Siddis are descendants of Africans from North-East and East Africa who were brought to India as slaves, soldiers or servants.
Indians have migrated to other parts of the globe several centuries ago. Sindhis from India have emigrated to Indonesia, Tamils to Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, Gujaratis to Madagascar and South Africa, Punjabis to Philippines, UK and Canada, and so on. Emigrations have been in the other direction too. For example, Parsis have come from Iran, Tibetans from Tibet and Gurkhas from Nepal.
In India, there are about 250 000 Afro-Indians, i.e. Indians of African origin, who have settled in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Goa. In Gujarat they are found in the districts of Ahmedabad, Junagadh and Bhavnagar. They are generally known as Sidi/Siddi/Sidhi or Habshi/Habsi. Mostly, they came from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia; they were Sunni Muslims, and they served in the courts of Muslim rulers. Some were brought as slave soldiers for India’s princely states.
This story is about the lesser known African community in India, specifically ‘Siddis’ in the Jambur village of Gujarat state.
The Siddis are Indians of African descent settled in Junagadh and other parts of Gujarat including Mumbai. Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of the native Indians, they have maintained their cultural identity and preserved their traditions. These include the Goma music and dance form called Dhamaal that is derived from the Ngoma drumming and dance forms of East Africa.
They worship a local saint, who died 800 years ago, known as Nagarchi Baba, or the Drum Master. Every evening, Jambur’s drum masters gather at the small mosque in the centre of the village and play before the shrine.
“Discover India with the power of 1 liter,” so goes the advertisement for Bajaj Discover scooter. In the following video, they discover Jambur and the Siddis, living 100 km away from Junagadh, a distance coverable with one liter of petrol.
Watch the following short videos that portray a snippet of Siddis’ lives.
The following is a clip of an old man playing the “Malunga”.