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Sidi Said Mosque. The ornamented “Tree of Life” window is carved in sandstone. Another window represents a smaller tree of life flanked by palm trees and a vine.

Sidi Said Mosque. The ornamented “Tree of Life” window is carved in sandstone. Another window represents a smaller tree of life flanked by palm trees and a vine.

The mosque was built by the Ethiopian Sidi Said, a royal slave, also known as Shaikh (honorific title) Said al-Habashi (the Ethiopian). Sidi Said retired a wealthy man to Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. Extremely learned and devout, he built the mosque in 1570-1571, and close by he opened a soup kitchen for the poor. He is buried near the mosque, and his grave continues to be a site of worship for Muslims.

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Overview of the book 

The book is a chequered and prismatic compilation of illustrated writings by specialists in history, numismatics, architecture and art history of South Asia.

In a country given to varying shades from light to dark skin tones, identifying an African is no simple a task. With dominant cross-cultural influences, identification of an African Muslim from that of an Indian Muslim is equally challenging. The presence of Sub-Saharan Africans in India is unique, for nowhere in the world a handful of Sub – Saharan Africans ruled over non-African population for so long.

References to African elites in India are available as early as 14th century as reported by the Arab traveller Ibn Battuta.

The book elucidates upon the role of the Sub-Saharan Africans as merchants, soldiers, statesmen and eunuchs who rose to prominence in different parts of India between the 15th and 20th centuries, discreetly silent, however, on issues pertaining to racial discrimination and exploitation that surface with the very mention of the African slave trade.

The history of India’s Africans, called Siddis, is the best known in the region—largely because of the documentation on those who rose to high positions as military commanders.

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The second section of the book deals with the medieval states of Delhi, Bengal, Gujarat and Khandesh, with specific reference to numismatics and architecture, while the section three elaborates on the prominent Africans in the Mughal Empire and the succeeding princely states of Janjira and Sachin. The last three chapters on the representation of Africans, history and present status of the marginalized African population in Hyderabad and intricacies involved in identifying Africans in miniatures, more or less, conclude the process of mapping the African presence in India.

In the age of instant communication and multimedia, the simultaneity of word and image is naturally enhanced. This, in effect, has altered the general perception and influenced recent publications, such as this, in approach and layout. More often than not, the text elucidates on the well-produced visuals with an inherent narrative sequence; the tone and tenor of the book resulting in communication through visual correspondences as a tool for instant persuasion and conviction. The book unravels and traces the path of discovery, taking the reader along in the expedition undertaken—a history that engages like a jigsaw puzzle; a history that culminates into the present.

Ethiopian/ Habashi Muslim Elites

Muhammad Khan, The Noble Ikhlas Khan With a Petition. Muhammad Khan (17th century), India. The Image on the right is his son Malik Ambar

Muhammad Khan, The Noble Ikhlas Khan With a Petition. Muhammad Khan (17th century), India. The Image on the right is his son Malik Ambar

 Several kings in Bengal, in east India, secured enslaved African soldiers to protect and expand their kingdoms. From 1460 to 1481, the sultan of Bengal, Rukn al-Din Barbak Shah, had 8,000 Africans in his army, some of whom held high command. Another king, Habesh Khan, was overthrown in 1490 by one of his African guardsmen, Sidi Badr, who seized the throne for himself and ruled for three years as Shams-ud-din Abu Nasr Musaffar Shah. Five thousand of his 30,000 soldiers were Habshi.

Ikhlas-Khan-and-Sultan-Muhammad-Adil-Shah

Ikhlas-Khan-and-Sultan-Muhammad-Adil-Shah

Sidi Badr was overthrown, and Africans in Bengal, especially those in high command, were expelled, as they were then seen as posing a threat to indigenous Indian rulers. Many of these Africans, both rank-and-file soldiers and commanders with experience, went either to the five Muslim sultanates of the Deccan or to Gujarat, where local rulers employed them as mercenaries—continuing the military contributions of Africans in India.

Portrait of Malik Ambar. Southern Indian, 1610-20, Ahmednagar, Deccan, India.

