Around The World Exploring The Siddis, India's forgotten African tribe

Their ancestors were captured and brought to India as Arab slaves and now the Siddis have called India their home for over 500 years.

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The Siddis, India's forgotten African tribe

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In the dense forests of South Asia, a native African tribe has been living in relative obscurity for more than 500 years. Known as the Siddis, their ancestors were captured and brought to India as Arab slaves. Join us as we explore The Siddis, India's forgotten African tribe.

When slavery was outlawed in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Siddis feared persecution and retreated into the forests, where they have been living ever since.

Today, the Siddi people are considered to be in the lowest bracket of the Hindu caste system, the Sudras, or the "untouchables.”

The Siddis are originally from the Bantu people of Southern Africa brought to India by the Portuguese as slaves.

A lot of them took up Islam as their religion, while some took up Christianity.

Very few became Hindus as the caste system did not leave much opportunity for them.

Isolated and reclusive, Siddis are mostly confined to small pockets of villages in the Indian states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and the city of Hyderabad.

Descendants of Bantu people of East Africa, Siddi ancestors were largely brought to India as slaves by Arabs as early as the 7th Century, followed by the Portuguese and the British later on.

Others were free people who came to India as merchants, sailors and mercenaries before the Portuguese slave trade went into overdrive.

When slavery was abolished in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Siddis fled into the country’s thick jungles, fearing recapture and torture.

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This African tribe has called India their home for over 500 years play

This African tribe has called India their home for over 500 years

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Where does the name 'Siddi' come from?

There are many theories regarding the origin of the name 'Siddi'. While some say it is a term of respect in North Africa, others say it comes from a title borne by the captains or "sayyids" of Arab vessels that first brought Siddis to India.

Siddis are also known as habshi (from Al-Habsh, the Arabic term for Abyssinia), the term derived from the common name for the captains of the Ethiopian/Abyssinian ships, which was also the first to bring Siddi slaves to the subcontinent.

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How many of them live in India?

It is estimated that there are around 20,000-55,000 Siddi individuals living across India and Pakistan. Here, there are mostly settled in Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad, while in Makran and Karachi in Pakistan.

Primarily Sufi Muslims, some Siddis are Hindus and Roman Catholic Christians as well. Hiriyaru, or the ancestors, is a factor that binds all Siddis together, irrespective of religion.

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