Meet the fast disappearing community of Indians and Pakistanis of African origin - Quartz (
When people think of Africans in Indian history,
Malik Ambar tends to be the first name to come to mind. Brought to
Ahmadnagar as a warrior-slave in the 16th century, he rose to be the
general of the Deccan sultanate’s army—and eventually its regent.
Yet, Ambar was only the most successful of
thousands of Africans brought to India by Arab and Portuguese slavers
across the Arabian Sea.

Thousands of others came as mercenaries and
merchants. Today, the Sidis—as people of African origin living in India
for centuries call themselves—are a fast disappearing community.
Separated by appearance, if not by culture, they are largely
British photographer Luke Duggleby is attempting
to change that. In the ambitious Sidi Project, Duggleby documents the
lives of the community—not just in India but also in Pakistan.

Duggleby has been travelling to India for 18
years, but he learnt of the Sidis in India only a few years ago while
working on a documentary on the Little Rann of Kutch. His translator and
guide, while describing the communities of Gujarat, mentioned the
Sidis. Duggleby was hooked.
Around 20 years ago, at the start of his career,
Duggleby had spent six months in Tanzania. “Many of my first experiences
of travel and photography were in various parts of Africa,” he says.
“My life then took a turn east and I ended up in Asia where I have been
based ever since.

I have always had a deep fascination for both
continents so when I heard about the Sidi I became slightly obsessed and
began researching more and more about the topic.”
This eventually led to his self-funded travels to
India and Pakistan over three years. In January 2013 and 2015, he
visited Gujarat, Karnataka and Mumbai. In early 2014, he went to
Hyderabad and Bedin in Sindh, Pakistan.

Community activism

south_asia_sidi04-copy.jpg?w=1000A Sidi man, as they are known in India, becomes possessed by the spirit of Bava Gor and blindly enters the dance floor.(Luke Duggleby)The
origins of the Sidis have been lost over time, and because of cultural

Nobody knows exactly which part of Africa they might have
come from.
“We don’t even have our own language,” says Mohan
Siddi, a community leader from Karnataka who worked closely with
Duggleby on parts of his project in January. “We speak Konkani in
Karwar, close to Dharwar, where people speak Marathi. Muslim Sidis speak
Urdu and Gujarati.

But we still have our music.”
In Gujarat and Karnataka, where most Sidis live,
music remains the enduring link to Africa. But even this link is fading
in places such as Hyderabad, where Siddi says the small community is
reluctant to display its African identity.

In 2003, Karnataka included Sidis on the list of
Scheduled Tribes, helping them cement their identity in that state. But
there is still much left to do. Siddi says he has plans to unite
Africans across India. Last month, he registered an organisation in
Mumbai as a platform to contact other Sidis in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The group, he says, will work for the community’s upliftment.
Siddi is also critical of the scores of
photographers and scholars who have come to study Sidis, taken what they
needed and left. “It is as if we are animals in a zoo,” he says. “That
is why I now insist that anyone who wants to approach us should work for
the upliftment of the community.”
For Duggleby, however, this is a continuing project.

“The ultimate aim of this project is to document
the many other communities that form part of this Indian Ocean Africa
diaspora in other countries, not just India,” he says. “By doing this I
hope to tell people about this horrific part of history through the
people that are a result of it today and at the same time give the Sidi
communities a platform to be seen and learnt about, which they so much
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