How The African Siddi Tribe Found A Home In Gujarat's Gir Forest

How The African Siddi Tribe Found A Home In Gujarat's Gir Forest
(L) Shoestring Travel ; BBC (R)

India’s cultural diversity owes much of its existence to history, and all that the global movement of people, political exchanges, and trade and power games had to offer. With complex storylines for each of these aspects, they impacted the world of today far more than is clearly visible.

An example of this lives on in a tiny region of Gujarat, deep in the Gir forest, in the village of Jambur. A community of African descendants, with all the physical features you could tie back to those of the continent, the Siddi tribe, lives on in their settlement. A striking image to put together, members of this tribe speak fluent Gujarati and follow traditional Indian norms like any other family in the area.

Image Courtesy: Shoestring Travel

But where did they come from, and how have they carried on their legacy?

Back when slavery existed as a practical socio-economic norm, India also took part in the unethical practice. When Indian royalty and emperors, and the Portuguese rule required labourers, slaves from East Africa were brought to fulfil the demands. They were also known as Habshis (from Habsh) and belonged to the Bantu indigenous people. It is believed that the Siddis were made to travel on ships to be brought to Gujarat by the Nawab of Junagarh. A rendition of this tale also states that one of the ships did not successfully make it to the coast of Gujarat, but when the survivors made it to land and witnessed the lions of Gir, they thought they had reached Africa.

Many of the Siddis’ original cultural aspects from Africa have faded away with time. However, their dance form Siddi Dhamal carries on. In fact, the tribe also resides in parts of Northern Karnataka, and the same dance form flourishes there, too. What is meant to be an art form that captures the life of their community was once performed as a celebratory dance after a successful hunt. Now, the dance takes place for any occasion of enjoyment.

Image Courtesy: Rajendra Pradhan (via Pinterest)

Similar to many other minority communities rooted in the rural parts of India, the Siddi tribe, too, suffers from poverty and under-resourced conditions. Their livelihoods depend on unskilled labour such as vegetable vendors, security guards, and more.

If you are planning to visit Gir, consider taking a detour to the Siddi village of Jambur. It makes for a culturally enlightening experience, and interacting with the true and rooted diversity of India is always a good idea.

To get there, you would only have to hire a car or taxi from Gir, and it would take you approximately 30 minutes to get there.

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