Few need introduction to the westward movement of slaves from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean. Much has been documented and studied. But this wasn’t the only slave route that existed; a far older eastern movement of slaves was forcibly taking people to the opposite side of the world.
Between the first and 20th century, beginning with Arabs and the Ottomans, and later continued by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, an estimated 4 million Africans were taken from their homes, mostly in East Africa, and across the Indian Ocean. During this time there was also a voluntary migration of Africans as travellers and traders.
Undivided India was a major destination for African slaves where the Maharajahs, impressed with their physical strength and loyalty, employed them as soldiers and bodyguards. They also worked for the wealthy and colonial masters of the time as domestic slaves, concubines, agricultural workers and wet nurses.
With the abolition of the slavery, came the end of this horrific mass forced movement of people. But many, having been freed by their owners or earned their own freedom, were unable to return to their motherland and formed their own communities, becoming part of South Asia’s complex cobweb of cultures. But what is unique about India was that several African dynasties rose up and became powerful rulers of large areas, controlling great armies. The decedents of these families still survive today in India.
Whilst many aspects of their African ancestry have disappeared as they have become assimilated in to their host countries society, some remain. Many retain their African appearance and most have a passion for music and dance which retains a truly African style and rhythm.
The Sidi Project began in 2013 and since then I have undertaken three self-funded trips, two to India and one to Pakistan. The project looks to document the South Asia’s African diaspora, communities who live in South Asia, on the fringes of society. Culturally proud of their heritage they long to tell and show people their culture yet because of socio-economic factors and until recently, academic neglect, they remain relatively unknown. This project is trying to change that.
Janjira Fort located off the coast a few hours south of Mumbai. The Sidis, known for their powerful navy, controlled the Konkan coastline for over 300 years from this ocean fort. Despite many attempts by invaders including the Portuguese and the British it was never captured.
School children wake up after sleeping on their classroom floor at a Christian-run missionary school located next to the village of Gadgera in Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada district.
A groom waits for his bride to enter the main wedding hall at a Hindu Sidi wedding in the village of Idgundi in Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada district. More than 1000 guests will be arriving at this wedding, which happens to be the first of the year in the community.
Sidis take part in a Sunday Mass inside a Catholic church at Gadgera, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
A Sidi dance troupe gets ready to perform at an Independence Day celebration. Renowned for their unique dance and music owing to their African roots, this Sidi group is very popular and are hired to dance and sing at events ranging from weddings to government holiday events. Haliyal, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
A young Sidi boy stands watching the Urs, a celebration worshipping the Sufi saint Bava Gor, who is believed to be of Abyssinian origin too, in Bedi, Gujarat. Held once a year, the Urs is the most important celebration to the Sidis of Gujarat.
A young Sidi boy works in his family’s shop. Jambur, Gujarat, India
Sidi men become possessed by spirits during the community’s annual Urs celebration. Bedi, Gujarat, India.
A Sidi man fishes on a dam reservoir in a coracle.Bhagavati, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
A group of Sidi men, leaders of a local Sidi Development Society, have tea and snacks in a local restaurant.Yellapur, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Sidi and non-Sidi school girls tie their hair up before school begins at a Christian Missionary School near Gadgera, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Members of the Sidi community gather at the Bava Gor shrine in Gujarat during the anual Urs celebration.
Sidi students wait to show the Indian teacher their work at their village school. The village of Jambur in Gujarat is inhabited by sidis alone and the school too has only sidi children.
Sidi men play drums during the community’s annual Urs celebration. The whole occasion reverberates with African-sounding music. Bedi, Gujarat.
Chandrahas Sidi, 33, climbs a palm to collect the fruit which he and his family then prepare at sell. Baljagge, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Sidi children play outside their homes with a balloon in Yellapur, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Wedding guests eat inside a wedding hall at a Hindu sidi wedding served by the temples Brahmin helpers in Idgundi in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
A Sidi teacher does morning exercises with the children at a Christian-run missionary school located next to Gadgera, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
A Sidi dance and musical troupe performs at the Independence Day celebrations in Haliyal, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Local Sidis wait for the afternoon bus to arrive in Gullapur, Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Music being played during the Urs celebration in Bhuj, Gujarat.
A Sidi man ties his cattle up to graze on the outskirts of the village of Gadgera in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka.
Luke Duggleby is a British award-winning British freelance photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. After completing a degree in Photography in the UK he moved to Asia, first China and then to Bangkok, Thailand, where he has been based for over 10 years. Working on assignments and personal projects he regularly travels all over the Asian continent and further afield. Luke is represented by Redux Pictures in New York.
He has been assigned by and published in publications such as National Geographic Magazine, Sunday Times Magazine (UK), The Smithsonian Magazine, GEO France, Al Jazeera USA, GEO Germany, The New York Times, Geographical Magazine (UK) and The Wall Street Journal.