Three Middle Eastern migrants by a contruction site

Middle Eastern and South Asian migrants in the colonial Philippines

Wednesday 9th March 2016; 2.00 - 4.00pm; Room B.13, 32 Lincoln’s Inn Field (32L)
Speaker: Prof William Clarence-Smith; Chair: Dr Kirsten Schulze

Middle Eastern and South Asian migrants contributed significantly to the history of the colonial Philippines, chiefly coming to profit from a frontier of economic opportunity. Armenians were the early modern trail-blazers. However, they had almost disappeared from the archipelago from around 1800, perhaps because of the ending of the galleon trade with Mexico. The first known ‘Otomano’ arrived in 1869, and the ‘Syrians’, as they called themselves, grew in numbers from the 1880s. The immigration of Muslim Hadharim, from what is today eastern Yemen, was less visible. Neither the Spaniards nor the Americans wanted these people to settle, given their alleged propensity to encourage ‘fanaticism’ among the Muslim Moros. Nevertheless, they were present from early times in the south, and slowly developed in symbiosis with the Moros.

Middle Easterners typically began as frugal and hard-working peddlers, gradually working their way up to own rural stores, bazaars, department stores, and import-export wholesaling companies. They became prominent in the professions, real estate, transport, utilities, and entertainment, and to a lesser extent in agriculture and mining. They pioneered the proto-industrial manufacture of embroidery for export, and gradually moved into manufacturing. Some ‘Syrians’ worked for the US colonial administration after 1898, but this stopped during the First World War.

South Asians came with the liberalization of trade in the 19th century, benefiting from the umbrella of British power. Initially, these were ‘Bombays’ from Gujarat, both Hindu and Muslim, who came in small numbers. The Muslims among them eventually founded the first Muslim associations in Manila. From about the 1870s, the term ‘Bombays’ began to include Sindi Lohana Hindus from Hyderabad, in what is today Pakistan, who were part of a successful global diaspora, selling curios and Japanese silks. They quickly became the wealthiest South Asians in the territory, and have remained so to this day. Under American rule, they were joined by Punjabi Sikhs, in whose gurdwara they sometimes worshipped, but Sikhs were generally poorer, acting as chauffeurs, watchmen, and the like.



William Gervase Clarence-Smith is Professor of the Economic History of Asia and Africa, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.



Kirsten Schulze is Deputy Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre and Associate Professor in International History at LSE.