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Siddi Girl from Yellapur Town of Uttara Karnataka District, Karnataka, India.
Total population
20,000 – 55,000 (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 ), also known as Siddhi, Sheedi, Habshi or Makrani, are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan. Members are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa. Some were merchants, sailors and mercenaries. Others were indentured servants but the vast majority were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by Arab and Portuguese merchants.[1] The Siddi community is currently estimated at around 20,000–55,000 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]


  • Etymology of name 1
  • History 2
  • Siddis of India 3
    • Siddis of Gujarat 3.1
    • Siddis of Karnataka 3.2
    • Siddis of Hyderabad, India 3.3
  • Sheedis of Pakistan 4
    • Siddis or Sheedis in lower Sindh 4.1
  • Genetics 5
    • Y DNA 5.1
    • mtDNA 5.2
    • Autosomal DNA 5.3
  • Famous Siddis or Sheedis 6
  • Films and books 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Etymology of name

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 (from Al-Habsh, the Arabic term for Abyssinia), is held to be derived from the common name for the captains of the Ethiopian/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.

Siddis are descended from Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa that were 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

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 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.[22]

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).[23] The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and 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 and also means any dance occasion where traditional drums are principally used.

Siddis of Karnataka

The Siddis of Karnataka (Kannada: ಕರ್ನಾಟಕದ ಸಿದ್ಧಿಗಳು) (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, India

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 "Makrani", or "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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[30] Some glimpses of the rituals at Sidi/Sheedi Festival 2010 include visit to sacred alligators at Mangho pir, playing music and dance.[31] Clearly, the instrument, songs and dance appear to be derived from Africa.[32][33]

Linguistically, Makranis speak Balochi and Sindhi, as well as a dialect of Urdu referred to as Makrani. 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[34] and Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish.[35][36] 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.[37] Younis Jani is a popular Sheedi singer famous for singing an Urdu version of the reggaeton song "Papi chulo... (te traigo el mmmm...)."[38]

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

  • Karnataka's Indian-African Tribe
  • Alice Albinia, Empires of the Indus, W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, 52–78.
  • Shanti Sadiq Ali, The African Dispersal in the Deccan: From Medieval to Modern Times, Orient Blackswan, 1996
  • Ababu Minda Yimene, An African Indian Community in Hyderabad: Siddi Identity, Its Maintenance and Change, Cuvillier Verlag, 2004, pg 201
  • Omar H. Ali, The African Diaspora in India, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library
  • Bantu origins of the Sidis of India; By Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi (2008-10-29) in PAMBAZUKA NEWS
  • Siddi Jana Vikas Sanga
  • Indians of African Origin
  • Black, Indian, & Hindu
  • Habshis and Siddis – Africans and African descendants in South Asia
  • The Global African Community/Great Habshis in Ethiopian/Indian History
  • History of the Ethiopian Diaspora
  • Historical overview of South Asian communities with African roots by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya
  • Pakistan's Sidi keep heritage alive
  • BBC: The lost Africans of India
  • BBC In pictures: India's African communities

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f g
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  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 (P) Ltd.: 2003), p.154.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  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. ^
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^
  25. ^ A Bottle of Honey for Our Brother PrezAnil Budur Lulla, , Short Takes section, Open Magazine, 30 October 2010
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ a b Sheedi Mela begins with ritual aplomb, The News International, 7 July 2008
  31. ^ [2], BBC Urdu (online news service), 18 June 2010
  32. ^ Pakistan's Sidi keep heritage alive, BBC News, 13 March 2002
  33. ^ Manghopir urs a living tribute to Sheedi culture, Dawn 16 July 2007
  34. ^ ‘Hoshu Sheedi Day’on March 23, Dawn (newspaper), 21 March 2007
  35. ^ A poet in New York, Dawn (newspaper), 9 December 2007
  36. ^ Afro-Asia in Pakistan Hasan Mujtaba, Samar Magazine, Issue 13: Winter/Spring, 2000
  37. ^ YouTube – teer bija
  38. ^ YouTube – Younis Jani – Papi Chulo
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ GOALKEEPERS | Goa Football Association
  45. ^


See also

  • Razia Sultan (1983), an Indian Urdu film directed by Kamal Amrohi, 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 referred to in the movie as a habshee.
  • A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent by Ketaki Sheth, Photolink, 2013.[45]
  • "Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia" (2007) by Pashington Obeng.
  • From Africa...To Indian Subcontinent: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora (2003) by Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, in close collaboration with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and the Sidi community.

Films and books

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

Famous Siddis or Sheedis

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.[43]

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]

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.[42]

Autosomal DNA

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]


Thangaraj (2009) observed similar, mainly Bantu-linked paternal affinities amongst the Siddi.[41]

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 amongst 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]


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.


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.[40][1]


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