How many of you knew of the existence of a significantly sizable African community of India? I am guessing not many. There is extraordinarily little awareness of their presence, their location and culture in media in general. That is probably because it is not a very influential community, and also, they don’t seem to participate in the any of socio-political discussions or noise.
BTW. I am referring to Siddi’s of Karnataka.
Siddi’s find their origin in the Bantu tribe of southeastern Africa, brought to India by Portuguese colonizers as slaves. That is right. It’s similar to but in opposite directions of Indian slaves’ communities built in Fiji, Guyana and West Indies etc. The only difference is Bantus made great soldiers and bodyguards to the royalty, where Indian slaves were taken for farming.
Once colonies and princely states collapsed, Siddi’s pretty much became redundant. Subsequently, they got assimilated into rural India and ceased being significant. Indian diaspora in Africa, on the other hand, kept appearing on stories. Be it Gandhi’s South African Chronicles or Idi Amin’s economic war on Indians. Even that Divya Bharati’s Saat Samundar had its premise set in Kenya.
Anyways, the first time I heard about Siddi’s was when I was a kid. An African community found their mentions among the Chronicles of Chhatrapati Shivaji when Grandmother narrated them. It goes like this – At some point in history, the Siddi’s gained control over a strategically important Janjira island fort located off Maharashtra’s coast. Shivaji’s Navy laid multiple sieges without any avail and largely remained unsuccessful. The Legend goes that Marathas even used monitor lizards to climb those walls but could not sustain the hot oil poured on them from the top.
It is hard to believe this warrior clan is now reduced mainly as farm labourers or foraging honey from the jungles of Karwar.
I have not personally met one, but based on what I know, they speak Indian languages, worship Indian Gods, dress like Indians. However, they still have retained small little features of African cultures through their collective memory. Have a look:
P.S. There was one attempt by the Government of India to train this community’s youth in Olympics sports. Despite initial success, I believe the program did not take off.