African by origin, Indian by nationality and Gujariti by language, this is the story of the Siddi people, African representatives in the Indian subcontinent.
At least 20,000 members of the Siddi ethnic group of African ancestry have lived in almost absolute obscurity in India and Pakistan for millennia.
The Siddi forefathers, who sprung from the Bantu people of East Africa, were transported to India by the Arabs in the 7th century, then later by the Portuguese and the British as slaves and servants. Other free individuals arrived in India as traders, sailors, and mercenaries.
Siddis fled into the dense forests of the nation after the abolishment of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries out of dread of being captured and tortured.
The original name of these African immigrants to India was Habshis, which is Persian for Abyssinian (the former name of Ethiopia was Abyssinia).
However, those who were advanced in the ranks preferred the honorific Siddi, which may be an etymology for the Arabic term for master (sayed/sayyid), and was bestowed upon members of the royal family.
Siddi now refers to all Indians of African heritage; the exact moment when the name Habshi began to lose favour is unclear.
Today, the Siddi people are an oppressed and marginalised minority ethnicity in India who number at least 850, 000.
They reside in the Indian towns of Gujarat, Karnataka, and Hyderabad. In Pakistan, they are found mainly in Makran and Karachi.
Majority of Siddis are Muslims, however some are Roman Catholics, while others are Hindus.
Coupled with the marginalisation and other factors, like intra-tribal marriage, they have succeeded in preserving their unique African identity over the centuries.
African identities like their music and dances have stayed with them, unadulterated.
They are also known for their athleticism, a other uniquely African trait. Kamala Mingel Siddi, is their biggest athlete, with national and international recognition.
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