There are quite a few famous cases of Africans who traveled to Asia (voluntarily or involuntarily) prior to 1700s such as Malik Ambar (India), Yasuke (Japan), and Ibn_Battuta (India, Sri Lanka, China, and more). In the other direction, Admiral Zheng He made voyages to East Africa in the 1400s, even bringing back a giraffe to China. Even more dramatically, Austronesians (originally from Taiwan) at some point made the journey from Borneo to Madagascar circa 500 A.D.

I'm curious about a few related questions:

  1. What is the earliest supported example of an African traveling to Southeast/East Asia (documented by contemporaries or shortly after)? Earliest voluntary example?

  2. What are some other notable examples of African individuals in Southeast/East Asia prior to the 1700s?

  3. Did any Africans voyage with Zheng He's fleet back to China?

  • 5
    Ibn Battuta is most likely the earliest example we're going to have that has a definite name associated with it. However, there was sea trade going on between the Somali area in Africa and South Asia as far back as the written record, and likely earlier.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 5, 2020 at 2:16
  • Minor detail, but the Austronesian contact with Madagascar came much later and (as the map shows) was by way of Borneo, not direct from Taiwan. theconversation.com/…
    – Brian Z
    Sep 6, 2020 at 13:50
  • 1
    @T.E.D. I agree Ibn Battuta is probably the first named example. However, due to the Indian Ocean trade links you mention, I sometimes wonder if any Africans made it to Southeast/East Asia and left behind graves that hint to African origin pre-Ibn Battuta. Sep 6, 2020 at 21:34
  • @Brian Z Good point. I made an update to reflect that. Sep 6, 2020 at 21:34
  • 3
    Er...? About 70,000 years ago? We are all Africans.
    – Zeus
    Sep 11, 2020 at 8:24


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.