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India’s Africans – Siddis of Karnataka Posted by on Sep 20, 2021 in Culture, History

 

Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

Yellapur is a district in Karnataka known for its forests जंगल, waterfalls झरने and beautiful lakes झीलें. The Siddi community, which are a group of people in India their home for many years, live deep in the forests of Yellapur. Descendents of the Ubuntu tribe from African countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya. 

Portuguese and  Arab traders brought their ancestors पूर्वज,when they needed tall, sturdy and strong men to carry heavy luggage भारी सामान during trade. The Karnataka Siddis came to Goa initially but due to conflict संघर्ष had to flee into the surrounding forests of Karnataka, where they have lived in the forests for approximately लगभग 200 years but now since the last 40-50 years live closer to the cities. 

The word Siddi is a title of respect आदर that has its roots in Arabic. The word ‘sayed’ or ‘saidi’ which  means master or leader नेता. 

There are about 50 thousand Siddis living in Karnataka. They form three distinct अलग communities that tend to physically live in and within their communities समुदायों. These communities are based on religion धर्म. The Hindu Siddis number around 50 thousand, while the Christian Siddies are approximately 25 thousand and then the Muslim Siddies are around 15 thousand. 

While, the Hindu Siddis live near their farms fields, and work on the farms for their living, the Christian and Muslim Siddis live in colonies adjacent पार्श्वस्थ to their workplaces. 

Language 

The Siddis of Karnataka speak konkani, marathi and kannada. And they also learn Hindi in schools although the majority of their education शिक्षा is in the Kannada language.  

The Hindu Siddis use the name as their last name while the Christian Siddis use Christian names like D’souza and Fernandes. While the Muslim Siddis use names such as Naikar, Mujawar, etc. 

Housing

The Siddis live in rustic देहाती homes with fireplaces चिमनी or coal fires to cook. Most of their food comes from the forest and the lakes. They drink black tea – eat dosas and fish curry cooked on a little coal fire.  

Culture 

The Siddis love to create quilts called Kaundi. They create cotton patchwork पैबन्दकारी of colorful fabrics,  hand quilted रजाई ओढ़े these beautiful tapestries together. 

It takes about 20 days to complete one bedspread quilt. If sold in the nearby cities of Bangalore they can fetch upto $40 dollars. 

Sports 

Many cities take up archery धनुर्विद्या but of late NGO’s are encouraging the Siddis to take advantage of their African roots and physical strength to participate in track and field sports खेल-कूद. Siddi kids prepare for the Olympics in track even as India provides amenities to encourage the sport. 

Education 

Today’s Siddis opt for education and modern आधुनिक day jobs instead of farming and quilt making. They move to cities like Bangalore and Mumbai to work.  

Racial Discrimination 

Locals स्थानीय accept the Siddies but if they travel outside the area they face racial discrimination नस्लीय भेदभाव. In times past the Siddis tried to disassociate themselves from their ancestral roots. However, modern day Siddis are embracing and wearing their traditions and culture with pride. 

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About the Author: Nicole Herbert Dean

Language, Region and Culture Consultant to the Department of Defense and United States Military.


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