An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

Posts Tagged ‘Ancient India


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Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire
by Drusilla Dunjee Houston [1926, no renewal]


Because of the great lapse. of time, it seems almost impossible to locate the original seat of the old Ethiopian empire. Bochart thought it was “Happy Araby,” that from this central point the Cushite race spread eastward and westward. Some authorities like Gesenius thought it was Africa. The Greeks looked to old Ethiopia and called the Upper Nile the common cradle of mankind. Toward the rich luxurience of this region they looked for the “Garden of Eden.” From these people of the Upper Nile arose the oldest traditions and rites and from them sprang the first colonies and arts of antiquity. The Greeks also said that Egyptians derived their civilization and religion from Ethiopia. “Egyptian religion was not an original conception, for three thousand years ago she had lost all true sense of its real meaning among even the priesthood.” (Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection–Preface.) Yet Egyptian forms of worship are understood and practiced among the Ethiopians of Nubia today. The common people of Egypt never truly understood their religion, this was why it so easily became debased.

Ptolemaic writers said that Egypt was formed of the mud carried down, from Ethiopia, that Ethiopians were the first men that ever lived, the only truly autochthonous race and the first to institute the worship of the gods and the rites of sacrifice. Egypt itself was a colony of Ethiopia and the laws and script of both lands were naturally the same; but the hieroglyphic script was more widely known to the vulgar in Ethiopia than in Egypt. (Diodorus Siculus, bk. iii, ch. 3.) This knowledge of writing was universal in Ethiopia but was confined to the priestly classes alone in Egypt. This was because the Egyptian priesthood was Ethiopian. The highly developed Merodic inscriptions are not found in Egypt north of the first cataract or in Nubia south of Soba. These are differences we would expect to find between a colony and a parent body. Herodotus (bk. ii, p. 29) says that Meroe was a great city and metropolis, most of its buildings were of red brick. 800 B. C. at Napata, the buildings were of hard stone. (Meroe–Crowfoot, pp. 6, 30.)

The Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “There is every reason to conclude that the separate colonies of priestcraft spread from Meroe into Egypt; and the primeval monuments in Ethiopia strongly confirm the native traditions, reported by Diodorus Siculus, that the worship of Zeus-Ammon originated in Meroe, also the worship of Osiris. This would render highly probable the opinion that commerce, science and art descended into Egypt from the Upper Nile. Herodotus called the Ethiopians “Wisemen occupying the Upper Nile, men of long life, whose manners and customs pertain to the Golden Age,those virtuous mortals, whose feasts and banquets are honored by Jupiter himself.” In Greek times, the Egyptians depicted Ethiopia as an ideal state. The Puranas, the ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. These Sanskrit books mention the names of old Cushite kings that were worshipped in India and who were adopted and changed to suit the fancy of the later people of Greece and Rome.

The Hindu Puranas speak of the Cushites going to India before they went to Egypt, proving Hindu civilization coeval with that of Chaldea and the country of the Nile. These ancients record that the Egyptians were a colony drawn out from Cusha-Dwipa and that the Palli, another colony that made the Phoenicians followed them from the land of Cush. In those primitive days, the central seat of Ethiopia was not the Meroe of our day, which is very ancient, but a kingdom that preceeded it by many ages; that was called Meru. Lenormant spoke of the first men of the ancient world as “Men of Meru.” Sanskrit writers called Indra, chief god of the Hindu, king of Meru. He was deified and became the chief representative of the supreme being. Thus was primitive India settled by colonists from Ethiopia. Early writers said there was very little difference in the color or features of the people of the two countries.

Ancient traditions told of the deeds of Deva Nahusha, another sovereign of Meru, who extended his empire over three worlds. The lost literature of Asia Minor dealt with this extension of the Ethiopian domain. An old poem “Phrygia,” was a history of Dionysus, one of the most celebrated of the old Ethiopians. It was written in a very old language and character. He preceeded Menes by many ages. Baldwin says that the authentic books that would have given us the true history concerning him, perished long before the Hellenes. The Greeks of historical times distorted the story of Dionysus and converted him into their drunken god of wine. “They misconstrued and misused the old Cushite mythology, wherever they failed to understand it, and sought to appropriate it entirely to themselves.” One of the poetical versions of the taking of Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor, was entitled “The Æthiops,” because the inhabitants of Troy, as we shall prove later, who fought so valiantly in the Trojan war, were Cushite Ethiopians. This version presented the conflict as an Egyptian war.

