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India's Lost Africans

on 2000/11/26 8:49:02 ( 1650 reads )


LONDON, ENGLAND: Long before the first slave ships started supplying labor to the cotton plantations of the American south, and many centuries before the first Africans were brought ashore to the sugar estates of Brazil and the Caribbean, Africans were being sold as slave-soldiers for India's princely states. Their descendants are the least visible part of the huge African diaspora. But today in India, lost among the mosaic of different cultures and communities, are tens of thousands of people of African descent. They are known as Sidis. "The Sidis are descendants of African slaves, sailors and servants, and merchants who remained in India after arriving through the sea trade with East Africa and the Gulf," says Amy Catlin of the University of California, who is making a special study of Sidi culture. "That was a process which began in the 12th century or before, and lasted until the late 19th century." But in the western Indian state of Gujarat -- where most Sidis live -- the community has lost touch with its roots. The village of Jambur is one of two exclusively Sidi settlements and is miserably poor. The only remnant retained of their African lineage is their music and dance. This is what professor Catlin, an ethno-musicologist, hopes to use to fill in the story of the Sidis. "In Gujarat, affinities with African music include certain musical instruments and their names," she says, "and also the performance of an African-derived musical genre called "goma." One legend has it that the Sidis of inland Gujarat originally came from Kano in northern Nigeria, and ended up in India after undertaking a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Music may be the only key that can unlock their past. The BBC journalist, Andrew Whitehead (, is seeking anyone with additional information on these people.

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