In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hinduism in Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Background
  • Precolonial Contact between India and Africa
  • Colonial Period and Indians in Africa
  • Hinduism in Mauritius
  • Caste, Ethnicity, and Identity in Mauritius
  • Hindus and Hinduism in East Africa
  • Social Aspects of Indians in East Africa
  • Hindus and Hinduism in West Africa

Hinduism Hinduism in Africa
Pratap Penumala
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0287


Hinduism in Africa is not necessarily present in all the countries of the continent. The current bibliographical survey, therefore, covers the regions where Hindus and Hinduism are found. Specifically, this survey covers Mauritius, East Africa (primarily Kenya), West Africa (primarily Ghana), and South Africa. As is evident from the following survey, readers will have noticed that some sections are well resourced while others have fewer sources. This is due to the paucity of research publications available, which perhaps begs the point that scholarly attention to all parts of Africa has not been even. While East Africa, particularly Mauritius, and South Africa have received better scholarly attention, West Africa generally has been limited in this regard. This is due to, inter alia, the limited presence of Indian Hindus in that region. Additionally, scholars also need to know that in some parts of Africa (East Africa), the Indian population has decreased over the years due to political changes. With the exception of West Africa, Hinduism in the parts of Africa that are covered here is primarily dependent on the presence of Indian Hindus in those regions. In the case of East Africa, better attention from scholars has been noticed for Mauritius than for other East African countries on the mainland (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania). Also, in the case of Mauritius, it is also notable that the researcher pool is not limited to Hindus or Indian scholars, but has included European scholars. In the case of South Africa, the majority of scholarly interest seems to be from the Indian/Hindu scholars themselves, and surprisingly has not attracted many overseas researchers, be they from the Western countries or from the East. Possible reasons could be attributed to the political climate of South Africa—during the apartheid era, international scholarly attention was limited, and in the post-apartheid South African context, the growing political instability is largely the reason for a lack of international scholarly attention. These limitations need to be borne in mind in reading the following bibliography.

General Background

Early contacts dating back millennia between India and Africa are often discussed as a prelude to the colonial occupation of Africa from the early sixteenth century onward (Gupta 2016). The works in this section offer some insight into this background (Boivin, et al. 2013; Alpers 2018). Note that some scholars depart from the generally accepted historical documents, Hawkes and Wyne-Jones 2015 uses archeological methods to trace the relations between India and Africa.

  • Alpers, Edward A. “India and Africa.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Edited by David Ludden. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.013.26

    Alpers offers an overview of the contacts between India and Africa from the early periods going back some millennia. These contacts in the early period involved anonymous exchange of food, crops, and animals. Study extends to the post-independent East African states.

  • Boivin, Nicole, Alison Crowther, Richard Helm, and Dorian Q. Fuller. “East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean World.” Journal of World Prehistory 26.3 (September 2013): 213–281.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10963-013-9067-4

    Boivin and colleagues argue that the East African coast and Madagascar played a central role since the seventh century CE in the Indian Ocean world. They point out that by the second millennium BCE, Africa provided a wide range of plant crops, including sorghum and pearl millet, to the Indian subcontinent. Africa too had received a range of domesticated crops and animals from various regions of the Indian Ocean.

  • Chittick, Neville. “Indian Relations with East Africa before the Arrival of the Portuguese.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2 (1980): 117–127.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0035869X00136287

    Reviewing the periods before and during the Islamic era, as well as Portuguese sources, Chittick closely examines the archaeological evidence in the form of material objects, architecture, mining, and domesticated plants to establish the connections between the Indian subcontinent and East Africa. Despite these contacts, Indians were not seen as permanent settlers, but rather those who maintained their own ethnicity, language, and identity, and only in the nineteenth century were they found in greater numbers in Zanzibar.

  • Gupta, S. “Contact between East Africa and India in the First Millennium CE.” In Early Exchange between Africa and the Wider Indian Ocean World. Edited by G. Campbell. Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    Gupta focuses on the trade routes, and particularly examines the periods from the first to the eighth century, during which time there was said to be a surge in commercial activity between India and East Africa.

  • Hawkes, Jason D., and Stephanie Wynne-Jones. “India in Africa: Trade Goods and Connections of the Late First Millennium.” Afriques 6 (2015).

    DOI: 10.4000/afriques.1752

    Hawkes and Wynne-Jones, departing from the conventional treatment of the early period of contact between India and Africa in terms of trade through the Persian Gulf and the Arab merchants, focus on archaeological method and identify connections using material objects found on the East Coast of Africa. The primary aim of the paper is to reinforce the archaeological approach to see the bigger picture.

  • Homburger, L. “Indians in Africa.” Man 56 (1956): 18–21.

    DOI: 10.2307/2794039

    In his brief article, Homburger uses linguistic methods to make connections between Dravidian languages in South India and the African languages, and argues that the Indians knew more about the Nile and East Africa than Europeans at that early period.

  • McLaughlin, Raoul. Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China. London: Continuum, 2010.

    McLaughlin discusses the routine sailings of Roman ships to the Tamil country in India and East African countries of Ethiopia and Somalia, and points out that Egypt served as an important contact between India and Africa. He suggests that some Roman vessels sailed along the coast of Somalia to reach African markets as far as Cape Guardafui.

  • Prasad, Guntupalli V. R., Omkar Verma, Emmanuel Gheerbrant, et al. “First Mammal Evidence from the Late Cretaceous of India for Biotic Dispersal between India and Africa at the KT Transition.” Comptes Rendus Palevol 9 (2010): 63–71.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2009.12.003

    Based on the study of eutherian mammals of the ancient times, Prasad and colleagues provide compelling evidence of terrestrial fossil dispersals between India and Africa. They suggest that such dispersal would have involved some contact between East Africa and India.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.