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Siddi, Sheedi, Habshi
Siddi community (16527139018).jpg
Siddi community in India
Total population
570,000–1,950,000 (estimated)[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
    Karnataka10,477 (2011 census)[4]
    Daman and Diu193[4]
Sidi language (historically)
Balochi (Makrani dialect), Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Konkani, Kannada, Swahili, Telugu, Urdu, Hindi, English
Predominantly: Sunni Islam; minority: Hinduism, Christianity (Catholic)

The Siddi (pronounced [sɪdːiː ]), also known as the Sheedi, Sidi, or Siddhi, or Habshi are an ethnic group inhabiting India and Pakistan. They are primarily descended from the Bantu peoples of the Zanj coast in Southeast Africa and Ethiopia, most whom arrived to the indian subcontinent through the Arab Slave Trade.[5] Others arrived as merchants, sailors, indentured servants, and mercenaries.[6] The Siddi population is currently estimated at around 850,000 individuals, with Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad in India and Makran and Karachi in Pakistan[7] serving as the main population centres.[8] Siddis are primarily Muslims, although some are Hindus and others belong to the Catholic Church.[9]

Although often economically and socially marginalised as a community today, Siddis have played large roles in the politics of the subcontinent. The most famous Siddi, Malik Ambar, effectively controlled the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in the Deccan. He played a major role, politically and militarily, in Indian history by limiting the penetration of the Mughal power into the Deccan Plateau.[10]


A Siddi girl from the town of Yellapur in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka, India.

There are conflicting hypotheses on the origin of the name Siddi. One theory is that the word derives from sahibi, an Arabic term of respect in North Africa, similar to the word sahib in modern India and Pakistan.[11] A second theory is that the term Siddi is derived from the title borne by the captains of the Arab vessels that first brought Siddi settlers to India; these captains were known as Sayyid.[12]

Similarly, another term for Siddis, habshi, is held to be derived from Al-Habash, Arabic for Abyssinia, whence came the ships that first delivered Siddi slaves to the subcontinent.[12] Siddis are also sometimes referred to as Afro-Indians.[13][14][15] Siddis were referred to as Zanji by Arabs; in China, various transcriptions of this Arabic word were used, including Xinji (辛吉) and Jinzhi (津芝).[16][17][18][19]


Ikhlas Khan, Siddi dewan of Bijapur, c. 1650

The first Siddis are thought to have arrived in India in 628 AD at the Bharuch port. Several others followed with the first Arab Islamic conquest of the subcontinent in 712 AD.[20] The latter group are believed to have been soldiers with Muhammad bin Qasim's Arab army, and were called Zanjis.

Some Siddis escaped slavery to establish communities in forested areas, and some also established the small Siddi principalities of Janjira State on Janjira Island and Jafarabad State in Kathiawar as early as the twelfth century. A former alternative name of Janjira was Habshan (i.e., land of the Habshis). In the Delhi Sultanate period prior to the rise of the Mughals in India, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut was a prominent former Siddi slave who was appointed by Razia Sultana (1235–1240 CE) as master of the royal stables. It is speculated that he may also have been her lover, but the contemporary sources provide no evidence of this.[21] Siddis for brief period ruled Bengal as the Habshi dynasty of the Bengal Sultanate.[22]

Siddis were also brought as slaves by the Deccan Sultanates. These Siddis embraced Deccani Muslim culture, and identified with the Deccani Indian Muslim political faction against the Iranian Shia immigrants.[23] Several former slaves rose to high ranks in the military and administration, the most prominent of which was Malik Ambar.[24]

Later, the Siddi population was increased by Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa who were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves by the Portuguese.[6] Most of these migrants were or else became Muslims, while a small minority became Hindu.[11] The Nizam of Hyderabad also employed African-origin guards and soldiers.[25][26]

Flag of the Siddis from Murud-Janjira, an important vassal of the Mughal Empire.

