ALLAUDIN QURESHI: African Indians who keep their culture alive

Saturday January 2 2016

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An article by Abdul Aziz Y Lodhi, an associate Professor of Swahili and comparative Bantu studies at Uppsala University in Sweden, about an African-Indian community of India prompted me to file this story.

The African-Indian Sidi community is of East African origin. Their ancestors were taken to or went to India more than eight centuries ago and made, among other places in South East Asia, the Indian Gujarat their home.

Today it is comparatively a small community due to intermarriage and assimilation. However, it surprisingly still retains certain lifestyle aspects inherited from its ancestors.

The Sidis have maintained some of their East African customs. It has kept live the rituals of their Bantu past but members of the community have adopted Islam as their religion with the Indian variant of the Sufi cult.

Masterful musicians and dancers from the community never miss a chance to project and create awareness about their religious rituals performed at home in India at the shrine of their spiritual leader Bava Gor.

The Sidi performers with their centuries old songs, musical bows and drums mesmerise visitors and tourists. The African soul in their renditions combined with the lyrical Sufi traditions creates ecstatic vibrations.

These proud Afro-Indian cultural ambassadors have visited other countries as well. Years ago they were at the historic inauguration of Barack Obama as President of US. They have even come to meet and entertain Kenyans at a past episode of the Samosa Festival.

I understand Sidis are not only culturally awake but are politically in tune with the happenings in India. We may hear someday that a member of the Sidi community has been elected to the post of the Indian premier.

Like Obama’s Kogelo then, a small village in the Kenyan coast may be discovered and get prominence as the Indian PM’s ancestral home.