We have just written of people travelling widely around the ocean to propagate new religious ideas, and to purify the faith. Earlier we also wrote of people moving over the ocean for economic reasons, that is the dubiously voluntary movement of indentured labour (see pages 223–4). There was however also completely voluntary movement, one example being the Indian financiers, or agents of home-based financiers, whom we found dominating much of the imperial economy of the Arabian Sea in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see pages 219–20). This movement continued, and we can now move forward into the twentieth century. In the first half of the century we will find many trends similar to those already outlined in the previous chapter; independence after World War II marks something of a break, though arguably the later phenomenon of globalisation had a greater influence on the ocean. We will first look at more recent migratory movements across the water, this time for economic reasons.
Hadhramis propagated and consolidated Islam, but many travelled for more secular reasons. Some moved to India. There was a big influx to the largest of the Princely States, Hyderabad, in the nineteenth century. Some did well out of turning themselves from military mercenaries to land controllers: indeed three of them made so much money that they were able to go back home and found minor sultanates. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 they rejected calls to help throw out the infidel British, saying that 'we have come here to make money and not to fight about religion.'1
Other Hadhrami drew on their traditional mercantile and financial skills to acquire prominent roles in the service sector all around the ocean. In the mid 1930s about 110,000 Hadhramis lived abroad, this being nearly one-third of the total population of the area.2Today they have largely given up on their previous destinations of Indonesia, Malaya and East Africa, and instead work in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Others have moved to the west, often moving on from Indonesia, where they are worried about political instability. Nor are the Hadhrami the only ones who have done well in the service sector. Two Gulf families did well operating in the interstices of the British system, classic compradors. The Kanoo family serviced the British in the Gulf before World War I, and became the representative in Bahrain of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and of the Mogul steamship line. Later they got into pearls, and later again worked for ARAMCO. Another family, the Alghanim, have prospered in Kuwait, basing their role on their closeness to the al-Sabah ruling family. Their present head, typically, received his business training in the United States.3
We have described large-scale movements of Indian and Chinese labour in the nineteenth century, with Chinese going mostly to the Malay world, and Indians all around the ocean from Malaya to South Africa. In recent times many of the descendants of these migrants have acquired important roles in the economies of the independent states. Chinese dominate the economy of Malaya, and play a major role in Indonesia. The population of Mauritius is now 52 per cent of Indian origin, and they dominate both the economy and politics of the island. All of these diasporic communities retain close family and business ties with their fellows, both those in the diaspora and those at home in Arabia, China or India. Indians used to have a large role in East Africa, but they have been discriminated against, and even expelled, from several former colonies after independence: Burma, Kenya to an extent, Uganda most notoriously. They have been forced to move on, to the west, or back to India. This secondary diaspora is now one not of indentured poor labour but of people who often are professionals or have considerable economic power. Again then, this is not so much a diaspora as a circulation of Indians.
Meanwhile more humble movement for work continues. The experience of people from India and Pakistan in the oil rich Gulf of the 1970s and 1980s provides a case study. In 1977 there were 140,000 labour migrants from Pakistan in the Gulf area, while in 1981 there were 276,000 Indians in Saudi Arabia. Many of these came from the west coast of India, from Goa or Kerala. In the mid 1980s Indian and Pakistani workers together sent back home about $US 6 billion, a very useful amount of foreign exchange.4
In his classic account In an Antique Land, Ghosh found in Kerala ports which had once been prosperous. Mangalore was lauded by Ibn Battuta, and by the Portuguese Barbosa. Then it fell into decline as the British passed it by. But more recently men from one village which is part of the larger town have worked in the Gulf and prospered; 'everything around us, the well-tended gardens and the pastel-coloured bungalows with their thickets of TV aerials, spoke of quietly prosperous, suburban lives.' In other parts of Kerala Ghosh found 'large houses, some new, with sharp geometric lines and bright pastel colours that speak eloquently of their owners' affiliations with the Persian Gulf.' Later he commented on 'a small cluster of Gulf-gilded houses.'5
The example of people from Goa in western India is in many ways typical. We are writing here about the Christian part of the population, not the Hindu. People from this enclave have migrated for centuries, long before it became part of the Indian Union in 1961. Indeed, ironically as the old Goans move out or back and forth, a flood of migrants from other parts of India has changed completely the whole aspect of Goa. Migration from Goa was and is encouraged by the poverty of their homeland, and by their having been converted early on by the Portuguese to Roman Catholicism. The result was that they had none of the food taboos which limited both Hindus and Muslims: Goans could cook any sort of food for anyone, hence their prominent role as cooks and stewards on western ships. Goans also, as a result of a long colonial experience, were more 'westernised' than most other Indians, and so could serve as nursemaids, musicians, and so on. The widespread network of the Catholic church provided support, advice and spiritual comfort wherever a Goan ended up. Christian Goans were alert to wider changes in the Indian Ocean area. In the mid-twentieth century many more attended English language schools in Goa than those teaching the Portuguese of the colonial masters.
This expedience has meant that Goans have had several different favoured places to migrate to. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the focus was on the other Portuguese colonies, especially Mozambique, where they and other Indians controlled the economy. Later in the nineteenth century British India was the El Dorado, along with other British colonies in East Africa. In 1921 it was estimated that Goa's population was about 470,000, with another 200,000 living outside. For the last few decades the movement has been to the Gulf states. Today there are sizeable communities in such South Asian cities as Mumbai, Pune and Karachi, and further afield in Nairobi, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Bahrain, Abu Dubai, and even in London, Lisbon, California, Toronto and Sydney. The village of Moira is perhaps typical. A researcher in 1980 found that half the population were Catholic, and of these 85 per cent got cash income either from remittances from those overseas, or from the superannuation of those who had returned.6Thirty years ago one would drive around Goa and the locals would point out the large houses of people who had been chief stewards, or cooks on British ships. Today the even more elaborate new houses belong to families working in, or returned from, the Gulf, just as Ghosh noted a little further south. This hints at the way Goans, and other diasporic communities, circulated, being away much of the time but retaining strong ties with their homes and villages of origin, sending back money and hoping to retire there. In particular, Goan women over the last two centuries have been major travellers across the ocean. In this they contrast strongly with the more typical movement of men, whether Muslim or Hindu, who leave their family back home. Goan women often accompany their husbands when they go to work overseas, but come home frequently to visit parents, go to family weddings and funerals, arrange husbands for their daughters, deal with property, or attend important religious occasions such as the exposition of the preserved body of Goa's patron saint, St Francis Xavier.
These Goan women make up only one thread in the rich tapestry of people travelling around the ocean. Another is petty traders, pedlars, people who travel incessantly, chaffering their way around the littoral. Literally for millennia these people, at least by number, are the main travellers on the ocean. Some have regular routes, like transhumant pastoralists on land, others go wherever there is opportunity. By 1877 Singapore was a thriving colonial port, the crucial hinge between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Yet it also played host to a regular arrival of humble pedlars. Lady Brassey noticed them:
Towards the end of the south-west monsoon, little native open boats arrive from the islands 1,500 to 3,000 miles to the southward of Singapore. Each has one little tripod mast. The whole family live on board. The sides of the boat cannot be seen for the multitudes of cockatoos, parrots, parrakeets, and birds of all sorts, fastened on little perches, with very short strings attached to them. The decks are covered in sandal-wood. The holds are full of spice, shells, feathers, and South Sea pearl shells. With this cargo they creep from island to island, and from creek to creek, before the monsoon, till they reach their destination. They stay a month or six weeks, change their goods for iron, nails, a certain amount of pale green or Indian red thread for weaving, and some pieces of Manchester cotton. They then go back with the north-east monsoon, selling their goods at the various islands on their homeward route. There are many Dutch ports nearer than Singapore, but they are over-regulated, and preference is given to the free English port, where the simple natives can do as they like so long as they do not transgress the laws.7
On the other side of the ocean, in the Comoros, we have been left an oral tradition to do with the origins of the leading Indian merchant family there. So much of his story is familiar to us; it could stand as a pattern of life beneath the imperial umbrella. Hadji Yakub Ismael was born in Gujarat, in Kutch Mandvi, and was from a family of cloth merchants. Undercut by European machine-made cloth, he was forced to travel, first to Zanzibar, then to Iraq, Madagascar, and other parts of Africa. Zanzibar was his base for many years, but once he was blown off course and ended up in one of the Comoro islands. He saw opportunities. Returning to Zanzibar, he loaded up with cloths (that is, manufactured goods) and in Grand Comoro exchanged them for sisal, coir and other primary products. This was in the 1880s. Much later, when the French acquired the islands, he had extensive dealings with them, but he also continued to travel and trade up and down the East African coast and offshore islands.8
Alan Villiers sailed on a dhow in 1938–39 on what seems to be a typical peddling voyage. Essentially it went where there was opportunity, and where the monsoons would let them go. It set off in August 1938 from Kuwait, and went to Basra to get dates for Mukalla. On the way they called at Muscat. From Mukalla it went on to Aden to take on goods and passengers, then back to Mukalla for more of the same. They then set off for Africa, and did some smuggling at Haifun, in northern Somalia. There was no trade in Mogadishu, so they went straight on to Lamu and Mombasa where cargo and passengers were landed, then to Zanzibar where they arranged to load mangrove poles in the Rufiji delta, then to Zanzibar again and finally back to Muscat and so to Bahrain, where the mangrove poles were sold. They got home to Kuwait in June 1939.9
A recent example was a fleet of eleven prahus found off Ashmore Reef in north-western Australia in 1968. They were collecting trepang, clams, various other fish, and trochus shells. Based in Madura, they had sailed around east Java peddling bits and pieces. After leaving Ashmore Reef, hopefully with a full cargo of dried fish, they intended to go to Makassar via Timor, and sell the whole cargo in exchange for coconuts and copra to sell in Surabays, after which they hoped to get back home to Madura. The whole voyage usually would take five lunar months. This sort of pattern goes back some centuries at least, certainly long before white colonisation in Australia.10
Beneath the imposing imperial edifice there were also westerners who travelled and did the best they could. Somerset Maugham travelled widely in the 1920s, and always had something acute, or mordant, or supercilious, to say about his fellow passengers. On a trip from Bangkok he 'soon discovered that I was thrown amid the oddest collection of persons I had ever encountered. There were two French traders and a Belgian colonel, an Italian tenor, the American proprietor of a circus with his wife, and a retired French official with his.' The circus man was another pedlar. He had spent twenty years travelling up and down the East from Port Said to Yokohama – Aden, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Rangoon, Singapore, Penang, Bangkok, Saigon, Hue, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Shanghai. Soon after, on his way from Haiphong, he met another American, this one a Jew (some gratuitous anti-Semitic remarks follow) who travelled in hosiery and had gone from Jakarta to Yokohama for twenty years.11
We have looked at a variety of people travelling on, or living near, the ocean; we have spent a lot of time describing life aboard the great liners. However, there was and still is another layer below the commanding heights of the P&O, and we can now turn to this level. We are dealing with tramp steamers, and local ferry boats. There is a marked ebb and flow of the ownership of these lower level craft. To World War II the larger ones, the tramp steamers let us say, were nearly all owned by people from outside the ocean, but after independence this changed. Yet even today much of the traffic in the ocean is generated by foreign registered ships. Taking account of the merchant fleets of all the countries around the ocean (and thus excluding China and Japan) there has been some renaissance since 1945. In 1939 these countries had about 185,000 GRT out of a world total of 58,000. By 1957 it was 879,000 out of 110,000, by 1971 it was 5,324 out of 247,000, and by 1982 it was 27,000 out of 424,000.12 The conclusion is presumably that from a lamentable base of total subordination, the region has made some progress, but much remains to be done.
Frank Broeze was the great authority on Indian shipping in the modern period. He shows how India between the two world wars was able to make some progress, as the British slowly relaxed some of their control and allowed at least a little competition. The Scindia line was founded in Mumbai in 1919, and given some access to coastal trade. Equally important, the company began to train, in India, its own engineers, rather than relying on British expertise. Yet even so the important Government of India Act of 1935 specifically forbade any discrimination by India against British shipping. Even by 1939 there still had been no agreement to allow Scindia to have half of India's coastal trade, let alone any to Europe or Japan. At the outbreak of World War II India had 132,000 GRT of shipping, less than 0.2 per cent of the world's total, and 120,000 of this was owned by Scindia. At this time traditional craft probably totalled roughly the same tonnage.13 Some progress has been made since then. By 1983 India had shipping of 6.24 million GRT; on the other hand the country was, compared with Japan or Singapore, very late to enter the container age.
We can survey Indian Ocean shipping in the twentieth century by going down in size, starting then with substantial passenger and cargo ships, and ending with traditional sailing craft. We will concentrate on passengers again, with economic data to do with cargoes and cargo ships being covered later in this chapter.
One way to get into the subject is to consider the journey of the English journalist Gavin Young, who set off in August 1979 with the aim of travelling from Europe to Guangzhou by sea. It took seven months and was a very difficult task. He had to travel by land quite often, for he found that on some sectors of his route there were only cargo ships now, whereas before World War II, or even ten years previously, he could have done the whole route by passenger ship. It is revealing that he used the ships of Swire and Sons line sometimes, but by 1979 they had almost no passenger-cargo ships, as airlines had taken over. This shipping company, significantly, at that time also owned the Cathay Pacific airline!14
Somerset Maugham in the late 1920s travelled on a typical humble cargo-passenger ship from Bangkok.
