Friday, 30 March 2012

Gujrati Africans: Lost in Maze of Legends

India plays a host to numerous tribal cuture. One of its vibrant state Gujarat has nourished a very unusual tribal community “Siddi”. Siddi Tribe- an African tribe that is settled in the nearby town of Junagadh. The quaint village of Sirvan is inhabited entirely by Siddis who were supposedly brought here as slaves 300 years ago from Africa, by the Portuguese for the Nawab of Junagadh. , Siddi Tribe of Gujrat is also reckoned as the lost tribe of Africa.

Siddi Tribe
Woman of Siddi Tribe

Members of Siddi Tribe in Gujrat
The fascinating culture and history of the Siddis was unknown to the world beyond their small communities. The origins of the Siddis in India are lost in a maze of legends and historical calculations. According to belief, “the kings and rulers of small territories along the west coast of India, bought hordes of African slaves from Arab slave traders. They used the women as servants in their places and the men as hunters. Many people are also of the opinion that Indian merchants with establishments abroad, brought with them Siddi slaves from Abyssinia.”
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. 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.

Folk Dance of Siddi Tribe

History of Siddi TribeIn the period of 11th to 19th century, the ancestors of these Siddi tribes have migrated to several places of Gujrat. To be specific, knowing the strength and power of these Siddi tribes, all the royal kings of India hired most of these Sidditribes and there was a huge infiltration of the Siddi tribes from foreign lands. It is an ethnic group having Black African descent. It has been said that African ancestors of this tribe community came along to India during the 10th century with Arab merchants.In spite of their reputations as fine fighters, several of these Siddi tribes worked as domestics servants ans as labours in the farmlands. In order to create their own separate communities, a handful of these Siddi tribes also took refuge in the interiors of the forest area. Much later in the beginning of the 20th century, in the provinces of Jnajira and jafrabad, small Siddi lands are formed. This Janjira Islands was also called Habshan, implying to be the land of the Habshis.

Dhamal Dance By Siddi Tribe
Siddis have largely assimilated into the local populations where they live, adopting local religions, languages, food habits and clothes. The only remaining cultural traits from their African origins are their music and dance forms. The dance form that they are most famous for is called Dhamal.
While they are culturally assimilated, there has been little, if any, intermarriage between tribals and others in the areas they live in and hence they have remained a distinct community. They have also faced discrimination and isolation. In Saurashtra, they are the only tribal community and are at the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy. They are an extremely impoverished community and either live off the land inside forest areas or are employed as agricultural labourers.

The numbers and status of the Siddis – the only known group of African descendants has been dwindling rapidly. Though the government has made some attempt, but their long term survival is a question.
In sum, the Siddis constitute a unique element in the diverse society that is India.While facilitating the preservation of their unique culture and allowing them to retain whatever level of distinctiveness they wish to retain, it is incumbent upon our Governments and socieites at large to help this community develop and gain access to modern education and employment.


  1. Interesting, an African community living in Gujarat since 11th century! I live in Tanaznia- an East African Country. Business here is mainly dominated by Gujaraties settled centuries ago. There is an island here called Zanzibar where slave trade flourished centuries ago. Arab buyers were active. Against this background, reading your post was interesting.

  2. Thanks Hariharan!!!

    Quite Intersting to know about Tanaznia and Zanibar.Its really sad that such trade use to be there in past but the best part is Siddi is getting all the rights of an Indian citizen. Thats the beauty of our Indian culutre :)

  3. Interesting post. I didn't even know that such community is existing in India.

  4. Hi Ruchita, I am an India journalist contributing to the foreign press. I intend to do a story on the Siddi Tribe. would appreciate if you could share your insights into the story. My email id is
    Thanking you in anticipation.
    Kind Regards,
    Sanjay Pandey



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