The Black Indian Ocean: Slavery, Religion, and Identity (1400-1700)

Event time: 
Friday, January 26, 2024 - 10:00am to 4:00pm
Webinar () See map
Free, but register in advance
Open to: 
General Public
Event description: 

The Yale Institute of Sacred Music will host a one-day webinar and interdisciplinary symposium organized by ISM fellow Dr. Janie Cole. “The Black Indian Ocean: Slavery, Religion, and Identity (1400-1700)” will explore new perspectives on the impact of slavery and patterns of migration and displacement across the Indian Ocean on Afro-Asian communities, their cultural manifestations and soundscapes, and how religion, faith and ritual were articulated in acts of identity, oppression, and resistance in the early modern world.


The conference takes its starting point from the earliest surviving biography of an Ethiopian slave, Gabriel, a 16th-century Beta Israel Jew sold into slavery in the Arab world where he converted to Islam. It traces his woeful wanderings between faiths, love and persecution in Asia to his final encounters with the brutal Inquisition in Goa, a story captured in a musical narrative, “Gabriel’s Odyssey”, by the Kukutana Ensemble.



10 a.m.-12.15 p.m. Welcome and Opening Remarks from Janie Cole (Yale University) and Panel I: Identities: Reconstructing Early Modern Slave Narratives

Panel I chair: Eben Graves

  • “Contextualizing Gabriel: Africans in Early Modern South Asia”, Ananya Chakravarti (Georgetown University)

  • “The Many Identities of Gabriel, a Beta Israel in the Indian Ocean World”, Matteo Salvadore (American University of Sharjah)

  • “The Music of Gabriel’s Odyssey: Reflecting on Collective Compositional Praxis” with the following members of the Kukutana Ensemble: Mark Aranha (University of the Witwatersrand), Bronwen Clacherty (University of Cape Town), Tesfamichael Yayeh Hussen (Addis Ababa University), Grasella Luigi (Ethiopian National Theatre), and Cara Stacey (University of the Witwatersrand)

  • “Towards an Indian Ocean Aesthetic: Transoceanic Narratives and Creative Praxis” with Kukutana Ensemble members Kristy Stone (University of the Western Cape), and Conor Ralphs (Independent Artist-Researcher)

15-minute break

12:30-2 p.m. Panel II: Communities: East Africa in Asia

Panel II chair: Ilana Webster-Kogen

  • “Embodied Heritage of an Afro-diasporic Community in Sri Lanka”, Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya (Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London)
  • “Devotional Poetry and Diasporic Perspectives in the Sidi (African-Indian) Sufi Tradition of Gujarat”, Jazmin Graves Eyssallenne (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
  • “Afroasian Musical Routes: History, Memory and Emotion in the Performance of Musical Traditions”, Sumangala Damodaran (University of Washington, Seattle)

15-minute break

2:15-3.45 p.m. Panel III: Mobilities: Slavery and Ritual in the Indian Ocean

Panel III chair: Jazmin Graves Eyssallenne

  • “African Saints and Interwoven Media: Performing the Black Histories of the Indian Ocean”, Neelima Jeychandran (Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar)
  • “Power, Patience, and Perseverance: Malik Ambar’s Practice of صَبْرٌ/Sabr”, Omar Ali (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
  • “Experiencing Enslavement and the Slave Trades of the Indian Ocean”, Pedro Machado (Indiana University)

3.45-4 p.m. Concluding Remarks and Future Projects

Download the event poster.

Image: A slave-market in the town of Zabid in Yemen, 1237 (tempera on vellum), Al-Wasiti, Yahya ibn Mahmud (13th Century)