I left Bangkok on a shabby little boat of four or five hundred tons. The dingy saloon, which served also as a dining-room, had two narrow tables down its length with swivel-chairs on both sides of them. The cabins were in the bowels of the ship and they were extremely dirty. Cockroaches walked about on the floor and however placid your temperament it is difficult not to be startled when you go to the wash-basin to wash your hands and a huge cockroach stalks leisurely out. We dropped down the river, broad and lazy and smiling, and its green banks were dotted with little huts on piles standing at the water's edge. We crossed the bar; and the open sea, blue and still, spread before me. The look of it and the smell of it filled me with elation.15
Fifty years later Young had a similar passage, one that brought back to him the same Maugham. He was on the 1,400 ton Perak, going from Singapore to Kuching. He found his cabin.
Somerset Maugham would have been satisfied; a bunk, a dressing table and mirror, a wardrobe, two armchairs covered in white leatherette and a stool. The two portholes were square wood-framed windows with curtains; a thermos of ice water hung in a wall bracket, and on the ceiling a large fan rotated inside a cage designed to protect abnormally tall passengers like myself from a scalping. I took my copy of Maugham's Short Stories out of my bag and laid it on the dressing table, where it looked at home.
Young was the only passenger, therefore rather a relic, as also the 'Information for Passengers' on his cabin door, which said 'There is normally a quiet period at sea when passengers, and also officers off duty, may be resting. If parents would be kind enough to aid in maintaining this atmosphere, it would be very much appreciated.'
This was part of a dying trade. Young had earlier gone from Chennai to Port Blair, in the Andamans. He went on a substantial Shipping Company of India boat of 10,300 tons, with 950 passengers. Young got breakfast in the spacious dining room, 'cornflakes, eggs, bacon, Madrasi cakes with curry sauce.' After Port Blair he went on to Kolkata, again on a modern Shipping Co. of India ship, and enlivened a very pleasant voyage by checking the complaint book, finding such gems as 'I am glad to certify that the service given me by the staff is really good. I feel just homelike comfort and this is due only from their sweet association.' Others complained of 'certain indecent and unruly passengers in drunken condition' and that 'Stewards attend cabins at their own whims and favours. Passengers boarding ship should be instructed about correct methods to use heads, and socio-economic conditions keep some in dark.'16 Today Port Blair can only be reached by air from either Chennai or Kolkata. So also in the Arabian Sea, where the regular Mombasa–Mumbai route has vanished in favour of air travel. Western travellers used to end their odysseys with voyages on precarious passenger ferries in Indonesia. These continue to ply their way from island to island, a reflection obviously of the fact that Indonesia, being all islands, is much more hospitable to the continuance of this mode of transport. For a time small steamers went from Chennai to Penang and Singapore, mostly carrying Tamil and other Indian settlers to and from Malaysia. This route survived for a time because the passengers usually had very heavy baggage, too much to take by air.
The end of passenger ships has also occurred on coastal routes. The preferred way to get to Goa from Mumbai used to be a ferry which spent a leisurely day chugging down India's west coast for a picturesque dawn arrival at the estuary of the Mandovi. Gavin Young did this trip in 1979. Nearing Goa he wrote about
Bingo in the second-class dining room. The second officer calls out the numbers to a packed and sweating audience bent over slips of squared and numbered paper. 'Grandmother's age – eight zero . . . Republic Day – twenty-six... Punjab Day – number five . . . a round dozen – number twelve. . . Hockey sticks – seventy-seven.' Sikhs played cards on the perfectly scrubbed deck; Indian families made little picnics. Hippies peeled oranges, slept or studied pornographic pictures in sex magazines. Four miles away the green coastline moved by. On time, Captain Kadir brought the ship into Goa in a blue morning mist, passing through a fleet of trawlers with light roofs. 'We're going right inside,' he said, like a surgeon announcing his next probe. An old fort, a white church, land becoming reddish and lumpy, a line of broken water under a cliff.
He was told that the route was no longer profitable.17 True enough, the steamers stopped, to be replaced by a jet cat, which also failed. It was felt not to be picturesque enough, and one had a bumpy ride usually out of sight of land. Those on the aisle seats had packets of vomit from those sitting alongside them passed across to be collected by stewards. Goa can now be reached only by plane or train.
We can trace the career of what may be a typical humble cargo ship, thanks to some devoted amateur research. The ship in question operated for years off the Western Australian coast. It was of 2,425 tonnes, built in Sunderland, and in 1892 started life named the SS Darius. After years in the Indian horse trade from Australia, it was bought by the Western Australian government in 1912 and given an Aboriginal name, the Kwinana. From this time it shunted back and forth up and down the coast, taking general cargo to northern ports, and bringing back live cattle from the Kimberley region. Sometimes it went as far as New Zealand, South Africa and China, with cargoes of hardwood and sandalwood. In the eight years to December 1920 it had made an impressive total of ninety-six voyages from Fremantle. Then it caught fire, was declared of no further use, and was subsequently used for explosives training. Such a humble and undramatic career must typify the bulk of trade and shipping around the shores of the ocean.18
Steam, as we have commented already, was not and still is not totally dominant. Sailing ships still have some role. In 1979 Gavin Young sailed from Colombo to Tuticorin on a schooner, a 'great heavy-timbered three-master' of 220 tons. There was no engine, and indeed they were becalmed for a time.19 Arriving in Tuticorin Young found a fleet of about forty-seven seagoing thonis, some up to 500 tons, and no engines. They took salt and fertilisers to the west coast, coming back in ballast. From April to August they took imported wheat, fertilisers and rice up the east coast to Chennai and Kolkata, and they also went to Colombo. The high cost of diesel meant they were still viable. So also in Saurashtra, where there has developed a booming business making 400 tonne wooden ocean-going vessels.20
The main survivors are the famous dhows, whose partial demise has attracted endless attention from romantic westerners. Alan Villiers in 1939 wrote a somewhat premature requiem:
In the great days of the Arab navigators, Arab dhows covered the eastern seas; now it was half a century since one had rounded the southern tip of Ceylon. Ancient methods, the old instruments, the old mathematics – in which the Arabs had so long excelled – all these were lost, and nothing had come to take their place, nothing but discarded steamship compasses bought in a junk-yard in Bombay, and uncorrected out-of-date Admiralty charts. Yet the Arabs still sailed, though they had lost much of their knowledge and some of their glory. Their voyages consisted largely of petty coastal trading and smuggling.21
It is true that traditional sailing ships have lost much of their role. In Aden in the early 1960s on average about 6,000 ships called each year, with total net registered cargoes of about 30 million tons, and on average 1,400 dhows, total cargoes about 135,000 net tons.22 Yet it is appropriate to make the point that the broad category of ships called dhows has always changed. Nails began to replace coir some centuries ago, different woods have been used depending on availability, and some modern navigation methods have been adopted. Most important, today virtually all dhows have engines, though usually for reasons of cost sail is used when the winds are favourable. Prados showed how some types of dhows have changed and so displaced other types. He concentrates on the Yemeni types known as huri and sanbuq. These have got bigger and more efficient. The 'lack of dimensional constraints, coupled with the growth in seafood popularity – resulting from increased refrigeration capabilities to improved road networks – has pushed the huwari to greater proportions.' The result is that 'the modern sanbuq may be as responsible for the extinction of traditional, regional vessel types as the steel freighter and glassfibre launch.' Among the changes he describes are the use of paint to avoid fouling of the hull, as compared with the traditional method of smearing every two months or so a combination of boiled animal or fish fat and crushed lime. A shortage of trees has meant that boats made of planks, rather than dugouts, are now the norm. Nearly all boats now have transoms on which to mount outboards, they go out fishing for longer, and preserve the catch for a few days in fibreglass boxes with ice. Different woods are used: instead of teak, pine is often used, or a sort of red hardwood called zinjil. Wider connections are revealed when we find that the former comes from Italy or even Sweden, the latter from India or Java! Even the last of the sewn craft used nylon thread rather than coir, and had a transom for an outboard.23
On the East African coast dhows, in this case more correctly jahazi, ended their trade to the Gulf in the 1980s. The cargoes had been mangrove poles, and this trade declined due to environmental concerns. But some are still being built, and they trade today up and down the coast, some carrying passengers and many doing some smuggling.24 In the Gulf both local and ocean-going dhows are now motorised. Some carry pilgrims, some dates. The motors have cut passage times in half, and also the sizes of crews. When only sail was involved large numbers were needed to handle unwieldy lateen sails, and others came along partly as passengers who wanted to do petty trade, and would help out with the sailing as needed.25
The centre of the dhow trade today is on the west coast of India. Dhows here remained viable because they focused on smuggling restricted goods into India in the years when the Indian economy was closely regulated, that is up to the late 1980s. The dhows involved, about 45 feet long, looked small and scruffy, perhaps deliberately so, for they usually had two large and powerful engines. Large amounts of gold came in from Dubai each year. In 1981 an Indian dhow was caught smuggling from the Gulf to India. It had a cargo of no less than 8,807 Japanese and Swiss watches. Other dhows carry humble products, such as timber and building materials, from say Kerala to Mumbai: in 1976–77 the number of dhows entering Mumbai was 13,436, mostly coming from somewhere else on the west Indian coast.26
The centre of dhow construction today is also on the Indian west coast, for here they can be built much cheaper than elsewhere. In Oman in 1978 Martin found that a shu'i of only 20 tons cost $US21,000, and the motor another $5,000. The hull, cabin and toilet were of teak from India, the mast was dakl wood from Malabar, and the interior used mango wood from the south Indian coast. These boats were used for fishing, yet at this time, in the late 1970s, one could buy a 12 foot aluminium boat with an outboard for $900. Oman then clearly had priced itself out of the market, as indeed had the Gulf generally. The main centre in India is located at the estuary of the Beypore river, 10 km south of Calicut. Teak logs are floated down from inland to make the hulls. The clients however are mostly Arabs. In 1978 Martin watched them building a boom of 500 tonnes for a Kuwaiti merchant. The cost was $US63,000, without an engine, and construction took 18 months. This is obviously considerably cheaper than the cost of construction in Oman.27
In the Malay world sailing ships survive in certain niche areas. In eastern Indonesia there are still many working praus, most of them now with engines, though there also are engineless sloops called lambo.28 While even in 1884–1910 steamers carried more than 95 per cent of the traffic in Indonesia, praus continued and continue to feed in to the major steamer routes, just as they do on the Swahili coast also, and some continue to peddle their way around the islands.
Two recent accounts of voyages on dhows give some impression of travel today, which could be put alongside Villiers' classic narrative. Gavin Young went on a 60 foot cargo dhow called the Al Raza from Dubai to Karachi. The crew were all Baluchi, including the nakhoda, except for one old Iranian and the helmsman, who was Indian born. It had a 380 hp Japanese motor, which however was very erratic, so that they cannibalised the motors of the cars carried as cargo to fix up the dhow motor. Later the dynamo on the dhow engine failed, so they had to run the engine of one of the cars all the time to generate electricity to run lights.29
In the mid 1990s Mackintosh-Smith went from Yemen to Suqutra in a new ten metre, six ton sambuk, with a total number of passengers and crew of twenty-three. The vessel was teak below the waterline, but the rest was cheaper hardwood, and the deck was pine. The voyage took two nights and one day. The deck was crowded with boxes, oil drums, ropes and anchors. The nakhoda, Salim, set up a rudimentary compass, in a box secured by being nailed into the deck. However, he knew the stars well, and also steered to take account of currents. The vessel had a 33 horsepower Japanese motor, and the lateen sails were used only in emergencies. By sail the voyage would have taken at least five days.30
Islands should be seen as the quintessential maritime locations. Horden and Purcell, writing about the Mediterranean, claim they are not really the stereotype of being isolated and remote: rather they have all-round 'connectivity'. They are especially accessible to the seaborne, and in a way are coastal areas writ large. Richard Grove wrote of Indian Ocean islands as 'Edens' where new European ideas about nature and conservation were stimulated.31 Several of the themes we have touched on earlier are exaggerated and magnified when we look at them in an island context.
Many of the islands were uninhabited until Europeans arrived and used them for plantations, especially sugar, but also coffee, tea, spices, coconuts. The colonial powers brought in labour: at first black African slaves, and then indentured labour. This has often bequeathed to the islands at independence complex social problems, as in Mauritius where the majority of the population are descendants of people from India. Relations between them and the creole population are often tense. There was also tension in Zanzibar, until the old Arab elite was dispossessed in the revolution of 1964. In Madagascar the Merina people of the highlands, descendants of Malayo-Polynesian migrants, remain separate from the coastal people of African descent. There also have been massive ecological changes in the islands. Native woodlands have been replaced by plantation crops, and this has often led to erosion; feral dogs and cats have destroyed native wild life; pigs and monkeys, along with humans, rendered the dodo on Mauritius extinct by the 1670s. So also with the giant tortoise of the Seychelles, or nearly so. Suqutra has been isolated for much of its history until recently. Today the dragon's blood tree, source of a resin once widely used in medicine as an astringent, is threatened with extinction. There are no young trees on Suqutra today, because of livestock grazing.32
Proceeding roughly west to east, and south to north, Zanzibar was ruled by Omani sultans through the nineteenth century, though British power increasingly intruded on their autonomy. Society was thoroughly stratified, with a ruling elite who claimed Arab origin. Below them were Muslims who could not convincingly claim Arab descent, and below them descendants of slaves. But the commercial sector, including many government posts, was controlled by Indians, usually Muslims of some description and hailing from Kutch. Zanzibar became independent in 1963, and in 1964, after a bloody revolution, merged with Tanganyika to make the new nation of Tanzania. The revolution displaced the Arab elite, and both they and the Indians often chose to leave. Here and elsewhere a situation owing much to the past wishes of the colonial powers, in this case Britain with its indirect control, left a precarious situation at independence.
