Martha Solomons: The slave’s daughter and Countess of Stamford who made my life possible

by Karen Williams The question from the Pakistani government minister was not unfamiliar to me: “And what are you, are you a Zulu?” It was my early days in Islamabad and the official’s gentle ribbing was a common question. Yet this time, I was speechless. Floundering, I grasped at half-sentences, well aware that people around… Read More

The Indonesian anti-colonial roots of Islam in South Africa

by Karen Williams The 17th century history of Indonesia and its anti-colonial figures brought Islam into the cultural life of South Africa, particularly for poor non-Muslims who lived together with Muslim communities. Growing up, I had a belief that Islam was the religion of freedom, without knowing why this was such a core belief of… Read More

Slave narratives from Dutch colonisation in Indonesia

by Karen Williams In 1657, five years after the start of Dutch colonialism in South Africa, an indigenous1 man, Doman, was sent to the Dutch “prize colony” of Batavia, present-day Jakarta. The Dutch colonisers who had landed in South Africa wanted to acquaint him with Dutch culture as well as help him to improve his… Read More

Invasion and Resistance: Aboriginal and Maori fighters take up arms against the British

by Karen Williams While little attention is paid to black and Asian prisoners transported during the colonisation of Australia, there is even less information about local Aboriginal people and the neighbouring Maori fighters who were exiled to or within Australia. Their exile happened as part of their wider experiences of organised resistance against colonisation and… Read More

Blackbirding: a story of forced labour in Australia

by Karen Williams  Sugar production is synonymous with forced labour and enslavement in the Caribbean and the Americas, and it is often associated with a high degree of exploitation. The production of the crop in Australia and the Pacific was no exception: and although it is not widely acknowledged, Australia’s sugar industry came about because… Read More

A queer history: South Africa’s KhoiKhoi in Australia

by Karen Williams The last man executed for sodomy in Australia in 1863 was an indigenous black South African soldier. He was one of hundreds of mainly African and Asian indigenous and enslaved people transported from Africa’s south and its surrounding islands to the new settlement in New South Wales and Tasmania. Also in Australia… Read More

Australia: Five men of African descent who have been forgotten from its history

Africa- of African descent: This article has changed the term “black” to “of African descent” after readers brought it to our attention that indigenous Australians refer to themselves as “black” within Australia. The modification was made to accommodate that information and to more accurately reflect the specific realities of Australia. Editorial note: The easy temptation… Read More

The African and Asian roots of White Australia

by Karen Williams I found the story of the Africans and Asians in Australia’s history as a loose thread, buried in a throwaway sentence about an enslaved South African woman, Rachel of the Cape1, who had been sentenced to seven years’ banishment from South Africa. She was convicted in a theft case in August 1830,… Read More

Gandhi: “No Indian is a coolie by birth”

by Karen Williams The condition of being a ‘coolie’ found its greatest and most enduring expression in the movement that led to India’s independence and the spiritual-political leader most closely associated with it. If we want to trace the impact and meaning of being a ‘coolie’, look no further than the political evolution of a… Read More

Coolie: A History

by Karen Williams  Coolie connotes somebody who performs thankless, backbreaking physical labour. The word is often explained as being part of the indentured labour system that followed the abolition of slavery in the 1800s, particularly gaining popularity in the mid- to late-1800s. It is often almost exclusively used in relation to Asian labourers, especially Indian… Read More