SEPTEMBER  2001
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SEPTEMBER 2001 Contents


 Arundhati Roy


 Cultural Heritage of  south Asia


 Noor Inayat Khan


 The Indo-African  Diaspora


 Delhi's First Ladies


 Beyond the Arclights

 Editor's Note

 Phoolan Devi


the craft shop

the print gallery


Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh




Page  1 of  3

The African Diaspora of the Indian Sub-continent


Zachariah Cherian Mampilly


Sidis-_bandleaders.jpg (14353 bytes) Sidis-woman_and_child.jpg (7657 bytes) sidis-womenwithfish.jpg (7961 bytes)
Sidi musicians - the only link with Africa; Sidi mother and child; Sidi fisherwomen


The term Indo-Africans refers to Indians of African origin and was coined by Professor Abdulaziz Lodhi of Uppsala University, Sweden. I am grateful to him for his help in writing in this article.  

Little is known about Africans who moved from the African continent to the Indian subcontinent, some as slaves, but others purposefully and freely. A study of this Indo-African population offers a realistic portrayal of Africans as traders, warriors, and sailors.

According to Dr. Richard Pankhurst, commercial contacts between Ethiopia and India are mentioned in the Periplus a Graeco-Egyptian commercial manual written around the first century AD. This manual mentions that the Aksumite port of Adulis, on the Red Sea coast of Africa, "traded extensively with various parts of Western India, which supplied Ethiopia with both textiles and spices." Later texts mention trade with Ceylon as well. Habshis were present in Colombo, in Ceylon, where Ibn Battuta reports that Jalasti, "the wazir and ruler of the sea", had "about five hundred Abyssinians".

More than 250,000 descendants of Africans still live amongst the Indian people. They are a vast and diverse population spread throughout India with separate histories and unique roles within the Indian strata. Although Africans have been crossing the Indian Ocean into India for over a millennium, most of those who make up the Indo-African population came in the past five hundred years. Most were mercenaries or prisoners of war of the Muslim rulers. Africans also came as midwives and herbalists, and as musicians, sailors and merchants.

In the second decade of the sixteenth century a European traveller named Armando Cortesao noted that: "The people who govern the kingdom [Bengal] are Abyssinians [Ethiopians]. These men are looked upon as knights; they are greatly esteemed; they wait on the kings in their apartments."

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