Madagascar perhaps should not be considered as an island, for it is larger than many landed states. We can merely point out that the island, ethnically very diverse, was a French colony from 1896. Its history since independence in 1960 has been a chequered one, and now the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund play something of a colonial role in 'advising' the various governments on their economic and social policies.
The four main islands of the Comoros again contain strong ethnic divisions. When Arabs arrived a millennium ago they found a population divided between Malayo-Polynesian people and Swahili-speaking Africans. These divisions produced a situation where one of the four, Mayotte, was mostly populated by Malayo-Polynesian people who had come from Madagascar, as compared with the other three, who had the same Afro-Arab mixture as the Swahili coast. France took over all four islands in the late nineteenth century, but at independence in 1975 Mayotte chose to remain part of metropolitan France. The recent history of the other three has been a turbulent one, with several coups and mercenaries sometimes playing a deciding role. The Comoros, like Zanzibar, have often stressed their Islamic credentials. In 1993 the three islands became a member of the League of Arab States.
Both the Comoros and Madagascar had been settled long before the Europeans arrived in the Indian Ocean, and this contrasts strongly with the next set of islands we will look at, which were uninhabited. These are the Mascarene islands: Reunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
The Portuguese visited Mauritius in the sixteenth century, and the Dutch twice tried to establish a settlement colony there. However, permanent European control came only when the French took the island in 1721. They quickly established sugar plantations, and brought in large numbers of African slaves to work them. In the late eighteenth century the population consisted of 6,000 whites, 3,700 free people, most of whom were Indian, and nearly 50,000 slaves. Britain took the island in 1810, during the Napoleonic wars, and in 1835 abolished slavery. Over the next eighty years some 450,000 indentured Indian labourers were introduced. The island became independent in 1968. There are strong ethnic and religious divisions. Over half the population are Indian Hindus, about 30 per cent are creoles and Europeans, 16 per cent are Muslim, and about 3 per cent are of Chinese-Mauritian background. The sugar economy, in effect the economy for some two centuries, is still dominated by a Franco-Mauritian elite, at least in the large estate sector, but Indian and creole small-holders are numerous. Some 90 per cent of the island's cultivable land is under sugar.
While there certainly is some tension between the various groups just depicted, some have claimed that because everyone is a relatively new arrival, with no indigenous population, this is a relatively successful multicultural society of about 1,000,000 people. The linguistic situation reflects this, for the formal languages are English, French and standard Hindi, but the domestic languages are Mauritian Creole and Mauritian Bhojpuri.33 Most people speak three or four languages. The political system is more or less open and free.
This relative harmony is at least in part based on the way the economy has been able to make a transition from total reliance on just one export crop, sugar. Tourism, as we will see, has expanded rapidly, and more generally the government hopes that the island will become an Indian Ocean Singapore. To this end in 1970 they set up Export Processing Zones where textiles are produced: sugar now makes up only 23 per cent of export earnings. Investment in the zones was encouraged by such inducements as the forbidding of strikes, free repatriation of profits, and a ten-year income tax holiday. As a result foreign investment rose from $US11 million in 1998 to $US 47 million in 1999. Yet any export product can suffer fluctuations: in 1988 the European Union, which had provided guaranteed access for Mauritian textiles, decided that they were too successful, and restricted imports from there.34
Reunion hosts an equally complex mix of peoples. The island, along with the rest of the Mascarenes, was taken by the French. The British took all three of the areas early in the nineteenth century, but at the end of the Napoleonic wars gave Reunion back to France. It is now a Department of metropolitan France. The population includes people descended from migrants from Europe, Africa, India, China, Madagascar and Comoros. As in Mauritius, the sugar industry initially used slave labour, and later indentured Tamil Indians, who today make up about one-sixth of the total. Being part of France is a mixed blessing. On the one hand it means a large tourist influx, and a guaranteed market for sugar. On the other hand, wages are the same as in metropolitan France, and obviously then Reunion cannot compete with cheaper labour in the other islands. Consequently industry has failed to develop.35
The mixture of religions in Reunion is both complex and interesting. The Tamil labourers were mostly low caste, and in the nineteenth century the French authorities actively encouraged conversion. As coercion eased in the twentieth century an interesting mix of Catholic and Hindu practice became evident on such occasions as baptisms and marriages. One example of a tolerant folk religious practice on the island where all the different communities could sometimes embrace the same cult figure is St Expédit, whose career was sketched earlier (see pages 244–5). But as regards the Hindu population, over the last few decades this rather tolerant situation has changed, as Tamil Brahmins have come in and actively sought to purify Hindu practice on the island. Over just a few years they have been more successful in eradicating folk Hinduism than were the Catholic authorities over a period of more than a century. As an example, in the old syncretic time most Tamil families gave their children a western first name, often John or Mary. However, the first letter of the second name was chosen according to Hindu astrology to give the child an auspicious name. Today young Indian parents choose an Indian first name for their child (rejecting the Christian influence once in force) and without taking account of the first letter of the name according to the date of birth (rejecting previous folk Hinduism).36
We need to say little about the last of the Mascarenes, the Seychelles, for their history is analogous to the other two areas. Again there were slaves and sugar and then indentured labour. However, many of them returned home at the end of their indenture, and those who remained seem to have integrated much more than occurred in Mauritius. This however does not apply to the free Indian migrants after the end of indenture, who dominate business, and unlike the small Chinese population have not converted or intermarried. These people seem to stand apart from the rest of the population of the island, who can be considered to be, before any ethnic or religious denominator, primarily Seychellois. The islands became independent in 1976, and since then have relied mostly on tourism.
The Maldives, much further north and east, have a very different history. They make up an archipelago consisting of some 1,200 islands, of which less than 200 are permanently inhabited. They have been inhabited since perhaps 500 BCE, and have never really been colonised. Ibn Battuta, it will be remembered, had an interesting time there (see pages 97, 112). They have their own language and script. The population is again heterogeneous, with a mixture of Sri Lankan, Indian, Arabic, and bits of African and Indonesian influences and origins, yet today they are all Muslim and there is little sign of ethnic tensions. Islam is the official religion, and indeed the practice of any other faith is prohibited. The economy is booming, based on tourism.37 And finally we can briefly list the Chagos Archipelago, and especially Diego Garcia, about which we will say more when we consider strategy in the ocean (see pages 281–5), and Christmas Island. The latter was uninhabited until the late nineteenth century, and then was a feifdom of the Clunies-Ross family, who imported Malay labour to exploit the island's phosphate deposits. Since 1948 the island has been administered by Australia, and recently it has played a prominent role in Australia's sorry attempts to stop asylum seekers getting from Indonesia to Australia.
We wrote extensively about the impact of technological changes on the ocean in the nineteenth century, stressing the role of steam ships. Since World War II new technology has continued to have a major significance, especially in the rise and fall of ports in the ocean, and in the sizes of the ships which ply it. We will look at changes in shipping and its ownership first.
There were dramatic changes in shipping after World War II. The old tramp steamers were often replaced by container ships and bulk ore and oil tankers. With the rise of flags of convenience from places like Panama and Liberia shipping became less tied to the flags of the traditional maritime powers. Between 1977 and 1987 the registered tonnage of ships belonging to European Union countries fell from 30 per cent to 17 per cent of the world total. Once Britain had 22 per cent of the world's tonnage, now it has only 2 per cent, while the United States went from 33 per cent to 5 per cent. If one classifies ships according to the flags they fly, the first three countries are Liberia, Panama and Japan.38 Broadly speaking, in the first world passenger traffic ended in the 1960s, to be replaced by air travel. As regards the Atlantic, in 1957 passenger traffic was evenly split between air and sea, but by 1967 the sea had only 7.5 per cent, and by 1973 only 1 per cent.39
Container ships first came on line for traffic between the USA and the Gulf of Mexico in the 1950s, and spread to the North Atlantic in the early 1960s. By 1984 around 75 per cent of liner trade linking developed countries was containerised, and by the early 1990s almost all liner trade worldwide was. Their sizes are given in 'TEU', that is Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit, as the standard container is 20 × 8 × 8 feet, though some are now 40 × 8 × 8 feet. The container ships are getting bigger and bigger: the first generation, 1964–67, were 1,000 TEU, now new ones are 6,000 TEU and more. In other terms, the largest container ships now carry the equivalent of 72,000 dwt.40
There are obvious advantages in terms of efficiency. Centuries ago on many coasts, such as Coromandel, ships stood off and their cargoes and passengers were landed in smaller boats. Then better ports were developed, so that even large ships could tie up at berths. However, cargo handling remained extremely labour intensive. The cargo arrived at the port in a variety of packages: boxes, drums and so on. These were all lifted on board and manually stowed. Now all cargo arrives in containers and is hoisted aboard by one man using a giant crane. This is the 'ro-ro' method: roll on/roll off. Consequently these ships spend very little time in port. They can go right around the world, loading and discharging cargo, in seventy days.
The implications of this revolution are profound. Ports around the Indian Ocean rose and fell according to how quickly they provided the facilities needed for container traffic. Colombo was very fast off the mark, and became the hub for all of South Asia in the 1980s. Over the last decade or so Mumbai has built a whole new container port, and Colombo has suffered from this competition. In East Africa Mombasa assumed the same role, handling 1,300 containers in 1975, and no less than 80,100 in 1983. Some totally new ports have appeared. One example is Marmagao, developed to export unprocessed iron ore. In the 1950s it was not a major port at all, but in the 1960s it was ranked third in India in terms of volume of traffic, and second in the 1970s and 1980s, behind only Mumbai.41 In southern Arabia proximity to oil has dictated success. Aden was reduced to very minor significance, and Dubai/Jebel Ali, closer to the oil money, took off.
Southeast Asia provides an excellent case study of the implications of this revolution. Before containers Singapore was far and away the greatest port in the region. The colonial capitals, such as Jakarta, played a regional role. They had connections with the metropole, and were also centres for a dense local traffic handled by smaller steam ships, some owned by Dutch interests and some by migrant Chinese. Traditional craft retained a minor role feeding in to the larger circuits. The situation overall was not positive. Bangkok, for example, was located 30 km up-river, and the bar at the mouth downstream from the city meant only ships with a maximum draft of 16 feet could enter. Dredging in the 1960s increased this to 28 feet, still nowhere near deep enough for the new generation of monster ships. Bangkok was an inefficient port: in 1965 they unloaded 400 tonnes in every 24 hours, while a more competitive rate was about 750 tonnes in eight hours.
The arrival of containers produced major changes, essentially imposed from Europe and the United States, for southeast Asian ports which could not provide the facilities the rich world insisted on were simply bypassed and left to wither. The need was not only for new docks, but more generally intermodal ports which linked road, rail, and ship in one operation. Singapore moved very quickly, and by the 1970s was 'on line'. By 1983 over one-half of Singapore's liner cargo was containerised. Today it is the biggest container port in the world. Other southeast Asian ports followed, and the number of containers loaded and unloaded in ASEAN ports rose from 200,000 TEU in 1972 to 1.1 million in 1978, and 2.5 million in 1983. Singapore acts as a regional hub, along with Colombo, Mumbai, and Hong Kong; about 70 per cent of containers landed in Singapore are trans-shipped. Increasing size means that all these ports have to constantly expand, running fast to stand still just as was the case in the race between engineers a century ago (see pages 211–12). The big container ships today, 6,000 TEU or more, are called post-Panamax, meaning they are too big to go through the Panama Canal, which can only take up to about 3,800 TEU; but economies of scale mean that they are still viable, even though they have to go around Cape Horn.42
The end result is that the 'traditional' Indian Ocean port city, which we have described at different historical times, has begun to disappear. In particular, there are now very few remnants of what used to be the norm, that is port cities which are primarily ports. Today there are places where ships call to be sure – Mumbai, Kolkata, Basra, Kuwait, Mombasa, Bangkok and so on – but these are no longer dominated by their port function: they are really cities, part of whose function is to have a port attached. The port is no longer the raison d'être.
