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 slave-soldiers for India's princely states. 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. They
are known as Sidis.
Although they came at first as slaves, they were so successful as fighters that they at times usurped
power from the rulers they were supposed to be serving. Most have lost touch with their roots, yet they are
now struggling at the margins of Indian society. "The Sidis 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 of the University of California, who is making a special study of Sidi culture. "That
was a process which began in the 12th century or before, and lasted until the late 19th century".
Some Sidis are keenly aware of their past, and a few remain in touch with relatives in Africa. But in the
western Indian state of Gujarat - where most Sidis live - the community has lost touch with its roots. The
village of Jambur, deep in the Gir forest, is one of two exclusively Sidi settlements. It is miserably poor. The
headman explains that yes, everyone in Jambur is a Sidi. Their forbears 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. The Sidi community is
very poor. This is what Professor Catlin, an ethno-musicologist, hopes to use to fill in the story of the Sidis.
"In Gujarat, affinities with African music include certain musical instruments and their names", she says,
"and also the performance of an African-derived musical genre called "goma". In the nearby town of
Junagadh, a smaller group of Sidis lives alongside the shrine of Bava Gor, an ancient Sufi Muslim holyman
who was himself of African descent. Their hold on their African past is a little more secure. They say they
know a few songs in an African language, but not their meaning. And their dance is more obviously African.
But again, their music, song and dance are the only links with their African past.
Amy Catlin believes that the Sidis of western India came from coastal and inland villages in east Africa which were raided by slave
traders. But that's far from certain. Indeed, one legend has it that the Sidis of inland Gujarat originally came
from Kano in northern Nigeria, and ended up in India after undertaking a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Music
may be the only key that can unlock their past.
Web Master's Note.
We here at Nigeria/Africa Masterweb, will do all that is within our reach to assist these lost Africans.
Please re-visit this page from time to time to check on programs that we may have launched to help them.
The Sidis are not to blame for their plight ; what else can one do in captivity in midst of overwhelming odds,
than going dancing? Let's Go Dancing
The Sidis are very poor.
Most have lost touch with their roots.
Music may provide a clue to their origin.
---------- ---------- ----------
Who are the Siddis of India ?
The Global African Presence
Slave Elites in the Middle East & Africa
Gujarat troupe returns to roots