Geographical Distribution


Sidis of Madras

Harris (1971) provides a historical survey of the eastward dispersal of slaves from Southeast Africa to places like India.[27] Hamilton (1990) argues that Siddis in South India are a significant social group whose histories, experiences, cultures, and expressions are integral to the African Diaspora and thus, help better understand the dynamics of dispersed peoples. More recent focused scholarship argues that although Siddis are numerically a minority, their historic presence in India for over five hundred years, as well as their self-perception, and how the broader Indian society relates to them, make them a distinct Bantu/Indian.[28] Historically, Siddis have not existed only within binary relations to the nation state and imperial forces. They did not simply succumb to the ideologies and structures of imperial forces, nor did they simply rebel against imperial rule.[29] The Siddi are recognized as a scheduled tribe in 3 states and 1 union territory: Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Daman and Diu.[30]


In the 18th century, a Siddi community was established in Hyderabad State by the Arab Siddi diaspora, who have frequently served as cavalry guards to the Asif Jahi Nizam of Hyderabad's army. The Asif Jahi rulers patronised them with rewards and the traditional Marfa music gained popularity and would be performed during official celebrations and ceremonies.[31][32][33] The Siddis of Hyderabad have traditionally resided in the A.C. Guards (African Cavalry Guards) area near Masjid Rahmania, known locally as Siddi Risala in the city and in Habsiguda named after the Habishis in Hyderabad.


Siddi Folk dancers, at Devaliya Naka, Sasan Gir, Gujarat.

Supposedly presented as slaves by the Portuguese to the local Prince, Nawab of Junagadh, the Siddis also live around Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife sanctuary.[34] On the way to Deva-dungar is the village of Sirvan, inhabited entirely by Siddis. They were brought 300 years ago from Portuguese colonial territories for the Nawab of Junagadh. Today, they follow very few of their original customs, with a few exceptions like the traditional Dhamal dance.[35]

Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of their surrounding populations, some of their Bantu traditions have been preserved. These include the Goma music and dance form, which is sometimes called Dhamaal (Gujarati: ધમાલ, fun).[36] The term is believed to be derived from the Ngoma drumming and traditional dance forms of the Bantu people inhabiting Central, East and Southern Africa.[37] The Goma also has a spiritual significance and, at the climax of the dance, some dancers are believed to be vehicles for the presence of Siddi saints of the past.[38]

Goma music comes from the Kiswahili word "ngoma", which means a drum or drums. It also denotes any dancing occasion where traditional drums are principally used.

The majority of the Siddis in Gujarat are Muslims (98.7%), with very few following Hinduism (1%).[39]


In Marathi, the state language of Maharashtra, the word habshi (हाबशी) is used to denote people of African (typically Ethiopian) origin. The powerful naval presence of Siddi Johar (Zoher) in Murud, Raigad district, is evidence of their presence. This is exemplified by the sea-fort of Murud-Janjira, and the Khokha tombs of the Siddis also stand as evidence of a past glory. Additional relics are near Junnar, where the so-called Habshi mahal (palace) ruins still stand[40]


The Siddis of Karnataka (also spelled Siddhis) are an ethnic group of mainly Bantu descent that has made Karnataka their home for the last 400 years.[6] There is a 50,000-strong Siddhi population across India, of which more than a third live in Karnataka.[41] In Karnataka, they are concentrated around Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada and in Khanapur of Belgaum and Kalaghatagi of Dharwad district. Many members of the Siddis community of Karnataka had migrated to Pakistan after independence and have settled in Karachi, Sindh. It has been reported that these Siddis believe that Barack Obama shares their genepool. They wished to gift him and honour him on his visit to India in 2010.[42]

A plurality of the Siddis in Karnataka follow Hinduism (41.8%), followed by Islam (30.6%) and Christianity (27.4%).[43]


In Pakistan, locals of Bantu descent are called "Sheedi". They live primarily along the Makran in Balochistan, and lower Sindh.[7] The estimated population of Sheedis in Pakistan is 250,000.[1] In the city of Karachi, the main Sheedi centre is the area of Lyari and other nearby coastal areas. Technically, the Sheedi are a brotherhood or a subdivision of the Siddi. The Sheedis are divided into four clans, or houses: Kharadar Makan, Hyderabad Makan, Lassi Makan and Belaro Makan.[44] The Sufi saint Pir Mangho is regarded by many as an important Wali of the Sheedis, and the annual Sheedi Mela festival, is the key event in the Sheedi community's cultural calendar.[44] Some glimpses of the rituals at Sidi/Sheedi Festival 2010 include visit to sacred alligators at Mangho pir, playing music and dance.[45] Clearly, the instrument, songs and dance appear to be derived from Africa.[46]

In Sindh, the Sheedis have traditionally intermarried only with people such as the Mallaahs (fisherpeople), Khaskheli (laborers), Khatri (dyeing community) and Kori (clothmakers). Most Sheedis today are of mixed heritage and can be found in Sindh where the main language is Sindhi.