Portrait of Malik Ambar. Southern Indian, 1610-20, Ahmednagar, Deccan, India.

This portrait above, putatively of Malik Ambar, is believed to be of his son, Fateh Khan. Fateh Khan married the daughter of another Habshi (Ethiopian), one of the most powerful nobles in the kingdom. In 1631 vizier—top official—Fateh Khan deposed the sultan and installed Hussain Shah in his place. Khan held the real power until 1633, when both were exiled to Delhi and the kingdom was annexed by the Mughals

Malik Ambar, who became famous in the Deccan, is the best known of the Africans who seized power in India. With several surviving paintings of him accompanied by written documentation, his story is among the most detailed of the historical Habshis. Born in southern Ethiopia in the mid-16th century, Ambar was enslaved as a young man and taken to Mocha in Yemen, where he converted to Islam. Noted for his intellectual abilities, he was educated in finance and administration by his owners in western Arabia before being taken to Baghdad and then arriving in central India’s Deccan.

Rare image Murtaza Nizam Shah II and Malik Ambar

Rare image Murtaza Nizam Shah II and Malik Ambar

 Ambar’s recognized abilities brought him increasing responsibilities, including military authority. Under the minister of the king of Ahmadnagar, Ambar commanded both Indian and Habshi soldiers. By the turn of the 17th century, however, he rebelled and formed his own army of 150 men, which he eventually grew to 10,000 cavalry and infantrymen, many of whom were Africans. In 1610, an English merchant, William Finch, writing from near Ahmadnagar (where Ambar had become peshwa, or regent minister), noted that the Habshi general commanded “some ten thousand of his own [caste], all brave souldiers, and som[e] forty thousand Deccanees.”

Portrait of Malik 'Ambar (detail), early 17th century. India, Ahmadnagar

Portrait of Malik ‘Ambar (detail), early 17th century. India, Ahmadnagar

The runaway had become a mercenary general with a mobile armed force. Over the next two decades he fought for various rulers in the Deccan and fended off the incursions of the Mughal emperor Akbar and his successor Jahangir, each of whom attempted but failed to take control of the region. By 1616 Ambar not only commanded a powerful cavalry force that used British artillery, but was successfully cutting off Mughal supply lines through his naval alliance with the Siddi rulers of Janjira. Over the course of his campaigns against the Mughals, he continued to infuse his army with Habshi soldiers, whom he trained, provided with an education in the Quran, and used for his private guard.

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      Ambar sought to integrate his family into the indigenous royalty and nobility. His daughter was brought into the royal household of the Nizam Shahi dynasty as the wife of Sultan Murtaza II; and his son, Fateh Khan, married the daughter of one of the most powerful nobles of the land, Yakut Khan, a free Habshi.

Rare images document the centuries-long history of Africans in India

Rare images document the centuries-long history of Africans in India

Ambar, a ruler unto himself, established the city of Khadki in which he oversaw the construction of canals, an irrigation system, mosques, schools, tombs and a palace. He also distinguished himself for his religious tolerance. He granted land to Hindus, patronized Hindu scholars, and appointed Brahmins as officials and tax collectors. When the Habshi ruler died in 1626, he left one of the most impressive legacies of any ruler in the Deccan.

Sidi Sa’d Lyre Player. Mughal or Deccani Painting, c. 1640-1660. Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection.

Sidi Sa’d Lyre Player. Mughal or Deccani Painting, c. 1640-1660. Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection.

Sidi Sa’d was a follower of the Ethiopian-born Deccan ruler Malik Ambar. He is shown playing the typical Nubian lyre. Today these lyres, called nangas by the Siddis, can be seen in their shrines, but no one knows how to play them.

Since the 1400s, people from East Africa, from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and adjoining areas, have greatly distinguished themselves in India. They have written a story unparalleled in the rest of the world – that of enslaved Africans attaining the pinnacle of military and political authority. From Bengal in the northeast to Gujarat in the west and to the Deccan in Central India, these men and women known as Sidis and Habshis vigorously asserted themselves in the country of their enslavement.

