Today, there are about 50,000 Sidis, or Afro-Indians, living throughout India. They are the descendants of Africans who came or were brought to India in several waves over the centuries. Africans first arrived in Indian ports as sailors on Arab merchant ships as early as the 7th century.
Many more came as soldiers in the Muslim armies that began conquering India in the 13th century. Even more turned up during the colonial era, brought as domestic servants and slaves by the subcontinent’s Portuguese, English, and French colonizers.
What makes the story of Afro-Indians so unique in African Diaspora history is that although they were brought as slaves, they were often able to rise through the ranks to become military leaders, administrators, and grand viziers in India. Afro-Indian families even became hereditary rulers of two of India’s princely states, Janjira and Sachin, which they ruled until India’s unification in 1947. Often, hints of Afro-Indian influence appear in India’s many painted manuscripts.
One of the guest scholars on our program is Dr. Sylviane Diouf, a curator and historian at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Diouf put together an exhibit at the center called “Africans In India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers.” She was kind enough to share some of the images from that exhibition with us.