol. 17 (2024)

The socio-historical relationship between the state and unfree labour systems creates space to analyze the ways in which unfree labour is reproduced across temporal periods. In 19th century Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), unfree labour begins as a distinctly colonial project, seeking to manipulate an indentured Indian Tamil workforce for agricultural tea yields. Such a process involved high levels of colonial manipulation, which was made possible through illiberal gender dynamics, class structures, racial constructions, and religious affiliations. While contemporary society generally challenges such notions, Sri Lanka curiously continues to employ such practices on tea plantation estates in modernity. In particularly, the continuity of a gendered labour division in plantation communities remains as commonplace today as it was at the system’s inception in the mid-1800s. This paper examines the concept of nostalgia and the ways in which unfree labour systems have been reproduced even beyond its colonial inception. In analyzing Sri Lanka’s trajectory and cyclical return to gendered and unfree labour, one can appreciate the how the contemporary state maintains unfree systems for the benefit of the state. The analysis concludes that, while it may be economically advantageous for states Sri Lanka to maintain this nostalgic link to unfree and gendered labour systems, the social implications of these illiberal policies remain overwhelmingly detrimental for the rights and well-being of its citizens.

At the Helm of the Harem: Eunuchs and Their Function in the 9th/10th Century Abbasid Court
Vol. 16 (2024)

This paper explores the role and function of eunuchs within the 9th/10th century Abbasid court, with particular attention being paid to the role of eunuchs in the court of the caliph al-Muqtadir (r. 908-932 CE). Eunuchs, like other slaves within the Abbasid Empire, were predominantly foreigners. They were purchased as young boys and castrated before reaching their final market in one of the major cities of the Abbasid Empire. As guardians of the harem, Eunuchs were granted high levels of access to the caliph and freedom of movement within the caliphal court, providing them with the opportunity to attain influence amongst elite men. Outside the harem, eunuchs held key offices within the army and the police, were utilised in ceremonies, and regulated access to the caliph. This allowed them to serve as vassals for the power of their masters, and it presented them with opportunities to exercise their own influence within the court despite their enslaved status. Socially, eunuchs were often understood to exist as a sort of third gender, granting them the ability to move between the highly gendered spaces that existed within the Abbasasid caliphate and, occasionally, making them the objects of lust and desire. As eunuchs existed outside the social institution of the family, occupied a liminal space between male and female, and had no ties to the society over which the caliph ruled, they were understood to be ideally suited to serve as agents and proxies for their masters.

Voices From a Slum: Poverty Solutions According to Residents of Manyatta B Informal Settlement, Kisumu, Kenya
Vol. 15 (2023)

How do residents of informal settlements perceive potential pathways to reduce poverty in their area? Until now, few studies have looked at the views of people living in informal settlements on strategies to reduce poverty. While informal settlements are often targeted for poverty reduction, most examinations of poverty solutions follow a top-down approach, which can create a disconnect with the local realities of people experiencing poverty. This study tries to address these gaps by examining poverty solutions from a bottom-up perspective in the Manyatta B informal settlement in Kisumu, Kenya. The purpose of this case study was (1) to understand how people living in Manyatta B perceive poverty and current development efforts in their area, (2) to document the ideas that residents have on ways to improve the poverty situation in their area, and (3) to investigate the reasons behind the ideas proposed. A total of 32 semi-structured interviews were conducted with residents of the informal settlement between May and July 2022. Findings suggest that respondents mostly define poverty as an inability to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, and education. Every respondent perceives poverty as a problem in Manyatta B and considers the current poverty reduction efforts as insufficient. Participants believe more efforts should be made, and nearly all stress the responsibility of the government, exposing a disconnect between top-down government policies for poverty reduction and the residents’ own priorities for poverty reduction. In addition, many also attribute a responsibility to the community in the fight against poverty. In terms of solutions, employment is seen as the key solution to reduce poverty in Manyatta B. Many residents also perceive business and sensitization on poverty reduction as other avenues, while several respondents identify youth education, empowerment, and better governance as potential pathways to improve the poverty situation in their area. Four main issues were raised by the participants to justify the solutions proposed: unemployment, idleness, poor governance, and lack of knowledge on pathways out of poverty. All in all, the results show that the residents of Manyatta B interviewed have a multidimensional view of poverty, a broad understanding of solutions, and a clear sense of the problems affecting their community. There is an apparent disconnect between the priorities of the residents of Manyatta B and current poverty reduction efforts, and development actors would do well to address this gap before any meaningful poverty reduction initiatives can be undertaken.