African Muslim Theologians. Shah Jahan, ruler of the Mughal Empire between 1628 and 1658—and builder of the famous Taj-Mahal—honors Muslim learned men, including two Africans.

African Muslim Theologians. Shah Jahan, ruler of the Mughal Empire between 1628 and 1658—and builder of the famous Taj-Mahal—honors Muslim learned men, including two Africans.

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This portrait is believed to be the Afro-Indian Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah III (1605-1632), who ruled in the sultanate of Ahmednagar, in northwest Deccan.

The Mughals drew upon the tradition and practice of using African soldiers and sailors for protection, and Siddi captains were appointed admirals of their fleet. Some Siddis of the sea were their own masters, settling in the island fort of Janjira (south of Mumbai) and creating a string of fortifications along the coast. The island of Janjira (from jazeera, island or peninsula in Arabic) was a formidable fortress entirely surrounded by large walls with 22 rounded bastions. It was also known as Habsan (from Habsha, Ethiopia). The first African to be posted at Janjira was Sidi Ambar Sainak (“The Little,” to distinguish him from Malik Ambar), appointed by Malik Ambar in 1617.

      The rulers of Janjira, who formed their own royal lineage, remained undefeated for almost 300 years. Not until 1870 were the British—their Bombay garrison included more than 600 Africans in 1760—able to finally defeat the Siddis of Janjira. By that time, they had also become integrated with mainland Indian royalty.

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Cannons on Janjira. Well-conceived and well-defended, Janjira was never conquered. Originally, the fort counted 572 cannons; most were made in India, and seven came from various European countries. Siddi rule over the island lasted 330 years. It was inhabited until 1972.

Cannons on Janjira. Well-conceived and well-defended, Janjira was never conquered. Originally, the fort counted 572 cannons; most were made in India, and seven came from various European countries. Siddi rule over the island lasted 330 years. It was inhabited until 1972.

The island of Janjira (from jazeera, island or peninsula in Arabic) was a formidable fortress entirely surrounded by large walls with 22 rounded bastions. It was also known as Habsan (from Habsha, Ethiopia).

African ivory was the most sought-after commodity among Indian merchants; ivory was carried from the inland to the East African coast, where it was sold, loaded onto dhows, and transported to the ports of southern Arabia. From there they would continue across the Arabian Sea, stopping along the Makran coast, before continuing on to western India.

Given India’s large population, its indigenous slaves, and a caste system among Hindus in which most labor-intensive tasks were traditionally performed by specific groups, African males were employed in very specialized jobs, almost always having to do with some aspect of security—as soldiers, palace guards, or personal bodyguards.

African Eunuch Golconda 17th Century

African Eunuch Golconda 17th Century

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They were generally deemed more trustworthy than indigenous people to serve in those capacities, but in a number of cases Africans rebelled against their Muslim or Hindu rulers.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, African slave-soldiers seized power in the Bengal sultanate, parts of the Deccan, and the sultanate of Gujarat. However, several centuries before these rebellions, an Abyssinian attained high rank in alliance with the female ruler of Delhi.

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Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut

Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut (also Jamaluddin Yakut) was an African Siddi slave-turned-nobleman who was a close confidante of Razia Sultana, the first female monarch of the Delhi Sultanate in India, and who is speculated to have been her lover. Razia Sultana’s patronage made him an influential member of the court, provoking racial antagonism amongst the nobles and clergy, who were both primarily Turkish and already resentful of the rule of a female monarch.

Ethnic background

Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut lived during the time of the Sultan Iltutmish and then Razia Sultan, sometime from 1200 to 1240 CE, when he was slain in a revolt against Razia Sultan.[1] Yaqut was a habshi. Habshi’s were enslaved Africans of East African descent frequently employed by Muslim monarchs in India for their reputed physical prowess and loyalty and as such were an important part of the armies and administration of the Delhi Sultanate.

Biography

Yaqut rose in the ranks of the Delhi court, and found favour with the first female monarch of the Mamluk dynasty, Razia Sultana. Yaqut soon became a close advisor and was widely rumoured in the court and amongst the nobles to be the queen’s lover.Contemporary historians were also conflicted in their assessment — many including Ibn Battuta record that their relationship was illicit and too intimate in public, but others assert that Yaqut was just a close adviser and friend.