In those early ages Egypt was under Ethiopian domination. In proof of this fact, the Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature says, “Isaiah often mentions Ethiopia and Egypt in close political relations. In fine the name of Ethiopia chiefly stood as the name of the national and royal family of Egypt. In the beginning Egypt was ruled from Ethiopia. Ethiopia was ruined by her wars with Egypt, which she sometimes subdued and sometimes served.” Modern books contain but little information about the country of the Upper Nile, but archaic books were full of the story of the wonderful Ethiopians. The ancients said that they settled Egypt. Is it possible that we could know more about the origin of this nation than they? Reclus says, “The people occupying the plateau of the Blue Nile, are conscious of a glorious past and proudly call themselves Ethiopians.” He calls the whole triangular space between the Nile and the Red Sea, Ethiopia proper. This vast highland constituted a world apart. From it went forth the inspiration and light now bearing its fruit in the life of younger nations.

Heeren thought, that excepting the Egyptians, no aboriginal people of Africa so claim our attention as the Ethiopians. He asks, “To what shall we attribute the renown of this one of the most distant nations of the earth? How did the fame of her name permeate the terrible deserts that surrounded her: and even yet form an insuperable bar to all who approach. A great many nations distant and different from one another are called Ethiopians. Africa contains the greater number of them and a considerable tract in Asia was occupied by this race. The Ethiopians were distinguished from the other races by a very dark or completely black skin. ” (Heeren’s Historical Researches–Ethiopian Nations. Ch. 1, p. 46) Existing monuments confirm the high antiquity of Meroe. In the Persian period Ethiopia was an important and independent state, which Cambyses vainly attempted to subdue. Rosellini thinks that the right of Sabaco and Tirhakah, Ethiopian kings, who sat upon the throne of Egypt in the latter days, must have been more by right of descent than by usurpation or force of arms. “This may be judged,” he says, “by the respect paid to their monuments by their successors.”

The pictures on the Egyptian monuments reveal that Ethiopians were the builders. They, not the Egyptians, were the master-craftsmen of the earlier ages. The first courses of the pyramids were built of Ethiopian stone. The Cushites were a sacerdotal or priestly race. There was a religious and astronomical significance in the position and shape of the pyramids. Dubois points to the fact that in Upper Egypt there were pictured black priests who were conferring upon red Egyptians, the instruments and symbols of priesthood. Ethiopians in very early ages had an original and astounding religion, which included the rite of human sacrifice. It lingered on in the early life of Greece and Home. Dowd explains this rite in this way: “The African offered his nearest and dearest, not from depravity but from a greater love for the supreme being.” The priestly caste was more influencial upon the Upper Nile than in Egypt. With the withdrawal of the Ethiopian priesthood from Egypt to Napata, the people of the Lower Nile lost the sense of the real meaning of their religion, which steadily deteriorated with their language after their separation from Ethiopia.

If we visit Nubia, modern Ethiopia today, we can plainly see in the inhabitants their superiority to the common Egyptian type. The Barabra or Nile Nubians are on a footing of perfect equality in Egypt because that was their plane in ancient days. Baedecker describes them as strong, muscular, agricultural and more warlike and energetic than Egyptians. Keane says the Nubians excel in moral qualities. They are by his description obviously Negroid, very dark with full lips and dreamy eyes. They have the narrow heads which are the cranial formation of Ethiopia. Race may be told by shape of the skull far better than by color or feature, which are modified by climate. The members of the Tartar race have perfectly rounded skulls. The head of the Ethiopian races is very elongated. Europeans have an intermediate skull. The cranial formation of unmixed races never changes. Keane concludes by saying, “All Barbara have wooly hair with scant beards like the figures of Negroes on the walls of the Egyptian temples.” The race of the Old Empire approached closely to this type.

Strabo mentions the Nubians as a great race west of the Nile. They came originally from Kordofan, whence they emigrated two thousand years ago. They have rejected the name Nubas as it has become synonymous with slave. They call themselves Barabra, their ancient race name. Sanskrit historians call the Old Race of the Upper Nile Barabra. These Nubians have become slightly modified but are still plainly Negroid. They look like the Wawa on the Egyptian monuments. The Retu type number one was the ancient Egyptian, the Retu type number two was in feature an intermingling of the Ethiopian and Egyptian types. The Wawa were Cushites and the name occurs in the mural inscriptions five thousands years ago. Both people were much intermingled six thousand years ago. The faces of the Egyptians of the Old Monarchy are Ethiopian but as the ages went on they altered from the constant intermingling with Asiatic types. Also the intense furnace-like heat of Upper Egypt tended to change the features and darken the skin.

