Africans in the India story

Siddis were brought by Portuguese merchants to the Indian subcontinent.

Updated - March 24, 2016 02:40 pm IST

Published - December 09, 2015 12:00 am IST - Bengaluru:

‘Africans in India: A rediscovery’ will be on at IGNCA, Nagarabhavi, near Kalagrama, till December 26. Call 080-23212320 for details.— Photo: by Special Arrangement

‘Africans in India: A rediscovery’ will be on at IGNCA, Nagarabhavi, near Kalagrama, till December 26. Call 080-23212320 for details.— Photo: by Special Arrangement

Want to know of the life and achievements of prominent Africans settled in India for five centuries? Known as Siddis, the people of African origin have been integral to India’s socio-cultural heritage, Karnataka being one of them besides Gujarat.

An exhibition, ‘Africans in India: a rediscovery’ by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Southern Regional Centre (IGNCA-SRC), has an array of 53 impressive photographic reproductions of paintings sourced from private collections and museums.

It also has contemporary photographs from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York.

Curated by Sylviane A. Diouf and Kenneth X. Robbins, the exhibition recalls the contributions of Africans who distinguished themselves as commanders, generals, admirals, and rural rulers of empires.

Rich heritage

The Siddis, who continue to live in India, descended from Southeast Africa and were brought by Portuguese merchants to the Indian subcontinent as traders and slaves and stayed on to become rulers of States and trusted aides of local kings.

Malik Ambar, who was Prime Minister of Ahmadnagar State, opposed the Mughals so fiercely that in 1616 Jahangir commissioned a portrait of himself on top of the world shooting Ambar.

The ancestral links of the Afro-Indian Siddis, Africans in the Deccani Sultanates, Africans in Indian Paintings, and African Sufi Saints are some of the topics in the exhibition.

One of the best captured African descents is lawyer Sachin in Gujarat who takes care of 13 villages, while people living there refer to the areas in these villages as ‘Sachin State.’

Population areas

Of the nearly one lakh Siddi population across India, more than a third live in Karnataka around Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod, and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada and in Khanapur of Belagavi and Kalghatgi of Dharwad district. Many migrated to Pakistan after independence.

Architects

“They were also savvy city planners and architects, according to the curators who have researched material with them at the Schomburg Center,” said K.M. Chandrashekar, programme officer, IGNCA-SRC.

Apart from the Siddis’ military skills, their construction dexterity mirrored in their forts, mosques, and museums built centuries ago that the pictures showcase.

“Africans here had 600 princely States under them, which are integrated into the Indian States. They had their own coins and stamps and are said to have devised an efficient postal system,” Mr. Chandrashekar adds.

‘Africans in India: A rediscovery’ will be on at IGNCA, Nagarabhavi, near Kalagrama, till December 26. Call 080-23212320 for details

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