The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Lascar sailors and the bureaucratic forms of Empire: Habiboola Ahamdeen (1920)

Lascar sailors and the bureaucratic forms of Empire: Habiboola Ahamdeen (1920)

I *think* this photograph and fingerprint are taken from the seaman’s papers of the Serang (or bosun) Habiboola Ahamdeen, one of countless “Lascars” who served in Britain’s Merchant Navy. Stamped in Bombay in April 1920, the papers point backwards to the violent race riots in British ports in 1919 and forward to the hardening of attitudes and the growing intolerance of the British state that besmirched the 1920s. This would crystallize as the Coloured Alien Seaman’s Order of 1926 — what Laura Tabili has described as the “first instance of state-sanctioned racism” in modern Britain. If Habiboola Ahamdeen had been unable to prove his status as a British citizen, he would have struggled to find work on ship.

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