Famous Sheedis include the historic Sindhi army leader Hoshu Sheedi[47] and Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish.[48][49] Sheedis are also well known for their excellence in sports, especially in football and boxing. Qasim Umer is one cricketer who played for Pakistan in 80s. The musical anthem of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, "Bija Teer", is a Balochi song in the musical style of the Sheedis with African style rhythm and drums.[50] Younis Jani is a popular Sheedi singer famous for singing an Urdu version of the reggaeton song "Papi chulo... (te traigo el mmmm...)."[51]


Sheedis are largely populated in different towns and villages in lower Sindh. They are very active in cultural activities and organise annual festivals, like, Habash Festival, with the support of several community organisations. In the local culture, when there is a dance it is not performed by some selected few and watched idly by others but it is participated by all the people present there, ending difference between the performers and the audience.[52]

Sheedis in Sindh also proudly call themselves the Qambranis, in reverence to Qambar, the freed slave of Ali, the fourth Rashid Caliph.[6][53] Tanzeela Qambrani became the first Sheedi woman to be elected as the member of Provincial Assembly of Sindh in 2018 Pakistani general election.[54][55]


The Firoz Minar in Bengal, named after the Habshi sultan Saifuddin Firuz Shah.

Although there are no records of a Siddi community in Bengal today, the population was known to have inhabited the country historically where they were referred to as Habshi by the Bengalis. As eunuchs, they gained influential positions under the Bengal Sultanate, most prominently as paiks and palace-guards during the reign of Sultan Jalaluddin Fateh Shah. This Sultan was later assassinated under a coup led by the Habshi commander of the palace-guards, who seized control of Bengal as Shahzada Barbak, and began a seven-year Habshi occupation in Bengal. Barbak only ruled for several months, being replaced by another Habshi, Malik Andil, who was the army commander of the former dynasty. Andil took the name Saifuddin Firuz Shah and became the most prominent Habshi Sultan of Bengal, by patronising architecture and calligraphy. It is said that Sidi Badr had over 5000 Habshis in his army. In 1494, his wazir (chief minister) Sayyid Husain led a rebellion in which Sidi Badr was killed.[56] He subsequently removed all Habshis from administrative posts, ending Habshi rule in Bengal. Many Habshis eventually migrated to Gujarat and the Deccan.[57]

The Habshi community can be seen to have flourished as late as the colonial period. In Chittagong, a Habshi slave-boy known as Zamor was captured by British slave traders in 1773, who trafficked him into France via Madagascar and sold him to King Louis XV of France.[58] Mansur Ali Khan, the final Nawab of Bengal, married a former Habshi slave girl, Mehr Lekha Begum Sahiba (Guiti Afroz Mahal, Hasina Khanum). They had several children including Hassan Ali Mirza (first Nawab of Murshidabad) and Wahid Ali Mirza. She died in Murshidabad on 30 May 1855 and was buried at the Jafarganj Cemetery.


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Siddi. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Siddi.


A Y-chromosome study by Shah et al. (2011) tested Siddi individuals in India for paternal lineages. The authors observed the E1b1a1-M2 haplogroup, which is frequent among Bantu peoples, in about 42% and 34% of Siddis from Karnataka and Gujarat, respectively. Around 14% of Siddis from Karnataka and 35% of Siddis from Gujarat also belonged to the Sub-Saharan B-M60. The remaining Siddis had Indian associated or Near Eastern-linked clades, including haplogroups P, H, R1a-M17, J2 and L-M20.[59]

Thangaraj (2009) observed similar, mainly Bantu-linked paternal affinities amongst the Siddi.[60]

Qamar et al. (2002) analysed Makrani Sheedis in Pakistan and found that they instead predominantly carried Indian-associated or Near Eastern-linked haplogroups. R1a1a-M17 (30.30%), J2 (18.18%) and R2 (18.18%) were their most common male lineages.[61] Only around 12% carried Africa-derived clades, which mainly consisted of the archaic haplogroup B-M60, of which they bore the highest frequency of any Pakistani population Underhill et al. (2009) likewise detected a relatively high frequency of R1a1a-M17 (25%) subclade among Makrani Sheedis.[62]


