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  • Africans in India

    by Sunny
    30th September, 2006 at 8:36 pm    

    One hardly hears the hyphenated identity African-Indians, but the BBC website has this picture gallery with some interesting tidbits. [hat tip Mirax]


    The African-Indians are called Sidis. One of the strongest remaining links they have to their roots is the damaal or drum. Otherwise Sidi culture is not significantly different to that of other poor, rural Indians

    Like most Sidis, the people of Jambur are Sufi Muslims, who believe God is worshipped through song and dance. Anthropologists believe the dancers’ ecstatic performances are a combination of traditional African worship and Indian Sufi practices.

    That India is incredibly diverse goes without saying. Is it tolerant? I think people are willing to live and let live but there is much less intermingling, which has much to do with caste stratification and little geographic mobility. But there is less fear of the unknown, I would venture, because people are used to difference in belief and lifestyle. Anyway. Long live multiple identities!

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    Filed in: Culture,India

    15 Comments below   |  

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    1. Vikrant Singh — on 30th September, 2006 at 8:41 pm  


      Theres one Siddhi community i know which is just 35 miles from Alibaug. They used to rule considerable domains on Maharashtra’s Konkan coast. The Siddhi kingdom of Janjira lasted till 1948…

    2. Yakoub/Julaybib — on 30th September, 2006 at 9:30 pm  

      My best mate at aged 9-16 was the other way round - an Indian born in Africa, or a Goan born in Kenya to be precise, arriving in the UK aged 2. And despite being the only Goan from Kenya at school, he is now married to a Goan from Kenya. It’s a big world.

    3. Kiran — on 30th September, 2006 at 9:39 pm  

      Its amazing the reaction I get from alot of British, as am an Indian from Kenya and when I tell them that, they think am joking coz they think there are only africans there!!

    4. raz — on 30th September, 2006 at 10:14 pm  

      There are lots of these guys in Pakistan as well, around Karachi.

    5. Gracchi — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:00 am  

      Good post. I think Amyarta Sen says it all on Indian toleration- that its been around in India at least since the Mughal Empire if not before. I’m a white historian of 17th Century England and recently read Muzzaffar Allam’s book on toleration in Islam in India 1200-1700, reading that and then turning to the documents I read which are supposed to be the foundation of toleration, I found remarkable simularities. Simularities so far as to say that what was happening here and in India was (though completely disconnected) very similar.

    6. Nyrone — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:44 am  

      Hey Sunny, I mentioned this to you ages ago. Did you ever get my email about this 6 months ago when I was in India? I hope you did! I was at a workshop for Tribal Advocacy in Tamil Nadu when I leant about this, I’m still intent on doing a documentary about them one day and I have various contact details of the only real group really going to great lengths to help these people (christian missionaries)

      I’ll include a bit of the email below…

      ….I unexpectedley came face to face a brilliant topic that I feel not too many people know about. I have been attending a national conference on tribal communities. (I’ll include a short report) and I
      met one group of tribal people that I was amazed by: The Siddi Tribe, who were completely African and spoke fluent Hindi. 400 years ago the portugese brought them to Goa to use as slaves and after the second world war after they went back home, leaving the slaves in the forest.
      Now there are 20,000 living in the forests. They have no rights and are sneered upon by most. They were only officially recognised by the goverment 5 years ago. It’s really tragic, they are struggling to get
      educational facilities and clean water. I asked them if they wanted to go back to Africa and they said “What for? We are Indian” Precisely…

    7. Nyrone — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:58 am  

      I remember feeling very angry at the way the tribe was ostracized by the succesive goverments for so long. They really did seem to have shit-all rights as people and it just felt like all the other indians simply percevied them in the same way they viewed dalits.

      The couple I spoke to (who spoke very good hindi) were very humble and gracious, but they seemed very dejected about their situation. I remember the man telling me that for all the people in the area he was in, there were no hospitals or medical facilities at all and that he worried about the welfare of his daughter.

      God-damn stupid Indian goverment would rather shove this under the carpet and continue buying ‘defense materials’ than give these people back their dignity and rights as National Indians. The main thing I learnt from talking with him was that the goverments had tried their very best to exclude the Siddi tribes from India, because they were completely ashamed of them. I wonder how that makes them feel…..

    8. Sahil — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:17 pm  

      I had watched a documentry on the Onge in the Nicobar Islands, but couldn’t find the link, but a google search came up with something interesting:

      It’s quite amazing, and I believe very different from the history of Africans in India, who came via Slavery.

    9. sunray — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:18 pm  

      Other NEWS of lost tribes in India

      A group of 218 people from a mountainous area of north-eastern India are about to be welcomed in Israel. These are the presumed descendents of the Bnei Menashe tribe, one of the 10 lost biblical tribes lost after the exodus from the Promised Land, mentioned in the Bible. The news was confirmed yesterday by Israeli government sources.

      Michael Freund, founder of Shavei Israel [an association assisting "lost Jews" to return to Israel], described this as a “turning point”. He said: “This is a major historical event, because these members of a lost tribe of Israel can return home after 27 centuries.”

    10. Katy Newton — on 1st October, 2006 at 1:34 pm  

      There are many groups in Africa, India, Japan and China who can trace their lineage back to one of the lost tribes of Israel, and many of them practise or until recently practised customs that can be linked to ancient Jewish tradition even though they have since embraced other religions.

    11. justforfun — on 1st October, 2006 at 4:24 pm  

      Sahil - this link gives alot of the hoistory of the Andamans and the Nicobar Islands

      It appears they are the last direct link with a migration out Africa at the end of the last major ice age 30,000 years ago, when sea levels were much lower and it was easier to travel along coasts and out to these islands. In this way skills learnt in one habitat could be still used during the migration, as one generation after another leap-frogged along the seashore.

      Since then of course their trace on the Asian mainlands has been grubbed out by later waves of migration.

      I have been looking for the religious practices of the Zanskar Valley which was opened up in the early 70′s. Its the valley right next door to the Vale of Kashmir, but cut off during the summer by the Zanskar river flowing out the only pass, and entry was only pssible in winter when the river was iced over. In this way it has remained cut off for centuries.

      I recall it was noted by French anthropologists who studied the people here that they had Jewish customs. I have search for links but can’t find anything, but my mind may be playing tricks on me because it was 20 years ago when I think I read this.


    12. Jagdeep — on 1st October, 2006 at 7:20 pm  

      Interesting stuff. I think I read somewhere once something about the Mughals having African servants/slaves in Delhi and Lahore, also as eunuchs in their harems.

    13. Vikrant Singh — on 1st October, 2006 at 7:35 pm  

      Interesting stuff. I think I read somewhere once something about the Mughals having African servants/slaves in Delhi and Lahore, also as eunuchs in their harems.

      Yeah, Razia Sultana’s ‘boyfriend’ was an African Slave… There also this Siddhi dynasty that ruled areas aorund Mumbai before Marathas came in and whipped their asses.

    14. funkg — on 3rd October, 2006 at 3:39 pm  

      Thank you very much for all of the interesting post, as a british carribean and frequent visitor to india this is a topic of great interest to me.

    15. Jai — on 3rd October, 2006 at 3:46 pm  

      Razia Sultana was not a Mughal (they came later), but yes Vikrant is right about her ‘boyfriend’ being of African origin.

      As played by, ahem, Dharmendra in the 80s movie.

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