This article is about the South Asian ethnic group. For other uses, see Siddi (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Sindhi people.
Total population
50,000 – 60,000 (estimated)
Regions with significant populations
Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, states of India, Sindh and the Balochistan province of Pakistan.
Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Konkani, Sindhi, Makrani dialect of Balochi
Mainly Sufi Sunni Islam, with Hindu and Catholic Christian minorities

The Siddi (pronounced [sɪd̪d̪iː]), also known as Siddhi, Sheedi, or Habshi (Kannada:ಸಿದ್ಧಿ), are an ethnic group inhabiting India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa. Some were merchants, sailors, indentured servants, slaves, and mercenaries.[1] The Siddi community is currently estimated at around 50,000–60,000 individuals, with Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad in India and Makran and Karachi in Pakistan as the main population centres.[2] Siddis are primarily Sufi Muslims, although some are Hindus and others Roman Catholic Christians.[3]


Siddi Girl from Yellapur Town of Uttara Karnataka District, Karnataka, India.

There are conflicting hypotheses on the origin of the name Siddi. One theory is that the word derives from sahibi, a Arabic term of respect in North Africa, similar to the word sahib in modern India and Pakistan.[4] A second theory is that the term Siddi is derived from the title borne by the captains of the Arab vessels that first brought Siddi settlers to India. These captains were known as Sayyid.[5]

Similarly, another term for Siddis, habshi, is held to be derived from the common name for the captains of the Abyssinian ships that also first delivered Siddi slaves to the subcontinent.[5] Siddis are also sometimes referred to as Afro-Indians.[6][7][8] Siddis were referred to as Zanji by Arabs; in China, various transcriptions of this Arabic word were used, including Xinji (辛吉) and Jinzhi (津芝).[9][10][11][12]


A fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque in Ahmedabad, India was constructed in 1572 by Sidi Saiyyed, a slave of Sultan Ahmad Shah.[13]

The first Siddis are thought to have arrived in India in 628 AD at the Bharuch port. Several others followed with the first Arab Islamic invasions of the subcontinent in 712 AD.[14] The latter group are believed to have been soldiers with Muhammad bin Qasim's Arab army, and were called Zanjis.

Later the Siddi population was added to via Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that had been brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by the Portuguese.[1] While most of these migrants became Muslim and a small minority became Christian, very few became Hindu since they could not find themselves a position in the traditional Hindu caste hierarchy.[4]

Flag of the Siddis from Murud-Janjira, an important vassal of the Mughal Empire.

Some Siddis escaped slavery to establish communities in forested areas, and some even established the small Siddi principalities of Janjira State on Janjira Island and Jafarabad State in Kathiawar as early as the twelfth century. A former alternative name of Janjira 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 (1205–1240 CE). Although this is disputed, he may also have been her lover.[15]

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.[16] He established the town of Khirki which later became the modern city of Aurangabad, 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.[16] 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 realised in reality.[17]

Siddis of India

Sidis of Bombay

Harris (1971) provides an historical survey of the eastward dispersal of slaves from Southeast Africa to places like India.[18] Hamilton (1990) argues that Siddis in South India are a significant social group whose histories, experiences, cultures, and expressions are integral to the African Diaspora and thus, help better understand the dynamics of dispersed peoples. More recent focused scholarship argues that although Siddis are numerically a minority, their historic presence in India for over five hundred years, as well as their self-perception, and how the broader Indian society relates to them, make them a distinct Bantu/Indian.[19] Historically, Siddis have not existed only within binary relations to the nation state and imperial forces. They did not simply succumb to the ideologies and structures of imperial forces, nor did they simply rebel against imperial rule.[20]

Siddis of Gujarat

See also: Sachin State
Siddi Folk Dancers, at Devaliya Naka, Sasan Gir, Gujarat.

Supposedly presented as slaves by the Portuguese to the local Prince, Nawab of Junagadh, the Siddis also live around Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, the last refuge in the world of the almost extinct Asiatic lions, in Junagadh a district of the state of Gujarat, India.[21] On the way to Deva-dungar is the quaint village of Sirvan, inhabited entirely by Siddis, a tribe of Bantu descent. They were brought 300 years ago to from Portuguese colonial territories for the Nawab of Junagadh. Today, they follow very few of their original customs, with a few exceptions like the traditional Dhamal dance.[22]

Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of their surrounding populations, some of their Bantu traditions have been preserved. These include the Goma music and dance form, which is sometimes called Dhamaal (Gujarati: ધમાલ, fun).[23] The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and traditional dance forms of Bantu East Africa.[23] 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.[24]

Goma music comes from the Kiswahili word "ngoma", which means a drum or drums. It also denotes any dancing occasion where traditional drums are principally used.