In the inscriptions relative to the campaigns of Pepi I, Negroes are represented as immediately adjoining the Egyptian frontier. This seems to perplex some authors. They had always been there. This was the Old Race of predynastic Egypt–the primitive Cushite type. This was the aboriginal race of Abyssinia. It was symbolized by the Great Sphinx and the marvelous face of Cheops. Take any book of Egyptian history containing authentic cuts and examine the faces of the first pharaohs, they are distinctively Ethiopian. The “Agu” of the monuments represented this aboriginal race. They were the ancestors of the Nubians. and were the ruling race of Egypt. Petrie in 1892 exhibited before the British Association, some skulls of the Third and Fourth Dynasties, showing distinct Negroid characteristics. They were dolichocephalic or long skulled. The findings of archaeology more and more reveal that Egypt was Cushite in her beginning and that Ethiopians were not a branch of the Japheth race in the sense that they are so represented in the average ethnological classifications of today.


Egyptians said that they and their religion had come from the land of Punt. Punt is generally accepted today to have been Somaliland south of Nubia. On the pictured plates at Deir-el-Baheri, the huts of the people of Punt were like the Toquls of the modern Sudanese, being built on piles approached by ladders. The birds were like a species common among the Somali. The fishes were not like those of Egypt. The wife of the king of Punt appears with a form like the Bongo women with exaggerated organs of maternity. This was a distinctive Ethiopian form. The king had the Cushite profile. The products carried by the wooly haired porters were ebony, piles of elephant tusks, all African products and trays of massive gold rings. Punt is mentioned in the inscriptions as a land of wonders. We find marvelous ruins in southeastern Africa that substantiate these reports. The inscription in the rocky valley of Hammat tells how 2000 B. C. a force gathered in the Thebaid to go on an expedition to Punt to bring back the products that made the costly incense of the ancients. The Stage Temple at Thebes showed in gorgeous pictures another expedition in 1600 B. C. We now know that Somaliland yielded the frankincense of ancient commerce, which was used in the ceremonials of all ancient kingdoms. Punt was called the “Holy Land” by the Egyptians.

In Egypt today, the most effective battalions are those commanded by black Nubians. In ancient ages the Egyptians followed the lead of the Ethiopian to battle and it is instinctive in them to do so today. Cushites were the backbone of the armies in the earliest ages. The Egyptian has no warlike qualities. It was the Cushite who was the head and brains of the foreign conquests. It was the Cushite element of the Old Empire that extended itself in foreign colonization eastward and westward around the world. Across Arabia and southwestern Asia, even to the central highlands, inscriptions and massive images in stone stand as voiceless witnesses that they were the commanders of the Egyptian armies and that the Ethiopian masses accompanied the soldiers as trusted allies and not as driven slaves. We must remember that in the early ages they were not a subject race but that their power as a great empire was at its zenith.

The Egyptian of today much changed from the ancient whom Herodotus called black, is content to live in a mud hut beside his beloved Nile. He is despised by the prouder Nubian, who saves his earnings to buy a home and piece of ground in his native Ethiopia. Reclus tells us that the dislike between Egyptians and Nubians is carried to such a great extent that the Nubians even in Egypt will not marry an Egyptian woman and that he refuses his daughter in marriage to the Egyptian and Arab. This could have come down alone front an age-old consciousness of superiority. He knows the proud traditions of his race. In books careless of ethnography, we find the Nubian classed with Semitic stock. They have no affinities at all with this race. Nubians are never able to speak the Arabic tongues gramatically. Nubian women are seldom seen in Egypt. They are the most faithful to the manners and customs of the Old Race. The Egyptian of today makes
little showings of ambition or the spirit for great deeds. He squanders his earnings upon trinkets and seems content in the same mud hovel in which the masses of Egyptians primitively lived.

Prichard recognizes two branches of the Nubians, the Nubians of the Nile and those of the Red Sea. In the age of Herodotus, the countries known as Nubia and Senaar were occupied by two different races, one of which he includes under the name Ethiopian; the other was a pastorial race of Semitic decent which led a migratory life. This distinction continues to the present day. The Red Sea nomadic tribes are extremely savage and inhospitable. The Nile Nubas or Barabra are the original Ethiopians. They are agricultural and have the old Hamitic traits. They plant date trees and set up wheels for irrigation. These are the Ethiopians mentioned in chronicles as possessing war chariots. Their allies were the Libyans. Semites at that age of the world had no possession of iron vehicles. Heeren says “that the ancestors of these Ethiopians had long lived in cities and had erected magnificent temples and edifices, that they possessed law and government, and that the fame of their progress in knowledge and the social arts had spread in the earliest ages to a considerable part of the world.”

