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Siddi: The African Indians

Portuguese also added to the Siddi population by bringing slaves.

 

The Siddi or popularly known as Habshi is an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan. The current population of Siddi can be put around 50k-60k in areas of Hyderabad, Karnataka and Karnataka. Members of this tribe are the decedents of Bantu tribe of Africa. Most of the Siddi people is believed to have come during the Arab expeditions in the sub-continent as Slaves, Merchants and soldiers. Portuguese also added to the Siddi population by bringing slaves.

Most of the Siddi are Sufi Muslims while some of them are Christians and remaining Hindus. Although they still look African, Siddis have completely and wonderfully assimilated Indian culture, traditions and language. They are Indian citizens but often the rest of India has a hard time believing they are so.

 

 

Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka and Daman and Diu recognizes Sidis as Schedule tribe which hardly puts an end to their economic strifes. The tribesmen work as truck drivers, in fields as well as tourist guides to meet their ends. Siddi were known as Habshi earlier and some of them who rose to power were titled as “Siddi” a possible etymon from the Arabic word for master, Sayed/Sayyid. Slowly the “Habshi” disappeared and “Siddi” came to be known.

Siddi in India are mainly confined to Guajrat, Hyderabad and Karnataka. Siddi in Gujarat were brought from Portuguese colonies for the Nawab of Junagadh. About 100 kms far from Junagadh, they live around Gir  Forest National Park and Wildlife sanctuary. However there is a rather more interesting story about Siddi of Gujarat that according to a legend, some 300 years ago, Nawab of Junagadh visited Africa and fell in love with an African woman. The woman brought with her 100 African slaves and thus came Siddi in Gujarat.

Siddi in Karnataka live around  Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada and in Khanapur of Belgaum and Kalaghatagi of Dharwad district. Most of the siddi in Karnataka have made their way to Pakistan after Independence and live in Karachi, Pakistan. 1/3 of Siddi population lives in Karnataka and most of them are Catholics.

It has been reported that these Siddis believe that Barack Obama shares their genepool and that they wanted to gift a bottle of honey to him on his visit to India in 2010. In 18th century, Siddis in Hyderabad served as  cavalry guards of the Asif Jahi Nizam of Hyderabad irregular army who patronized their music and helped them to rise to prominence.

Whatever might have been the case, they are afro by origin and Indian by heart. Though some of the culture of Siddi in Gujarat has vanished with time, they have been able to preserve few strands of it. “Goma” is music and dance form is unique and real Afro.

The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and traditional dance forms of Bantu East Africa. The Goma also has a spiritual significance and, at the climax of the dance, some dancers are believed to be vehicles for the presence of Siddi saints of the past. They take pride in their origin and when nothing reaps fortune, the African dance and music entertains the tourists.

Karnataka

In the 1980s, spearheaded by the then sports minister Margaret Alva, the Sports Authority of India started an athletic program for the Africans, whom they saw as medal-winning hopefuls. However, bogged down in administrative failures and secrecy, the ambitious plan crumbled before it could soar high. The collateral, however, was that for the first time ever, Siddis from across the country met, learnt of each others existence and their shared ancestry. Largely working as farmers and manual laborers, Siddis lack sustainable work opportunities. And due to their poverty, education cannot be a top priority either. Sport is one of the few options that can offer them an escape.

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