060_Global12_InFocus_IndiainAfrica_V6

Global issue 12

In FocusIndia in Africa India’s hidden African communities Indians with African ancestry often go unrecognised but perhaps this is to be expected in a country with a population of 1.2 billion whose diversity is as wide as the Indian Ocean Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya Africans traders, sailors and missionaries Africans originating from various points of moved across the Indian Ocean of their the continent and finding new homes in dif- own free will for centuries. From the 13th ferent parts of India. Various legends and century, African traders operated from Jan- histories surround their arrival in India. jira, an island off the west coast of India, The majority of Sidis are hidden in the for- and from the 16th century Janjira became a ests or villages of India. Those in urban areas power base for Africans who ruled not one, are mistaken for tourists and foreigners until but two states in western India. In 1948, they begin to speak in the local languages. a year after independence, when India’s The presence of Sidis was brought to the fore princely states were incorporated into the when tourism was developed in the Gir for- new India, the states of Janjira and Sachin est (Gujarat). There are about 25,000 Sidis were ruled by Sidis – the name by which spread out in Gujarat. Given the importance Indians of African descent are generally of western India and the Malabar Coast in known today. the Indian Ocean trade, it is not surprising Elite Sidis still live in India, though they that Africans found their way to Gujarat, have intermarried and are not very numer- Maharashtra, Kerala and Goa. ous now. Some have been incorporated But there are Sidis in other parts of India into Indian history, but their Arabic names too. In the South Indian state of Karnata- do not reveal their ethnic identity. For ex- ka, there are about 25,000 Sidis. Slaves of ample, Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian sold to the Portuguese ran away from Goa to the slavery by his parents, became regent min- neighbouring states of Karnataka, Maha- ister of Ahmednagar in 1600. While Am- rashtra and Gujarat and formed marooned bar’s achievements are unsurpassed, he was communities. In another South Indian state, not the only Sidi who reached the corridors Malik Ambar rose from slavery to Regent Minister Andhra Pradesh, there are about 10,000 Si- of power. dis, many of whose ancestors were brought Elite military slavery paved the way for overthrew the ruler and gained supremacy. from Yemen by the Nizams (rulers) of Hy- Sidis to gain control and even establish But unlike in Gujarat, Sidi rule was short- derabad to form an African cavalry. After states that were subsequently ruled by a lived in Bengal, lasting only for seven India’s independence, these Sidis lost their succession of Sidis. Janjira was ruled by Si- years. important role within the power structure dis for 330 years (1618–1948) and no doubt but continued to live in Hyderabad. In the democratic system of electing lead- What really sets Sidis Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh), the Sidis are de- ity rather than on social rank and heredity apart from other and female bodyguards. African womenscendants of the Nawab’s African cavalry- ers based on merit, aptitude and capabil contributed to the longevity of African rule Indians are their artistic soldiers fought against the British during in Janjira. Sachin, which was established the Indian Mutiny in 1857. later, was ruled by Sidis for about 160 years traditions. Sidis blend into There are Sidis to be found all over In- (1791–1948). dia – in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and India’s diversity but their Eastern India was also ruled by Africans Tamil Nadu. for a short spell at the end of the 15th cen- music and dance signal a Being a heterogeneous group, they have tury (1487–1493). The rise to power was lost whatever African languages they spoke through their close association with the connection with Africa in the process of settling down. A few of ruling elite. These Africans were called the elderly can recall some Swahili. But as Habshis, denoting their association with There were several waves of African mi- many generations were born in India, most Al-Habash (Ethiopia).Habshis were palace grations to India, and the history of Sidis Sidis today speak the local languages –Gu- guards in the Bengal Sultanate and from is multilayered. Over the centuries, there jarati, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu, for their intimate position with the local elite, have been numerous pushes and pulls with example. 60 lwww.global-briefing.org fourth quarter 2012global


Global issue 12
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