A particular incident that provoked the rumours was when Yaqut was observed sliding his arms under the queen’s armpits to hoist her onto a horse, which was seen as a flagrant act of intimacy. His power and influence grew through his close relationship with Razia Sultana, who appointed him to the important post of superintendent of the royal stables, giving a loyalist an important post and challenging the power of the Muslim nobles and orthodox leaders. She awarded him the honorific title Amir-al-Khayl (Amir of Horses) and later the much higher Amir al-Umara (Amir of Amirs), much to the consternation and outrage of the Turkish nobility. Already resented for being a woman ruler by the Muslim nobles and clerics, Razia’s proximity to an Abyssinian slave (considered racially inferior to the Turkish nobles who ruled the Sultanate) alienated the nobility and clerics and soon provoked open rebellion and conspiracy.

A rebellion led by Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda (Punjab) broke out against Razia and Yaqut; fearing a siege, Razia and Yaqut chose to go out of Delhi to engage the rebels. Forces loyal to Razia and Yaqut were routed by Altunia; Yaqut was killed and Razia was imprisoned until she married Altunia; however, both Razia and Altunia were subsequently killed in battle against Razia’s brother Bahram Shah, who had usurped the throne of Delhi in Razia’s absence.

 

Other African Muslims that ruled in India 

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After renouncing his rights to the throne of Janjira, Sidi Mohammad Abdul Karim Khan established the Sachin State in 1791 in Gujarat. It survived until 1948, when it was incorporated into Bombay (Mumbai) before becoming part of Gujarat. The Siddi dynasty was Muslim and ruled over a population 85 percent Hindu and 13 percent Muslim. Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan was enthroned as the seventh ruler of Sachin in 1930. A well-read intellectual, he retired to Mumbai where he died in 1970.

British East India Company which was formed in London in 1600 during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I and on 1st January 1858 the British Parliament declared. Queen Victoria of England as the new Empress of India. The British then appointed their Residents as the representa tives of the crown in different princely states of India to look after their administration properly.
Marwar (also called Jodhpur region) is a region of southwestern Rajasthan state in western India.

Map_rajasthan_dist_Jodhpur

Jodhpur state was founded in the 13th century by the Rathore clan of Rajputs, who claim descent from the Gahadvala kings of Kannauj. After the sacking of Kannauj by Muhammad of Ghor in 1194, and its capture by the Delhi Sultanate in the early 13th century, the Rathores fled west.

Khan
Internecine disputes and succession wars disturbed the peace of the early years of the 19th century, until in January 1818 Jodhpur was brought under British control. Jodhpur became a princely state in the Rajputana Agency of British India.

Maharaja Takht Singh (1843-‘73), supported the British during the Revolt of 1857. His successor, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II (1873-‘96), was a very enlightened ruler. His brother, Sir Pertab Singh, conducted the administration until his nephew, Sardar Singh, came of age in 1898. Maharaja Sardar Singh ruled until 1911. The imperial service cavalry formed part of the reserve brigade during the Tirah campaign

“It is the only case in history, that slaves from East African went to another continent and reached a high position in society,” said Diouf, in an interview to The American Bazaar. “The success was theirs but it is also a strong testimony to the open-mindedness of a society in which they were a small religious and ethnic minority, originally of low status,” says Diouf. “As foreigners and Muslims, Africans ruled over indigenous Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations.” The exhibition itself comprises of large panels; on each one of them are several images, comprising of contemporary photos, of monuments that the Africans built in India, and of Indian paintings of African rulers and officials, from private collections around the world, and from museums in India, England and the US. Diouf started compiling the objects and materials for the exhibition almost a year ago”

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Besides appearing in written documents, the Africans have been immortalized in the rich paintings of different eras, states, and styles that form an important component of Indian culture. Because of their high positions, they were captured in vivid and exquisite portraits as principal subjects or in the immediate vicinity of non-African rulers. Africans in India features dramatically stunning photographic reproductions of some of these paintings. As rulers, city planners, and architects the Sidis have left an impressive historical and architectural legacy that attest to their determination, skills, and intellectual, cultural, military and political savvy.

