- Africa, Hinduism in
- Hinduism is practiced throughout the African continent but is primarily focused in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. According to 2000 census data, nearly 1 million Hindus live in South Africa, the largest concentration of followers on the continent.India has had a long history of interaction with East Africa, first recorded as trade during the time of the Roman Empire, which exported products and slaves from East Africa and imported Indian cloth and spices. An Indian presence in Africa has been discovered at archaeological sites in Zim-babwe and the Swahili coast. Remains of small Indo-African colonies have also been identified on Madagascar and Zanzibar. Zanzibar appears to have been the center of South Asian mercantilism, which predated the entry of the Europeans. Even today words from Indian languages can be found in the Swahili language.The trade initiated by the Roman Empire ebbed for centuries, but the onset of European colonization of Africa and India, and particu-larly the British Empire, renewed communication between East Africa and India, as Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa became part of the British Empire and began to be settled by South Asian colonists. Europeans presided over a flourishing of trade across the Indian Ocean that included the German colony of Tanzania (German East Africa), although they also suppressed the slave trade. The Indian community in Zanzibar grew to include Hindus, Muslims, Roman Catholics from Goa, Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Sikhs, and Parsees (Zoroastrians from India).Construction by the British of the Kenya-Uganda railway generated another emigration of South Asian workers to East Africa. First Muslims, and later Hindus, arrived as construction laborers. After completion of the railway, many remained to create Indian bazaars and shops along the new line. The British practice of separating different ethnic groups into homogeneous colonies kept Indian immigrants in segregated communities. Racist attitudes and policies among the European colonists prompted various South Asian groups to organize politically. Schools were founded in order to educate South Asians. After World War II, nationalist movements among the indigenous African population channeled resentment of the financial success of the Asians and threatened the South Asian communities. Even under duress, South Asians continued to immigrate to East Africa and to assist in the development of Hindu communities there.The majority of the Hindu population in East Africa is from the Gujarat (70 percent) and Punjab regions; all but the lowest castes are represented. As a result of constant communication with India, Hindus in East Africa practice the religion of the subcontinent, although members of the different castes interact more freely in East Africa than in India. Various temples allow the Hindu popula-tion to worship their respective deities.In 1972 Idi Amin expelled all Hindus from Uganda. Twenty years later Uganda allowed the Hindu population to return. Today there are two Hindu temples in Uganda, and 65 percent of the South Asian population in Uganda is Hindu.The Hindu population continues to be sepa-rate from other ethnic and religious groups in Africa, as the indigenous and European popula-tions of Africa tend to be primarily Christian or Muslim. Modern movements, such as the VEDANTA SOCIETIES and RAMAKRISHNA MAT H AND MISSION and the SAT YA SAI BABA movement can be found, although traditional Hinduism and Hindu move-ments remain of interest to the immigrants and their descendants.In contrast to free Hindu immigration in Uganda, Hindus first appeared in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and MAURITIUS as indentured servants for the British Empire. It was the same inden-tured servant scheme that took other Indian populations to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Hindus arrived at the South African port of Natal in 1860 to work on plantations. The laborer population increased over the following decades with the construction of continental railroads. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu are among the Indian states from which the first Hindus emigrated. During the early decades, Hindus preserved a broad array of rituals and customs even through they shared temple space across various sects. The temples became eclec-tic places of worship and helped to solidify a cultural identity for Hindus living far away from their Indian homes.Most laborers remained in Africa after their contracts of servitude ended and established per-manent settlements. An Indian merchant class soon formed around the developing communi-ties. Revenues accumulated for the construction and maintenance of the first temples, built on plantations or at the outskirts of towns. Large temples built as early as the 1880s still stand in Durban at the Umgeni Road Temple Complex. The Umbilo Shree Ambalavanaar Alayam Temple of Durban, built in 1875, is recorded as the first proper Hindu temple built on the continent. After it was destroyed in 1905 by the flooding of the Umbilo River, the temple was revitalized in 1946 and was dedicated as a national monu-ment in 1980. The Umbilo Temple continues to operate as a favored place of Hindu worship, celebrating the annual fire walking ceremony each spring.In 1913 laws were passed in South Africa to curb immigration. Nevertheless, before strict apartheid appeared, South Asians were relatively free to travel and to own land. In response to the policies of apartheid, MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI, during his 21-year residency in South Africa, first developed his method of social action and nonviolent protest. In 1947 the South African government passed the Group Areas Act, which enforced strict segregation of all people of color. Previously, South