Siddi Tribe: The Africans of India - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Siddi Tribe: The Africans of India

They are originally Bantu people of sub-Saharan Africa, but today, they exist as an ethnic group in various pockets of India. They were originally brought by Arab and Portuguese traders as slaves, but today, they exist as Indian citizens and subsist on farming, construction labor and army work. These people form the famous Siddi Tribe of India, one of the more unique cultures living in the India of today.

A Young boy from the Siddi tribe of Dandeli
These people of African origin exist in large numbers across Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Hyderabad. Their biggest groups can be seen in the Junagadh district of Gujarat and the Yellapur, Haliyal, Sirsi and Dandeli areas of North West Karnataka.

The Siddis who were initially slave laborers under the Nawab of Junagadh, the Portuguese government of Goa and the Nizam of Hyderabad make their livelihood these days with farming, forest conservation work, casual labor, household help and other odd jobs.

Members of the Siddi tribe from near Dandeli
While the current generations do have some culture lineage from their past, they are more or less very Indian-ized, which means that they live their lives like any other Indian speaking Indian languages, watching Indian TV, celebrating Indian festivals, etc. The only thing that they and follow stringently is that they strictly marry into the Siddi community.

Different eye moods of Siddi Kids
Personally, I have interacted with the Siddis at two places. One, inside the Gir National Park of Gujarat and the second, in Siddi villages about 30 minutes from the town of Dandeli in NW Karnataka. In both these places, they exist as ethnic groups, though I have to say that the ones living near Dandeli are slightly better off and live in larger numbers.

Siddi Tribal Kids pose
But, even though the Siddis of Karnataka are relatively better placed than the ones in Gujarat, they still fall in the ‘poor’ category and have to fight it out for all 3 meals a day, for good education and for good shelter.

Siddi mother and her child
The Siddis follow many religions. While some of them follow Islam, the others are either Roman Catholics or Hindus. The trend that I have noticed is that they follow the religion that provides the option for a better livelihood. And this is why, a lot of Siddis send their children to Christian missionaries who give education, food and shelter for them. In return, these kids convert to Christianity.

Smiling Siddi Tribal Girl
The Siddis very much look Africans as they have limited their mixing with other gene pools. But, since I have seen Africans in Africa too, it is kind of very amusing and interesting to see the Siddi women living in India wear sarees, the traditional Indian female clothing. You can see this for yourself in the photographs and the above video.

Siddi Tribal Boy smiles for the lens
If you do get the chance to interact with them, you will get to know why they are a unique culture living in India and you can also proudly say that you met the Africans of India!!

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