We meet people of different origin and learn, most of the times marvel at their culture. This affair has been so far one of the prominent reason for driving our passion to travel. We were charmed by the Bishnoi and other communities in rural Rajasthan where we had an opportunity to learn about their culture and lifestyle.
And on our trip to hometown Hubli in Karnataka for Christmas vacation, we were astonished to learn about the Siddis a community of African descendant in India. The Siddis are a small community descending from the southeast part of Africa residing in India for some hundreds of years now. It is believed that they were mainly brought to India by Portuguese and Arabs as slaves and soldiers. The community is predominately found in parts of Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra in India.
We took this as an opportunity to meet the Siddis of Garadolli village in Haliyal town around 50 km from our hometown. The Garadolli village is inhabited by people of African descent and it is amazing to know that currently there are 250 families in the village directly related to each other.
We drove deeper into the dense forest on the desolate roads with no signboards to guide us to the village. We did find a couple of forest rangers working in forests who guided us on directions to the village.
As we neared the village we started spotting some people from the community moving around on bikes who we learned later were busy with the Christmas preparation. We met a group of guys and informed them of our interests. One of the guys took us to the eldest women living in their community who seemed to be close to century.
It was an amazing experience to learn about her account of last hundred years of community history. Though she agreed with being of African lineage somewhere from Mozambique in Africa she had no clue as to when and how their ancestors landed in India.
The Siddi Community
The community we visited followed Christianity. There are several Hindu and Muslim Siddi communities in and around Karnataka. Other than the facial features and the curly hair one cannot distinguish the Siddis from other Indians owing to their wonderful assimilation into Indian Culture. They wear sarees the Indian traditional attires, speak local language; the village we visited spoke Marathi, Konkani and Kannada. They celebrated local and religious festivals like any other Christian in Karnataka. But they strictly don’t support marriages outside their community.
We made a visit to the village day before Christmas and everyone was busy gearing up for the festival shopping and decorating their houses.
The kids in the community who seemed surprised to see us ran around frolicking in the best of festive mood.
We had some yummy surprises for the kids and the smile that these surprises brought was priceless. We did make a lot of tiny friends.
Schools for Siddi Kids
There is only primary school facility in the village which too has been started only a few years back. The women of the family we talked to told us with great regret that they never had the privilege to education but are happy that their kids have the facilities.
And after primary, the kids have to go to the town for further studies around 8 to 10 km from the village. Thankfully they do have bus facilities for the kids to go to the school.
There is one church in the village and some small grocery shops but majorly they go to the Haliyal town to meet their needs and for festive shopping.
The main work of the Siddis since long has been farming and every family in the community owns a land for cultivation. The Siddis mainly grow ragi and wheat. The woman we spoke to told us how they slogged on farms with their parents and grandparents only to be paid a meager wage which never helped them improve their economic status.
As against the norms in those days most of the youths today have started moving out of the villages looking for jobs. The educated ones have moved to other metro cities like Mumbai and Chennai in search of a job. Few of them have travelled overseas to Kuwait and Dubai for better jobs.
We met a group of girls from college who have taken up simple home business of selling bric-a-brac to support their family.
But the good thing is they all are firmly rooted into their community. They have returned to the village for the festive season to celebrate the festival with their family.
During the 90s an initiative was taken up to train the kids from Siddi community and use their potential for a good athlete which had subsequently helped a lot to make a living by buying lands and taking up jobs. And many had won medals and made records too but then the project was shelved. Today there has been efforts from the youths of the community and Sports Authority of India (SAI) to revive the project. Several training centres have been opened which would hopefully help the kids. Know more about this from a former athlete here.
Visiting the Siddi Community and learning of their lifestyle was a unique experience. The past definitely has not been easier for this community always treated as an outsider facing discrimination at every step. Hopefully with the advent of education and other modern facilities things would get better in the future.
Have you had a chance to meet these amazing people from Siddi community? Do share your experience with us.
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