Siddis of Karnataka

Main article: Siddis of Karnataka

The Siddis of Karnataka (also spelled Siddhis) are an ethnic group of mainly Bantu descent that has made Karnataka their home for the last 400 years.[1] There is a 50,000-strong Siddhi population across India, of which more than a third live in Karnataka. In Karnataka, they are concentrated around Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada and in Khanapur of Belgaum and Kalghatgi of Dharwad district. Many members of the Siddis community of Karnataka had migrated to Pakistan after independence and have settled in Karachi, Sindh. It has been reported that these Siddis believe that Barack Obama shares their genepool and that they wanted to gift a bottle of honey to him on his visit to India in 2010.[25]

Siddis of Hyderabad

In the 18th century, a Siddi community was established in Hyderabad State by the Arab Siddi diaspora, who would frequently serve as cavalry guards of the Asif Jahi Nizam's irregular army. The Asif Jahi Nizams patronised them with rewards and the traditional Marfa music gained popularity and would be performed during official celebrations and ceremonies.[26][27][28] The Siddis of Hyderabad have traditionally resided in the A.C. Guards (African Cavalry Guards) area near Masjid Rahmania, known locally as Siddi Risala.

Sheedis of Pakistan

In Pakistan, locals of Bantu descent are called "Sheedi". They live primarily along the Makran Coast in Balochistan, and lower Sindh. In the city of Karachi, the main Sheedi centre is the area of Lyari and other nearby coastal areas. Technically, the Sheedi are a brotherhood or a subdivision of the Siddi. The Sheedis are divided into four clans, or houses: Kharadar Makan, Hyderabad Makan, Lassi Makan and Belaro Makan.[29] 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.[29] Some glimpses of the rituals at Sidi/Sheedi Festival 2010 include visit to sacred alligators at Mangho pir, playing music and dance.[30] Clearly, the instrument, songs and dance appear to be derived from Africa.[31][32]

In Sindh, the Sheedis have traditionally intermarried only with people such as the Mallahs (fisherpeople), Khaskeli (laborers), Khatri (dyeing caste) and Kori (clothmakers).

Famous Sheedis include the historic Sindhi army leader Hoshu Sheedi[33] and Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish.[34][35] Sheedis are also well known for their excellence in sports, especially in football and boxing. Qasim Umer is one cricketer who played for Pakistan in 80s.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.[36] Younis Jani is a popular Sheedi singer famous for singing an Urdu version of the reggaeton song "Papi chulo... (te traigo el mmmm...)."[37]

Siddis or Sheedis in lower Sindh

Sawan Qambrani, resident of village Syed Matto Shah, Tehsil Bulri Shah Karim, District Tando Muhammad Khan, Sindh

Sheedis are largely populated in different towns and villages in lower Sindh. They are very active in cultural activities and organise annual festivals, like, Habash Festival, with the support of several community organisations. In the local culture, when there is a dance it is not performed by some selected few and watched idly by others but it is participated by all the people present there, ending difference between the performers and the audience.[38]

Sheedis in Sindh also proudly call themselves the Qambranis, Urdu: قمبرانی ; Sindhi: قمبراڻي, in reverence to Qambar, the freed slave of the Islamic caliph Ali.[1][39]


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Siddi. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Siddi.


A Y-chromosome study by Shah et al. (2011) tested Siddi individuals in India for paternal lineages. The authors observed the E1b1a haplogroup, which is frequent among Bantu peoples, in about 42% and 34% of Siddis from Karnataka and Gujarat, respectively. Around 14% of Siddis from Karnataka and 35% of Siddis from Gujarat also belonged to the Sub-Saharan B haplogroup. The remaining 30% of Siddi had Indian or Near Eastern-associated clades, including haplogroups H, L, J and P.[1]

Thangaraj (2009) observed similar, mainly Bantu-linked paternal affinities amongst the Siddi.[40]


According to an mtDNA study by Shah et al. (2011), the maternal ancestry of the Siddi consists of a mixture of Sub-Saharan and Indian haplogroups, reflecting substantial female gene flow from neighbouring Indian populations. About 53% of the Siddis from Gujarat and 24% of the Siddis from Karnataka belonged to various Sub-Saharan macro-haplogroup L sub-clades. The latter mainly consisted of L0 and L2a sublineages associated with Bantu women. The remainder possessed Indian-specific subclades of the Eurasian haplogroups M and N, which points to recent admixture with autochthonous Indian groups.[1]