Maurice, that reliable authority on ancient remains, declares, “The ancient Ethiopians were the architectural giants of the past. When the daring Cushite genius was in the full career of its glory, it was the peculiar delight of this enterprising race to erect stupendous edifices, excavate long subterranean passages in the living rock, form vast lakes and extend over the hollows of adjoining mountains magnificent arches for aqueducts and bridges. It was they who built the tower of Babel or Belus and raised the pyramids or Egypt; it was they who formed the grottoes near the Nile and scooped the caverns of Salsette end Elephante. (These latter are wonders of Hindu architecture.) Their skill in mechanical powers astonishes posterity, who are unable to conceive by what means stones thirty, forty and even sixty feet in length from twelve to twenty in depth could ever be raised to the point of elevation at which they are seen in the ruined temples of Belbec and Thebais. Those comprising the pagodas of India are scarcely less wonderful in point of elevation and magnitude.” (Maurice’s Ancient History of Hindustan.)


Written by Tseday

September 14, 2008 at 3:41 am


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One of the foremost tasks for contemporary African centered scholars is to provide an historical overview of the global African community. This is a critical task that must be completed in its entirety. This includes the history, culture and present condition of African people both at home and abroad. We are already aware, it should be pointed out, based on recent scientific studies of DNA, that modern humanity originated in Africa, that African people are the world’s aboriginal people and that all modern humans can ultimately trace their ancestral roots back to Africa. If not for the primordial migrations of early African people, humanity would have remained physically Africoid, and the rest of the world outside of the African continent absent of human life. This is our starting point.

Since the first modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) were of African birth, the African presence globally can be demonstrated through the history of the Black populations that have inhabited the world within the span of recent humanity. Not only are African people the aboriginal people of the planet, however, there is abundant evidence to show that Black people created and sustained many of the world’s earliest and most enduring civilizations. Such was the case in India.

The questions we pose here are simply these: Who are the African people of India? What is their significance in the annals of history? Precisely what have they done and what are they doing now? These are extremely serious questions that warrant serious and fundamental answers.

xceptionally valuable writings reflecting close relationships between Africa and early India have existed for more than two thousand years. In the first century B.C.E., for example, the famous Greek historian Diodorus Siculus penned that, “From Ethiopia he (Osiris) passed through Arabia, bordering upon the Red Sea as far as India…. He built many cities in India, one of which he called Nysa, willing to have remembrance of that (Nysa) in Egypt, where he was brought up.”

Another important writer from antiquity, Apollonius of Tyana, who is said to have visited India near the end of the first century C.E., was convinced that “The Ethiopians are colonists sent from India, who follow their forefathers in matters of wisdom.” The literary work of the early Christian writer Eusebius preserves the tradition that, “In the reign of Amenophis III [the mighty Dynasty XVIII Egyptian king] a body of Ethiopians migrated from the country about the Indus, and settled in the valley of the Nile.” And still another document from ancient times, the Itinerarium Alexandri, says that “India, taken as a whole, beginning from the north and embracing what of it is subject to Persia, is a continuation of Egypt and the Ethiopians.” 


In Greater India, more than a thousand years before the foundations of Greece and Rome, proud and industrious Black men and women known as Dravidians erected a powerful civilization. We are referring here to the Indus Valley civilization- -India’s earliest high-culture, with major cities spread out along the course of the Indus River. The Indus Valley civilization was at its height from about 2200 B.C.E. to 1700 B.C.E. This phase of its history is called the Harappan, the name being derived from Harappa, one of the earliest known Indus Valley cities.

In 1922, about 350 miles northeast of Harappa, another large Indus city, Mohenjo-daro (the Mound of the Dead) was identified. Mohenjo-daro and Harappa were apparently the chief administrative centers of the Indus Valley complex, and since their identification, several additional cities, including Chanhu-daro, Kalibangan, Quetta and Lothal have been excavated.

The Indus cities possessed multiple level houses enhanced by sophisticated wells, drainage systems and bathrooms with flushing toilets. A recognized scholar on the Indus Valley civilization, Dr. Walter Fairservis, states that the “Harappans cultivated cotton and perhaps rice, domesticated the chicken and may have invented the game of chess and one of the two great early sources of nonmuscle power: the windmill.”