Asians and indigenous Africans had worked together and shared tra-ditions through free intercommunication. The Group Areas Act precluded the possibilities of free communication and forced South Asians and Africans to leave desirable locations and settle in segregated townships in more undesirable areas. Hindu congregations were scattered across the country, isolated from each other and cut off from India. Temples and community centers were created in these highly segregated commu-nities. Between 1968 and 1973 the government of South Africa established a policy of conver-sion to Christianity for the Hindu population, which left Hindu communities cut off from their traditions and unable to socialize youth into the Hindu heritage.The ARYA SAMAJ movement fought the South African policies of apartheid. The movement, begun in India in 1875, entered South Africa in 1906 and Kenya and Tanzania later on. As a social service and educational organization, the Arya Samaj served poor Hindus, but it also affirmed the Vedic tradition and established schools. The movement effectively dissuaded Hindus from converting to Christianity, despite the presence of influential Christian missions. In Tanzania the Hindu Mandal, established in 1910, offered welfare programs, youth activities, and medical services.Other Hindus from diverse backgrounds joined to retain their tradition in the face of sig-nificant challenges to its existence. With the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, Hindus were again able to travel and have contact with India.A number of active Hindu missions coun-tered the growing influence of Christian mis-sionaries. One exemplary mission was begun by Swami Shankarananda. The swami arrived in South Africa in 1907 and helped organize Hindu practice, spread Hindu teaching, and revive festivals. Schools were established under his direction, focused on the study of traditional Hindu scripture. In 1912 Shankarananda orga-nized the first South African Hindu Conference, which established the South African Maha Sabha, which maintained ties among 44 institutes. Shan-karananda’s work opened the way for other missionaries, including Swami Adhyananda and Pandit Rishi Ram, to establish their own work in the country. The work of these early missionaries inspired movements in the later decades of the 20th century.Hindus entered Mauritius in the early 19th century as indentured workers for French sugar plantations. After Great Britain suppressed the slave trade, the colonial French farmers needed a new source of cheap labor. In time the population of Indians in Mauritius grew considerably. Today Hindus make up 68 percent of the total popula-tion. Most Hindus live in the rural areas and still work on plantations. Arya Samaj is also active in Mauritius.Recently neo-Hindu movements have grown in popularity on the continent. In both Kenya and South Africa the INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS became influential in the latter part of the 20th century. The RAMAKRISHNA MAT H AND MISSION, and the Divine Life Soci-ety of Swami SHIVANANDA Saraswai have also become popular. In Ghana, where Indian mer-chants arrived during the 20th century, a mission-ary known as the Black Monk of Africa founded a monastery in Accra in 1977. With a small but devoted following, the monastery provides ser-vices to Hindu communities. The ANANDA MARGA YOGA SOCIETY has also established a popular fol-lowing in Ghana. Only five Hindu families live in Senegal at present.The observance of Hindu festivals continues in Africa largely unchanged from Indian sources. Each year in October DIVALI, or the festival of lights, is celebrated across Africa. In South Africa, the popular festival lasts into Novem-ber and includes both Hindu and non-Hindu participants. In Kenya, Divali is recognized as a national holiday. Communities in Tanzania and Ghana also celebrate Divali. Other festivals observed across Africa include the popular sum-mer celebration HOLI, the festival of colors. Sev-eral local festivals are also observed according to regional customs.Although Hindus have maintained a cultural identity and are generally respected throughout Africa, some Hindus have become increasingly alarmed over the tactics of Christian missionar-ies. Some of the growing numbers of American and European Christian missionaries have insti-gated divisions among African communities. For example, some Christian evangelicals have dis-seminated portrayals of Hindus as followers of demonic gods and goddesses, fueling religious tensions. In South Africa in recent years, several Hindu organizations have petitioned Christian evangelicals to condemn attempts to convert Hindus and have protested against the use of propaganda that depicts Hindus as devil worship-pers. The tactics have ignited a new call for Hindu unity and for peaceful efforts to counter Christian evangelicalism.Further reading: Crispin Bates, ed., Community, Empire, and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora (New York: Pal-grave, 2001); David Chidester et al., Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997); George Delf, Asians in East Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1963); Alleyn Diesel and Patrick Maxwell, Hindu-ism in Natal: A Brief Guide (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1993); Dhram P. Ghai, ed., Portrait of a Minority: Asians in East Africa (London: Oxford Univer-sity Press, 1965); J. S. Mangay, A History of the Asians in East Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969); Martin Prozesky and John W. De Gruchy, Living Faiths in South Africa (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995); Steven Vertovec, The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns (London: Routledge, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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