Autosomal DNA

Narang et al. (2011) examined the autosomal DNA of Siddis in India. According to the researchers, about 58% of the Siddis' ancestry is derived from Bantu peoples. The remainder is associated with local Indo-European-speaking North and Northwest Indian populations, due to recent admixture events.[41]

Similarly, Shah et al. (2011) observed that Siddis in Gujarat derive 66.90%–70.50% of their ancestry from Bantu forebears, while the Siddis in Karnataka possess 64.80%–74.40% such Southeast African ancestry. The remaining autosomal DNA components in the studied Siddi were mainly associated with local South Asian populations. According to the authors, gene flow between the Siddis' Bantu ancestors and local Indian populations was also largely unidirectional. They estimate this admixture episode's time of occurrence at within the past 200 years or eight generations.[1]

However, Guha et al. (2012) observed few genetic differences between the Makrani of Pakistan and adjacent populations. According to the authors, the genome-wide ancestry of the Makrani was essentially the same as that of the neighboring Indo-European speaking Balochi and Dravidian-speaking Brahui.[42]

Famous Siddis or Sheedis

Nawab Ibrahim Mohammad Yakut Khan II of Sachin (1833-1873)

Films and books

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Shah, Anish M.; et al. (15 July 2011). "Indian Siddis: African Descendants with Indian Admixture". American Journal of Human Genetics. 89 (1): 154–161. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.05.030. PMC 3135801Freely accessible. PMID 21741027. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  2. Kumar Suresh Singh, Rajendra Behari Lal (2003), Gujarat, Anthropological Survey of India (Popular Prakashan), ISBN 81-7991-106-3, At present the Siddis are living in the western coast of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka states. Their main concentration is in Junagadh district of Rajkot division. They are a scheduled tribe. According to the 1981 census, the population of the Siddi tribe is 54,291. The Siddi speak Gujarati language within their kin circle as well as with the outsiders. Gujarati script is used....
  3. Shanti Sadiq Ali (1996), The African dispersal in the Deccan, Orient Blackswan, ISBN 81-250-0485-8, Among the Siddi families in Karnataka there are Catholics, Hindus and Muslims.... It was a normal procedure for the Portuguese to baptise African slaves.... After living for generations among Hindus they considered themselves to be Hindus.... The Siddi Hindus owe allegiance to Saudmath....
  4. 1 2 Albinia, Alice (2012). Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River. UK: Hachette. ISBN 0393063224.
  5. 1 2 Vijay Prashad (2002), Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity, Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-5011-3, ...since the captains of the African and Arab vessels bore the title Sidi (from Sayyid, or the lineage of the prophet Muhammad), the African settlers on the Indian mainland came to be called Siddis...
  6. Ali Al'Amin Mazrui, Toby Kleban Levine (1986), The Africans: a reader, Praeger, ISBN 0-03-006209-8, ...continue to exist in three main communities. These Afro-Indians, known as "Siddis" ...
  7. Joseph E. Harris (1971), The African presence in Asia: consequences of the East African slave trade, Northwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-0348-6, In fact, it is frequently said that Afro-Indians in western Gujarat are descendants of escaped slaves....
  8. Ruth Simms Hamilton (2007), Routes of Passage: Rethinking the African Diaspora, Michigan State University Press, ISBN 0-87013-632-1
  9. David Brion Davis, Challenging the boundaries of slavery (Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 12.
  10. Ci Hai 7(1): 125.
  11. Roland Oliver, Africa in the Iron Age: c.500 BC-1400 AD, (Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 192.
  12. F.R.C. Bagley et al., The Last Great Muslim Empires, (Brill: 1997), p. 174.
  13. Brajesh Kumar, Pilgrimage Centers of India (Diamond Pocket Books, 2003), p. 154.
  14. Yatin Pandya, Trupti Rawal (2002), The Ahmedabad Chronicle: Imprints of a Millennium, Vastu Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design, The first Muslims in Gujarat to have arrived are the Siddis via the Bharuch port in 628 AD ... The major group, though, arrived in 712 AD via Sindh and the north.... With the founding of Ahmedabad in 1411 AD it became the concentrated base of the community....
  15. Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach (2006), Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-415-96692-2, ...she appointed Jala ad-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinian slave, to the post of master of the stables, a position traditionally reserved for a distinguished Turk. Her partiality for Yaqut has led later historians to speculae whether there had been a sexual relationship between them, but contemporaneous sources do not indicate that this was necessarily the case....
