Siddis synonymous with dance, music

Tribal dancers from Karnataka performing Siddi dance during the National Tribal DanceFestival in Visakhapatnam. Photo: K.R. Deepak  

Their rhythmic dance moves, colourful attire and appearance are unmistakably African. Siddi, the African tribe, has called India their home from the past 200 years. There are only about 55,000 Siddis in India today who live in small, secluded settlements in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and parts of Goa. Even though their food, clothes and language are completely adapted to the local cultures of whichever part of India they live in, traces of their African roots still echo in their dance and music traditions.

A small group of Siddi tribe from Karwar in Karnataka is here in the city to showcase their dance form at the ongoing National Tribal Dance Festival. “The rhythm of music and dance flows in our blood. Even if you ask a child to dance, he/she will be able to instantly break into the rhythm,” says team leader of the group Julian Pedru Fernandes in an accented Hindi.

With Marathi and Konkani as their lingua franca, the Siddi families in Karnataka are Roman Catholics, Hindus and Muslims - all united by their distinct music and culture. Their songs tell the story of the way they live and reflect their passion for hunting. “Dance is an integral part of our lives. We express happiness and sorrow through it. In fact, after a hard day’s work, you can often see one person in the village start the dance, only to be joined by the entire community within no time,” says Julian. Sometimes the dance carries on throughout the night! “In our weddings even if there is no food, our traditional dance and music will certainly be there,” she adds. Julian explains that her parents and ancestors used to sing 100 songs in a jiffy. “With the influence of television and exposure to cities, the present generation can hardly remember 30 traditional songs. Over the years, the strong dance moves have also given way to a bit mellowed version of the original,” she says.

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While agriculture is their main source of livelihood, the youngsters of the tribe are slowly migrating to cities and work as labourers. Interestingly, their tribe in Karnataka has 35 per cent literacy rate.

“In our community, women study more and are much more responsible and active than men,” says Mary B. Garibache, one of the group members.

Unlike other tribes, the Siddis do not enforce restrictions on marrying outside their community.

With a strong community bonding, the Siddis believe in the culture of sharing the day’s catch equally among all families in the village.

This ancient practice is still being followed in most Siddi tribe settlements.

Even as the younger generation of the Siddi tribe are moving closer to cities for work, they all know where their true identities lie. “Jungle mein Siddi hai toh sher ke barabar hai. Shehar mein Siddi toh kuch bhi nahi (Siddi is the king in the jungle, but in the city a Siddi is nothing),” signs off Julian.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 7:27:41 PM |

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