Who are the Siddis of India ?

 

TGF

The original people of India are the Negrito tribes-people who are found in the hills and interiors of India. They are, in effect, the Aborigines of the Indian subcontinent.

All others, including the Dravidians, Aryans, Huns, Greeks,  Moghals, Arabs, British, Portuguese, French and the Siddis (Sidis)  immigrated to the Indian subcontinent.

 

The Siddis are not part of the original Negritos of India. They are descendants of Africans from North-East  and East Africa who were brought to India as slaves, soldiers or servants. These Siddis were mostly transported by boats.

Long before the first slave ships started supplying labour to the cotton plantations of the American-south, and many centuries before the first Africans were brought ashore to the sugar estates of Brazil and the Caribbean, Africans were being sold as slaves,  by the Muslim Arab traders from the Eastern seaboard of Africa to Hindu Indian princes on  the West Coast and Central India.  A significant portion of this African Siddi slave trade took place centuries before the Portuguese, British, French and Dutch colonised parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Some of the Siddis (Sheedis)  migrated via land; in the opposite direction of the Spice trail and settled in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gujarat.

It then appears that there were five sets of  Siddi transfers or migrations from East Africa to India.

1.  As slaves sold by  Muslim Arab tradesmen to Hindu South Indian princes

2. As slave/soldiers sold by Muslim Arab tradesmen to Hindu Central, Western and  Eastern Indian princes (habshis)

3.  As slaves sold by  Muslim Arab tradesmen to Catholic Portuguese sea farers who then transported them to Goa (siddis) and other Portuguese possessions on the west Coast of India, and to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) (kaffirs)

4.  Those who migrated and settled in areas along the NW Frontier of the Indian subcontinent (now Pakistan) (sheedes)

5. Those who settled further south of the NW frontier in the Indian State of Gujarat (siddis)

 "The Siddis are descendants of African slaves, sailors and servants, and merchants who remained in India after arriving through the sea trade with East Africa and the Gulf," says Amy Catlin,  an ethno-musicologist from the University of California, who is making a special study of Siddi culture. "That was a process which began in the 12th century or before, and lasted until the late 19th century".

Although most of the Siddis were brought as slaves and slave soldiers, some were so successful as fighters that they managed to usurp power from the rulers they were supposed to be serving.

Their descendants are the least visible part of the huge African diaspora. But today in India, almost lost among the mosaic of different cultures and communities in that country, are tens of thousands of people of African descent  [nigeriamasterweb] . Having lost with their roots, most of them are now struggling at the margins of Indian society.

Most Siddis -- estimated to number between 20,000 and 30,000 in a nation of  over a billion people -- live in the western Indian State of Gujarat. Smaller populations are found in neighboring Maharashtra and two southern states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The village of Jambur, Gujarat, deep in the Gir forest, is the site for one of two exclusively Siddi settlements. It is miserably poor. The headman explains that yes, everyone in Jambur is a Siddi. They speak the same Gujarati language and eat the same flavorful food as other villagers, but nevertheless stand out from their neighbors.

The Siddis of Karnataka speak Konkani, the official language of Goa - indicating their Goan ( and hence Portuguese) connection.

Their forebears came from Africa. But they have lost any knowledge of African languages, and don't know where exactly their ancestors came from or why they settled in India. The only remnant they retain of their African lineage is their music and dance. "In Gujarat, affinities with African music include certain musical instruments and their names" adds  Professor Catlin.

Up the coast and across the border in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, a similarly distinct group called Sheedis live jammed together down a narrow lane behind a blue metal gate. They stage spirited donkey cart races on weekends. Pakistan's Sheedis originally settled in desert areas of Baluchistan, where they were brought centuries ago by Arab traders and primarily speak Baluchi, the language of a neighbouring coastal province. Some Sheedis still live there, in the Makran region, and a similar group lives in the southern part of neighboring Iran.

Off the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent in Sri Lanka, a group known as kaffirs live simply in thatch-roofed houses set among palm trees on the western coast, integrated with other Sri Lankans but noticeably different.

The Siddis, Sheedis and kaffirs don't know about each other, and only a few of their educated countrymen know who they are or where they came from. But even in a part of the world where most people have dark skin, these South Asian Africans stand out.

The Siddis, Sheedis and Kaffirs are among the lost tribes of Africa.

In addition to physical features -- some Sri Lankan kaffirs wear braids or Afro hairstyles and have retained remnants of their African heritage in dance, music & speech.  In Sri Lanka, the several hundred kaffirs live among the palm trees around Puttalam on the northwest coast and near the eastern city of Batticaloa. Most  of them are Catholics; "kaffir" is an Arabic word that denotes someone who is not a Muslim. These Kaffirs perform African songs in a creolized Portuguese.

