Saturday, March 22, 2014

Uniquely Indian - The Siddis

One could easily mistake them to be African tourists dressed in local garb for a whimsical photo-op. The Siddis, also known as Habshis, are an Indian Scheduled Tribe presumed to be descendents of Abyssinian slaves, sailors and domestic help, who arrived on ships belonging to Arab traders and the Portuguese over the centuries, settling along the West Coast of India - Gujarat, Maharashtra, parts of Goa and North Karnataka - and in Andhra Pradesh too. The island fort at Murud-Janjira was occupied by the Siddis in the 15th and 16th centuries and is renowned as the only one along the coast that withstood onslaughts by the invading Dutch, Portuguese, British and even the formidable Marathas renowned for their prowess at scaling insurmountable forts. Since the Siddis do not marry outside the tribe, the main link to their African origin - distinctive Negroid physical features - is still intact. But, for people who look African and also have a drum dance that is said to resemble the East African Ngoma, the Siddis are completely Indian in their way of life, even speaking the language of the region they live in.

An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's December 2012 Issue.

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