PEOPLE, PLACES & PULPED PALAVER: The Siddis (An African Tribe Lost) in India

A native African tribe has been living in the dense forests of Southern Asia for over 500 years now, and several parts of the vast sub-continent. Their ancestry could be tracked back to the Africa, where the Siddis originated from being captured as slaves by the Portuguese and Arabs, and sold in India. Particularly, Siddis are claimed to have descended from the Bantu people in South East Africa. Fearing death, rejection and hostility after slave trade was outlawed, the Siddis retreated deep into the dense forests in India, and most have been dwelling there.

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A group of Siddi people.

India is known for their caste system in Hindu community. Siddis are considered the lowest in the system, and called ‘The Untouchables’. It is reported that Siddi’s  population is around 50,000 people, spread across the Indian vast sub continent, with majority living in Karnataka. They prefer a conservative life inside the dense forests, where they go about their farming and cultivation without the nuisance of discrimination and prying eyes brought by modernity.They prefer low profile lives, and the caste system does not help either to elevate their status.

Other than Karnataka, other populations of the Siddi could be found in Gujarat, Goa, Hyderabad and Maharashtra. Though they assimilated into the Indian community, they remain unique and stand out from the rest of Hindu communities. They practice agriculture and casual labor, and speak mostly Konkani. In terms of religion, they practice Hiriyaru worship, which binds all the Siddi people. Hiriyaru, an ancient ancestry worship connect all the families and community to the ancestors. It is so strong and deep rooted in all the Siddi, that it is an unquestionable  obligation during important phases in life such as birth, marriage and death. The families are build around beliefs of the dead ancestors and their significance.

Considered low caste, they live in isolation and neglect, and until recently the international bodies on human rights brought were brought in to their attention. It is tough to live in a community, neglected and considered untouchable, and the Siddi have had their dose. Assimilation never made them lose their identity, with certain aspects of their culture deep rooted and untainted, going back many generations. They have survived, and stand out to be counted as part of the human race. 

 

 

 

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