THE ARABIAN SEA AND INDIAN OCEAN TRADE ROUTE BETWEEN ETHIOPIA, EAST AFRICA AND INDIA
The Sidi, also known as Siddi or Seydis, came from Africa, not as a singular group but from different parts of Africa throughout many years. History has almost buried this little known fact while slavery took a front row seat. They have acclaimed a place in the world community beyond the dark days of slavery. After their conversion to Islam, they called themselves Sayyad (descendants of Muhammad) and were consequently called Sidi. Sidi signifies lord or prince and is an expression of respectful address commonly used in North Africa and similar to Sahib in India. It is an honorable title for African natives in the west of India, some of whom were distinguished military officers and administrators of the Muslim princes of the Deccan Plateau which covers most of South India.
These people are known as Indo-African and can trace their ancestry mostly from the East African coast from Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mozambique. They came to India from East Africa as sailors, traders, and warriors in the Indian Ocean trade and stayed on in India to become known as royalty. They became royalty when the ruler of the state was killed in a palace coup led by an Indo-African general serving in the king’s army, and he proclaimed himself king. He was later dethroned by a member of a high ranking Indo-African general, who was loyal to the original ruling family and returned the throne to them. Another group of Indo-Africans called Shemali arrived from Kano, Nigeria. They came to India during a pilgrimage from Sudan and Mecca. A wealthy merchant named Baba Ghor assisted the Shemali to become prosperous through the mining and trade of the precious stone called Agate. They retain quite a few African customs, and the Baba Ghor story is proudly remembered.
There was a system of trade from Kerala through Northeast Africa and on to Rome including other parts of Europe. Ivory, gold, and other valuables from Zimbabwe and the Congo were sent to the East African coast and on to Kilwa, Mombassa, and Zanzibar. From there they were shipped across the Indian Ocean and on to India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.
The Indo-Africans are mostly Muslim. More than 250,000 descendants of Africa still live among the Indian people and are spread throughout India within the Indian population. Some groups have retained many African words but most of the heritage has been left behind. Some Sidi live in Gujarat in western India. An exclusive Sidi settlement is in Jambur, a village in the Gir forest. In Jambur, they have kept their lineage of music and dance as their only link to Africa. Junagadh near Jamburis is another Sidi community in which musical instruments and their names have survived time and are known as “goma’.
Sidi have also settled in Murud on the western coast of Maharashtra. A Janjira fort located there was once the stronghold of Abyssinian Sidi who played an important role in the history of Bombay (known now as Mumbai) in the 17th Century. These Sidi prospered as warriors and great sailors. This fort remains in Murud, a small fishing village, as well as a palace. The fort is open to tourists but the palace is not. Cannons can be seen and are still in tact. They are the cherished weapons of the Sidi which were built from five metals.
MALIK AMBAR (1550-1626), in the middle, was among the most famous among the Indo-African people. His original name was Shambu from Ethiopia. After Ambar’s arrival in India, he was able to raise a formidable army and achieve great power in western India in Amadnagar. He was a brilliant diplomat and administrator.
SADAR SINGH (1880-1991) was a Maharaja (Sanskrit title for “great king”) of Jodhpur, or Marwar, a region of southwestern Rajasthan site in western India. Jodhpur, ruled by the descendants of the Rajputs, was founded in 1450. Saradar Singh succeeded as Maarajain in 1895 at the age of 15. His uncle, Maharaja Pratap, and a council of regency assisted him for the first three years until he reached 18. Singh and Pratap are very popular names in India to this day.
The ancestors of the Indo-African kings married within the elite Indian people. The royal Sidi and their descendants are largely integrated into the Muslim upper class. They are mostly farmers or unskilled workers but some have become professional such as doctors, lawyers, and as businessmen.
See: 4 African Kings Who Ruled India That Have Been Erased From History (The Pan African Alliance)