The imposing forts, mosques, mausoleums, and other edifices they built – some more than 500 years ago – still grace the Indian landscape. From humble beginnings, some Africans carved out princely states complete with their own coats of arms, armies, mints, and stamps. They fiercely defended them from powerful enemies well into the 20th century when, with another 600 princely states, they were integrated into the Indian state.

Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan, 1930

Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan, 1930

After renouncing his rights to the throne of Janjira, Sidi Mohammad Abdul Karim Khan established the Sachin State in 1791 in Gujarat. It survived until 1948, when it was incorporated into Bombay (Mumbai) before becoming part of Gujarat. The Siddi dynasty was Muslim and ruled over a population 85 percent Hindu and 13 percent Muslim. Nawab Sidi Mohammed Haider Khan was enthroned as the seventh ruler of Sachin in 1930. A well-read intellectual, he retired to Mumbai where he died in 1970.

Siddis Today

      A number of Siddis converted to Christianity in the 20th century and were sent to Mauritius, the Seychelles and Kenya with support from Christian missionaries. Those who went to Kenya settled in Freretown, near Mombasa. However, they remained relatively isolated, given that the majority of people around them were Muslim.

      Today, the number of Siddis in India, who include Muslims, Hindus and Christians, is estimated to be over 50,000. The largest concentration is in the states of Karnataka (southwest). There are an estimated 18,000 Siddis living in the district—mostly descendants of maroons (runaway slaves) from Goa beginning in the 16th century and continuing through the 19th. Their various communities consist of about 10 settlements, each with between five and 40 houses, organized into an association.

Sheedi Boy in Sindh. The Sheedi community is predominantly poor and has a small educated class, mostly in the interior of Sindh. "We have just awoken," says one community organizer; "I feel things will get better for the next generation."

Sheedi Boy in Sindh. The Sheedi community is predominantly poor and has a small educated class, mostly in the interior of Sindh. “We have just awoken,” says one community organizer; “I feel things will get better for the next generation.”

      About 12,000 Siddis live in Andhra Pradesh (southeast), mostly in the predominantly Muslim city of Hyderabad. Gujarat (northwest) is home to 10,000 Siddis; and smaller communities also exist in the states of Maharashtra (west), Madhya Pradesh (central), Uttar Pradesh (north), and Tamil Nadu (south).

      Siddis are considered simultaneously inside and outside the racial and caste classification systems in India and much of the subcontinent. The government of India has recently granted them “special tribal status,” guaranteeing them access to jobs and education, but most continue to live in poverty.

A Pakistani Sheedi girl smiles during a festival at Manghopir shrine in Karachi, Pakistan on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. The Sheedis are an ethnic group in Pakistan with dark features and curly hair whose ancestors are believed to have been brought to the subcontinent as slaves from Africa. Each year a ïCrocodile FestivalÍ is held at the 800-year-old shrine at Manghopir, an arid, hilly area at the outskirts of Karachi. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

A Pakistani Sheedi girl smiles during a festival at Manghopir shrine in Karachi, Pakistan on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. The Sheedis are an ethnic group in Pakistan with dark features and curly hair whose ancestors are believed to have been brought to the subcontinent as slaves from Africa. Each year a ïCrocodile FestivalÍ is held at the 800-year-old shrine at Manghopir, an arid, hilly area at the outskirts of Karachi. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

As the village head of Jambur, in Gujarat, Siddi Aisha Ben Basureem noted, “We have a lot to worry about; people in other villages live happy lives, but our people are miserable.” Some Muslim descendants of Africans in Karnataka prefer to be referred to as Muslim rather than Siddi—as they see their connection to the global Muslim world as primary—yet they also participate in Christian festivals; some Muslim Siddis in Karnataka and in Gujarat even pay homage to the Hindu deity Lakshmi. Such activities speak to the multiple ways in which Afro-Indians have connected with each other, despite religious differences, and have learned to navigate their societies.

References and Sources :

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World

Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers

Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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