Siddi’s also known as Habshi, are an ethnic group in the Indian subcontinent. The Siddi population is currently estimated to be 20,000-55,000 spread across Karnataka, Gujarat, Hyderabad in India, Makran and Karachi in Pakistan. Siddi’s are Indians of African descent and mostly settled in the west coast, mainly Karnataka, Maharastra and Gujarat. Their looks and curly hair make them standout amongst the locals. This is the community we know very little about, that is hidden from general view but is still part of the mainstream. Many of them are mistaken for African tourists.
The Sidi’s came to the west coast of India around the seventeen century. The first Siddi’s are believed to have arrived in India in 628 AD at the Baruch port. Later several others followed them. Most Siddi’s are believed to be descendants of slaves, sailors, soldiers and merchants of East Africa. They came from Africa – Abyssinia, Sudan, Eritea, Morocco and Mozambic as traders, soldiers, servants, mercenaries and guards. Because of their fighting poweress, they were preferred as soldiers. They were physically strong and ready for any hard work. They were loyal to their masters and received grants of land in return for their valor and services. Some Siddi’s even have established small Siddi principalities on Janjira island.
After having settled here for centuries, speak the local languages, eat the local food and have even adopted the local dress and culture too. However their cultural assimilation stopped short only of marriage which helped them to remain racially integrated to this day. The only link that still connects them to Africa is their Goma dance and music; the spiritual dance is similar to what is done in the land of their origin. Most of them are Sufi Muslims, but many follow Hinduism and Christianity too.
They have embraced India, wish to live here; this is where they belong. They no longer have any links with the land of their origin. But some of them are surprised that after so many years here, some people sometimes stare at them, calling them Negros from Africa. They just laugh it off. Sometimes even the police question them, asking for their passports, mistaking them for tourists. When they respond in the local language, the cops smile and walk away.
Since they are blessed with good physic, strength and stamina, dancing, running and sports activity come naturally to them. Over the recent years sports talent hunters have picked up raw talented boys and girls from Siddi community, for proper systematical training at sports schools, to tap their hidden talents for various sports. Some have already made an impression in various sports like running, boxing, football, etc.
In recent years many from the community have taken to education and traveled out of their villages to towns and cities for further education and jobs. Some of them have even taken up office and professional jobs. They are proud to be Indians. They too want to be part of the Indian success story. They love India as much as we do. Make them feel part of this great nation.