Sidis: India’s Lost Black Africans


Siddi (or Sidi) is derived either from sayyid, an honorific title used in Arabic (possibly picked up in reference to the Arab captains referred to as such who initially brought Africans to the area of Iran/Pakistan), or from the Arabic saydi, meaning captive or prisoner of war. The Sidi community lives mostly in Gujarat (in western India), with smaller populations settled in the neighboring state of Maharashtra and the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. There is no accurate census on the number of Sidis in India. Although most Sidis live in villages, many are urban dwellers residing in towns and cities. Some also live in tribal surroundings and villages. Descendants of African slaves and seamen, the ancestors of the Sidis came to India through sea trade with East Africa and the Gulf around the 12th century. They came from different areas such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and later Zanzibar. The Sidis of Gujarat are Muslims with a strong Sufi tradition. They have to some extent assimilated into the local culture through their dress, food and language, though their dark skin and African features are distinctive. Some have even married outside of their community. But, by and large, they remain marginalized, leading a life of relative obscurity and poverty. In some districts, the government has accorded them the Scheduled Tribe status.

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