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Siddi, Sheedi
Siddi community in India
Total population
1,300,000 (estimated)[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 Pakistan250,000 to 1 million[1][2][3]
    Karnataka10,477 (2011 census)[5]
    Daman and Diu193[5]
Currenty Spoken:
Various South Asian languages and English
Sidi language
Predominantly: Sunni Islam; minority: Hinduism, Christianity (Catholic)

The Siddi (pronounced [sɪdːiː]), also known as the Sheedi, Sidi, or Siddhi, are an ethnic minority group inhabiting Pakistan and India. They are primarily descended from the Bantu peoples of the Zanj coast in Southeast Africa, most of whom came to the Indian subcontinent through the Arab Slave Trade.[6] Others arrived as merchants, sailors, indentured servants, and mercenaries.[7]


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.[8] 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.[9] A different name occasionally used for the Siddi is the term "Habshi". While originally used to refer specifically to the Habesha peoples, Ethio-Semitic-speakers from Abyssinia, the term later became more broadly used to refer to Africans of any ethnicity, but not necessarily referring to the Siddi specifically.[10][11]

Siddis are also sometimes referred to as Afro-Indians.[12][13][14] 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).[15][16][17][18]


The Siddi population derived primarily from Bantu peoples of Southeast Africa who were brought to the Indian subcontinent as slaves.[7] Most of these migrants were or else became Muslims, while a small minority became Hindu.[8] The Nizam of Hyderabad also employed African-origin guards and soldiers.[19][20]

The first Siddis are thought to have arrived in India in 628 CE at the Bharuch port. Several others followed with the first Arab Islamic conquest of the subcontinent in 712 CE.[21] 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. 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.[22] Several former slaves rose to high ranks in the military and administration, the most prominent of which was Malik Ambar.[23]

Geographical distribution


Sidis of Madras

Harris (1971) provides a historical survey of the eastward dispersal of slaves from Southeast Africa to places like India.[24] Hamilton (1990) argues that Siddis in India, their histories, experiences, cultures, and expressions, are integral to the African Diaspora and thus, help better understand the dynamics of dispersed peoples.[citation needed] 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.[25] Historically, Siddis have not existed only within binary relations to the nation state and imperial forces[clarification needed]. They did not simply succumb to the ideologies and structures of imperial forces[clarification needed], nor did they simply rebel against imperial rule.[26] The Siddi are recognized as a scheduled tribe in 3 states and 1 union territory: Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Daman and Diu.[27]


In the 18th century, a Siddi community arrived with the Arab, and 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.[28][29][30]


See also: Sachin State

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.[31] 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.[32]

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).[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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%).[36]


Main article: Siddis of Karnataka

The Siddis of Karnataka (also spelled Siddhis) are an ethnic minority group of mainly Bantu descent that has made Karnataka their home for the last 400 years.[7] There is a 50,000-strong Siddhi population across India, of which more than a third live in Karnataka.[37] 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.

A plurality of the Siddis in Karnataka follow Hinduism (41.8%), followed by Islam (30.6%) and Christianity (27.4%).[38]


In Pakistan, locals of Bantu descent are called "Sheedi". They live primarily along the Makran in Balochistan, and lower Sindh.[39] The estimated population of Sheedis in Pakistan is 250,000.[3] 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.[40] 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.[40] Some glimpses of the rituals at Sidi/Sheedi Festival 2010 include visit to sacred alligators at Mangho pir, playing music and dance.[41] Clearly, the instrument, songs and dance appear to be derived from Africa.[42]

In Sindh, the Sheedis have traditionally intermarried only with people such as the Mallaahs (fisherpeople), Khaskheli (laborers), Khatri (dyeing community) and Kori (clothmakers). The children of interracial marriage of a Sindhi man and a Sheedi woman are called Gadra/Guda.[43][44] Most Sheedis today are of mixed heritage and can be found in Sindh where the main language is Sindhi.


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 Sindh Sheedi men perform a unique dance on "mugarman" an ancestral traditional musical instrument of Sheedis, dressed in their traditional attire with markings on face, they also perform dangerous stunts while performing like spitting fire out of mouth, the dance is generally called as Sheedi dance.[45][46] The Sheedi community in southern Sindh are also known for performing and singing at weddings and other events in Sindh.

Sheedis in Sindh also proudly call themselves the Qambranis, in reverence to Qambar, the freed slave of Ali, the fourth Rashid Caliph.[7][47] Tanzeela Qambrani became the first Sheedi woman to be elected as the member of Provincial Assembly of Sindh in 2018 Pakistani general election.[48][49]


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.[50]

Thangaraj (2009) observed similar, mainly Bantu-linked paternal affinities amongst the Siddi.[51]

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.[52] 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.[53]


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.[7]

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.[54]

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.[7]

Siddi tribal dance performance in Delhi


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,[55] they have also kept some ancestral practices especially in music and dance.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58]

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.[56] Outside of their communities, men also tend to be employed as farm hands, drivers, manual laborers, and security guards.[55]

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.[59] Men wear what is generally appropriate for men in their communities.[55]

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.[57]

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.[60][61][62]


Siddis are primarily Muslims, although some are Hindus and others belong to the Catholic Church.[63]

Films and books

Notable Siddis

See also


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