The Pakistani Floods of 2022: How Vulnerability is Amplified by Climate Change and Political Policy
Vol. 14 (2023)

As the global economy has evolved, there has been a magnification and intensification of interactions between the environment and people. The risk and vulnerability produced by these interactions, which pollute and degrade the environment for material gain, will only be lessened once this relationship is fully appreciated. Over time, climate change has made the monsoon system’s fluctuations more drastic in the Indian Ocean World (IOW), creating more significant and devastating storms in South Asia. Climate change amplifies vulnerability while economic, political, and agricultural practices increase vulnerability to floods. For example, this article discusses the magnification of vulnerability that occurred during the devastation of flooding in Pakistan in the summer of 2022 due to poor developmental planning, extractive political institutions, and climate change interactions. This article will analyze the crucial leverage points in Pakistan’s unjust political and economic systems to grasp how Pakistani governance limits mobility, agency, and education. It will highlight how poverty and the factors purposely limiting upward mobility magnify vulnerability to natural disasters. The true effect of the floods is not any one impact, but the disempowerment that a combination of every impact causes. When the effect of these impacts coalesce with the destruction of entire communities’ homes and livelihoods, millions lose their autonomy and become dependent on help from politically and economically active figures of authority who lack an appreciation for the roadblocks communities in rural Pakistan face. These figures also often have a vested interest in keeping these communities disempowered and vulnerable for personal financial gain.

What are the Roots of Singaporean Sand?: The Impact of Sand Dredging in Southeast Asia
Vol. 13 (2022)

This paper gathers inspiration from the 2018 documentary film by Kalyanee Mam, Lost World. This documentary focused on how sand dredging projects by Singaporean companies have destroyed the environment and livelihoods of Cambodians who live and rely on coastal mangroves. This paper argues that the wilful disengagement and selective picking of what constitutes a nation’s history and legacy has real, practical repercussions on how the modern state shuns the consequences of its extractive practices that enable its development. This paper aims to unpack how Singapore justifies sand mining to feed continuous development within its national borders, despite the negative repercussions this activity has in the wider region. Kalyanee Mam’s film has captured the lack of language afforded to those who are displaced and affected by sand mining- which has been duly authorised and legalised through international, regional, and national political and legal institutions. In particular, Singapore’s environmental, social, political, and economic stance internalises and embodies that of its coloniser, enabling this extraction. This has allowed the state to construct itself in the vision of the coloniser. The labour and land extracted and utilised to construct the postcolonial state are necessary yet invisible within the cityscape, mimicking colonial policies. This paper asks what outlets and what power structures can allow for accountability and visibility for what is being hidden? This paper will progress in five parts: a) introducing sand mining; b) analysing Singapore from colony to postcolony; c) unpacking Singapore’s version of exceptionalism within the Southeast Asian region; d) introducing racial capitalism as a form of analysis; e) introducing how sand mining has been understood in the region; f) concluding remarks.

Galley Labour in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire
No. 12 (2022)

This paper examines the system of labour provision for the Ottoman navy from the fifteenth to the late seventeenth century. Comparing the experiences of statute labourers, convicts, and prisoners of war who rowed on galleys and worked in the imperial arsenal, it argues that the organisation and classification of labour were key mechanisms in establishing state control over subjects during the early modern period. For the field of Ottoman history more specifically, the conclusion suggests that differences in socioeconomic status and human capital had greater influence on the way the state viewed and interacted with its subjects than is commonly acknowledged.

Multiple Motives and a Malleable Middleman: The Founding of George Town (Malaysia)
Vol. 11 (2021)

This paper places Penang within the larger context of the Indian Ocean world, considering its geographical position and composition, as well as economic and political interest in the island from a macro-perspective. George Town established in 1786 was a crucial settlement of the British East India Company (EIC) that connected the company’s commercial interests in India with those in China. As the port city was strategically located on the island of Penang at the northern end of the Straits of Malacca, it was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia with the aim of breaking Dutch mercantile dominance in the Straits of Malacca and of pre-empting French imperial interests in the region. In a second step, this paper adds a micro-perspective in order to deepen the understanding of the complexly entangled reasons and factors that led to the founding of George Town. The emphasis within the micro-perspective lies on key figures foremost Francis Light and his pivotal role as a middleman between the Sultan of Kedah and the East India Company, as well as the Sultan himself, thus demonstrating how Light’s dexterous mediation and the Sultan’s personal circumstances contributed significantly to the founding of George Town.