The other major, and analogous, change was the arrival of specialised ships which are purpose built to carry only one cargo. First were oil tankers, which in the 1930s carried oil from Abadan. These are real monsters. The biggest today is apparently the Jahre Viking, which is 458 metres long, weighs 565,000 dwt, has a beam of 68 metres, and a draught of 24 metres. So vast is the deck space that the crew get around on motorbikes. Other purpose-built single-cargo monsters carry dry cargo, such as iron ore, bauxite, coal and phosphate. Another variant are the unsightly car carriers operating from Japan and South Korea to all parts of the globe, which essentially are floating car park buildings. My local newspaper recently described one entering Sydney harbour. 'She's pig ugly – a charmless, grey, round-fronted flat-backed 50,000 tonne brick with off-white funnels slapped drunkenly around the deck.' But they are efficient. This one carried 3,300 Japanese cars to five ports around the Australian coast. The round-trip was to take only 35 days. The master and engineer were Japanese, the crew Indian and Filipino, the registration Panamanian.43
These mono-cargo ships need new jetties specialising in the rapid loading of one specific commodity. Examples are Kharg Island for oil, Paradeep, Dampier and Marmagao for iron ore, or Aqaba for rock phosphate. These loading places are very different from traditional ports. Dampier, in northern Western Australia, will stand as a case study of this new phenomenon. In 1966 Hamersley Iron, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, began to develop iron ore mines in sites 300 km inland from the coast. Six are operating today, with a seventh due to come on stream soon. The statistics are impressive. Ore is carried to the wharves at Dampier in trains 2.5 km long, consisting of 226 wagons, each of which carries 105 tonnes of ore. Nine trains a day make the journey. At the port, in Dampier Sound, two wharves are used, one 295 metres long, the other 325 metres, which respectively can handle ships of 180,000 dwt and 250,000 dwt. Two wagons, carrying 210 tonnes of ore, are emptied on the manual wharf, the smaller one, in 130 seconds. On the automated bigger wharf it takes only 90 seconds. Up to 500 ships call at Dampier each year, the largest being dependent on tides, as the departure channel is only 15.5 metres deep. Every year no less than 55 million tonnes of ore are exported to destinations all around the world.
All this is impressive enough. However, what is most interesting is that Dampier, like the oil terminals in the Gulf, is hardly a port at all, at least not in the way we have described Indian Ocean ports in earlier periods. The process of loading is very highly mechanised, especially on the newer, longer, wharf. A minimum number of skilled workers drive the machines. None of them normally board the bulk carriers. All this contrasts strongly with earlier times, when stevedores linked wharf and ship. Similarly, ports used to be distinguished from inland towns by their cosmopolitan nature and heterogeneous population. This no longer applies. These huge ships are fully loaded in 24 to 30 hours, and their maximum turn-around time is 36 hours. Few of the crew have time to land. The crews are almost entirely non-Australian, so that visa requirements also hinder going ashore. There is a complete dichotomy between the crews and the wharf workers: the former never go ashore, the latter are only very remotely connected with the sea in any way at all. Even the bulk carriers in a way seem to deny the sea. They are ugly, but efficient, monsters whose sailing is in no way constrained by deep structure matters: the sea has been defeated.44
The social changes which have resulted are also dramatic. Most obviously, the workforce on the docks has declined very rapidly. This has meant the end, at least in the first world countries around the ocean, of a wharf workforce which traditionally was among the most militant of trade unionists. They have been replaced by a handful of skilled workers, highly paid and often not unionised at all. In third world ports a mass of 'coolie' labour has also been dispensed with. So also on board ship, where the transition has been to the employment of largely unskilled, and very low paid, third world crews.
Westerners cruising for pleasure have a very different maritime experience, if indeed they have one at all. Today some cruise in small yachts, others travel on vast cruise ships. One gets little ozone in their accounts. They do not describe a liminal experience. One author wrote acerbicly that cruising yachts come into the harbour under power, not sail. 'For them the harbor is motel only, a stop along a longer passage, a stop promising a yacht-club mooring, a yacht-club hot shower, a yacht-club dinner.'45 An account by an Australian woman of her travels with her husband in 1992, on a voyage Singapore–Galle–Oman–Aden–Red Sea–Suez Canal, reinforces this. Between Galle and Oman,
The days seem short and the nights tediously long. I take the first watch until midnight, and my second from 4 a.m. to around 7 a.m. After that I can sleep for as long as I like but to my annoyance I invariably wake around nine. By the time I do the usual morning things – breakfast, wash up, clean and tidy the boat – the morning has gone. After lunch we read, listen to music, and enjoy being together. Alan [her husband] keeps radio skeds with other yachts every six hours and these are often fun if there is a 'Recipe Swap' or a 'Trivial Pursuit' or some other light-hearted attempt to brighten the day. Their greatest value, though, is in the passing on of information about conditions ahead: sea state, wind strength, weather, traps and nets, other shipping, floating objects, schools of fish.
On fine days she washed her hair, shaved her legs and baked bread.46 So also on the vast cruise liners, where it is the bars, restaurants, gambling facilities and duty-free shopping which seem to be the main attraction. Modern stabilisation devices mean that there is hardly any sense of being at sea at all.
At least this cannot be said of the round-the-world racers. Some see these as mere indulgent showing off by people with more money than sense, especially as when one gets into trouble it appears to be requisite that the nearest land state provide all possible assistance, regardless of cost, and with no thanks given. Others see them as merely opportunities for sponsors to hawk their brand names. Yet at least this is extremely maritime. Racing along in the roaring 40s and furious 50s at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, speeds of 22 knots (25 mph) and even 30 knots can be achieved, albeit hazardously and with great discomfort. One Whitbread competitor, nearing Fremantle, wrote that 'Everything's broken, everybody's hurt, we stink, the boat stinks, we haven't been out of our foul-weather gear for 16 days.' 'It's scary to have a 30-foot wave chasing you.'47
Other modern seafarers are rich first world people who anachronistically make replicas of 'traditional' craft and sail them. Examples are many: the various replicas of the ships of the European early voyagers: Columbus, Captain Cook, the VOC ships the Batavia and the Duyfken. Thor Heyerdahl did this, and we have quoted his account of his reed boat earlier. In 1979 Tim Severin began to build a dhow using authentic materials. It was 97 feet, with cotton sails, and held together with coir, though it is revealing that he had to import craftsmen from the remote Laccadive Islands to help, as no one in the Gulf, where the boat was made, had experience in making sewn boats. His long account, in both a video and a book is at least an attempt to find out for today what dhow sailing from the Gulf to Guangzhou was like 1,200 years ago. Other dhows are still being built for oil rich Gulf potentates, this time for racing.48
More seriously, the Indian Ocean today is very much part of a worldwide economy. The preferred term is globalisation, which briefly means the compression of space and time. The implications for life around and on the ocean are major. As one concrete example, the World Bank interferes, or gives advice, quite routinely, and this has to be followed on pain of no more loans. In 1995 the Prime Minister of Madagascar dismissed the Governor of the island's Reserve Bank. True he had been reckless, but his end was mandated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as the price of their continued assistance. In the same year the IMF forebodingly made it clear that it was 'disappointed' with how the Comoros economy was going. Five years earlier they had insisted that the numbers in the Civil Service of the islands be reduced. Certainly the numbers were bloated, but the service had been the main white collar employer on the islands.49 In similar fashion, we pointed out earlier that Mauritius for a time was given privileged access to the European Union, but when their textiles became too competitive quotas were imposed.
Case studies of the fishing and pearling industries, and of tourism, will show clearly the benefits and losses from globalisation for people around the shores of the ocean. We can distinguish three broad periods in the modern history of Indian Ocean fishing: the colonial period, when traditional fishers were undermined by western intrusion; the period after independence, when newly independent states tried to promote indigenous enterprise; and then the last twenty years or so, when an increasingly integrated world economy has impacted in deleterious fashion on these nascent industries.
The colonial state had an effect on India's fishing communities quite early on. The Kolis were the traditional fisherfolk of Mumbai. Once the British took over the port they were subject to taxation. The British appointed a headman for the community, who was not a member but was one of the Parsi community, famous as intermediaries between the colonial power and local people. His job was to collect taxation on behalf of the British government. In the 1830s however the British sacked the Parsi collector and established direct tax collection. This is to be seen as one of many examples where the colonial state began to impact directly on its native subjects.50
Independent India made great efforts to turn fishing into a major generator of food for the domestic market, and foreign currency earner from exports. The fish catch rose from a little over 500,000 tons in 1955–56 to 1.7 million tons in 1988–89. The value of the total catch was estimated at Rs 30 million in 1941, and Rs 3,473 million in 1981–82. Yet these gains, which were mirrored to an extent in other littoral states, did not mean that the ocean was a major producer in global terms. This is not solely a result of outdated techniques; warm oceans in general produce fewer fish than cold ones, as the warmth keeps phytoplankton production low. The most productive part of the Indian Ocean is in the extreme south, and this is far from the major states of the ocean. The ocean has 20 per cent of the world's ocean area, and 30 per cent of its population, but produced less than 4 per cent of the total world fish catch in 1960. By 1975 of the total world catch the Pacific produced about 52 per cent, the Atlantic and Arctic oceans about 41 per cent, the Mediterranean 3 per cent and the Indian Ocean about 5 per cent. However, by 1998 the Indian Ocean catch had risen from 3 million tons to 6 million tons.51 How was this achieved, and what were the benefits and costs? We will concentrate on India.
In the decades after independence Indian fishing went through the painful process of a transition from using artisanal techniques to developing industrial fishing practices. Traditional fishing was caste based, used manual power, and produced small catches. In Kerala, for example, most fishing was done by traditional communal fishing groups in small canoes. On the other, Coromandel, coast even in the 1970s fishers used catamarans, and masula boats, the latter being sewn-plank craft with no floor or frame ribbing, and using no sail. The catamarans were merely several logs lashed together, yet they ventured out up to 15 miles to fish. As we have pointed out previously, the high surf on this coast was a constant menace when these boats came back to shore. A detailed study of one village in Tamilnadu in the mid 1970s found all the inhabitants were dependent on fishing, and all were from one low caste. The main boats they used were simple log rafts which came from Kerala. Each night the logs were separated and dried, and next day tied together again. These people also engaged in beachseining, when a boat took a large net out and then it was dragged in from the shore, hopefully with a catch inside. This method is clearly very 'low tech', and the returns erratic and unpredictable. The nets, which were large and expensive, could not be used when they were wet, so the fishers needed nine of them for each day's fishing.52
The overall changes which occurred in Indian fishing were analogous to the Green Revolution in third world agriculture. In the 1970s India's potential catch was 4.5 million tons a year, and only 1.5 million was actually being achieved. Part of the problem was low domestic demand; the average Indian ate 3 kg a year, the average Japanese 40 kg. The government, often in alliance with western aid donors, promoted the use of trawlers, hoping to increase exports. But increased exports have led to decreased availability, and higher prices, in India. Most of the trawlers are foreign made and owned, most of the profits leave India, even the labour on the deep sea trawlers is not Indian. On locally owned craft owners sometimes prefer using crew from groups with no background in fishing, they being cheaper and more malleable than traditional fishers.53 Theorists who write about third world 'dependency' would find all this very familiar.
In Kerala major changes began in the 1950s, helped by foreign assistance. This increased in the early 1960s as there developed a huge rise in demand for frozen fish in Japan and the USA. Exports to these markets went from 500 tons at the end of the 1950s to 1,500 tons just three years later. The brokers made huge profits. The landed price for fish caught by artisanal fishers was about Rs 150 a tonne, but the export value could be even Rs 4,000.54 The key change was the move to using European-type boats with inboard motors; this change was promoted by a joint Norwegian–Indian project. Other changes included the use of nylon nets, as opposed to coir or cotton ones, and freezing so that fish and prawns could be exported to America and Japan. Local fishers had to compete with foreign trawlers, which vacuumed up marine life in a totally random way. Especially hard hit were demersal (bottom dwelling) fish species. Once a given fishing ground was no longer productive the trawlers could move on: the traditional fisherfolk could not.
This Kerala case study typifies the dramatic and painful transition. 'The greatest asset of the fishermen of Kerala is their accumulated knowledge about fish, fish habits, waves, currents and stars which they have, through generations of learning by doing, handed down from generation to generation.' Now this was all cast aside. Motors neutralised their skill in rowing and sailing, fish finding equipment made redundant their folk wisdom which told them where to find fish. Wages in the new sector of the industry rose much higher than did those in the artisanal area.55
The decline of the traditional sector was advanced by a shift in demand in the early 1960s. From this time prawns, in America shrimps, have been a major export for India and some southeast Asian countries. The results were mixed and changed over time. Prawns are caught by large deep-sea trawlers, but by the mid 1970s these were, in Kerala, fishing too close in shore, to the detriment of the artisanal sector. Subsequently this sector began to compete by using motors also, and nylon nets. Now the problem became overfishing and declining stocks. On land the women of the male fishers, who traditionally handled cleaning and marketing, were slowly replaced by people not from fisher communities, but rather new capitalists who treated fishing as what it in fact was becoming: an industry. In a related area, local women used to smoke and salt fish to preserve it. They lost this role when cold storage came in.
