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Siddhi Tribe Of Karnataka believed to have descended from the Bantu tribe of Africa, the Siddhis first came to India when Africa was colonized by the Europeans

India's diversity extends beyond culture and language to even her racial roots. The Mughals, the British, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and presently the immigrants from all over the world, have created a diaspora so rich and various, that India's roots now extend far across the range of her landscape. One such is a tribe that inhabits Karnataka's northern districts – Siddhi Tribe.

Believed to have descended from the Bantu tribe of Africa, Siddhi Tribe, first came to India when Africa was colonized by the Europeans. The Portuguese carried them on ships as slaves, and on reaching India, were either sold to the rulers here, or made to work in foreign offices. The earliest Siddhi presence in India dates back almost 400 years.

The Western Ghats have become home to this tribe. They populate the Northern Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka, parts of Maharashtra, and even a few villages in Gujarat. The Siddhis are isolated from the rest of the state. They believe in keeping to themselves, although they have adapted well into the culture and language of their respective villages. Sumanth Reddy, faculty of the Department of History and Government, Bowie State University writes, " My first encounter with the Siddhis… was with a mother and daughter… at the weekly market. They were dressed in traditional Indian clothes, and I was surprised by how easily and naturally they mingled with the other locals." Reddy visited the Siddhi Tribe villages to study their ethnicity in 2016.

Siddhi Tribe House Siddhis populate the Northern Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka, parts of Maharashtra, and even a few villages in Gujarat. wikimediwikimedia

During the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, the Abyssinian people were uprooted by colonizers and spread across the world. The cultures they were transplanted into, did not completely accept them, despite their blending into it. Consequently, they had to create their own communities, secluded from the rest of the population, surviving based on the knowledge of their ancestor, and the kindness of those who treated them well, for food and shelter.

Karnataka's Siddhis speak Kannada and Konkani fluently, but their coarse hair, and chocolate-coloured skin does not permit them to lead normal lives among the caste-infested Kannadigas, who have given the Siddhis a social identity that is even below the Untouchables. Owing to this discrimination, and unable to return to their homeland, their villages are usually found deep in the forests, inaccessible to others.

When the community was granted Scheduled Tribes status by the Indian government, in 2003, they began to avail benefits to uplift their tribe. In Gujarat, the Siddhis act as guides in the Gir forest reserve; in Karnataka, they are given work, albeit small jobs that pay a little. They are employed as migrant workers, or are given small patches of land to tend, but these efforts give them little respite from poverty.

Siddhi Tribe Woman The Siddhis have adopted the dress and culture of Kannadigas Image source: wikimedia

Among the Siddhis, religion is very important. They share their beliefs of being united despite their chosen faith, but Hindu, Christian, and Mulim Siddhis do not live together in the same village. Intermarriage is also not permitted. Their religion is based on who their ancestors served.

The Siddhis who worked for the Portuguese are Catholic, those who served the Arabs are Muslim, and those who were converted by the local zamindars are Hindu. They also carry their African heritage of folk dances, rituals involving nature-worship, and their ancestral mythology. The rhythmic music and proverbs of their culture are evidently non-Indian, but they lack the ability to assert this identity, and still struggle to be treated the same as other Indians.

Keywords: Siddhis, Karnataka, Tribes, History



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