Beyond Technology: Investigating Socio-cultural Aspects of the Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning Systems (InaTEWS) in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Vol. 10 (2021)

The 2018 Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami have sparked off a serious debate on the efficacy of the Indonesia Tsunami Early Warning Systems (InaTEWS). The 'cascading disasters' suggest an apparent failure of early warning chain and technological deficiencies that resulted in a heavy death toll. This article examines how factors beyond technological aspects such as socio-cultural factors and local memories of past disasters play a significant role in mitigating communities against disasters. Methodologically, this paper followed a qualitative approach based on in-depth interviews and direct observation to develop arguments. Findings show that tsunami risk perception, local belief, and faith affected community response capacity. Besides, lack of education in disaster preparedness, coupled with ignoring history of tsunamis, limited the ability of people to react appropriately when disasters unfolded. However, in the absence of an alert system, the coastal community in Donggala demonstrated the best practice of tsunami preparedness by harnessing local knowledge. The community in Donggala has been preserving the tsunami memories from 1938 and 1968 through oral transmission across generations about bombatalu or lembotalu (three waves) stories. In conclusion, this paper recommends a people-centred approach to the Indonesia Tsunami Early Warning Systems (InaTEWS) against disasters in the future.

Making Waves: Radio Broadcasting in 1920s Hong Kong
No. 9 (2020)

This paper traces the development of radio broadcasting in Hong Kong, focusing firstly on broadcasting activities in the early 1920s. It then examines how these early developments paved the way for the establishment of the first official radio station in Hong Kong in 1928. What the radio activities and the slow reaction of the colonial government demonstrate are that society usually adapts to new technology faster than the government did. I also argue that modernisation should not be simply regarded as a top-down state-intervention or bottom-up movement. Both state and society contributed in their ways to promote radio, which became a standard of modernity in the 1920s.

Wetland Management, Development, and Degradation: A Comparative Study of the South Vietnamese Mekong Delta and the Mozambican Zambezi Delta
No. 8 (2020)

As has been made evident by a plethora of research on the environmental histories of territories within the Indian Ocean World (IOW), the exploitation and commodification of natural and human environments that was introduced by European imperialists in the colonial era has contributed significantly to the destabilization of local ecologies. By presenting a comparative analysis of two natural monsoon-based wetlands in the IOW – the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam, and the Zambezi Delta of Northern and Central Mozambique –  this article contends that imperial strategies of wetland development and models of hydraulics control have contributed significantly to modern and post-modern wetland degradation and unsustainability. It will demonstrate how the replacement of colonial management with that of centralized governmental control within both Vietnam and Mozambique continues to aggravate this environmental crisis due to their respective tendencies to prioritize economic profit over environmental necessities. The destabilization of these natural wetland environments over the past two centuries has contributed to increases in various undesirable consequences: food insecurity, disease, ecological species endangerment, irregularities in rainfall, intense fluctuations of seasonal monsoons and El Niño South Oscillation (ENSO), as well as dangerous vacillations between periods of drought and flooding. As climate change continues to disrupt our natural world, and as local governments continue to favour short-term economic initiatives that disregard environmental repercussions, IOW wetlands and the valuable ecosystems within them risk becoming obsolete.

The Climate Coup: An Examination of Mamluk Ascendancy in the Ayyubid period in Relation to the Medieval Climate Anomaly
No. 7 (2019)

The organisation, institutionalisation and political rise of slave soldiers is traced through the history of the Muslim world and represents a recurring theme in Muslim rulers’ attempts to wrest and consolidate power from the other political elite in the region.  The rise of the Mamluks and the associated fall of the Ayyubid dynasty are byproducts associated with adverse and favourable climate patterns at the time. Ayyubid reign (1171-1260) directly coincided with the period called the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) (900-1300), which was responsible for the varying environmental conditions under examination. A nuanced analysis of Turkic nomadic lifestyle as well as the authority held by the mamluk emirs in the Ayyubid period in relation to the MCA will ultimately clarify the conditions associated with mamluk ascent to power.

Gendered Silence: Female Slave Imports and Khoikhoi Women in the Dutch Cape Colony
No. 6 (2019)

The Dutch East Indies Company had power in the Cape Colony of South Africa from 1652 to 1795. Under this rule, imported slave women and Indigenous Khoikhoi women were enslaved, despite the Khoikhoi being legally considered free. The purpose of this article is to synthesize the current research on the topic, and to bring a gendered perspective to Cape bondage. I show how gender, race, and origin influenced slave experiences and lifestyles. I present the environmental, social, and economic contexts that led to the start of slavery in the Cape, as well as the historical context that led to Khoikhoi enslavement. Despite the legal distinctions between slave and free, both groups lived under slave-like conditions, yet had unique experiences. This is shown through diverse examples of female slaves working in the domestic sphere, and Khoikhoi women working on farms. Additionally, I analyze the different treatment of female slaves and Khoikhoi women during the smallpox outbreaks in 1713, 1748, and 1755. Slaves and Khoikhoi both worked as washerwomen, which offered more freedom and a counternarrative to domesticity. Overall, it is concluded that although both these groups of women were enslaved under Dutch rule, each were responsible for different types of work, and received different treatment.

