ARI Working Paper Series
WPS 253 Layered Cities, Shared Histories: Migrants, Gold and Urban Imaginaries in Dubai and Malabar
Publisher : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Publication Date : Aug / 2016
Author/Speaker: Nisha Mary MATHEW
Keywords : Urbanisation, gold, Dubai, Malabar, Asian maritime trade

Arabia and the Persian Gulf have been part of the social and cultural imaginary of Malabar and vice-versa for centuries. As key regions in the westernmost circuit of the Asian maritime trade linking the Mediterranean in the west with as far as China in the east, they have had a shared history of urbanisation as much as of Islam and its tradition of the hajj since the 8th century. Cities such as Jeddah, Aden, Muscat, Quilon and Calicut rose and fell over the centuries that followed as trade routes and the mercantile networks defining them adapted and changed contours in the face of historical and political exigencies. Many of these mercantile and urban connections, however, began to suffer a setback by the 18th century, almost dying out completely from the historical consciousness of scholars and others alike. The paper investigating the trajectories of 21st century urbanisation in Dubai in the Persian Gulf, and Malabar, or more broadly Kerala in southwestern India, shows how the two regions on either side of the Arabian Sea continue to be implicated in many of the historic connections that shaped their societies as part of the Asian maritime trade network. It argues for urbanisation as a complementary and contiguous process across the two geographies and explains why it is impossible to think of Dubai as a global megalopolis without due consideration of how Malabar feeds into and draws from it. Gold, like pepper in ancient and medieval times, is the epic commodity that lies at the heart of this urbanisation and the social and cultural connective that defines its spatial imagination.