In Gujarat and in some parts of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka live a group of people of African origin. The Siddis came to India as traders and mercenaries. They were also brought to the subcontinent as slaves by Arabs and by Portuguese and British colonisers. About 70,000 people of African descent live in India today.
Their story has been told on film by Asha Stuart, an African-American filmmaker who was passing through Bangalore in 2012 when she met – and was intrigued by – a man from the Siddi community. This led her to make Lost Tribe of Africa. She told National Geographic that it was the parallels between the struggles faced by the Siddis in India and African-Americans in America that compelled her to make a short film (video above).
Slotted into the scheduled tribe category, the Siddis, reports the film, face some discrimination. On top of this, they are subjected to racism. They find some solace in the diasporic cultural traditions maintained to this day – such as percussion-based music, African drum rhythms, dancing, and ceremonies.
As Stuart told National Geographic, “Being an outcast, the community is really engaged with one another. They have a lot of cultural events and festivals that are specifically for the community. That’s kind of how they survive. That’s where their resilience comes from – their cultural pride, togetherness, and structure.”
Corrections and clarifications: This piece was edited to remove the description of the Siddis as a tribe.