Journal article

Elusive Traces: Baobabs and the African Diaspora in South Asia

Haripriya Rangan, Karen L Bell

Environment and History | White Horse Press | Published : 2015


The history of botanical exchanges between Africa and the Indian subcontinent reaches back in time over 5,000 years. Recent advances in archaeobotany have revealed these connections through evidence of food crops of African origin found at various archaeological sites in the subcontinent. However, little is known about the people that brought the crops to these places and other parts of the Indian Ocean world. This is also the case with other plants from Africa such as the charismatic baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.) that appears to have had a longstanding presence in South Asia. Most scholarly accounts assume that 'Arab traders' were responsible for introducing baobabs to this region but..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Australian Research Council

Funding Acknowledgements

The research for the paper was funded by the Australian Research Council (DP1093100) for the project, 'Enigma of Arrival: Movements of the Baobab and Mimosa bush across the Indian Ocean into pre-British Australia'. Fieldwork in Mauritius and Reunion was carried out by Haripriya Rangan and Christian Kull; and also in Mozambique and Tanzania with assistance from Rofino Mavinze and Ernest Aggrey. Fieldwork in India was carried out by Haripriya Rangan with assistance from Harini Ranjan, S.S. Ranjan, and Babloo Gurjer. Samples from southern Africa and Kenya were kindly donated by Jack Pettigrew and from Penang by Janet Perkins. All samples and voucher specimens are lodged in the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens. Karen Bell conducted the genetic analysis with assistance from Dan Murphy. The authors are grateful to Kara Rasmanis for preparing the maps and diagram, Pat Lowe and Christian Kull for perceptive and constructive advice; and to Dan Murphy, David Baum and the reviewers for their useful comments for strengthening the paper.