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The Siddi, Siddhi, or Sheedi ( ; Hindi: सिद्दी or शीदि; Gujarati: સિદ્દી) are an Indianmarker ethnic group of Black African descent. The Siddi population is currently estimated to be 20,000-55,000, with Gujaratmarker state of India being the main population center. Siddis are mainly Sufi Muslims, although some are Hindus and some Roman Catholic Christians.

Names of the community

There are conflicting hypotheses on the origin of the name Siddi. One theory is that the word was a term of respect in North Africa, similar to the word Sahib in modern India and Pakistan. Another holds that it is a degeneration of the word Sayyid or Sayyadi, which is used for descendants of Prophet Muhammad. A third theory is that the term Siddi is derived from the title borne by the captains of the Arab vessels that first delivered Siddi slaves to India. These captains were known as Sayyid (again, signifying the lineage of Prophet Muhammad), so their black captives were named after them.

Similarly, another term for Siddis, habshi (from Al-Habsh, the Arabic term for Abyssiniamarker), is held to be derived from the common name for the captains of the Ethiopianmarker/Abyssinian ships that also first delivered Siddi slaves to the subcontinent. The term eventually came to be applied to other Africans as well, and referred not only to emancipated Siddis but to their descendants too.

Siddis are also sometimes referred to as Afro-Indians. Siddis were referred to as Zanj by Arabs, and Seng Chi (a malapropism of Zanj) by the Chinese.


The first Siddis are thought to have arrived in the Indian subcontinent in 628CE at the Bharuch port. Several others followed with the first Arab Islamic invasions of the subcontinent in 712CE. The latter group are believed to have been soldiers with Muhammad bin Qasim's Arab army, and were called Zanjis.

Most Siddis, however, are believed to be the descendants of slaves, sailors, servants and merchants from the Bantu-speaking parts of East Africa who arrived and became resident in the subcontinent during the 1200-1900CE period. A large influx of Siddis to the region occurred in the 17th century when Portuguesemarker slave traders sold a number of them to local princes.

In Western India (the modern Indian states of Gujaratmarker and Maharashtramarker), the Siddi gained a reputation for physical strength and loyalty, and were sought out as mercenaries by local rulers, and as domestic servants and farm labor. Some Siddis escaped slavery to establish communities in forested areas, and some even established small Siddi principalities on Janjiramarker Island and at Jaffrabad as early as the twelfth century. A former alternative name of Janjiramarker was Habshan (i.e., land of the Habshis). In the Delhi Sultanate period prior to the rise of the Mughals in India, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut was a prominent Siddi slave-turned-nobleman who was a close confidant of Razia Sultana (1205-1240CE). Although this is disputed, he may also have been her lover.

As a power center, Siddis were sometimes allied with the Mughal Empire in its power-struggle with the Maratha Confederacy. However, Malik Ambar, a prominent Siddi figure in Indian history at large, is sometimes regarded as the "military guru of the Marathas," and was deeply allied with them. He established the town of Khirki which later became the modern city of Aurangabadmarker, and helped establish the Marathas as a major force in the Deccan. Later, the Marathas adapted Siddi guerrilla warfare tactics to grow their power and ultimately demolish the Mughal empire. Some accounts describe the Mughal emperor Jahangir as obsessed by Ambar due to the Mughal empire's consistent failures in crushing him and his Maratha cavalry, describing him derogatorily as "the black faced" and "the ill-starred" in the royal chronicles and even having a painting commissioned that showed Jahangir killing Ambar, a fantasy which was never realized in reality.

Some Indian Siddis are descended from Tanzanians and Mozambicans brought by the Portuguese.

Siddis of Gujarat

Presented as slaves by the Portuguesemarker to the local Prince, Nawab of Junagadh, the Siddis also live around Gir Forest National Parkmarker and Wildlife Sanctuary, the last refuge in the world of the almost extinct Asiatic Lions, in Junagadhmarker a district of the state of Gujarat, India.

On the way to Deva-dungar is the quaint village of Sirvan, inhabited entirely by Siddis, a tribe of African people. They were brought 300 years ago from Africa, by the Portuguese for the Nawab of Junagadh. Today, they follow very few of their original customs, with a few exceptions like the traditional Dhamal dance.

Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of their surrounding populations, some African traditions have been preserved. These include the Goma music and dance form, which is sometimes called Dhamaal (Gujarati: ધમાલ, fun). The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and dance forms of East Africa. The Goma also has a spiritual significance and, at the climax of the dance, some dancers are believed to be vehicles for the presence of Siddi saints of the past.

Sheedis of Pakistan

In Pakistanmarker, locals of Black African descent are called "Makrani", "Sheedi" or "Habshi". They live primarily along the Makran Coast in Balochistanmarker (see also Makrani), and lower Sindhmarker. In the city of Karachimarker, the main Sheedi centre is the area of Lyari and other nearby coastal areas. Technically, the Sheedi are a brotherhood or community distinct from the other Afro-Pakistanis. The Sheedis are divided into four clans, or houses: Kharadar Makan, Hyderabad Makan, Lassi Makan and Belaro Makan. The sufi saint Pir Mangho is regarded by many as the patron saint of the Sheedis, and the annual Sheedi Mela festival, is the key event in the Sheedi community's cultural calendar. It features songs and dance clearly derived from Africa.

Linguistically, Makranis are Balochi or Sindhi and speak a dialect of Urdu referred to as Makrani.

Famous Sheedis include the historic Sindhi army leader Hoshu Sheedi and Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish. Sheedis are also well known for their excellence in sports, especially in football and boxing. The musical anthem of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, "Bija Teer", is a Balochi song in the musical style of the Sheedis with Black African style rhythm and drums[87161]. Younis Jani is a popular Sheedi singer famous for singing an Urdu version of the reggaeton song Papi chulo... [87162].


  • 2003 - From Africa...To Indian Subcontinent: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora. By Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, in close collaboration with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and the Sidi community. DVD-R. ISBN 1880519291.

  • 1983- Razia Sultan , an indian urdu film directed by Kamal Amrohi , is about The film is based on the life of Razia Sultan (played by Hema Malini) (1205-1240), the only female Sultan of Delhi (1236-1240) and her speculated love affair with the Abyssinian slave Jamal-ud-Din Yakut (played by Dharmendra, he was reffered to in the movie as a habshee.

  • 1999 - Mon petit diable (My Little Devil). Directed by Gopi Desai. Om Puri, Pooja Batra, Rushabh Patni, Satyajit Sharma.

See also


  1. Vijay Prashad, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity, (Beacon Press: 2002), p.8
  2. David Brion Davis, Challenging the boundaries of slavery, (Harvard University Press: 2006), p.12
  3. Roland Oliver, Africa in the Iron Age: c.500 BC-1400 AD, (Cambridge University Press: 1975), p.192
  4. F.R.C. Bagley et al., The Last Great Muslim Empires, (Brill: 1997), p.174
  5. Brajesh Kumar, Pilgrimage Centers of India, (Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.: 2003), p.154.
  6. [1]
  7. Sheedi Mela begins with ritual aplomb, The News International, July 7, 2008
  8. Sheedi Mela begins with ritual aplomb, The News International, July 7, 2008
  9. Pakistan's Sidi keep heritage alive, BBC News, 13 March 2002
  10. Manghopir urs a living tribute to Sheedi culture, Dawn July 16, 2007
  11. ‘Hoshu Sheedi Day’on March 23, Dawn , March 21, 2007
  12. A poet in New York, Dawn , December 09, 2007
  13. Afro-Asia in Pakistan Hasan Mujtaba, Samar Magazine, Issue 13: Winter/Spring, 2000

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