According to an mtDNA study by Shah et al. (2011), the maternal ancestry of the Siddi consists of a mixture of Bantu-associated haplogroups and Indian-associated haplogroups, reflecting substantial female gene flow from neighbouring Indian populations. About 53% of the Siddis from Gujarat and 24% of the Siddis from Karnataka belonged to various Bantu-derived macro-haplogroup L subclades. The latter mainly consisted of L0 and L2a sublineages associated with Bantu women. The remainder possessed Indian-specific subclades of the Eurasian haplogroups M and N, which points to recent admixture with autochthonous Indian groups.[6]

Autosomal DNA

Narang et al. (2011) examined the autosomal DNA of Siddis in India. According to the researchers, about 58% of the Siddis' ancestry is derived from Bantu peoples. The remainder is associated with locals North and Northwest Indian populations, due to recent admixture events.[63]

Similarly, Shah et al. (2011) observed that Siddis in Gujarat derive 66.90%–70.50% of their ancestry from Bantu forebears, while the Siddis in Karnataka possess 64.80%–74.40% such Southeast African ancestry. The remaining autosomal DNA components in the studied Siddi were mainly associated with local South Asian populations. According to the authors, gene flow between the Siddis' Bantu ancestors and local Indian populations was also largely unidirectional. They estimate this admixture episode's time of occurrence at within the past 200 years or eight generations.[6]

However, Guha et al. (2012) observed few genetic differences between the Makrani of Pakistan and adjacent populations. According to the authors, the genome-wide ancestry of the Makrani was essentially the same as that of the neighboring Indo-European speaking Balochi and Dravidian-speaking Brahui.[64]

Siddi Tribal Dance performance in Delhi


The culture of the Siddi is indicative of both the length of time they have been in India and their East African origins. The Siddis are primarily Muslims. National dress for Siddis is Sari, Kameez and their own traditional African clothing for women, for the men they wear kameez and their unique clothing. While they have assimilated in many ways to the dominant culture,[65] they have also kept some ancestral practices especially in music and dance.[66] Like other ethnic groups separated by geography, there are both differences and similarities in cultural practices among the Siddi.

Generally, the Siddi primarily associate and marry members of their own communities.[67] It is rare for the Siddi to marry outside of their communities although in Pakistan a growing number of the Sheedi intermarry as a way to dilute their African lineage and reduce racial discrimination and prejudice.[68]

Siddi communities, although classified as a tribe by the Indian government, primarily live in agricultural communities where men are responsible for the farming and women are responsible for the home and children.[66] Outside of their communities, men also tend to be employed as farm hands, drivers, manual laborers, and security guards.[65]

When it comes to dress, women and men dress in typical Indian fashion. Siddi women wear the garments predominant in their locale, which can be colorful saris accessorised with bindis.[69] Men wear what is generally appropriate for men in their communities.[65]

As in other aspects of life, the Siddi have adopted the common dietary practices of the dominant society. An example of a staple meal would be a large portions of rice with dal and pickles.[67]

Athletics has been an important part of the Siddi community and has been a means to uplift youth and a means of escape from poverty and discrimination.[70][71][72]

Notable people

Nawab Ibrahim Mohammad Yakut Khan II of Sachin (1833-1873)

Films and books

  • From Africa...To Indian Subcontinent: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora (2003) by Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy, in close collaboration with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy and the Sidi community.
  • Mon petit diable (My Little Devil) (1999) was directed by Gopi Desai. Om Puri, Pooja Batra, Rushabh Patni, Satyajit Sharma.
  • Razia Sultan (1983), an Indian Urdu film directed by Kamal Amrohi, is based on the life of Razia Sultan (played by Hema Malini) (1205–1240), the only female Sultan of Delhi (1236–1240), and her speculated love affair with the Abyssinian slave Jamal-ud-Din Yakut (played by Dharmendra). He was referred to in the movie as a habshee.
  • A Certain Grace: The Sidi, Indians of African Descent by Ketaki Sheth, Photolink, 2013.[76]
  • Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia (2007) by Pashington Obeng.
  • Inside a Lost African Tribe Still Living in India Today (2018) by Asha Stuart
  • #unfair (2019) a film produced by Public Service Broadcast Trust directed by Wenceslaus Mendes, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Anushka Matthews, Mohit Bhalla