Nevertheless, a very recent survey shows that at least in terms of numbers of boats, the traditional sector is still surviving, even if it is not prospering. In all of Kerala there are 4,000 mechanised boats, that is trawlers, 11,000 motorised artisanal boats, and a surprising 28,000 traditional artisanal craft still without motors, these ranging from single logs which provide a precarious perch for some intrepid inshore fisher, to more sophisticated lateen rigged craft.56
These changes have obviously undermined many traditional fishers, or at least made them marginal. Yet they usually lacked the political clout to get local politicians to help, as most fishers all along the Indian coast, and indeed around the ocean, come from low status groups in society. However, the most important fishing group in Kerala, while certainly low status, was also Catholic, and they received support in their protests from radical priests and even members of the church hierarchy. Further north in Goa a leader of agitation against the displacement of traditional fishers in the mid 1970s was harassed by police in the pay of industrial fishing interests, and was given sanctuary in a Jesuit house in Panaji. Sad to say that these efforts were more or less in vain: the process of modernisation and mechanisation was irreversible.
The situation in Gujarat developed in a rather different way. As elsewhere, the number of mechanised boats shot up from 314 mechanised and 3,217 not in 1961, to 15,698 of the former and 8,918 of the latter in 1998. In the same period the number of trawlers rose from none to 6,390. Unlike in most of the rest of India, in Gujarat the artisanal and industrial groups have been able to coexist relatively peacefully, in part because most of the owners of the new industrial trawlers come themselves from traditional fishing communities. Yet there are also less positive changes. The trawler crews are paid in wages now, not with a share of the catch. Much of the gear is now imported – petrol, nylon twine, fibreglass – displacing locally made alternatives. Depletion of fish stocks is a major concern. The huge foreign-owned factory trawlers use smaller and smaller mesh nets, which scoop up marine life indiscriminately, and lead long-term to devastation of fish stocks.57
All this can be seen as the painful, but arguably necessary, process of modernisation, a drive towards greater efficiency based on the use of new technology, which certainly has some winners and some losers. However, over the last two decades Indian Ocean fishers have been confronted by a situation where their fates are largely determined by forces far away and outside their control. This reflects an increased integration of the global market, a process summed up by the term globalisation. To be sure, this was not new. We have shown how one has always been able to write a history of the ocean, looking at connections and processes within its boundaries, yet there also has been, to an increasing degree, a history in the ocean which goes beyond its bounds (hence the title of this chapter). What has happened recently is really an intensification of this process, based on vastly faster communications, and the triumph of open economy and free market notions.
What did this mean for Indian Ocean fishing? We have noted that the Indian Ocean has been relatively underfished. Two processes turned world attention to it. First was the way in which other fishing grounds were being rapidly depleted: as one example, in the mid 1950s around 150,000 bluefish tuna were caught each year in the Atlantic, but by the early 1970s only about 1,800. So also with tuna and other species in the Pacific. In the 1990s the world fishing industry was in trouble. Only two of the world's fifteen major fishing regions have still-increasing catches: the western and eastern Indian Ocean zones, This is what has been called the tragedy of the commons. Humans deplete natural resources which no one 'owns'; the sea and fish are prime examples. In a situation of unrestricted access to resources, the result must be depletion. The world situation is deteriorating all the time. As shallow water fisheries collapse, very deep-sea trawling, going as deep as 1.5 km, increases. About 40 per cent of the world's trawling grounds are now in water deeper than the continental shelf. What makes this even more threatening is that while fish species found in shallow waters can recover quite quickly, deep water species take much longer to replenish themselves. One example is the orange roughy, which only begins to reproduce when it is twenty years old, and can live to be 150 years old. Now it is close to extinction. Similarly, deep sea coral which took 5,000 years to grow can be destroyed by one trawler passing its net over it.58
It was not only depletion in traditional western fishing grounds which caused the swing to the Indian Ocean. The move was also helped by its cheap skilled labour. First world manufacturing tends to move to third world areas where wages are low, and working conditions often unregulated. The fishing industry, and especially prawn cultivation, is merely one example.
The prawn industry is at the cutting edge of globalisation. Once used as fertiliser in India, from the 1960s their price has increased dramatically due to freezing techniques which enable them to be exported to markets in Japan, Europe and North America. The beach price of 'pink gold' in 1961–62 was Rs. 240 per tonne, but by 1971–72 it was Rs. 1,180 per tonne.
The result was a huge increase in the value of this new industry, especially in the coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal: in the Indian state of West Bengal, in Bangladesh, and in Thailand. In 1984 total production in South Asia was worth $US 512 million, in 1995 $US 2.79 billion. This was achieved by the introduction of intensive industrial methods of production. Traditional fish farms produced 1,000 kg per hectare, but the new intensive 'industrial' farms 10 tonnes per hectare. In Bangladesh production was pushed by the World Bank and IMF, who insisted that the country develop export industries. There was however a marked down side to this achievement. Much of the capital came from overseas, and government laws to control the industry were often ignored. Pollution has increased, and as the process becomes more mechanised, less local labour was needed.
Critics of export-oriented aquaculture argue that it has largely negative social and environmental consequences and that marine and estuarine fishers and coastal agricultural communities whose livelihoods have traditionally been rooted in local systems of fishing and crop cultivation are being incorporated into global networks of commodity flows which increasingly dictate standard and type of product, price, and other conditions of production, marketing and sale.59
Most revealing of the reality of a global market was an episode between July 1997 and July 1998. The European Union and the United States banned the importation of Bangladesh prawns, claiming that unhygienic production methods rendered them unfit for human consumption. The ban was lifted after quality control had been improved.60
A similar move to intensive industrial production has occurred on parts of India's west coast also. Here and elsewhere traditional agricultural lands have been taken over for prawn farming. It used to be that in coastal areas fish and rice coexisted on the lowlying land, rather as in the Marsh Arab area of the Tigris-Euphrates delta. Sluice gates were used to regulate the supply of water for both. Fish and prawns were a by-product of rice cultivation. Now with the price of fish, especially prawns, up and rice down, the land is flooded more or less full time to enable prawn and pisciculture. To be sure export earnings have risen, yet the profits go to outside, even foreign, capitalists. Local employment in fishing has declined, and a complicated ecologically sound balance has been destroyed. Perhaps most revealing, unusually in India fish has been a large part of the traditional diet of Goan Christians, but now those species, such as pomfret, which have an export potential are priced out of the reach of local consumers.61
Of all preciosities, pearls are most purely maritime. They are completely aquatic, and entirely natural. Unlike precious stones, their shape is not affected by humans, though in recent years people have helped nature to produce pearls: nevertheless, the shape and colour are beyond human intervention. As such, a brief description is in order. The decline in the traditional pearling industry is hardly a cause for lamentation, for it was brutal and dangerous. This trade had boomed in the Gulf in the nineteenth century. Exports rose from about £100,000 a year at the beginning of the century, to £300,000 in the 1830s, £700,000 in the 1870s, and over £1 million around 1900. At this time the Gulf produced half of the pearls in the world.62 These profits were produced with a very heavy human cost. Off Bahrain all the divers were indebted to the merchants who controlled the trade, and so had no choice but to continue diving. Worse still, their debts were inherited by their sons, who as a result were also forced into the debilitating and dangerous activity. The trade declined catastrophically in the 1930s, partly as demand for this luxury product fell during the depression, partly as the Amir of Bahrain implemented reforms, but mostly thanks to competition from Japanese cultured pearls.63 In the season for pearling, June to October, in 1939 Alan Villiers found only 150 craft venturing out from the other main centre in the Gulf, Kuwait, when forty years before there would have been at least 600. The price of 'real' pearls had fallen to one-tenth of what it had been, but he could not regret this decline, because for the divers the activity 'was accompanied by hardships almost intolerable, by risk to health and life and limb, and its rewards were scanty, often distributed most unfairly, and sometimes withheld from their rightful owners altogether.' Divers, using only a nose peg, were required to dive to a depth of 60 and 70 feet over 100 times a day, staying under for about a minute. By this time many of the former divers had been able to escape and work for the oil companies instead.64
The decline occurred also in the Gulf of Mannar, the other traditional pearling region. Developments around Broome, in Western Australia, over the last century or so are worth a brief description, as they provide a useful case study of change and adaptation. In 1861 the pinctada maxima oyster was discovered in Roebuck Bay. These are the largest oysters known, with the shells reaching a diameter of up to 12 inches. Aborigines had been diving for pearls, and the mother of pearl shells, for many years, selling them long before the white invasion to traders, often Chinese from Makassar. From the 1860s Europeans entered this trade, using coerced Aboriginal divers. Women were preferred. In Nickol Bay six or eight of them would go out in a dinghy with a white man in charge. They had no aids at all – no goggles, no stones – and went down only to a depth of about 10 metres. Mortality was very high. In the 1890s copper helmets and canvas suits began to be used, and an influx of divers from Japan and the Malay area produced a boom in the 1880s and through to World War I. Some 400 luggers were based in Roebuck Bay. In the off season 3,000 divers congregated in Broome. This was still a very dangerous trade, as witnessed by 900 Japanese graves in Broome's Japanese cemetery. Great risks were taken, and many divers died when their lugger was caught in a cyclone. In 1936 twenty luggers and 142 men were lost in a huge cyclone. Even more dangerous was the bends, or decompression sickness. The solution, to come up slowly from the depths, was worked out only in 1905, and even after this it took time to educate the mostly illiterate divers: in 1914 alone thirty-three divers operating out of Broome died from the bends. Pearls were found in few of the oyster shells. The valuable product was mother of pearl. Around 1900 Broome produced 80 per cent of the world's supply of this preciosity. The trade declined in the 1920s and 1930s, and was dealt a fatal blow by the development in the 1950s of plastic for buttons, cutlery handles, walking stick grips and a host of other items where mother of pearl had previously been used.
However, today Broome is again the centre of the pearl industry, this time focusing on cultured pearls. This all began in the 1960s, and is now a multi-million dollar export earner. The luggers, now very modern fibreglass air-conditioned craft, again go out to Eighty Mile Beach, south of Broome. Mother of pearl has regained some market share, so the larger oysters are taken for their shells. Smaller oysters are collected and taken in special ships, where they are in fresh sea water all the time, north to King Sound. Many die of stress on the way. Natural pearls are a result of the oyster building up encrustations, called nacre, around a foreign body such as a grain of sand, or a small parasite. This occurs on the outer mantle inside the shell. Cultured pearls are produced rather differently. Once the oysters have reached the oyster farming area, there comes the technical task of inserting a tiny nucleus into the oyster's gonads. Fragments taken from Mississippi mussel or clam shells have been found to work best. Once the nucleus has been inserted, the oysters are placed in metal frames, and left in suitable locations around King Sound. Over two years the oyster covers the nucleus with nacre, forming layers like an onion. The pearl is then extracted. As the oyster is now bigger, a larger nucleus can be inserted, and a larger pearl produced. This process can be done, on rare occasions, four times using the same oyster. Parts of this technique were learnt from Japanese pearl farmers. However, the pinctada maxima is much bigger than any others available elsewhere. Japanese cultured pearls reach a maximum diameter of 11 mm, while Australian ones can be monsters of 18 or even 21 mm. Since the 1970s about 70 per cent of the world's cultured pearls have come from Broome.
Cultured pearls provide a fine example of change and commercialisation. Natural pearls have always been valued by elites, in for example imperial Rome, and the Muslim and Hindu worlds. Many portraits of past potentates show them with necklaces of huge pearls. They were produced in the hazardous and chancy manner that we described earlier. Indeed, some purists, especially in the Arab world, despise cultured pearls and still consider only natural ones are worthy of being bought. Today it is a highly scientific branch of aquaculture, or marine farming. The animals, the oysters, are cosseted to avoid their being stressed. Increasingly they are bred in captivity, rather than being harvested from the wild. Every few weeks the metal frames in which they are trapped are brought to the surface, and their shells scrubbed clean of encrustations. Once the nucleus has been implanted, the panels containing the oysters have to be turned over every two days for forty days. Oysters are valuable livestock, like cattle or sheep. The divers who do most of the work are really farmers, tending their livestock. Indeed, in recent years pirates have taken to raiding the oyster farms and stealing the shells, the exact equivalent then of cattle rustling.65
The tourism industry around the Indian Ocean today betrays many of the benefits and costs which we have just found to characterise fishing. Again globalisation has had mixed results. Certainly tourism has expanded in geometric fashion in the last few decades. Total numbers worldwide have roughly doubled each decade: from 25 million in 1950 to 69 million in 1960, to 160 million in 1970, to 284 million in 1980, and to 425 million in 1990.
Of course travelling is not new, but it may be that we can differentiate between travellers in past times, people we have quoted extensively like Ibn Battuta and Isabel Burton, and the modern tourist. Before steam, sea travel, even for the elite, was a long and hazardous undertaking. In the nineteenth century travel, both for work and pleasure, increased dramatically, yet the former far outweighed the latter. The Brasseys and their entourage were very exceptional (see pages 233–4). Most of the passengers on a P&O liner were not recreational travellers. If they were men they were almost all going somewhere to take up a job. Women accompanied their husbands, or travelled to seek a husband – the ill-named Fishing Fleet of marriageable young women who came out to India for a season hoping, so we are told, to catch a husband. Even more demeaningly, those who returned home unbetrothed were Returned Empties.
