Robert Dick-Read’s 2006 study

Robert Dick-Read’s 2006 study, “Indonesia and Africa: questioning the origins of some of Africa’s most famous icons,” challenges conventional historical narratives by highlighting the profound connections between Indonesia and Africa. The study is significant for its exploration of previously underappreciated interactions that shaped the cultural and historical landscapes of both regions. Here are the key points and summaries from Dick-Read’s work:

  1. Extensive Historical Gaps: Dick-Read identifies significant gaps in the study of Africa’s history, particularly the role of Indonesian (Insular Southeast Asian) involvement in East, Central, and West Africa, the connections between Madagascar and the African mainland, and the Indonesian interest in Africa’s resources.
  2. Early Indonesian Trading: The study suggests that Indonesians might have started regular trading with Africa as early as several centuries BCE, motivated by the demand for oriental spices in Greek and Roman markets. This trade led to cultural and genetic exchanges, underpinning the Afro/Indonesian connection.
  3. Afro/Indonesian Race and Cultural Links: Dick-Read proposes that the East African ‘Zanj’ were part of an Afro/Indonesian race linked with the people of ‘Zabag’—referring to regions like Sumatra and Java. This connection was strengthened through the maritime kingdom of Srivijaya, which showed extensive interest in Africa’s natural resources.
  4. Madagascar’s Role: While Madagascar was of secondary importance compared to the African mainland for Indonesians, it served as a bridge for continuous contact and cultural exchanges between the island and mainland Africa, particularly affecting the Mozambique-Zimbabwe region.
  5. Influence on Zimbabwe Culture: The paper posits that the ancient Zimbabwe culture and the Nyanga ruins were influenced by these cross-channel associations, which were later overshadowed by Arab-Shirazi colonization along the East African coast.
  6. Indonesian Presence in West Africa: Dick-Read presents evidence that Indonesians navigated around the Cape to West Africa, impacting Nigerian culture. Technologies and cultural practices, such as the famous ‘bronze’ artwork of Nigeria, are argued to have Indonesian origins rather than being a result of trans-Saharan trade or East-West overland movements.
  7. Revising Historical Narratives: The study calls for a revision of historical narratives to include the significant Indonesian influence on African cultures and societies. This includes re-evaluating the origins of cultural icons and practices traditionally attributed solely to local or nearby influences.

Dick-Read’s research is groundbreaking in its presentation of a more interconnected pre-modern world, suggesting that maritime trading networks and cultural exchanges between Indonesia and Africa were more significant than previously acknowledged. This work encourages further exploration and recognition of the historical ties between these regions, contributing to a richer, more nuanced understanding of global history.