Portuguese seafarers carried the first kaffirs to what was then Ceylon in the 1500s, most likely from Mozambique. Later, British colonists brought others to fight against Ceylonese armies in "kaffir regiments."

"They have their own culture. They are recognized as Africans," said Vijay Gupta, a retired professor of African studies, referring to the Siddis.
[ Within South Asia - a touch of Africa : Kenneth J. Cooper, Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, April 12, 1999; Page A16 ]

A number of Africans (Ethiopians aka Abyssinians aka  Habshis) who  were enslaved and taken to India in medieval and post-medieval times eventually rose to positions of power and influence in the 16th century e.g.  Shams ud-Dawlah Muhammad al-Habshi, Bilal Habshi, Said Safar Salami and Shaik Said al-Habshi Sultani (perhaps best remembered as the builder of a famous mosque, known by his name, in Ahmedabad)

Numerous Habshis were meanwhile employed as sailors in Indian waters. The Dutchman Linschoten recalls that besides Arabs there were also "Abexiins" serving as sailors around India, where they were replacing the Portuguese, who considered such work incompatible with their prestige.

 "These Abexiins and Arabians, such as are free", he declares, "do serve in all India for Saylers and sea faring men, with such merchants as sail from Goa to China, Japan, Bengala, Mallaca, Ormus, and all the Oriental coast... These Abexiins and Arabians serve for small money, and being hired are very lowly (and subject), so that often times they are (beaten and) smitten, not as slaves, but like dogs, which they bear very patiently, not (once) speaking a word" (Addis Tribune).

Here are some of the Indian attitudes towards the Siddis:

1) Many did not know they even existed,

2) those who had heard something of them connected them to various government schemes to recruit Siddis for national and international sports competitions since “they are natural athletes” having lived in the forests of Gujarat and Karnataka and “had natural talent at running and jumping” since they are “nature” people

 3) others who had seen or had interactions with Siddis had the opinion that they could not be trusted - Kiran Prasad (1984:33) records the common saying Siddi ka bara buddhi, meaning “a Siddi cannot be trusted or relied upon because he changes his mind with every suggestion coming from different people”

4) Many higher caste Indians of lighter “fair” complexion see them as inferior and on a level with the lowest castes and Dalits (untouchables)

 5) they are considered “lazy and carefree” in that they are “not bothered to work if they have some cash in hand” and “they do not worry about their future” (Prasad 1984:34). In the Rajkot district of Gujarat, they are called “Siddi Badshah, to indicate their simple carefree disposition” (Prasad 1984:73)

6) others in Gujarat consider them “low, filthy, and quarrelsome” (cf. Siddis of Gujarat: 35).

In sum, the racist, casteist, and religious prejudices of some Indians have worked to denigrate, marginalize, and victimize the Siddis.

In response to such attitudes and actions, Siddis have taken various actions to avoid, counter or confront them.

One of the most obvious is their effort to distance themselves from the larger society by establishing independent communities in the most remote areas - first in order to escape re-capture, and then to establish their own cultural systems as much as possible. This may have been possible to do in the early periods (16th-18th centuries), but by the 19th and 20th centuries, this has become increasingly difficult due to population pressures and government policies and programs concerning the forests that have been their refuge.

A special ultra-jaundiced but highly convenient attitude among some Goan "journalists": The problems of the Siddis are exclusively, utterly and absolutely as a result of Portuguese prejudice.

Oh IGNORAMUS!

Wonder if these alleged journalists would mind reading history?

A reading of history would reveal that Indian society is highly prejudiced against individuals of African descent.

By jove! the entire social structure is based on the Colour based Caste System!.  Where do you believe the poor black Siddis figure in this 'divinely decreed' Apartheid of India?

 

Summary:

1. The Siddis are the Africans of India. Only 20-30 thousand of them are known to exist at this time.

2. The vast majority are descendants of African slaves  who were sold by Arab Muslim slave traders to Hindu Indian princes.  Some traveled of their own accord in search of food and opportunity.

3. While some fought as soldiers and came to prominence in the 16th century, the vast majority were fully marginalized during the reign of the Moghal Emperor of India, Akbar.  They have remained on the fringes of society ever since courtesy the Bigotry ingrained in India by the Varna (colour) based Case System of India.

4. While a few Siddis are know for their sporting exploits, the vast majority barely manage exist on the outer fringes on Indian society.

 

[The convenient anti-Portuguese prejudice of  some spineless nameless Goa journalists , we name as "Raul"!]

The Great Goan Siddi Controversy  1 & 2

 

India's Caste System: the world's first system of Apartheid [read]

 

TGF August 15, 2002

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