The Origins and Experiences of Female Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers to Indian Ocean World Destinations, 1980-2018: A Case of Modern Indian Ocean World Bondage?
No. 5 (2019)

This paper studies the experiences of female Indonesian migrant workers employed in the domestic sector as maids, housekeepers, and nannies in Indian Ocean World destinations. Specifically, it examines the extent to which female international labour migration from Indonesia to Asia Pacific and the Middle East enables the violation of labour and human rights, and by extension, the perpetuation of modern systems of Indian Ocean World bondage. Part I focuses on the context of international Indonesian female labour migration, outlining its history from the 1980s to the present. This section investigates the socio-economic factors which contribute to women’s choices to migrate for domestic work, such as rural impoverishment and gendered divisions of labour. Part II assesses the human rights abuses that occur throughout the migrants’ placements overseas. It argues that Indonesian female international labour migration supports modern forms of Indian Ocean World bondage, functioning as a system which permits the widespread abuse, extortion, and exploitation of female migrant workers, and the limitations of their human rights.

Sudan and Somalia: Human-Environment Dynamic in the Horn of Africa, 1970-2000
No. 4 (2018)

The Horn of Africa has experienced, since decolonization, increased occurrences of various types of conflicts linked to bad governance, ethnic tensions, and environmental degradation, aggravated by the legacies of colonialism. Since the 1970s more specifically, Sudan and Somalia, two of the most unstable countries of the Horn, have witnessed major civil wars and instances of lower-level inter-communal conflicts between pastoralist groups who constitute a large portion of the population in both states. Inter-communal conflicts are largely fought between pastoralists and influenced by resource scarcity in semi-arid and arid regions. This paper analyzes the multiple and entangled sources of inter-communal conflicts in Sudan and Somalia from 1970 to 2000 to assess the relationship between environmental, political and social dynamics in a region of the world increasingly affected by environmental degradation and global warming, and evolving in a tensed political setting.

Altered Allegiances: Indian Soldiers, Non-Combatants, and Revolutionaries during the Balkan and First World Wars
No. 3 (2017)

At the beginning of the 20th century, in the years encompassing the First World War, diverging views on colonial rule and securing self-rule were spreading in the Indian subcontinent. When the First World War broke out, many leading revolutionaries encouraged allegiance to the British in their war effort as a means of proving capability for self-rule. Nevertheless, among Indians from different social classes, allegiances were mitigated or reified according to various situations that arose, including the treatment of Indians under British command on the battlefield and official British attitudes towards the Ottoman Caliphate before and after the war. By examining the life work of Dr. Mukhtar Ansari, who led a medical mission from India to the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars, and that of the Indian sepoys in Mesopotamia in 1915-1916, this paper explores the changed and bargained allegiances affected by religious, ethnic, and colonial contexts.

Three Shi‘a Poets: Sect-Related Themes in Pre-Modern Urdu Poetry
No. 2 (2016)

This paper examines the ways in which sectarian differences were approached by three major Hindustani poets: Sauda, Mir and Ghalib. These poets evoked, acknowledged, played upon, and even enjoyed Sunni-Shi‘ite differences without the situation always reaching some kind of instantaneous flashpoint of sectarian “tension”. Contrary to recent arguments that sectarian affiliation can be discerned through evidence of ritual practice of pilgrimage and paying respect to the shrines of certain historical personages of spiritual importance, in the Indian environment, as no doubt elsewhere also, it appears difficult to pin down sectarian affiliation from rituals and expressions of respect and devotion to the Prophet’s household.

“Our Little Piratical Intentions”: Select Narratives of British Abolition in East Africa, 1849-1873
No. 1 (2016)

This paper examines efforts of the British Royal Navy to abolish the slave trade along the East African coast in the mid-nineteenth century through the select narratives of George L. Sulivan and William Cope Devereux. The abolition campaign was weakened by numerous factors, including the Royal Navy’s lack of instruction, organization and central command. I argue that these problems resulted in various acts of misconduct by British Navy men. Increasingly, compensation and “success” depended upon antagonistic relationships with slave traders, Zanzibari locals, Omani elite and other European agents.