Wow. I am so fascinated by the presence and history of Africans in India and how Africans migrated to India going as far back as the first century B.C.E. But before you read any further, please click here to check out this short two minute video about the Siddis, a group of African Indians. In his photo essay entitled The African Presence in India, writer Runoko Rashidi writes: In Greater India, more than a thousand years before the foundations of Greece and Rome, proud and industrious Black men and women known as Dravidians [not to be confused with Dravidian language] erected a powerful civilization. We are referring here to the Indus Valley civilization - India's earliest high-culture, with major cities spread out along the course of the Indus River. The Indus Valley civilization was at its height from about 2200 B.C.E. to 1700 B.C.E. This phase of its history is called the Harappan, the name being derived from Harappa, one of the earliest known Indus Valley cities. From at least the third century C.E. three major Dravidian kingdoms existed in South India: the kingdoms of Pandya, Chera and Chola. It is also important to note that in the kingdom of the Pandyas women seem to have enjoyed a high status. This is the exact opposite of the regions of India where the Whites ruled.
In 1288 and again in 1293 the Venetian traveler Marco Polo[pictured left] visited the Pandyan kingdom and left a vivid description of the land and its people. Polo exclaimed that:
"The darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than the others who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and their idols black and their devils white as snow. For they say that God and all the saints are black and the devils are all white. That is why they portray them as I have described."
Rashidi goes on to write about the Siddis (see video referred to above), another group of African Indians known historically to have been a tightly knit group, highly aggressive and even ferocious in battle: In a collective form, however, and in respect to long term influence, the African sailors known as Siddis stand out. Certainly, Siddi kingdoms were established in western India in Janjira and Jaffrabad as early as 1100 AD. After their conversion to Islam, the African freedmen of India, originally called Habshi from the Arabic, called themselves Sayyad (descendants of Muhammad) and were consequently called Siddis. Siddi signifies lord or prince. It is further said that Siddi is an expression of respectful address commonly used in North Africa, like Sahib in India. Specifically, it is said to be an honorific title given to the descendants of African natives in the west of India, some of whom were distinguished military officers and administrators of the Muslim princes of the Deccan. They were employed largely as security forces for Muslim fleets in the Indian Ocean, a position they maintained for centuries. According to Ibn Battuta (1304-1377), the noted Muslim writer who journeyed through both Africa and Asia, the Siddis "are the guarantors of safety on the Indian Ocean; let there be but one of them on a ship and it will be avoided by the Indian pirates and idolaters."
In contrast to the glory of ancient Dravidian and Siddi kingdoms, modern African Indians are now referred to as the Untouchables (also known as the Dalit), the poorest people on earth. Of course, this sad irony is not lost on me considering Africans' rich and powerful place in Indian (and world) history. The Dalit Voice, an online Indian journal reports that The Black Untouchables of India constitute about 20% of India's over 1,000 million population. Together with 10% Tribals, they make up a formidable 30% — far exceeding the population of entire Europe. Who knew?
I will admit that I am not shocked to learn that a group of Indians with African origins remains oppressed. The oppression of dark-skinned people is an unfortunate truth about the world we live in. I am, however, terribly saddened by it. Learning about the rich cultural history of the world's peoples is fascinating but for the oppression and poverty. And this is one of those times that I wish OneBrownGirl.com® had a broader reach...because I believe with all of my might that Brown is Beautiful everywhere...and that includes African Indians too. =)