Mass tourism then is a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century. The advent of larger aeroplanes in the 1960s facilitated its growth, as did generally prosperous economic times in the first world, which enabled lower class people to afford holidays overseas. There are differences, obviously, between different types of visitors, ranging from the fully catered and accompanied luxury tourists, who stay in hermetically sealed hotels in the third world, to the younger solitary travellers with their trusty Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books. There is even a certain snobbishness about who is a tourist, and who an implicitly more adventurous and 'authentic' traveller. As the saying goes, 'I am a traveller, you are a tourist, they are a coach party.' Or as Evelyn Waugh put it succinctly: 'The tourist is the other fellow.'
When western tourists stay in coastal areas around the Indian Ocean their relationship to the sea is very different from the fisherfolk with whom they mingle. For the traditional beach dwellers the sea is a source of a precarious living, often a dangerous or hostile place, not necessarily benign. Tellingly, their houses often face away from the beach. For leisured middle class westerners the sea and the coast is a space away from normal life. The impressive Australian novelist Tim Winton put this well. 'I often wonder about these two childhoods of mine, the one contained and clothed, between fences, the other rambling, windblown, half-naked between the flags.' Or again:
Freediving in the open ocean, for all the other things it is, is mostly a form of forgetting. Surfing, swimming laps, drifting a bait from a jetty or a boat are similarly forgetful things. They are forms of desertion, retreat, hermitage, a stepping-aside from terrestrial problems to be absorbed into the long moment. The sea is immense, trackless, potent, but above all, neutral.66
All this is new in world history: Lencek wrote of
the transformation of the beach from an alien, inaccessible, and hostile wilderness devoted to conquest, commerce, exploration, and the primal customs of tribal cultures, into a thriving, civilized, pleasure and recreation oriented outpost of Western life style, where so many sybaritic impulses of culture have been indelibly concentrated.67
With this background in western perceptions of the coast, some case studies will show the varied impact of tourism on coastal areas. I will start with Goa, the former Portuguese colony on the Indian west coast, a place I have visited frequently over the last thirty-four years. Numbers have shot up recently. In the 1985–86 season, roughly October to May, twenty-four charter flights brought 3,568 passengers, in 1995–96 there were 337 flights bringing 75,694 passengers. In 1985 the total number of tourists was 775,212, of whom 682,545 were Indian and 92,667 foreign. Ten years later the numbers had risen to a total of 1,107,705, of whom 878,487 were Indian, 229,218 foreign. Of the foreign arrivals, 58.6 per cent were from the UK. The most up-to-date data available puts the population of the area at 1,400,000, of whom 400,000 are dependent on the tourist industry. Foreign tourists number 300,000 a year, and domestic 960,000 a year, so the number of tourist who visit each year is just below the total local population.68
Goa offers the tropical paradise stereotype: palm trees, sunsets over the Arabian Sea, white sand, cheap accommodation, readily available alcohol, English-speaking locals, and some reassuringly western elements such as a coastal population which is largely Christian, and huge churches in the deserted city of Old Goa. Three broad tourist phases can be distinguished. In the 1960s Goa was a haven for so-called hippies, who lived rough on the beaches or in beach shacks, and outraged the local population with their inappropriate dress, or total lack thereof, and massive drug consumption. Soon after a new strand appeared, of middle class Indians attracted by the availability of alcohol, and by the presence of the hippies. Brochures for bus sightseeing tours promised old churches, and beaches where 'naked hippies will be seen'. More recently the Goa government has discouraged budget travellers, and instead promoted short-stay mass market tourism, along with very up-market tourism in a handful of luxury beach resorts. The latter is increasingly being favoured by the government. Europeans fly in direct to Goa, have two weeks in a hotel, get sunburnt on the beach, and fly out again. This is hardly an exotic experience; better to describe it as enclave tourism, where the only locals met are waiters, servants, and taxi drivers.
A beach scene frequently found in Goa, and in other beach resorts on the west coast such as Kovalam, is typical. Portly western men in G-strings self-consciously help traditional fishermen haul in their nets, which may contain enough for one meal. Their bikini-clad women enthusiastically take video pictures of this picturesque scene. Two telling changes, from Kerala, seem also to sum up what is happening. The traditional rice boats which for centuries have transported rice in the backwaters inland from the coast, are now being converted into luxury house boats for western tourists and Indian yuppies. Similarly, the monsoon in Kerala has always been a dramatic sight, redolent with meaning for the local people, for indeed their livelihood often depends on its arrival. Today 'monsoon cures' have become popular with middle class Indians, who travel from all over India to take part in what is essentially a 5,000 year old ayurvedic tradition.69
The larger hotels in Goa are often owned by groups based elsewhere in India, or even by foreign capital. Lufthansa, Club Mediteranee and Hyatt are all involved. Smaller hotels may be built by Goans who have made money in the Gulf and invest in this new industry. This is a very fragile and vulnerable market indeed. Any minor perceived threat means bookings dry up. The terrorist attack on the United States in September 2001 and subsequent military campaign in Afghanistan affected tourism worldwide. Bookings on charter flights, usually 130 or 140 a day, fell to only 10 or 12. Hotels remained nearly empty, and packages at absurd rates were advertised, such as return flights from England to Goa and bed and breakfast for seven to ten days for as low as £79. This was obviously exceptional, yet in previous seasons an over-supply of accommodation had produced similarly uneconomic results.
The effects on the ecology of the area have been dire. There are now at least fifty swimming pools in the tiny Calangute–Baga strip alone, when thirty years ago there were none. The government privileges hotels over local rice farmers when it allocates water, so that the swimming pools will be full, and the lawns green. The three Taj hotels at Fort Aguada take more water than that available to the population of all the local villages of Calangute. Golf tourism is a new trend, and whole villages are being relocated to make room for a planned six new courses, most of them foreign controlled. 'Development' has often been uncontrolled, leading to massive violations of the environment, such as building far too close to the maximum high tide level, discharge of sewage into the ocean, and mounds of discarded plastic containers disfiguring the sand. One of Goa's main attractions, pristine beaches, is being violated and ruined; it is in danger of becoming less idyllic, and falling out of favour.
For the local people all this has been a very mixed blessing. A recent acerbic analysis claimed that tourist development in Goa 'in the process of creating global tourist sites, determines that (local) people's cultural and ecological space is dispensable to its requirements.' Tourism 'is predicated upon a development ideology that defines local people's space as dispensable to the needs of national and transnational capital.' The same author comments on what is called 'staged authenticity', that is the 'typical' Goan fisherman, villager, toddy tapper, who performs in hotels. 'Goa has been constructed to serve as one of the world's pleasure peripheries, a cultural space for the leisure consumption of tourists divorced from the needs and concerns of everyday life.'70
Much the same can be seen on the Swahili coast. However, the setting is rather different. The main historic population centres were the Swahili port cities that we have written about previously. In particular, the Stone Towns of Lamu and Zanzibar, even though they mostly date only from the nineteenth century and later, are considered to be heritage attractions, and distinctive enough to be preserved. Yet as tourist attractions some changes had to be made. Many of the old houses have been reconfigured to make hotels, and some unsympathetic 'development' has taken place both within the stone towns and on their edges. Lamu is, as we have already pointed out, an Islamic town which acts as a focus for Muslims all up and down the coast. Many of its women wear very all-enveloping robes. Ten years ago the only place a tourist could buy alcohol was in a rather dingy cellar attached to the hotel in the centre of the town. Now the bar has moved out onto the main street, which runs along the waterfront and is the centre of Lamu life. It even boasts a small collection of bar girls. Westerners complain that the exotic is being destroyed, but the real question is whether 'tradition' should be preserved for the benefit of foreigners. Most Swahili probably would prefer not to be living in a museum, but rather have up-to-date plumbing.
We found in the case of Goa that much of the profit from tourism does not stay in Goa. Similarly in the Swahili town of Malindi, now really an Italian resort, with a line of Italian owned hotels controlling the beach front. More generally, it has been estimated that 45 per cent of funds generated by tourism remain in the third world country concerned. Of the money spent on a beach holiday in Kenya, 70 per cent goes back to the first world; in Thailand it is 60 per cent. There is also, again as in Goa, internal colonisation in that investment in tourist spots often comes from an elite from the interior. This applies to much of the Kenyan coast.
Coasts are one thing, but islands are another: the ultimate in the tropical fantasy for westerners. This perception fits nicely with the fact that most Indian Ocean islands have fragile economies. Helped by pressure from the World Bank, many of them have found western tourists to be their best source of foreign currency earnings. This has now been recognised by people promoting islands to jaded travellers, witness a web-site come-on:
Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, far from African coast, a bunch of islands offers to its visitors a range of tastes, smells and visions at the crossroad of Asia and Africa. Whatever you are looking for – white sandy beaches, rocky mountains, luxuriant forests or plain deserts – you'll be fully satisfied. If your fascination relates to snorkelling in coral reefs, trekking, or birdwatching in a unique nature, you will enjoy what you'll discover there. Away from commercial ways, those countries: Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion Island, thanks to their isolation, preserved among their inhabitants an incomparable kindness.
Of these, the two most developed for tourists are Mauritius and Reunion. Madagascar still seems only for the very adventurous, or those interested in 'ecotourism', where more is expected than just white sand beaches and fawning 'natives'.
Mauritius benefits from the fact that French is still widely spoken, even though France lost the island two hundred years ago. Nearly half the arrivals are from France. A total of 422,000 arrived in 1995, and 487,000 the next year, and they spent close to $US1,000 each. Mauritius has opted to aim at the top end of the market, unlike say Malindi or Goa. There are no charter flights, though this situation may change as competition increases. At the Royal Palm Hotel 'a team of ladies attired in brilliantly-coloured saris scrub the coconuts on the trees to a shine, rake the sand, vacuum palm leaves from the bottom of the pool and snip the grass into patterns with tiny shears.' Tourism and how to interact with foreigners is an important part of the curriculum in local schools. There are positive and negative elements to the boom. On the one hand, most of the industry, unlike elsewhere, is locally owned, but then profits are held back by the necessity to import food and other 'necessities' for the tourists. The island is only about 2,000 km2, so there is pressure on the disposition of sewage, on the water supply, and on the relatively small number of good sandy beaches.71 Reunion predictably draws nearly all its tourists from France. Its lack of good beaches is compensated by its many good hotels, popular places for conferences and meetings. The Seychelles have little else but tourism in the way of assets, especially once the end of the Cold War resulted in the USA closing down a satellite tracking station in 1996, which meant the loss of the annual rent of $US4.5 million. Again the European up-market tourist is targeted. Arrivals rose from 86,000 in 1989 to 110,000 in 1994.72 So also in the Maldives, where only about 200 of the total of 1,200 islands are inhabited. The government has tried to locate tourist facilities on those previously uninhabited, creating about fifty enclave resorts popular with western honeymooners. Visitors usually go straight from the airport to their resort, having little or no contact with local people. The local population is rigorously Muslim, so alcohol is available only on the resort islands, and is served by foreigners imported so that no Maldivian has to handle this forbidden product.
It is easy for elites to sneer at mass tourism, and to stress the negatives, some of which have just been outlined. Some would see first world tourism to the third world as analogous to sweat shops in Thailand making expensive shoes and clothing for a rich overseas clientele. Certainly there is a danger that what attracts westerners to the coasts of the ocean will soon be lost. Beaches are increasingly polluted, palm trees are cut down to make way for new hotels, the coral reefs are disappearing thanks to uncontrolled access to them, polluted waters, and souveniring of bits of them. The comments of the authors of a previous book in this series on the Sea in History are apposite and generally applicable: 'it behoves thinking, as people flock to the shores in ever-increasing numbers, how fragile is the line between our need for recreation, peace or spiritual sustenance from the sea, and the effects of our recreation on the sea itself.'73
* * *
Tourism is an obvious part of globalisation, but there are other implications of these increasing connections. We pointed out that Aden was for a time left behind while ports in the Gulf, nearer to oil, flourished. More recently the dominance of Dubai has been challenged by Salalah in Oman, and Aden in Yemen. Maersk and Sea-Land, two big shipping companies, have bought stakes in Salalah, and the Port of Singapore Authority is running Aden. Dubai has an agreement to manage Beirut port.74 The links spread far and wide. So also with people. Thanks to cheap air travel, Nigerians now work in Jiddah and Mecca, and Koreans and Thais in the Gulf. Somalis working in the Arab world are numerous, and in the 1980s the remittances they sent home were thirteen times the Somalia-based wage bill.75 The sea is also now becoming territorialised. We noted earlier that much of the ocean is the commons, open to exploitation by all, and this is still the case overall. Yet littoral states now claim as their actual territory a zone of 12 nautical miles from the shore, and their Exclusive Economic Zones extend to 200 miles from shore. More and more of the ocean is 'owned' by some state or other. This is facilitated by the way modern techniques, using satellite navigation, can draw lines in the ocean to show boundaries, just as has been done on land for centuries.
