India is home to numerous tribes, and their lifestyle and traditions add to the rich culture and heritage of the country. One such tribe are the Siddis.
The Siddis are originally from the Bantu people of Southern Africa brought to India by the Portuguese as slaves. A lot of them took up Islam as their religion, while some took up Christianity. Very few became Hindus as the caste system did not leave much opportunity for them.
Slave trade ensured that there would be small pockets of Siddi people all over the subcontinent. They are also known by different names - slaves sold by Arab tradesmen were called Habshis, Kaffirs were the ones sold to Ceylon or present Sri Lanka and Sheedis are in Pakistan.
The Portuguese presented some of these slaves to the Prince of Junagadh, which led to the current population of Siddis in Gujarat. There is another story that says that the Nawab of Junagadh was once visiting Africa and fell in love with an African woman. When she moved to India with the Nawab, she got around hundred slaves with her. And since then they have been here.
Although they are more Gujarati than African, they still follow some African customs, mostly music and dance. If you are visiting Gir anytime, you must not miss their colourful dance, which they are only glad to perform, which also allows them to earn some extra money. In fact, they are small-time celebrities! They have featured in a Gujarat Tourism video and are in high demand during tourist season.
Not only in Gujarat, there are small settlements of Siddis in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh as well. The Karnataka Siddis speak Konkani, indicating their Goan history and thus, Portuguese connection.
It is believed that when the subcontinent was first invaded by the Arab Islamics, a lot of Siddi people followed the invaders here. In the 18th century, the Arab Siddi diaspora established a Siddi community in the state of Hyderabad. They served in the cavalry of the Nizam.
A lot of Siddi people migrated to Pakistan as well. They settled in the deserted land of Baluchistan.
The only thing that separates the Siddi tribe from any non-Siddi Indian is that they strictly marry within the community. Since they have restricted themselves from mixing with other gene pools, their features still resemble that of Africans.
Although the Indian diaspora of Siddi tribe is not very wealthy, it must be mentioned here that their rich culture more than makes up for their lack of money.
All images sourced from Sankara Subramanian C. for BE ON THE ROAD