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Gujarat – an example of unity in diversity; is home to people from many different places, religions and cultures. Even with extensive modernization, Gujarat and its people have been able to preserve the rich culture and tradition of the ancient past. This culture, however, is varied due to the diverse ethnic groups that have settled in Gujarat. The folklore and folk arts of Gujarat form a major part of the Culture of Gujarat. And the Gujaratis exhibit a natural penchant for singing and dancing. They have songs and dances for almost every occasion and the most important fact is that Gujarat has successfully preserved this rich tradition.

Gujarat, among all these, is also home to its own little South Africa. Siddis, a Negroid ethnic group, have settled in India, with Gujarat being their main population centre. These Afro Indians are called Siddi, Siddhi, Sheedi or Habshi. They came to Gujarat as laborers and salt workers, and now have become an indivisible part of Gujarat.


The story goes back to 300 years ago, when the ancestors of the Siddi tribe migrated to several places in Gujarat. The royal kings hired them due to their strength and power and the infiltration of the tribe grew day by day. It is believed that the Siddis were presented as slaves and workers to the Nawab of Junagadh by the Portuguese. It has been said that African ancestors of this tribal community came to India during the 10th century with the Arab merchants. In spite of their reputation as fine fighters, several of these Siddi tribes worked as domestic servants and as laborers in the farmlands. In order to create their own separate communities, a handful of these Siddi tribes also took refuge in the interiors of the forest areas. Much later in the beginning of the 20th century, in the provinces of Janjira and Jafrabad, small Siddi lands were formed. They played a remarkable role as kings, in the struggle between the Marathas and the Mughal, in the military and as governmental leaders too.

Another story is that the Siddis are supposed to have originally come from Kano in Nigeria via the Sudan and Mecca after their Hajj pilgrimage. Their leader was a wealthy merchant by the name of Baba Ghor who first settled in the Rajpipla Hills near Bharuch and Khambhat where he developed mining and trade.


The Siddi community settled in Gujarat, Andra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Goa. In Gujarat, they are mainly concentrated in Junagadh district. Jambur, approximately 100 km from Junagadh is known as Gujarat’s South Africa as most of the Siddis have settled here. They are also found in the districts of Ahmedabad, Amreli, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Bharuch and the former Kingdom of Kutch. Saurashtra and Rajpipla are also known to have a large Siddi population.


Although Gujarati Siddis have adopted the language and many customs of their surrounding populations, some African traditions have been preserved. One of these is the Siddi Dhamal Dance. In this dance form, the dancers dance with two thin sticks exhibiting their art and skill while dancing. Also known as Mashira Nritya, in the olden days it was performed by Siddis after returning from a successful hunt of wild animals when they would be overwhelmed with joy and in a state of frenzy. They sing in the African Swahili language. The dancers paint their faces and sometimes they wear peacock feathers and belts made of shell. A unique aspect of their Dhamal dance is the action of throwing a coconut high up in the air and cracking it on their head without fail. Another action is when they walk on live coals with bare feet in an acrobatic dance with fierce facial expressions. Their movements display a flexible neck and waist, dancing to a faster beat as the tempo of the drums pick up. This outstanding dancing style has been retained for generations by the Siddis.

This dance form is also called Goma, which has a spiritual significance too. At the climax of the dance, some dancers are believed to be vehicles for the presence of Siddi saints of the past.


Siddis are mainly Sufi Muslims, although some are Hindus and some Roman Catholic Christians. Apart from inclination towards religions, this Siddi tribal community follows the age old practice of worshipping their ancestors. It is also called Hiriyaru. They worship Baba Gaur, an Abyssinian saint whose tomb is on a hill above Ratanpur carnelian mines in western Rajpipla.

However, the Siddis have got some reservations in case of marriages. Inter religion marriages are strictly prohibited in the Siddis.

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