Another deleterious, albeit controversial, aspect of a more integrated world is that environmental problems are often global in scale. Global warming, mostly a consequence of rich world industry releasing greenhouse gasses, is claimed to be causing a rise in the level of the ocean. Average global temperatures went up about ½° C in the twentieth century, and the sea level rose between 4 and 10 inches over the same period. Records show that 1998 was the warmest year ever since temperatures began to be recorded 150 years ago. As an Indian Ocean consequence, the Maldives, where most of the 1,200 islands are no more than a metre above sea level, are likely to be under water within thirty years.76
Coral reefs are important tourist attractions, and form a fascinating natural underseascape. They have been under threat for at least fifty years. In the late 1960s Jacques Cousteau worried that coral reefs were in danger as the purity of the water declined. Equally threatening, conchs were being taken to sell their shells to tourists, but they are the deadly enemy of a kind of starfish which is very destructive to coral: consequently coral suffers. More recently global warming has had a catastrophic effect on coral reefs all around the Indian Ocean. At least half of the total died in the two years up to 2000. Coral cannot tolerate a rise in sea temperatures of more than 1 or 2°C for more than a few weeks, yet in the Seychelles in 1998 the temperature was 3°C above seasonal norms for several weeks. The results have been far-reaching. It is estimated that in 1998–99 the death of the coral, or its bleaching to an unattractive monochrome, cost the Maldives' economy about $US 36 million in 1998–99, a result of the impact on tourism and on local fishers.77
There is atmospheric pollution also. In 1999 a haze of air pollution covered some 10 million square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. It was caused by burning fossil fuels from India, China and southeast Asia blown over the ocean by the northeast monsoon. The result was acid rain and lower temperatures. In 1997 the warming of the western Indian Ocean is considered to have caused excessive rain over East Africa, and consequently a rise in the level of Africa's lakes, and severe flooding on the Nile. In many of the littoral countries indiscriminate clearing of forests has had very adverse effects. It is estimated that for ecological stability one-third of any given area needs tree cover, but in India this is down to 10 per cent. This leads to greater flooding, but also the reverse: as the forest cover diminishes, rainfall declines.78
Threats to the environment are not that new. The ecology of St Paul and Amsterdam islands was radically changed around 1800 by imported and then feral pigs, deer and rabbits, so that, as a contemporary mourned, 'Once they were green, now they are brown, desolate and despoiled.'79 The dodo was rendered extinct by European hunting and introduced animals. In the early 1950s Cousteau was at the Aldabra islands, which consist of four small atolls. He found thousands of giant land tortoises, some with shells five feet long. Herbivores, they graze on grass and seem to have no enemies. Then he went on to a neighbouring island and found heaps of tortoise skeletons. All the grass and shrubs had been eaten by feral goats, and the tortoises had starved.80 The dugong, or sea cow, is threatened by poachers with modern nylon nets. They even use dynamite sometimes. In the southern Indian Ocean both the Patagonian toothfish and whales are threatened by illegal fishing boats. One estimate puts the value of this illegal trade in the toothfish alone at about $US150 million.81
Other littoral areas have been detrimentally affected by various governmental policies. We wrote earlier of the Marsh Arabs and their unique culture (see page 42), but their whole way of life is now close to extinction. Over the last 25 years the size of the marshes has dwindled by no less than 90 per cent. This has been caused by drainage to provide irrigation water elsewhere, and by building massive dams up stream, not only in Iraq but also in Turkey, Iran and Syria. Saddam Hussain has favoured the end of the marshes, for they provide a refuge for Shia Muslims often opposed to his dictatorship. Much of the landscape is now salt deserts, the people are in refugee camps. The smooth coated otter, once common, is now extinct, and migrating birds are left with no havens.82
A final ecological problem is the vast traffic in oil from the Gulf to the rest of the world. Years ago Thor Heyerdahl had a bad time in the Straits of Hurmuz:
By midday we found ourselves for the first time in a terribly polluted area. Small clots and large slices of solidified black oil or asphalt floated closely packed everywhere in a manner that clearly testified to recent tanker washings. But the black tar soup was all mixed with bobbing cans, bottles and other refuse, and an incredible quantity of solid, useable wood: logs, planks, boards, cases, grids and large sheets of plywood. One such sheet carried a deadly yellow snake as passenger. All the wood was smeared and clotted with oil from the seas that tossed it about.83
Oman is particularly affected as tankers deballast as they enter the Straits of Hurmuz. After the spilt oil evaporates and is weathered it washes ashore in the form of disgusting tar balls. One half of all the world's merchant shipping passes through the Straits of Melaka, and here also oil spills are a constant possibility.84
Globalisation also implies social and cultural worldwide integration, but this is not a one-way street, and nor is globalisation exactly the same as westernisation. Here are a few aspects of influences from outside, which show that any attempt to write a history ofthe ocean covering recent years is really invalid, for so important are outside influences that we really, just like Horden and Purcell in the case of the Mediterranean, can usually only write of history in the ocean, that is one that necessarily stresses extra-ocean influences. In the Gulf region internet usage is expanding rapidly. A recent survey found that 42 per cent of users had bought books from Amazon.com, while 38 per cent watched CNN news, only 8 per cent the local Gulf News.85 This changed during the second Gulf War. The creation of Israel in 1948 led many young Indian Jews to undertake aliyah. Frater was told that of the very old community in Cochin, there were only five families left, a total of thirty-one people. Of the remaining young men one was about to leave for Israel, and there had been no local weddings for seventeen years.86 Or consider that Reunion, still a French possession where the Catholic church is powerful, has one of the highest birth rates in the world: nearly 3½ per cent a year. The Jesuit network stretches globally. Young Jesuits from India are adopted by western congregations, often in Germany, and they in turn when they go back to India act as mentors for Catholic communities in East Africa.
We have written extensively about Muslim conversion and rectification networks in previous periods. These efforts continue to today, so that Islam is the fastest growing religion in Africa. Here then is another aspect of globalisation, connections which spread around and beyond the ocean. This is hardly westernisation, and nor is the spread of Indian movies. Too often writers bewail the octopus spread of Hollywood and American TV soaps. It is true that for some years the American soap Baywatch was the most watched series in the world, but the spread of Hindi movies in all the Indian Ocean and beyond is equally important. These movies are certainly formulaic, but the formula is different from Hollywood. 'Marsala' films are influenced by Indian classical literature, especially the great epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Every film, regardless of subject matter, has dance and music in conjunction with romance, adventure, violence and morality. What is important is that this recipe appeals not only to the Indian diaspora, but to many others in Africa, the Middle East and southeast Asia. This is understandable in arguably Indianised areas like Burma and Indonesia, but they also find a huge market in Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Gulf states, Thailand and Indonesia.87 Changes in Indian television have also provided a new market for Bollywood, and all the other areas of India which make movies. Up to the early 1990s the government-controlled Doordarshan mostly, as a matter of policy, promoted the Hindi language. Now that private players have been allowed in, there is much more content in other Indian languages, and also more foreign content. More channels need more product from the local film industry. Here also however westernisation has not been totally triumphant. Rupert Murdoch found that he had to indigenise his offerings via satellite in India much more than he had expected to.88
So far we can write about the distribution of these movies, or for that matter of Islam or Christianity, but we know little about something even more important, that is their consumption. Certainly Hindi and other Indian movies mean different things to different audiences, in other words are consumed in different ways by different receptors, but this difficult matter has been little studied so far.
In some aspects globalisation has acted to increase worldwide communications at the expense of more local circuits. As examples, it is now quicker to get to Paris from Mayotte than it is to get to Zanzibar, despite age-old connections between these two East African islands. Similarly, it is quicker to get goods from a French mail order firm than it is to get something from Mombasa, again undermining very ancient local connections. International connections via satellite, for those who can afford them, are often quicker and more reliable than internal telephone connections in many littoral countries around the Indian Ocean.89
A further aspect of history in the Indian Ocean is to look at strategic matters, and the place of the ocean during the Cold War and later. We need also to consider the local reaction to this, which is halting moves towards greater integration within the region, that is then an attempt to respond by a focus of or within the ocean.
The context is the end of the British lake period. British naval dominance was plain to see after 1815, and indeed could be dated from the end of the Seven Years War in 1763. This lake took very little effort to remain exclusive, as no other power challenged British dominance, except for a land-based threat from Russia. Britain concentrated her navy in the Atlantic and the Pacific, not the Indian Ocean, and within the ocean spent most money on the Indian Army. The Royal Navy's job was to combat piracy, as defined by the British, and to suppress the slave trade. It was only in the 1920s that British naval dominance worldwide began to be eroded.
As independence got closer the influential author and diplomat K.M. Panikkar wrote a short book about India and the Indian Ocean. He complained bitterly that his fellow countrymen were landlubbers, yet 'In fact it may truly be said that India never lost her independence till she lost the command of the sea in the first decade of the sixteenth century.' From this time 'the future of India has been determined not on the land frontiers, but on the oceanic expanse which washes the three sides of India.' It was crucial that newly independent India have a strong navy, in alliance with a continuing British presence, for British 'interests in the Ocean are such that it will be nothing short of national suicide for her to withdraw from that area.'90
Alas, Britain's decline as a Great Power meant a role in the distant and by now rather irrelevant Indian Ocean was beyond its capacity. In 1968 Harold Wilson announced that Britain was to withdraw from the Far East, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf by the end of 1971. They left the great naval base at Singapore in 1975, truly marking the end of an era. It is no coincidence that it was in 1971 that the Soviet Union first sent a substantial fleet into the ocean, though they had had a smaller presence for a few years previously. The ocean in fact now became a player, albeit a minor one, in the Cold War.
Writing at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is already difficult to appreciate the intensity of feeling generated by the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States as it affected the Indian Ocean. Certainly at the time some academics and serving officers saw a very clear danger. Hanne, writing in the Military Review, subtitled the 'Professional Journal of the United States Army', was concerned that the United States had not moved in to fill the vacuum left by the British departure: 'many analysts have stated that the United States, with or without its allies, would have to move a visible naval force into that region to preclude its immediate de facto annexation by the Soviet Union into its "sphere of influence.''' Large areas of the Soviet Union would be within range of American submarines if they were based in the Indian Ocean, but instead, 'Attempting to convince the newly independent powers that security, self-determination and equitable prosperity come from the acceptance of a pro-Soviet foreign policy, the USSR is moving steadily along many fronts, publicly confident in the historic veracity of its ideology.'91 So also from the defence analyst Patrick Wall in his edited book The Indian Ocean and the Threat to the West. He complained that the West 'is watching supinely while the world's greatest land power [that is, the Soviet Union] starts to dominate the sea as well.' Instead of doing something about this, 'Leftward-leaning Western Governments enthusiastically abuse, and try to boycott, South Africa and Rhodesia. At the same time, without seeing any inconsistency, they advocate an expansion of trade and close cultural links with the Soviet Union and her satellites.' It was a matter for regret that 'Few, if any, African states can really be called pro-Western. The majority are unaligned but responsive to Soviet, and Chinese, penetration.... Lenin believed that the Western democracies would destroy themselves from within through becoming soft, greedy, and lacking in will power. He may yet prove to have been right.'92 Scary stuff, but perhaps appropriately I bought my copy of this book at a stall. The stamp inside said 'Discarded'.
What happened was that the Soviet Union was concerned about what it perceived as an American build-up in the area, as seen in the total support given to the Shah of Iran from the early 1960s, and the formation of various military alliances, of which the most important for our area was CENTO. In August 1971 the Indian and Soviet governments signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which increased Soviet access in the region. The west was concerned not only about Soviet activities, but also about the fact that as domestic oil supplies declined in the United States the Indian Ocean, and especially the Straits of Hurmuz and Melaka, were the choke points through which travelled much of the vital oil. Japan, vital to American interests, received 85 per cent of all its oil from the Gulf via the Indian Ocean, and Europe about 50 per cent.
Yet neither side invested very substantially in a naval presence in the ocean. Both were held back by communications difficulties, as the ocean was far from their major bases, let alone their home states.93 It was only on exceptional occasions that either side displayed any great interest. In 1971 the United States was worried about India's role in 'liberating' Bangladesh from the control of Pakistan. Henry Kissinger sent a task force of the Seventh Fleet, led by the USS Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal. However, it seems that this action, although seen as threatening by India, in fact was designed to warn China not to intervene. In 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the Shah, an American client, lost Iran. Briefly the Indian Ocean area became again a central part of the Cold War. The unhappy result was that India was armed by the Soviets, Pakistan by the United States, and so their existing tense relations, and ability to attack each other, were exacerbated by the actions of the two major players in the Cold War.
It is true that this relatively benign view owes something to hindsight. At the time it was understandable that analysts and policy makers took things more seriously. In the 1980s there was a major build-up of strategic weapons in the ocean, with both sides deploying nuclear submarines. Perhaps even more worrying, by the mid 1980s India had a nuclear capacity, even if this was not publicly announced, while Pakistan also had one potentially, which however they chose not to finalise in deference to United States wishes.94 This period of opaque nuclear capability was ended by the overt nuclear tests of May 1998.
One consequence of the Cold War was that the United States built a major base on the island of Diego Garcia. This island was very well located, being more or less in the middle of the ocean, roughly latitude 7° S and longitude 72° E, 1,600 km south of India. It is an instructive story. It begins as early as 1961 with an agreement between Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy. As early as this the British wanted an increase in the American presence in the Indian Ocean, and the United States provided them with nuclear missiles as a quid pro quo. From the American angle, a well-located base in the ocean would help to secure the passage of vital oil tankers, and would bring most of the Soviet Union within range of Polaris missiles. It also meant American warships could operate more readily in the Indian Ocean, rather than have to come all the way from the existing major base, Subic Bay in the Philippines. The Seventh Fleet, for example, could reach Mumbai in three days steaming from Diego Garcia.
