Sylviane Anna Diouf

Historian of the African Diaspora

Malik Ambar from Ethiopia, regent in Ahmadnagar

Detail of Sidi Said Mosque built in 1572 in Ahmadabad by Sidi Said, a formerly enslaved Ethiopian

Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers


Following free traders and artisans who migrated to and traded with India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia in the fist centuries of the common era; from the 1300s onward, East Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania and adjacent areas entered the Indian subcontinent, mostly though the slave trade. Others came as soldiers and sailors. They were known as Sidis and Habshis. From Bengal in the northeast to Gujarat in the west and to the Deccan in Central India, they vigorously asserted themselves in the country of their enslavement.

The success was theirs but it is also a strong testimony to the open-mindedness of a society in which they were a small religious and ethnic minority, originally of low status. As foreigners and Muslims, some of these Africans ruled over indigenous Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations.

From humble beginnings, some Africans carved out princely states — Janjira and Sachin — complete with their own coats of arms, armies, mints, and stamps. They fiercely defended them from powerful enemies well into the 20th century when, with another 600 princely states, they were integrated into the Indian State.

Today, about 50,000 to 70,000 Sidis are scattered across a country of 1.2 billion people. The vast majority of Sidis are Muslims, a few are Christians or Hindus. The latter stand apart because they do not fit into the very strict Hindu caste system. Some Sidi settlements, organized as separate communities, have the status of "scheduled tribes," which offers a modicum of affirmative action programs. Depending on where they live, Sidis speak Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Konkani, or other local languages. Education, the need to maintain their distinctive culture and have a strong leadership are some of the priorities expressed by various Sidi groups.

Books

The first book on the American maroons' experience
A major book on the various components of the Black Power movement, with photos, essays and testimonies.
In a tale worthy of a novelist, Sylviane Diouf provides a well-researched, nicely written, and moving account of the last slave ship to America, whose 110 captives arrived in Mobile in 1860 and, after the war, created their dream of Africa in Alabama. Howard Jones, author of Mutiny on the Amistad
The fascinating story of the East Africans who distinguished themselves in India
Thorough and ambitious. William and Mary Quarterly
Readers are presented with a wide range of evidence to show how Africans fought against slavery as well as the slave trade. Canadian Journal of History
A groundbreaking look at [the] bigger picture has been unveiled in a project called "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience." The Washington Post
Children's Books
Bintou’s hair is short and fuzzy, but she wants beautiful braids “with gold coins and seashells” like the big girls, but everyone says no. The New York Times
Young readers will enjoy this fascinating look at [some] brave leaders. Children's Literature
Destroys the stereotype of the happy, ignorant slave child. Booklist

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