In Gujarat, they inhabit the area around the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Junagadh district, where extinguishing African traditions and a nearly extinct race of Asiatic lions dwell almost side by side…The Siddis of Karnataka believe that Barack Obama comes from their gene pool, which is why they wanted to gift him a bottle of honey during his Indian itinerary in 2010.

 

The Siddis, an ethnic group of people of African origin, have been living in India (and Pakistan) for many centuries, without the knowledge of most of its citizens. They descended from the Bantu peoples of South East Africa, who came to South Asia as indentured labourers, merchants, sailors, slaves and mercenaries. They are also referred to as Habshis–a word derived from the common names of the captains of the Abyssinian ships in which the Siddis arrived in the Indian subcontinent. ‘Habshi‘ is also the Persian word for ‘Abyssinian.’

The Siddis first came to India in 628 AD. Others followed as Arab slaves and soldiers during the Islamic invasions of India in the 8th century, part of Muhammad bin Qasim’s army (who were then known as Zanjis). Later more of them were brought to the subcontinent as colonial slaves by the Portuguese and the British East India Companies.

Although ‘Siddi implies sahib, syed or master–and used to refer to those of the Bantu origin who were promoted to the ranks of royal servants or caretakers–today it is used to denote all communities of African descent living in India.

According to a recent report in the BBC, about 20000 of the Siddis are still living in India. “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,” writes Neelima Vallangi.

The Siddis are concentrated in small centers of Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Hyderabad. They are originally Sufi Muslims, but many of them have become Hindus or Roman Catholics.

In Gujarat, they inhabit the area around the Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Junagadh district, where extinguishing African traditions and a nearly extinct race of Asiatic lions dwell almost side by side. The Siddis came to Gujarat as Portuguese slaves presented to the Nawab of Junagadh, about 300 years ago. In Karnataka, they have been living for 400 years around the taluks of Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod and Sirsi. The Siddis of Karnataka believe that Barack Obama comes from their gene pool, which is why they wanted to gift him a bottle of honey during his Indian itinerary in 2010. Siddis have also been living in Hyderabad for the last 200 years.

 

Coldnoon Bureau

Coldnoon Bureau

Coldnoon (International Journal of Travel Writing & Travelling Cultures) is one of the largest online literary magazines published from Asia. It has published authors from all over the world, largely from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, among others.

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