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India’s African Nawabs: A part of history that India chooses to forget

Today, approximately 20,000 to 50,000 Siddis reside in India and Pakistan, with the majority concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Makaran and Karachi

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Nawab of Sachin. Image source wikipedia
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 A part of history we forgot

Africans have, for centuries been a part of Indian society. While the slave trade from Africa to America and Europe is well documented, the eastward movement of African slaves to India has been left unexplored. Evidences of African slavery is available when a Muslim rulers ruled a part of the Indian subcontinent. But the systematic transportation of African slaves to India started with the Arabs and Ottomans and later by the Portuguese and the Dutch in the sixteenth -seventeenth centuries.

“When your family has been ruling for hundreds of years, people still call you by the title of Nawab,” told Nawab Reza Khan to The Indian Express, tenth Nawab of Sachin as he traces his family’s royal history. Reza Khan currently is a lawyer and lives in the city of Sachin in Gujarat. He says his ancestors came from Ethiopia in East Africa, as part of the forces of Babur. Eventually, they conquered the fort at Janjira and later occupied Sachin and ruled over their own kingdoms. The Nawab of Sachin is a personified remnant of a glorious African past in India.

 

Siddis of Bombay. Image source wikipedia
Siddis of Bombay. Image source wikipedia

“In Europe and America, Africans were brought in as slaves for plantation and industry labour. In India on the other hand, African slaves were brought in to serve as military power,” says Dr Suresh Kumar, Professor of African studies in Delhi University. Some of them also became nobles, rulers or merchants in their own capacities. They were expensive elite mililtary slaves brought mainly for their physical strength. The elite status of the African slaves in India ensured that a number of them had access to political authority and secrets which they could make use of to become rulers in their own right, reigning over parts of India. They came to be known by the name of Siddis or Habshis.

The Nawab of Sachin and Janjira

The political power acquired by the mid-sixteenth century, the Mughals had increased their appetite for the South and were aggressively trying to encroach upon the Nizam Shahi dynasty that ruled much of Deccan. In 1600 AD, the Ahmadnagar fort finally fell into the hands of the Mughals. However, the presence of the Mughals in the Deccan was still limited and Ahmadnagar’s surrounding countryside still lay with the troops deployed by the Nizam Shahi state of which Malik Ambar was a part of the Habshi military slaves there. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Mughals were aggressively trying to take over the Nizam Shahi dynasty that ruled much of Deccan. In 1600 AD, the Ahmadnagar fort finally fell into the hands of the Mughals. Ahmadnagar’s surrounding countryside still lay with the troops deployed by the Nizam Shahi state of which Malik Ambar was a part. This African slave became a political game changer, he proved to be a major obstacle to the Mughals’ crave for the Deccan.

Malik Ambar constructed a fort at Janzira, located in the Konkan coast, by the end of the sixteenth century. At Janjira, the Africans developed their own kingdom (with their own cavalry, coat of arms and currency) which the Mughals and Marathas failed to occupy despite repeated attacks. Later, the African rulers of Janjira went on to occupy another fort at Sachin in modern day Gujarat. The present Nawab of Sachin, Reza Khan says “the title of Nawab was given to our ancestors by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, since they had not allowed his competitor Shivaji to occupy the Janjira fort.”

The Habshi sultans of Bengal

The Bengal Sultanate was established by Shams al-Din Ilyas Shah in 1352. During this period a large number of Ethiopian slaves had been recruited in the army of the Bengal Sultans. They did not just work in the army, but also rose to get involved in major administrative tasks such as act as court magistrates, collecting tolls and taxes and involved in services of law enforcement. Eventually, they managed to seize power from the Sultans under the leadership of Barbak Shahzada. Barbak Shahzada laid the foundation stone of the Habshi dynasty in Bengal in 1487, and became its first ruler under the name of Ghiyath-al-Din Firuz Shah. His successor Saif al-Din Firuz is considered the best of the Habshi rulers as he was a brave and a just king and a patron of art and architecture. Most well known among these is the Firuz Minar at Gaur which still stands tall, in a good state of preservation and its significance as a victory tower. The Habshi rule came to an end in 1493 AD.

Siddi Masood of Adoni

Adoni was a part of the Vijayanagar empire situated in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. Adoni got one of its important governors by the name of Siddi Masood Khan who was a wealthy merchant from Ethiopia. He was a virtual ruler and loved art and architecture. This rule came to an end when Aurangzeb captured Bijapur in 1686.