The decline and fall of the Indus Valley civilization has been linked to several factors, the most important of which were the increasingly frequent incursions of the White people known in history as Aryans–violent Indo-European tribes initially from central Eurasia and later Iran. Indeed, the name Iran means the “land of the Aryan.”


The White tribes that invaded India and disrupted Black civilization there are known as Aryans.  The Aryans were not necessarily superior warriors to the Blacks but they were aggressive, developed sophisticated military technologies and glorified military virtues.  After hundreds of years of intense martial conflict the Aryans succeeded in subjugating most of northern India.  Throughout the vanquished territories a rigid, caste-segmented social order was established with the masses of conquered Blacks (called Shudras) essentially reduced to slaves to the Whites and imposed upon for service in any capacity required by their White conquerors.  This vicious new world order was cold-bloodily racist, with the Whites on top, the mixed races in the middle, and the overwhelming majority of Black people on the very bottom.  In fact, the Aryan term varna, denoting one’s societal status and used interchangeably with caste, literally means color or complexion and reflects a prevalent racial hierarchy. Truly, India is still a racist country.  White supremacist David Duke claimed “that his 1970’s visit to India was a turning point in his views on the superiority of the White race.”

Caste law in India, based originally on race, regulated all aspects of life, including marriage, diet, education, place of residence and occupation.  This is not to deny that there were certain elements of the Black aristocracy that managed to gain prominence in the dominant White social structure.  The masses of conquered Black people, however, were regarded by the Whites as Untruth itself.  The Whites claimed to have emerged from the mouth of God; the Blacks, on the other hand, were said to have emerged from the feet of God.  This was the ugly reality for the Black masses in conquered India.  It was written that:

“A Sudra [Black] who intentionally reviles twice-born men [Whites] by criminal abuse, or criminally assaults them with blows, shall be deprived of the limb with which he offends.  If he has criminal intercourse with an Aryan woman, his organ shall be cut off, and all his property confiscated.  If the woman has a protector, the Sudra shall be executed.  If he listens intentionally to a recitation of the Veda [a traditional Hindu religious text], his tongue shall be cut out.  If he commits them to memory his body shall be split in half.”

Servitude to Whites became the basis of the lives of the Black people of India for generation after generation after generation.  With the passage of time, this brutally harsh, color-oriented, racially-based caste system became the foundation of the religion that is now practiced throughout all India.  This is the religion known as Hinduism.


Buddhism appeared in India during the sixth century B.C.E. and came in the form of a protest against Hinduism.  Buddhism opposed the arrogance of caste, and preached tolerance.  It should not be surprising, then, that it developed a large and rapid following in the regions of India where the Blacks had survived in substantial numbers.  On the emergence of Buddhism in India, Diop has suggested that:

“It would seem that Buddha was an Egyptian priest, chased from Memphis by the persecution of Cambyses.  This tradition would justify the portrayal of Buddha with woolly hair.  Historical documents do not invalidate this tradition…There is general agreement today on placing in the sixth century not only Buddha but the whole religious and philosophical movement in Asia with Confucius in China, Zoroaster in Iran.  This would confirm the hypothesis of a dispersion of Egyptian priests at that time spreading their doctrine in Asia.”

Dr. Vulindlela Wobogo, another African-centric scholar, has observed that:

“Manifestations of the Buddha in Asia are Black with woolly hair.  They all appear to be Egypto-Nubian priests who fled Egypt…The priests carried their spiritual knowledge but lost much of the scientific knowledge for obvious reasons.  The well-known aspects of Buddhism and its companion, yoga, are all simply Egypto-Nubian priesthood practices, meditation, and…the belief that one could attain a god-like state if the soul was liberated from the body through knowledge and denial.”

In a monumental two volume work entitled A Book of the Beginnings, originally published in 1881, Gerald Massey recorded that:

“It is not necessary to show that the first colonisers of India were Black, but it is certain that the Black Buddha of India was imaged in the Africoid type.  In the Black [African] god, whether called Buddha or Sut-Nahsi, we have a datum.  they carry in their color the proof of their origin.  The people who first fashioned and worshipped the divine image in the Africoid mold of humanity must, according to all knowledge of human nature, have been Africans themselves.  For the Blackness is not merely mystical, the features and the hair of Buddha belong to the Black race.”

In the first volume of his massive text Anacalypsis, Godfrey Higgins wrote that:

“The religion of Buddha, of India, is well known to have been very ancient.  In the most ancient temples scattered through Asia, where his worship is yet continued, he is found black as jet, with the flat face, thick lips and curly hair of the African.”