See also


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  2. ^ The Sidi Project.
  3. ^ "The Siddis: Discovering India's little known African-origin community". The New Indian Express. 2 March 2018. Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". Census of India 2011. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 24 March 2017.
  5. ^ Ewald, Janet (November 2008). "No Objection to a Wandering Unsettled Life:" Bondsmen and Freedmen in the Ports and at Sea of the Indian Ocean World, c. 1500‐1900" (PDF). 10th Annual Gilder Lehrman Center International Conference, Yale University.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Shah, Anish M.; et al. (15 July 2011). "Indian Siddis: African Descendants with Indian Admixture". American Journal of Human Genetics. 89 (1): 154–161. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.05.030. PMC 3135801. PMID 21741027.
  7. ^ a b Abbas, Zaffar (13 March 2002). "Pakistan's Sidi keep heritage alive". BBC. Retrieved 26 December 2016. One of the Pakistan's smallest ethnic communities is made up of people of African origin, known as Sidi. The African-Pakistanis live in Karachi and other parts of the Sindh and Baluchistan provinces in abject poverty, but they rarely complain of discrimination. Although this small Muslim community is not on the verge of extinction, their growing concern is how to maintain their distinct African identity in the midst of the dominating South Asian cultures.
  8. ^ Kumar Suresh Singh, Rajendra Behari Lal (2003), Gujarat, Anthropological Survey of India (Popular Prakashan), ISBN 978-81-7991-106-8, At present the Siddis are living in the western coast of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka states the prominent black Indian known is Reme. Their main concentration is in Junagadh district of Rajkot division. They are a scheduled tribe. According to the 1981 census, the population of the Siddi tribe is 54,291. The Siddi speak Gujarati language within their kin circle as well as with the outsiders. Gujarati script is used...
  9. ^ Shanti Sadiq Ali (1996), The African dispersal in the Deccan, Orient Blackswan, ISBN 978-81-250-0485-1, Among the Siddi families in Karnataka there are Catholics, Hindus and Muslims... It was a normal procedure for the Portuguese to baptise African slaves ... After living for generations among Hindus they considered themselves to be Hindus.... The Siddi Hindus owe allegiance to Saudmath ...
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  13. ^ Ali Al'Amin Mazrui, Toby Kleban Levine (1986), The Africans: a reader, Praeger, ISBN 978-0-03-006209-4, ...continue to exist in three main communities. These Afro-Indians, known as 'Siddis' ...
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  20. ^ Yatin Pandya, Trupti Rawal (2002), The Ahmedabad Chronicle: Imprints of a Millennium, Vastu Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design, The first Muslims in Gujarat to have arrived are the Siddis via the Bharuch port in 628 AD ... The major group, though, arrived in 712 AD via Sindh and the north.... With the founding of Ahmedabad in 1411 AD it became the concentrated base of the community....
  21. ^ Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach (2006), Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 978-0-415-96692-4, ...she appointed Jala ad-Din Yaqut, an Abyssinian slave, to the post of master of the stables, a position traditionally reserved for a distinguished Turk. Her partiality for Yaqut has led later historians to speculate whether there had been a sexual relationship between them, but contemporaneous sources do not indicate that this was necessarily the case....
  22. ^ Dasgupta, Biplab (2005). "Political History". European Trade and Colonial Conquest, Volume 1. Anthem Press. p. 129.
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  28. ^ Obeng, P. (2007). Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South India, p. xiii.
  29. ^ Obeng P (2003). "Religion and empire: Belief and identity among African Indians in Karnataka, South India". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 71 (1): 99–120. doi:10.1093/jaar/71.1.99.
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  37. ^ Stuart Sillars, ed. (2017). The Shakespearean International Yearbook: Volume 13. Routledge. p. 22. ISBN 978-1351963497. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
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  39. ^ Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner. "Gujerat: ST-14 Scheduled Tribe Population by Religious Community". Census of India 2011. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 13 August 2021. Statistics spreadsheet
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  50. ^ YouTube – teer bija
  51. ^ YouTube – Younis Jani – Papi Chulo
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  53. ^ "Sheedis have been hurt most by attitudes". Dawn. 23 June 2008. Retrieved 30 December 2013. Sindhi Sheedis call themselves Qambrani, out of reverence for Hazrat Qambar, a servant of Hazrat Ali (AS).
  54. ^ Tanzeela Qambrani: First Sheedi woman to become member of Sindh Assembly
  55. ^ Tanzeela to be first Sheedi woman to enter Sindh Assembly
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