  16. 1 2 "Malik Ambar: Military guru of the Marathas", The Hindu, 12 October 2008, retrieved 27 April 2009, Malik Ambar provided the inspiring leadership for this enterprise ... the Marathas, fostered and trained by him, would soon be a force to reckon with. Skilfully adopting the guerrilla tactic, they would bring about the downfall of Aurangzeb...
  17. Richard M. Eaton (2005), A Social History of the Deccan, 1300–1761: Eight Indian Lives, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-25484-1, In his memoir for the year 1612, Jahangir calls him "Ambar, the black faced"...the portrait reveals the emperor's profound frustration with his failure ever to vanquish Ambar: he fantasised in art what he could not accomplish on the battlefield....
  18. Harris, J. E. (1971). The African Presence in Asia: Consequences of the East African Slave Trade.
  19. Obeng, P. (2007). Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South India, p. xiii.
  20. Obeng, P. (2003), "Religion and empire: Belief and identity among African Indians in Karnataka, South India", Journal of the American Academy of Religion 71 (1), 99-120.
  21. "Siddis stray from tradition". Retrieved 5 December 2004.
  22. Shekhawat, Rahul Singh (n.d.), "Black Sufis: Preserving the Siddi's and its age old culture in India"
  23. 1 2 Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society, 28 (3), Indian Anthropological Society, 1993, The word goma is derived from the Swahili word for dance, ngoma, which in the East African ... Siddi servants used to perform goma dances with drums....
  24. Shihan de S. Jayasuriya, Richard Pankhurst (2003), The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean, Africa World Press, ISBN 0-86543-980-X, At the climax, when large numbers of people are simultaneously possessed, the presence of Sidi saints among the living is experienced through the bodies chosen by the saints as vehicle. This happens during dancing sessions called damal or goma ...
  25. Anil Budur Lulla, A Bottle of Honey for Our Brother Prez, Short Takes section, Open Magazine, 30 October 2010.
  26. "'Marfa' band of the Siddis 'losing' its beat". The Hindu. Hyderabad, India. 10 July 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  27. Ababu Minda Yimene (2004). An African Indian Community in Hyderabad: Siddi identity, its maintenance and Change. Greenwood. pp. 209–211. ISBN 3-86537-206-6. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  28. Shanti Sadiq Ali (1995). The African Dispersal in the Deccan: from medieval to modern times. Oriental Longman. ISBN 81-250-0485-8. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
  29. 1 2 Sheedi Mela begins with ritual aplomb, The News International, 7 July 2008.
  30. , BBC Urdu (online news service), 18 June 2010
  31. Zaffar Abbas, "Pakistan's Sidi keep heritage alive", BBC News, 13 March 2002.
  32. "Manghopir urs a living tribute to Sheedi culture", Dawn 16 July 2007.
  33. "‘Hoshu Sheedi Day’ on March 23", Dawn, 21 March 2007.
  34. "A poet in New York", Dawn, 9 December 2007.
  35. Afro-Asia in Pakistan Archived 13 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Hasan Mujtaba, Samar Magazine, Issue 13: Winter/Spring, 2000.
  36. YouTube – teer bija
  37. YouTube – Younis Jani – Papi Chulo
  38. Bhurgari, M. Hashim (24 October 2009). "Sheedi basha hum basha: black people dance away sorrows". Dawn. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  39. "'Sheedis have been hurt most by attitudes'". Dawn. 23 June 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2013. Sindhi Sheedis call themselves Qambrani, out of reverence for Hazrat Qambar, a servant of Hazrat Ali (AS).
  40. Mishra, Rakesh K. (2009). Chromosomes To Genome. I. K. International Pvt Ltd. p. 183. ISBN 9380026218.
  41. Narang, Ankita; et al. (15 July 2011). "Recent Admixture in an Indian Population of African Ancestry". American Journal of Human Genetics. 89 (1): 111–120. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.06.004. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  42. Guha, Saurav; et al. (25 January 2012). "Implications for health and disease in the genetic signature of the Ashkenazi Jewish population". Genome Biology. 13 (R2). doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-1-r2. PMC 3334583Freely accessible. PMID 22277159. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  43. GOALKEEPERS | Goa Football Association
  44. "Sidi lights". Mint. 8 March 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.

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