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Who are the Siddis in India? Where are they settled?

  Aug 10, 2016

Who are the Siddis in India? Where are they settled?

It is an African-origin ethnic tribe of about 20,000 people that has been living in near total obscurity in India for centuries. Isolated and reclusive, Siddis are mostly confined to small pockets of villages in the Indian states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the city of Hyderabad (there’s also a sizable population in Pakistan). Descendants of Bantu people of East Africa, Siddi ancestors were largely brought to India as slaves by Arabs as early as the 7th Century, followed by the Portuguese and the British later on. Others were free people who came to India as merchants, sailors and mercenaries before the Portuguese slave trade went into overdrive. When slavery was abolished in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Siddis fled into the country’s thick jungles, fearing recapture and torture.
 
These African slaves were originally known as Habshis, which is Persian for Abyssinian (the former name of Ethiopia was Abyssinia). But those who rose through the ranks of royal retinue were honoured with the title Siddi, a possible etymon from the Arabic word for master, sayed/sayyid. It is not entirely clear when the use of the term Habshi declined and Siddi replaced it, but today, Siddi describes all people of African descent in India.