The detail is rather sordid. In 1965 Mauritius was promised independence, but Harold Wilson, at American insistence, said the condition was that they give up part of their territory, the Chagos Archipelago. The soon-to-be independent state was also given £3 million in 'development assistance'. The British turned Chagos into the British Indian Ocean Territories. A year later, in 1966, one of the islands, Diego Garcia, with an area of about 11 square miles, was leased to the United States. The United States wanted an area where there was no population, and the British obliged by removing the 1,000 inhabitants of the island to Mauritius, where they were left to rot. When these people, the Ilois, complained to the Americans about their treatment they were told it was a matter for the British government, not the United States.95
Diego Garcia has played a major role in United States actions in the Middle East, notably during the Gulf War of 1991, and the current (2001–02) 'war against terrorism'. They built a communications site on the island in 1971, and by the mid 1970s this was a major naval air base. The runway can handle any sort of plane, the port can accommodate an entire battle carrier group. In the late 1980s the island was populated by over 2,000 United States servicepeople, and 1,200 Filipinos to do food service and domestic work. At any one time about 800 personnel are ashore from ships in the harbour.96 Yet in essence United States interest in the Indian Ocean is strictly limited. They have no such hegemonic designs as were enforced by the Royal Navy for over a century. Rather, they want to be able to respond to any threat which affects their perceived interests, but no more. Just as Lord Curzon said that Britain took no interest in what the Arabs did inland, so also the Americans care little for any possible hostilities between various states around the ocean, provided oil supplies are not threatened. The crisis following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 provides further support for this analysis, for they obviously constituted a threat to American interests and so elicited a massive response.
It should be remembered that the Indian Ocean differs in an important respect from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, for in these two several major powers have interests and borders: no major power is located on the Indian Ocean littoral. No local navy has come close to achieving a major role, let alone dominance, in the ocean. The end of the Cold War has removed any significant Russian presence. Southeast Asian states have minor naval capacity, designed to patrol to stop refugees and to curtail piracy. Australia's navy similarly has almost no blue water capacity, and as I write is merely patrolling to stop any influx of refugees, a demeaning role indeed. Today the only major blue water navy from a littoral country is India's.
When India and Pakistan became independent in 1947 British governments thought that India's role should be to provide, within a Commonwealth structure, assistance to the West to curtail China and the Soviet Union. India's navy was not really oriented towards Indian interests, but rather was to act as a minor ally in the effort to contain communism. It was not until 1958 that an Indian became Chief of Naval Staff, and some English officers continued to serve in the Indian navy until the early 1960s. The navy was neglected, the army was privileged. In 1962, on the eve of the war with China, the Indian Navy got 4.7 per cent of the defence budget, the army 77.5 per cent and the air force 17.8 per cent. After dependence on Britain ended, India simply moved to relying more or less totally on the Soviet Union: by the end of the 1980s seventy per cent of Indian military hardware came from the USSR.97 This did however enable a larger blue water role for the Indian Navy. The Indian press over the last few years has reported on quite major and far-reaching naval exercises. The aim is for the navy to 'wield appreciable influence on the waters extending from the periphery of the Persian Gulf in the west to the Strait of Malacca to the east.' The larger plan is for the Indian Navy 'to acquire a limited blue water capability as well as a restricted capacity to launch a seaward attack on land.'98 Indian Navy ships have even undertaken exercises past the Straits of Melaka in the South China Sea, in conjunction with the Vietnamese navy. India today has the seventh largest navy in the world. In early 2002 they were negotiating to buy a second aircraft carrier from Russia, and to lease two nuclear-powered submarines.99
India was assuming what it considered to be its natural role in the ocean, that is as the dominant local power. It was claimed that this had to do with India's size, and its location across major sea routes. Nehru claimed just before independence that 'Geography is a compelling factor, and geographically she [India] is so situated as to be the meeting point of Western and Northern and Eastern and South-East Asia.'100 On several visits to India I have had social dealings with young Indian Navy officers, a very suave and elite group of men with impeccable manners. When they found out I was from Australia they expressed polite interest, and talked about cricket. But I had a strong sense that they were thinking to themselves, 'We could take out you Australians without too much trouble,' as indeed they could. India's self-perception as the main player in the Indian Ocean even extended as far south as Antarctica, where India has assumed a vigorous role as various treaties allocate areas of interest.
For a time this expanded role was looked on benevolently by the Americans, and cooperation between the two navies increased. India's ties with Russia were much less of a problem once the Cold War was over, and the country was seen by the Americans as being a democracy, and essentially status quo. Thus it could to an extent take over some of America's role in the Indian Ocean. Once India freed up its economy, in the early 1990s, it became something of a favourite with American investors. Similarly, there are strong ties, and much exchange of personnel, between computer specialists in California's Silicon Valley and the Indian equivalent in Bangalore. India was favoured over Pakistan in the 1990s.
It is unclear to neighbouring states, and especially Pakistan, whether India wants its navy to play a defensive, or an offensive, role. Certainly India, especially under a more nationalistic and even chauvinistic BJP government, has made it clear that they expect as of right to be seen as the dominant local power in the Indian Ocean, but this does not necessarily mean any aggressive role. Indeed, despite the exercises and projection of Indian power all around the ocean, there are also major problems. The collapse of the Soviet Union and liberalisation of the economy had a directly restricting result for the Indian Navy. One influential commentator complained that the navy is still the poor relation. Ships are usually at sea only seven days in every month, and the number of frigates and destroyers has gone down between 1976 and 1996 from thirty-one to twenty-four.101 The focus of the Indian defence establishment has always been on Pakistan, with the conflict in Kashmir central, and this is a matter where navies have little role to play. Two recent events may have altered significantly the whole strategic situation. In May 1998 both India and Pakistan became overt nuclear states. The 'war against terror' after September 2001 has produced a whole new scenario, where at least for a time America is much more supportive of Pakistan. The re-entry of America in force into the region is obviously a significant event whose consequences are yet to be fully worked out.
Beneath these high policy matters, there are other roles for the region's navies to play. Coastguard duty, to stop smuggling, continues to be a major preoccupation. The other important task, especially in southeast Asia, is the need to combat piracy, which in the last few decades has had something of a revival. In the past, in the Sulu Sea, pirates ventured out in proas with matting sails and slave rowers. Today they have diesel-powered fast craft, armed with bazookas, machine guns and Molotov cocktails. Off Somalia they even have mortars and rocket propelled grenades. They use satellite navigation systems, and often have pre-arranged buyers for both the cargo and the ships they capture. In the first half of 1998 there were eighty-six recorded acts of piracy world wide. Of these, thirty-eight were in southeast Asian waters, and fourteen in the area around South Asia.102
Combating piracy has to be a multilateral task, and indeed it may be that if cooperation between the states rimmed around the ocean is achieved there will be less need for navies. So far the results have been disappointing. The lead was taken by Jawaharlal Nehru shortly before Indian independence. At an Asian Relations Conference in March 1947 he put forward the idea of some sort of unity around the Indian Ocean. Nothing happened until the 1970 Non-Aligned Meeting in Lusaka, when the notion of a Zone of Peace, including all the Indian Ocean, was adopted. The next year Mrs Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, brought the concept to the United Nations General Assembly, where it was adopted in December 1971. Despite support from all the littoral states, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States were interested. India, perhaps hoping to become the dominant regional power, got the initial proposal watered down so that it referred only to limiting the activities of powers from outside the region. An Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean was set up to study the implications, but nothing came of this.103
Some years later, in 1984, an Indian Ocean Commission was set up. The founding members were Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles. Later France, on behalf of Reunion, and the Comoros, joined.104 In the last five years of the twentieth century a flurry of activity produced IOR-ARC: the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation. Founded in Mauritius in March 1997, by the end of 1999 it had nineteen members and two levels of activity. One level is inter-governmental relations, and the other involves academics and business people. The aim was to promote economic cooperation between the member states, which included Australia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen, and Bangladesh, Iran, Seychelles, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. Pakistan was required to change some discriminatory trade policies before it could join. Dialogue partners included Egypt, the United Kingdom, Japan and China.105
The context for this initiative was the fall of the Soviet Union and so the end of the Cold War, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the trend towards globalisation which we described earlier. It is believed that there is now less ideological conflict in the world, with only the capitalist paradigm retaining any credibility. Be that as it may, the member states have very different interests, economies and political systems, and it difficult to see such a disparate grouping making any real progress towards regional cooperation and integration. Many of its members also belong to other, possibly conflicting, associations, such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and APEC (Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation). Furthermore, much economic activity in the whole region is oriented to the outside. In contrast with the close economic association of states around the Northern Atlantic, intra-Indian Ocean trade makes up less than one-quarter of total trade; the global dimension reduces the possibility of effective economic cooperation around the ocean. One's confidence is not enhanced by one of the actions of the meeting in January 2000, when it was agreed to set up a 'duty-free commissary for the sale of limited quantities of certain articles for personal use or consumption by members.'106
We can conclude by considering whether these halting attempts at unity or at least some form of cooperation can be seen as a paradigm which reflects a general lack of unity in other aspects of the life of the Indian Ocean. Is there something called 'the Indian Ocean', which we can treat as a viable category for analysis and study, as valid as the more usual objects of historical study such as classes or states? We are here coming back again to the distinction between the history of the ocean, an internal one, and history inthe ocean, where it is to be seen as profoundly influenced by wider matters coming from outside its geographical boundaries. In short, if the latter is most important serious doubt must be cast on the notion of writing a history of the ocean. My conclusion is that for much of the long timeframe of this book we can indeed write of the ocean. Indeed, given my scepticism about the degree of influence of the early Europeans, one could somewhat arbitrarily say that the Indian Ocean remains relatively discrete, something which can be studied in and of itself, until roughly the end of the eighteenth century. As I have tried to make clear in these last two chapters, it is only since around 1800 that forces from outside had any very profound influence: crudely put, first industrialised Britain, and now globalisation.
Two interlocking matters are significant here. On the one hand, although nearly half the world's population lives within 80 km of the sea, maritime matters have little influence today. Certainly the mystique of the sea is gone. Most people fly over the ocean, rather than sail on it. Age-old routes connecting parts of our ocean are no longer plied by passenger ships; only a few short-distance ferries remain. Some people still do travel by sea: pirates, refugees, drug traffickers who find it much easier to import illicit bundles when there is no airport security involved. For most the ocean now is simply a place for recreation, and indeed modern technology has reduced this to a very sparsely maritime experience. An American scholar wrote scathingly about the ultimate in the alienation of people from the sea. The typical beachgoer today is a fat person in a huge four-wheel drive who speeds up the beach, scattering sand and crushing delicate marine life, to park facing the ocean. This person stays inside, with the engine running so that the air conditioning will keep working.107 He is writing about the American Atlantic shore, but this stage is getting closer by the day around the Indian Ocean also. Cruise ships try to replicate landed society, and come close to succeeding. The most important warships today, aircraft carriers, are not really maritime at all. Again landed society is faithfully created on board these monsters, and in essence they are airfields which happen to be able to float. But what of trade? Certainly most trade in the ocean is still done by sea: in the case of India 90 per cent of its overseas trade arrives over water. But then most economic activity in India is internal, so that for example the sanctions imposed after the nuclear tests of May 1998 had little effect. In any case, sea trade today is not carried on by a race of men set apart, the sort of people we have encountered so often in this book, and whom Conrad, Villiers, and many others celebrated. Rather it is handled in unappealing oil tankers and bulk carriers. The crews are essentially low-paid unskilled labourers, who could as well be working on a building site or in a factory. This separation of mankind from the sea is likely to be amplified in the near future, for today it is technologically possible to sail a ship from one port to another with no one on board. Labour would be required only to leave one port and enter the other.
Yet in one ominous area the sea, and the Indian Ocean, may even see an expansion of interest from the land. Most of the oceans of the world are still part of the commons, that is the areas beyond the 200 nautical mile limit. One scholar wrote forebodingly,
As the UN celebrates 1998 as the International Year of the Oceans, conflicts over multiple peaceful uses of the ocean and coastal areas – such as commercial and recreational fisheries, oil development, marine aquaculture, marine transport, marine recreation, etc – proliferate. The living resources of the seas are coming under intensifying pressures and military (ab)uses of the oceans (such as refusing to share oceanographic information) continue despite the ending of the Cold War. Coastal-based communities are increasingly displaced and marginalised by the destruction of littoral and marine resources. The oceans are also being used as a dumping ground for effluents and even radioactive nuclear waste.108
As vital supplies dry up the ocean will be under increasing pressure to make up shortfalls, in for example oil, or gas, or fish to feed an expanding global population. It could well be that the oceans at present are benefiting from only a transitory respite before full-scale exploitation begins. Very deep sea trawling, penetrating down 1.5 km, is already having profoundly detrimental effects. Deep sea mining is not yet a problem; the technology is not yet ready, and minerals' prices have been relatively low over the past few decades. There is no reason to assume that either of these will apply in coming decades. At present people ignore the sea: soon they may destroy it. The Indian Ocean cannot expect to be spared from this catastrophic prospect.