My first encounter with Siddhi Tribe of India – The Afro Indians

mokshtachauhan

We are used to the cameras and none of us worry being photographed in the way we are,” whispered Faisal, the man I tipped to take me around the Jambur village of Gujarat. Famously known as Siddhis of Jambur, Faisal lives here in this community of Afro-Indians, the descendants of Africans living in India. I traveled to the Gir National park last month with the desire to site the Asiatic lions and drive a bit ahead to meet this Afro-Indians community – Siddhis of India

As a traveler am a bit frightened to visit these indigenous communities bearing in mind the reaction of residents here who hate tourists poking cameras in their faces under the tag of tribal tourism.I have read astonishing articles by travelers around the globe criticising how Indian tribes suffer due to the intervention of outsiders disturbing the balance. There are enough statistics showing how in 2006, the Andamanese Jarawa tribe was hit by a measles epidemic led to the death of many due to growing contact with outsiders. All these reports kept me away from exploring this face of India which is unheard and almost forgotten however my fears concluded once I met, The Siddhis of India. 
                                    
At last, I, made my mind for this first encounter especially when I comprehended I was so close. I spoke to the front desk staff of the resort I was staying to take me to Jambur and the response was not so great. Madam we have no tours to Jambur, as no one goes there”. Well, I expected that, but maybe one of you can accompany me helping with directions and language”( I was told the residents of Siddhi community speak only Gujarati).The concierge guy to my fortune agreed to accompany me to Jambur. 

 

We drove from the drylands and fairly well-constructed roads of Sasan Gir village to Jambur crossing villages like Haripur and Talala. It was a short drive of 30 minutes while the stories by the man next to me about how the Nawab (King) of Junagadh fell in love with an African woman on his tour to Africa intrigued me more to meet the Siddhis of Jambur. Our first encounter upon reaching Jambur was with Faisal, a young Siddhi boy playing cards with his friends at the border of the village.

 

Faisal who took us around the village

 

The hotel concierge had a brief chat with Faisal who kept glaring me while he listened to the man which rather made me uncomfortable. He nodded in agreement to our request to take us around the village in return for a measly tip. Faisal stated that he would take us around one side of the village and avoid the other as Bapu stays on the other side and he is doing this trip without his knowledge. Largely, the visitors have to meet the head of the village known as Bapu and take his permission for the village tour but Faisal didn’t mind risking it for the tip.

 

In my conversation with Faisal, I realized that he is well versed in the history of the tribe even when he hated going to school. Faisal agreeing to the details the hotel concierge shared with me earlier mentioned about the Nawab of Junagadh who fell in love with an African woman during his visit to Africa. He got her to Junagadh, a town in the state of Gujarat of India and 75kms away from Jambur. With her came hundreds of slaves, her companions, and guards who flourished in this part of India.

 

The Siddhis are not just limited in Gujarat but are living in the core areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka as well. They came to India 100 of years ago as Slaves, Armymen and as traders. Initially, the Arabs sold them to Indian Royals as slaves and the slavery continued until the British age in India. Few of them also traveled with their will as traders and stayed in India.The Africans also migrated to India as army men and few were even awarded the highest rank in the army of various Indian royal states. As per historians Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, an African Siddhi slave turned nobleman was speculated to be the lover of India’s first woman ruler Razia Sultan in the 12th century, who had many African men in her army because of their valor.

 

Mud houses at Jambur

 

As Faisal is being told while growing up they are the descendants of east Africans mainly from countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, and Kenya who today lived as Indians but are called foreigners beyond borders of their village. As we continued to walk inside the village I actually sensed a mini Africa with the surrounding men, women, and kids. The mud houses, deprived clothing and the way of living of people here reflected how distant they are from the necessities of life.

 

The Siddhi men are mainly farmhands, rickshaw drivers or guides at the Gir National  Park. Few of them including women have been appointed as rangers in the national park. The women and young girls apart from their household work use their talent of embroidery to handmade sarees, bags, and dolls which they manage to sell at skimpy prices.Due to their strong physique inherited from the African DNAs few of the Siddhi men have also won national medals in various sports for India. While the government has been taking efforts for us but there is still a lot to be done said, Faisal”. The Siddhi’s also perform at hotels in Gir to entertain the hotel guests, a performance they call Dhamal” inherited from their African traditions.

 

"Dhamal" the traditional Siddhi dance

 

As I moved around, everyone gave a pose to my camera especially the kids, leaving me away from my fears to visit a tribe in India. They were such humble human beings smiling and content in what they have. Most of the Siddhi staying in Gujarat follow Islam hence the woman around me even the young ones had their head covered. I finished my tour spending some time with the kids at school understanding their fierceness to dream and to go places leaving Jambur and their indigenousness behind that makes them foreigners in their own nation.

                                                           
A siddhi woman

 

How to Reach Jambur

Jambur is 435 Km away from the Ahmedabad district of Gujarat, India. The village can be accessed by road via NH47 a journey of 08hours. There are also direct trains from Ahmedabad and Rajkot district to Jambur Village.

Is it safe to visit Jambur alone

Yes, its safe however its always recommended to accompany a local who can arrange a village tour.

The nearest place to visit and stay

The home of Asiatic lions, Gir National Park is the nearest excursion from Jambur. We recommend staying in Sasan Gir and traveling to Jambur as the village itself doesn’t have any hotels.

 

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