Siddi scenario in contemporary India

Siddi girl. Image source Wikipedia
Siddi girl. Image source Wikipedia

Today, approximately 20,000 to 50,000 Siddis are residing in India and Pakistan, with the majority concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Makaran and Karachi. Apart from their royal heirs, these live in poverty and are cut-off from a normal world. They usually maintain distance and live in forests. Dr. Kenneth Robbins, author of “African elites in India”, is of the opinion that it is necessary to shed light on the ruling status of Africans in India. “The purpose is to see India in a different light, to understand social mobility in India. It is important for Indians to take note of the place that Africans had at one point secured in the country.”

This is a major discovery of the African history, as India is the only country where they could rule because racial discrimination was not a feature.

-by Vrushali Mahajan.

Vrushali is pursuing her graduation in Journalism and an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle- Vrushali Mahajan 

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Yellowstone National Park: A magnificent place to explore

America’s first national park – Yellowstone. It's also the first national park in the world, established by Congress in 1872, even before the National Park Service was set up.

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Yellowstone National Park: A magnificent place to explore
More than half the world's geysers are in Yellowstone National Park. VOA

January 2, 2018: When you think about America’s national parks, what probably comes to mind first is America’s first national park – Yellowstone. It’s also the first national park in the world, established by Congress in 1872, even before the National Park Service was set up.

Yellowstone sits on an active volcano, the source of the more than 10,000 geothermal features in the park, including more than half the world’s geysers. National Parks traveler Mikah Meyer made sure he caught the eruption of the best-known of its 500 geysers – Old Faithful, which shoots a column of superheated water up to 42 meters into the air, every 60 to 110 minutes.

“They have geysers that range from Old Faithful to these geysers that are basically holes in the ground that give a glimpse into what the bubbling boiling earth underneath is like.”

And some of what bubbles up is mud. Mikah describes these ‘mudpots’ as a witch’s cauldron. “They look like some sort of witch’s concoction because you’re just walking along this boardwalk and suddenly to your left and your right you’ve got these giant mud pools that are bubbling up in random spots, and so it really is a place where you can see the earth’s underbelly.”

The thousands of steam vents in Yellowstone give off a powerful sulfur odor.
The thousands of steam vents in Yellowstone give off a powerful sulfur odor. VOA

He noted a constant feature of the park — steam. “Anywhere you are in the park it always seems like somewhere in your 360° view you’ll see some steam rising out of the ground.” These fumaroles, or steam vents, are the hottest hydrothermal features in the park, with temperatures as high as 138°Celsius.

Yellowstone is also home to thermophile microbes, which thrive in the hot springs. Trillions of these microorganisms are grouped together, so they appear as masses of color. Since different types of thermophiles live at different temperatures within a hot spring, they produce what looks like a rainbow in the water.

Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone's largest hot spring. It's about 112.8 meters across and more than 37 meters deep.
Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring. It’s about 112.8 meters across and more than 37 meters deep. VOA

And it’s not just hot water shooting up… Yellowstone also has 350 identified waterfalls that tumble down more than 4 1/2 meters. The Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River is the tallest cascade in the park. At 94 meters, it’s twice as high as Niagara Falls.

An abundance of wildlife

Many of the more than 4 million visitors to Yellowstone each year come to see one of the symbols of the American West. Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times, and the park’s herd of 4,000 to 5,000 animals represents the last-known wild bison population in the world.

Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone's largest hot spring. It's about 112.8 meters across and more than 37 meters deep.
Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone’s largest hot spring. It’s about 112.8 meters across and more than 37 meters deep. VOA

Mikah said they really catch visitors’ eyes. “I have this video of what I call a Yellowstone traffic jam which is basically anytime there’s any sort of animal on the side of the road, everyone seems to stop their car and take pictures or pull over and it’s an instant traffic jam!”

But bison aren’t the only iconic animals in the park. Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states, including predators like grey wolves and bears, and large herbivores, like big horn sheep, elk and moose.

Two decades ago, 41 wild gray wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were released in Yellowstone National Park to start a recovery effort. Today, the park is home to more than 100 animals in eleven packs. (NPS/Jim Peaco)
Two decades ago, 41 wild gray wolves from Canada and northwest Montana were released in Yellowstone National Park to start a recovery effort. Today, the park is home to more than 100 animals in eleven packs. (NPS/Jim Peaco). VOA

There are nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, and six species of reptiles.

But the main draw remains the regular eruption of Old Faithful. “If you’re on the hunt for geysers,” Mikah concludes, “you really can’t do much better than Yellowstone National Park.” (VOA)