The Siddis: Africa’s Forgotten Community in India

The Siddis are a group of ethnic Bantus from the Great Lakes region in Africa, and who currently reside in India and Pakistan. They are said to have arrived in India around 628 AD, first as fierce mercenaries and soldiers of Arab Islamic Mughal Empire, and later a large number were brought as slaves. There are a couple of theories on the origins of the name Siddi. It could  stem from Sahibi, an Arabic term referring to North Africa, while another claim is that it originates from the captains of the Arab vessels that first brought Siddi settlers to India, who were known as Sayyid. There are currently an estimated 50-60,000 Siddis in the Indian subcontinent.

After slavery was abolished around the 18th century, most freed Siddis fled into the countryside and jungles, fearing recapture and torture. Although frequently marginalized in present day India and Pakistan, the Siddis have deeply contributed to the culture of the two countries. For instance, the famous Sidi Sayeed mosque in Ahmedabad, Pakistan, famous for its carved windows, architectural finesses and a defining symbol of the city, was built by Sidi Saiyyid – an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) who hailed from Yemen. Additionally, the Murud-Janjira Fort in Mumbai, considered one of the strongest marine forts in India, was built in 1573 by Malik Ambar, an Abyssinian Prime Minister under the Ahmadnagar Sultanate. 

Additionally, the Siddis retained some of their African traditions through dance and music, which also heavily featured in their spirituality. For example, they spread Goma dance and music, which is believed to be derived from drumming and traditional dance practice of the Bantu people of Central, East and Southern Africa. The name Goma is a derivation of the Swahili world “Ngoma”, which means drums.

By Edel Were

(Photo: Awaaz Nation)

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