Possibly the most substantial percentage of Asia’s Blacks can be identified among India’s 160 million “Untouchables” or “Dalits.” Frequently they are called “Outcastes.”  Indian nationalist leader and devout Hindu Mohandas K. Gandhi called them “Harijans,” meaning “children of god.”  The official name given them in India’s constitution (1951) is “Scheduled Castes.”  “Dalit,” meaning “crushed and broken,” is a name that has come into prominence only within the last four decades. “Dalit” reflects a radically different response to oppression.

The Dalit are demonstrating a rapidly expanding awareness of their African ancestry and their relationship to the struggle of Black people throughout the world. They seem particularly enamored of African-Americans.  African-Americans, in general, seem almost idolized by the Dalit, and the Black Panther Party, in particular, is virtually revered. In April 1972, for example, the Dalit Panther Party was formed in Bombay, India. This organization takes its pride and inspiration directly from the Black Panther Party of the United States.  This is a highly important development due to the fact that the Untouchables have historically been so systematically terrorized that many of them, even today, live in a perpetual state of extreme fear of their upper caste oppressors.  This is especially evident in the villages.  The formation of the Dalit Panthers and the corresponding philosophy that accompanies it signals a fundamental change in the annals of resistance, and  Dalit Panther organizations have subsequently spread to other parts of India.  In August 1972, the Dalit Panthers announced that the 25th anniversary of Indian independence would be celebrated as a day of mourning.  In 1981, in Bangalore, India Dravidian journalist V.T. Rajshekar published the first issue of Dalit Voice–the major English journal of the Black Untouchables.  In a 1987 publication entitled the African Presence in Early Asia, Rajshekar stated that:

“The African-Americans also must know that their liberation struggle cannot be complete as long as their own blood-brothers and sisters living in far off Asia are suffering.  It is true that African-Americans are also suffering, but our people here today are where African-Americans were two hundred years ago.

African-American leaders can give our struggle tremendous support by bringing forth knowledge of the existence of such a huge chunk of Asian Blacks to the notice of both the American Black masses and the Black masses who dwell within the African continent itself.”…


India also received its share of African bondsmen, of whom the most famous was the celebrated Malik Ambar (1550-1626).  Ambar, like a number of Africans in medieval India, elevated himself to a position of great authority.  Malik Ambar, whose original name was Shambu, was born around 1550 in Harar, Ethiopia.  After his arrival in India Ambar was able to raise a formidable army and achieve great power in the west Indian realm of Ahmadnagar.  Ambar was a brilliant diplomat and administrator. He encouraged manufactures and built canals and mosques.  He gave pensions to poets and scholars, established a postal service, and ultimately became one of the most famous men in India. 

In a collective form, however, and in respect to long term influence, the African sailors known as Siddis stand out.  Certainly, Siddi kingdoms were established in western India in Janjira and Jaffrabad as early as 1100 AD.  After their conversion to Islam, the African freedmen of India, originally called Habshi from the Arabic, called themselves Sayyad (descendants of Muhammad) and were consequently called Siddis. Indeed, the island Janjira was formerly called Habshan, meaning Habshan’s or African’s land.  Siddi signifies lord or prince.  It is further said that Siddi is an expression of respectful address commonly used in North Africa, like Sahib in India.  Specifically, it is said to be an honorific title given to the descendants of African natives in the west of India, some of whom were distinguished military officers and administrators of the Muslim princes of the Deccan.

In the second decade of the sixteenth century a European traveler named Armando Cortesao noted that:

“The people who govern the kingdom [Bengal] are Abyssinians [Ethiopians].  These men are looked upon as knights; they are greatly esteemed; they wait on the kings in their apartments.  The chief among them are eunuchs and these come to be kings and great lords in the kingdom.  Those who are not eunuchs are the fighting men.  After the king, it is to this people that the kingdom is obedient from fear.”

The Siddis were a tightly knit group, highly aggressive, and even ferocious in battle.  They were employed largely as security forces for Muslim fleets in the Indian Ocean, a position they maintained for centuries.  The Siddi commanders were titled Admirals of the Mughal Empire, and received an annual salary of 300,000 rupees.  According to Ibn Battuta (1304-1377), the noted Muslim writer who journeyed through both Africa and Asia, the Siddis “are the guarantors of safety on the Indian Ocean; let there be but one of them on a ship and it will be avoided by the Indian pirates and idolaters.”

Written by Tseday

August 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm