In This Diverse Landscape Cultural Studies Essay

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In this diverse landscape, Sidis of Gujǎrāt are a unique African minority community; the only ethnic group amongst the mainland population with well defined Negroid features. (Gupta, 1991, p. 209). Their African religious and cultural normativity, which sets them apart from other Muslims within the region (Ahmed cited in Catlin-Jairazbhoy, 2004). The paper investigates indicators of self perceptions of identity in the context of rising trends of globalisation encountered by Sidi community in Jambur and its vicinities in the Jūnāgadh district of Gujǎrāt. In the rising trend of globalisation and modernisation the self perception of Sidi Identity is variously articulated through the social forces that shapes the Sidi Identity. Thus study takes a constructivist positions arguing that Sidis in Gujǎrāt are actively redefining what is means to be Sidi. Several multilayered, paradoxical and shifting positions can be discerned in the way the Sidis in Gujǎrāt negotiate their identity.

Sufism, as a devotional and mystical current within the Muslim tradition(s), has been experiencing evolving trends of renovation across Muslim societies. The Indians of African origin present a unique case study showing resurgence of tradition/s and ethnic identity. The descendants of Africans in South Asia are part of a wider African Indian community who arrived from many different parts of Africa over past millennium for various purposes, most of them sailing across or around the Indian ocean and the Arabian Sea. In India, they are found in different states, speaking languages like Gujǎrāti, Kannada and Hindi/Urdu. In the state of Gujarat, they are dispersed throughout the land, creating a homogenous Muslim community of estimated 15, 000 individuals of an ethnic group of Black African descent addressed by various names, such as Sidi/ Sidi Badshah/Siddi/Sidhi or Habshi/Habsi and commonly referred to by the name Sidi (Catlin,2012).

The term Sidi is very obscure and contested and it is supposed to be derived from Sayyed ei meaning a royal title according to Shroff, (2008) or 'captive' or 'prisoner of war according to Abdul-Aziz Lodi (1992). Shroff, (2008) argues that contemporary Sidis are not the descendants of the royal Sidis but are "thought to be brought by descendants from later period of slave trade carried on by colonial powers, Arabs and Gujrathi merchants" brought to work as slaves in royal families and wealthy merchants. The royal Sidis intermarried and merged with Muslim elites in India, and more or less disappeared, eschewing their identities as Sidis. The contemporary Sidi communities in Gujarat do not claim the descendance and linkages to power and prestige from the royal families as the Sidi are caught up in economic and social dilemmas and struggles.

Today the majority of the Sidi population in Gujǎrāt live in poverty on the outskirts of villages and in slums in the cities. In villages, Sidis are generally labourers in farms or wood-cutters in forest areas and in urban settlements they are engaged in different types of working-class jobs. To a large extent, they have integrated into the local communities, both in terms of social integration and cultural norms - their dress, food and language - exhibiting remarkable level of assimilations within their local societies.

In contemporary period, Sidi identities are changing. Sidis who have attained education and work in government offices, Banks and in school as teachers and incorporate offices. Due to the 'effect of economic liberalisation started in 1990 in Gujarat' India, Sidis have taken up self employment, running car shops and run beauty parlours (Basu, 2008). Women of rural areas have joined women activity groups started by NGOs and are slowly becoming independent by getting self employed.


The Indians of African descent today comprise of a several communities constituting an array of migrants that arrived from different parts of Africa, through various means in different times. The contemporary Indians of African descent came from the various Africans who arrived by both voluntary and forced migration in India by the ancient trading patterns across Arabian, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Joseph Harris, a scholar on the Indian Ocean slave trade, notes that African had migrated voluntarily before the Omani Arabs and Europeans began the slave trade in East Africa. This voluntary migration consisted of merchants, traders and sailors who settled and intermarried with the local peoples. Conversion of African Indian into different religions is obscure and scholars have offered various explanations for the same and will be further noted in this paper. Historian Richard Pankhurst, states that Ethiopian slaves after bringing to India were "converted to Islam and were given Islamic names, and this enabled them to assimilate into the Muslim ruled states of India".

The Rise and fall in History

History offers many versions about the origins of the settlements of Sidis in India, as they have been quite frequently travelling back and forth on Indian subcontinent but so far no contemporary written records have been found. However, there are a few early reports by European officials and travellers. Also the accounts of pliny dates 77AD for African settlements in Gujarat (Catlin and Alpers, 2004, p.44).

Lodhi, claims that a large number of Sidis came, or were brought, to India from different parts of Africa as soldiers to serve in the Muslim armies of the Nawabs and Sultanates (Lodhi, 1992, p. 2). Moreover in the 16 - 19th century, the Omani traders the Dutch and Indian merchants and the slave masters carried many Africans from Zanzibar Mozambique and Ethopia (Obeng, 2007, p.9).

The African migrants assimilated easily due to 'much wider spectrum of skin tones and other physical traits' among the local populations. Consequently "Race," is a socially constructed phenomenon in the Atlantic world to maintain 'political authority, as opposed Indian Ocean world, where, ethnicity and caste based criteria were more influential.( Ali, 2010)

Historically Africans in India were not automatically from the low status but formed an "integral and important component of aristocratic dynasties" during the fifteen and sixteen centuries. They often reached important leadership roles in many positions(Catlin-Jairazbhoy, 2004, p. 89). Sidi kingdoms were established in western India in Janjira and Jaffrabad as early as 1100 AD. After their conversion to Islam, the Africans of India, originally called Habshi from the Arabic root, became very powerful and played important political roles in the political arenas. (Rashidi, 1988, p. 139). The island Janjira was formerly known as Habshan, which meant Habshan's or African's land where the term Sidi rom the Arabic word Saiyed signified as the lord or the prince.

Sidis were converted to Islam, probably when they worked in Muslim armies; they were originally called Habshis. They became very powerful and played important political roles in the political arenas (Rashidi, 1988, p. 139). Africans in India formed an "integral and important component of aristocratic dynasties" during the 15th -16th centuries and often reached important leadership roles in many positions (Catlin and Alpers, 2004, p. 89).

Sidis experienced their downfall after the advent of the British. After their down fall the Indian Africans migrated to different geographical areas within India, acculturating and assimilating in the local cultures and traditions. Sidis have taken up Hindu, Christian, and Muslim religious beliefs and orientations depending upon the milieu they have lived (Ahmed cited in Catlin and Alpers, 2004).

In this event of sudden 'catastrophic change' in their position in society the community world view and its associated narratives in both oral and written form undergoes change, reorienting tin order to redefine their identities (Mayer, 2011)

The Sidi losing their royal patronage and political prominence, experienced decadence from being elitist to a marginalised group. In this course of time, the Sidis found solace in This manifested in to socio-psychological patterns that are found in dance and music as ritual performance are giver of solace and act as a channel to flow out the sudden misfortune and down fall of a community. Thus this process of time the created tradition become a integral part of the routine functioning of the community.

Sidi identity

As Basu notes that in the post slavery condition in the early 20th century, Sidis were invisible in the both government and public discourse. With in historical accounts Sidis were mentioned as servants and body guards. Their African racial features were vital in identifying them. The emergence of Sidi Identity in late nineteenth century to early 20th Century can mainly be viewed through two important lenses 1) system of royal patronage, allocation of land by the royals to the Sidis, and 2) "the transfer of musical practices from a maritime to a land-based setting. Becoming land owners the Sidi Sufi culture began to flourish around shrines thus enabling the Sidi to be fakirs (medicants).The Sidi faqirs 'embedded and blended with local cults of affliction attached to popular Sufism' Basu, (2008, c, 170). This was the base on which Sidi Sufi pattern was established. The cognitive Sufi frame paved a way 'collective social identity of Sidi is constructed in ritual terms - rather than a purely economic definition'. (Ibid). This 'intertwining of Sufi-Islam and African-derived practices' have led organic evolution of combined Islamic practices and African spirit possession into their own religion or 'regional cult of affliction' assisting in formation of a collective social identity to emerge in Gujarat ( Basu,2008 c,p292).

Their expression of Music with remenants of African traits music and dance have aided in formation strengthening the social solidarity in Sidis giving rise to Identity and social imaginare Basu, (2008, c, 173).

The community identity of the Sidis is generally derived from a common belief in black African ancestor-saint; Baba Gor, whom they revere in syncretic rituals combining African retentions with South Asian Sufi influence. The Black Sufis are said to be associated with the Rifa'i Sufis of Surat, Gujǎrāt, India. Sidis claim to be descendants from Hazrat Bilal, an Abyssinian companion of the Prophet.

Catlin-Jairazbhoy (2006: 1) an Ethnomusicologist notes that Sidi musical practices have been influenced by South Asian Sufism and that there are clear links between Rifaiyya and Chistiyya forms of Sufism.

The process of Islamization was furthered by women's visits to dargahs (Sufi tomb complexes) and by their concern with childbirth and fertility more generally. [1] (Eaton in Aquil, 2006).


The Black Sufis of Gujarat, are amongst the many Sufi orders that are found in India.

who sing different types of songs, such as Baithi, Dhamal and Qawwali and songs in the praises of Prophet and their saints. Amongst the various Sufi practices the Dhamal, an practice in the community of Sidi African-Indians from Gujarat is very unique and exclusive. The term Dhamal refers a kind of ritual performance with songs and dance. However, in the context of Sidi Community, Dhamal is more than song and dance. This is an important practice connected to devotional literature and music in specially organised performances known as Ngoma. The instruments used in performing this rite are the drums and string bow instrument. [2] Songs, combined with music, forms a ritual, an expression which uses of religious ideas and practices.

The performance of the Ritual dance which the Sidi community claims to be their unique cultural heritage probably shows link to their African Past. Throughout their unique form of Sufi worship, Sidi women, children, and men of all ages invoke their saints, such as the Nubian merchant Bava Gor who is also known as Mubarak Nobi and his sister, Mai Misri, as they dance communally to vibrant rhythms played by drummers of the community and sing devotional songs with texts which sometimes include Swahili and Bantu words. The viewer is introduced to instruments whose morphology and names reflect African origins, such as footed drums , coconut rattles (mai misra), armpit-held drums (damal); and musical bows(malunga).

The practice of Dhamal is usually performed on a number of occasions in the community, like Ramadan and Muharam and performace performed on every Thursday of every month and 1st and 11 day of every Muslim month at shrines of saints. Besides it is performed in religious ceremonies, it has several other functions in the social life of Sidi community at the same time

Dhamal being performed on various occasions has unique characteristic of their community. The musical instruments used in the performance are believed by the sidis to be given by Abyssinian saint, Baba Gor. These instruments are held sacred and venerated. They have instruments, whose morphology and names reflect African origins, such as footed drums, coconut rattles (mai misra), armpit-held drums (damal); and musical bows (malunga). Both male and female from all walks of life participate in Dhamal. This is very unique as observed against the popular Sufi rituals in India where generally it is male dominated and there are male and female different designated rituals and participations. A typical evening performance begins with Quranic invocation lead by a religious preacher and then sung by all the members sitting in the circle in the centre where incense is burnt. The space and the people participating in the ritual are consecrated. Generally all males have some sort of musical instruments preferably drums and coconut rattles is used by females. The Gama drumming starts with an experienced person from outside the circle and slowly moves in the circle. Incense is taken to all the participants of the ritual (Gupta, 1991, p. 220)

Religious chants commence the Dhamal and are preceded by devotional literatures that are recited. The main ritual action starts by a person jumping in the circles and starts doing certain random steps and then that of whirling. The gestures of some scene are acted that of hunter and the hunted. After this a person with peacock feather tied around his waist come and starts performing a kind of peacock dance. Young boys and girls step in the circle and randomly start moving to the beats of the drum. The "tempo of the beat" change and so as the rhythms of the dance become rigorous as the drums become fierce. The dancers gets excited and many appears to be hysterical and shows the traits of trance (Gupta, 1991, p. 221). They generally shout a slogan or phrase that sidi child is like a lion Music increase the intensity with which they exhibit their trance and possession like features.

The ritual come to its climax when an elderly person places heap of burning charcoals and many peoples who are in the ritual trance do fire walking. The performance at this stage becomes 'frenzied' and sidis regard that they are not injured and attribute as the charisma and Baraka of the Saint. After this the "climacteric, the clamour dies down" and the whole assembly returns back to the circle and ends with reciting a fatiha a Quranic prayer (Gupta, 1991, p. 222).

Drewal (2004) argues that the 'historical circumstances and socio-cultural matters' have shaped social fabric of the sidis giving rise to syncretic and hybrid set of identities. Sidi performance of dance and song are full of ambiguity and are very complex like the history of Sidis themselves. Their dhamal dance in which the community participates is identified as tradition that preserves and thus represents their cultural links to Africa. However their dance show a elements of syncretism which is evident from the many elements in the dance and music. I see that the dhamal shows a clear influence garba; circle dance from Gujarat, fugadi dance, which comes from Kunbis and Marathas of Goa. Also there is enormous hybridity that combines Goan dance, the mando, which combines Portuguese India and African elements. Thus Sidi dance tradition highlights the forces and processes shaping for a specific purpose, to serve for Sidi agency (Drewal,in Catlin-Jairazbhoy 2004, p. 151 ).

Sidi Music

Music is a powerful means through which emotions, frustrations and criticisms can be expressed. A message can be conveyed through lyrics more effectively than by the spoken or written word. (de Silva Jayasuriya, 2008, 151)


The Sidi love for music and dance is embedded within the celebrations of the Muslim Sidis of Gujarat. Their sacred performances abound on festival days, such as the death of a saint. They venerate Bava Gor or Gori Pir and his siblings - Mai Mishra and Bava Habash. (de Silva Jayasuriya, 2008)

Slave holders often enjoyed watching comic dance performed by the sidis called goma probably originating from Ngoma. These dances got fused with the local dhammal(ecstasy dance) (Abbas ,2002)

'First of all, goma drumming and dancing are still considered by many people of all ages and men and women alike as sacred actions. In this way the collective social identity of Sidi is constructed in ritual terms - rather than a purely economic definition' Basu, (2008, c 173)

Impact of Islamisation on Sidi rituals

Muhammad Mujeeb in the introduction of his book, The Indian Muslims (1967), mentions that a diversity of beliefs existed in pre-colonial India, making it difficult to define a Muslim. He attempted to deconstruct the notion of a homogenous, standard 'Indian Muslim' by demonstrating the diversity in the practice of Islam in India, the complexity of conversion to Islam, the marginalization of Muslims in the rural areas, and the control of the ashraf on the dominant discourse of Islam.

Today Dhamal is an important Sidi Sufi ritual that reflects Muslim Vibrancy in India. This community is faced with cultural crisis due to forced assimilation by a Muslim reformist movement. Sidis being economically less fortunate, showing high percentage of illiteracy show lack of authority in community leadership. Thus they are unable to voice for their traditional and cultural practices. Dhamal is the only Sidi Sufi ritual in which the entire community participates in large number which gives a sense of cohesion and identity to the members of the group.

However this Sufi practice is severely criticised by Muslim reformist movements. These reformist movement is the Tabliqhi Jamat. These movements has gained prominence amongst Muslims due to political upheaval and antagonistic to the Hindutav ideology (pandor cited in Catlin, et al., 2004, p.79).The contemporary political development in Gujarat have now entered local religious discourses by stressing communal differences and there by impinging upon the context for individual and collective actions. (Basu. H, 1995). Here the context is the advocacy of the adopting the mainstream form of an idealised Universal Islam.and importantly in the context venerating saints . As veneration of saints is very prominent in sidis but due to lack of resources for maintances shrines, Sidis have to depend upon the Tabliqhi jamat. The Tabliqhi jamat conditionally accept to fund the shrine if the Sidi community shrine board agrees to reform their rituals schedules according to the Islamic prescriptions and would Islamise their customs. (Catlin, et al., 2004, p.79).

Over the years, Sidi rituals are pushed to demonstrate normativity and Islamic piety. For example1) the annual saints days celebration does not start with Dhamal but with Quranic recitation which was not the norm earlier.2) The tradition of drinking black and white Kavo

is replaced with reading the first chapter of Quran. The Tabliqhi jamat looks at Dhamal with scorn and suspicion and looks it as non Islamic practice. The night long drumming and ritual trance is not counted under list of proper Islamic practices and thus are discouraged to do with in the shrine. The singing of praise in honour of the saint is less encouraged and replaced with praying five times day (Ibid, p.79). As result of this Dhamal though practiced in many other spaces is performed with less vigiour and for shorter period of time..The devaluation of these acts in the wake of marginalisation of sidi community has decreased their 'cult clientele' (Ibid,p.80).This has directly affected the syncretic traditions of the sidis and thus the reforms brought about by the Tablique jamat has 'contaminated' the Black Sufi ritual of Dhamal.

These developments of the Indian African Sidi with the Indic Muslim traditions/ are precisely due to the interaction of two cultures under the wider umbrella of Islam. Sidis normativity is heading towards assimilating into a new form that is more aligned with the language of the Contemporary religious liturgy, and the Sidi people adjusted their 'sense of fashion to fit the Islamic dogma' (Robinson in Canfield, p.5). Similar interactions have occurred in other Muslim communities. As a result, the definition of a 'Sidi' is oscillating from an purely ethnic to a local cultural identity

Ethnic Identity: The concept of descent

Concepts of heroes who are founder figures, saints, warriors hold positions of special reverence in their community consciousness with in society Nandy (2011) notes that communal consciousness in communities often depict an 'epic culture' which is 'non linear, empirical, historical concept of culture and community but an in epic vision of life., where one needs a 'another to complete the latter.

This can be both a contemporary group and community or and a myth or a legend as all communities are internalised. One cannot define himself without definining others, the other is a group or a personality exhibiting a symbiotic relationship between them. Nandy (2011)

It is a well explored phenomenon to see heroes in the 'construction of communal boundaries'. Their legends occupy a vital space within the cognitive community's consciousness. They are seen as Axis Mundi of the community tradition and culture which eventually over a period of time get deified attaining a semi divine status in the worldviews of those who are imagined as their descendants.

Weberian notion of belief in 'descent' underpins the central aspect in which Sidis claim to be descendants from Hazrat Bilal, the companion of the prophet. This claim is probably because as the Sidis see their self perception of their identity situated within the larger Muslim normativity and Bilal, the Habshis; the Ethiopian, who was in the companionship of the Prophet. This could also have the Sidi links with the word Habshis (Weber 1968 cited in Minda, 2004) states "we shall call ethnic group that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical types or customs or both. Roosen (1994) asserts the 'genealogical dimension' to ethnic identity arises from the "feeling of belonging and continuity -in -being (staying with same person(s) through time) resulting from an act of self- ascription by others, to a group of people who claim both ancestry and a common cultural traditions" showing descent is imagined. Heyer have noted that claims of biological descent are often socially constructed. In this sense descent is more like a socio-cognitive imagination (Heyer et al. 2009). Hence; Sidi community qualifies for what is analysed by Benedict Anderson as an imagined community. Anderson mentions that 'imagined political community is imagined because even the members of the nation would have never seen each other or been together but there is an imagined communion'. Imagined communities are often sustained by invention of traditions where the new inventions nourish the imagined community. The next section looks at the invention of tradition. (Anderson 1991)

Hobsbawm argues that traditions which appear or are claimed to be old could be recent in origin and were at times plainly invented in a solitary event or over a short time period (Hobsbawm 1983). In his introduction, Eric Hobsbawm defined 'invented traditions' as follows,

'Invented tradition' is taken to mean a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past. In fact, where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past' (Hobsbawm, 1983)

Hobsbawm (1983) argues in his introduction, "[Traditions are invented] more frequently when a rapid transformation of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for which 'old' traditions have been designed." With invention of traditions in society it is observed that and cultural roots artificially planted on an organic substrate from where an synthetically grafted idea assumes an organic form to evolve further.

The objective here is to analyse the Sidi traditions and to scrutinize the populist propaganda about their traditions in the commercial media that is socially constructed, symbolically mediated and which is contextually made intelligible has given various Sidi communities a wider recognition both at home and abroad albeit for a selected few.

In the globalised conditions the Sidis, stand out distinctly from the majority gujǎrāti society, due to their phenotypical African physical traits. In this context, it is interesting to investigate how their self-identities are influenced by social factors and attempt to explore, how, if at all their distinct African racial characteristics influence their identity formation.

Ethnic tourism to Museum [ise] Culture

The state government of Gujǎrāt has decided to set up a INR 2.8crore plan to develop the area in Gir forest, famous for its Asiatic Lion. The project will be build one 25acre land near Bhalchel and not in Jambur which is the Sidi strong hold in Gir forest area. The project will include an amphitheatre meaning, visual scenes from Sidi history and their lives would be shown to people. This would mean that media will be used in this and media exaggerate the original scenes so that it can be commercialised. This will have two effects on the Sidi community. The people will create new or appropriate existing life style according to the movies made for the amphitheatre and secondly they would exploit their 'blackness' more and more so as to compete within themselves and appropriate their culture in the context of being objects of display and interest. My field research did not see and observe any element of culture in terms of art and handicraft that is African in origin, other than musical instruments, which also could be contested. Then in such case, extensive invention of art and craft would be initiated or 'proper African art work could be imitated by the Sidis so as to fulfil the popular demands of the tourist. This will mean that Sidis who are scattered in the Gir forest area and in the Jūnāgadh district will compete to work as an exhibit in the museums and thus may drawn tension within the local Sidis (Indian express, 2009).

Another way of looking could be a state sponsored top - down approach, where the state is initiating to construct the identity of Sidis, thought creating institutions and giving structures. This state sponsored identity construction would label Sidis as migrant diasporic community. Is it to help the economically backward situation of the Sidis?

Dr Amy Catlin shared her concerns about Sidi tourist destination in Gir.

'There will be exploitation as seeing Sidis as wild lion's. Begging may increase due to this. The whole economy of that region may get transformed and because of transformation of the original setting there will be commercialisation of the entire economy .This will probably will start be a very false kind of a tradition in the community. This will give rise to invented traditions'

The gap experienced during the research process was to gain their responses whilst they have not still lived the experienced of the government initiative of tourism. The responses were that they felt good, understanding that the government is helping them. They were just happy to hear the news. However, after the tourism is effectively institutionalised and once it starts working, then the dynamics would change. There will be more and rich potential grounds of research that would open up in the Gir. It would be interesting to then look at how the Sidis would negotiate and perceive their self identity, in the context of being labelled as African, in spite of being indigenised

Examining Diaspora Status

Campbell, in his key note lecture in the Goa Conference on African Diaspora in Asia notes that 'African Diaspora' might be misnomer in the context of the Indian Ocean world because it invites comparison with the Black Atlantic salve trade while the dispersal of African in the Indian Ocean world should not be seen as an extension of the Atlantic model. Campbell suggests that this people of African descent should be should be studied in its own terms. Campbell added that migration to Asia is much older and complex phenomenon than the black/white image of the Atlantic model. Not all Africans who came to India were slaves, and not all slaves were Africans. Campbell maintained that slave trade in Asia was 'colour blind'. The slaves were used in house hold works and thus served more conspicuous consumption then of productive labour.

In Atlantic slave trade roughly two third of slaves were males, while in Indian Ocean world Two third were women, although most of the literature focus on man. Both African and African slaves attempted to improve their status by assimilating within the host society (Kessel, 1996). Similiar perpective is shared by Alpers(2003), mentains that 'studies on African diaspora focus dispropotionnately on the Atlantic world and ignores that of the Indian Ocean'. Alpers contests the usage of diasporic applicability to the Arfican communtities of Indian ocean because the word diaspora is pregenent with meanings both specific and general for people all over the world. Further more Alper posits the questions like , 1) Do the Desendents of African in the Indian Ocean world consider them selves to be African in any sense at all. 2) Do they have collective memories of Africa as their Home land. Thus for Alpers(2003) diaspora is 'fraught term, which is highly politicized and largely under theorised' .Thus the literature on diaspora will help to understand how the Sidi community construct their identity in society based on diasporic or non diasporic consiousness.

Within the oral "compressed" ancestral narrative of history, the element of slavery within the Sidis of Gujarat,is not found (Basu, 2008, 313)

Campbell (2006) argues that the feeling of diasporic consciousness in invoked by diaspora scholars. Sidis were hardly aware about being 'African' until the interest shown by diaspora scholarly studying them. Academic scholars, government sometimes aids in accentuating the 'foreign or slave 'origins. In contrast to the Atlantic experience, where African migrants developed an 'African' diasporic consciousness, where as the African-Asian 'quickly and often deliberately' assimilated into the host society where by evolving themselves into a 'local ethnicity' As evident today many of the Sidis ,deny an African, and instead affirm, a local Asian identity'.

Halbwachs idea on historical collective memory suggests that it is not a memory of an 'event directly experienced', but instead is 'stimulated in indirect way' and is 'constructed and maintained' through events of everyday social and communal life like festivals. This memory is essentially "presentist", shaped by the needs of the present and does not contain much continuity between generations (Halbwachs, 1992, p.24)

In the same light, Basu(2008) also maintains that the idea of Africa is not about an exact location. Instead it is Basu,2008, (p292) uses the concept of social memory as "embodied representations of the past in the present" and is remembered as the place where their ancestors and saints came from

African Asians are generally categorised as 'victim diaspora' but in the context of Indian Ocean world (Minda, 2004, 35). However Africans travelled Indian Ocean well before mass slavery took place (Harris in Minda, 2004,35)

It is clearly observed and documented that few African-Asians today have a clear idea of their African origins. In other cases, oral histories do not seem to match historical account. (Jayasuriya, in Campbell, 2006)

Some potentially charged response like, 'we are born in India from so many generations in India why do we need to go to Africa. Why do so many people who come to interview ask this question of going back to Africa? Are we not Indians? 'We are Indians we are all born in India from generations'.

These above mentioned responses are though they are completely acculturated within both the cultural and national context, an attempt to question them about their identity, in the context of to their citizenship. Nationalism is taken as an abuse both within the country and with foreigners.

Sidis themselves are although not perceiving themselves as part of diaspora, this notion of being from Africa yet completely indigenised is giving rise to hybridity and hyphenated identities. The Diaspora status is attributed to the Sidi by external agencies like the scholars in academia, governmental agencies and media. The State sponsored activities include Sidi performance to promote their cultural activities as a means to advertise the improving relations with African countries. Since 1957 Sidi performance have been invariably showcased in the Indian Independence cultural extravaganza, 'signalling the multicultural sense of national hood' (Meier 2004)

Change in Dhamal and Shift in ritual Identity /Sidi revival and renascence

Local to Global

After a long period of dormancy, Sidis are now gaining popularity in both print and electronic media as Black Sufis of Gujǎrāt (referring to their distinctive African features). Amongst the many diverse Muslim groups in India, the Black Sufis of Gujǎrāt stand out for their unique ritual performance. In popular parlance this, iconic tradition of the cultural dance and music is known as dhamāl.

For quite some time, Black Sidi Sufis have been living in invisibility and namelessness. One of the social challenges for them is of non-recognition, corresponding to their communal or political representation. However lately the contemporary staged presentations of dhamāls by Sidi group performers have witnessed global audience.

There are two interlocking perspectives to the Sidi revival and renascence. First is through visual media of television, which enabled them to identify relate and with larger African community and African Diasporas around the world. Sidis cherish and admire the peoples of African Origin, like celebrated sports personalities, Barack Obama, and more recently the notable achievement of sports personalities of African origin at London Olympics 2012.

Secondly, one of its kinds, Black Sufi cultural groups are witnessing re-emergence due to the academic interest of scholars in their dance and music, both in India as well as abroad. Some groups have successfully participated in international cultural gatherings. They have performed in front of global audiences at universities and other similar settings in United Kingdom, France, Spain, Denmark, as well as at a homecoming tour of East Africa in 2003 and United States of America. These renewed contact of the Sidi cultural groups with East Africa has enabled them to connect with their 'African-ness' both in terms of mannerisms and in their performances. This reconstituted memory perhaps recognises a need towards strategies of cultural identification with the African homeland. The above forces and processes shaping the sidi tradition serve a specific purpose, acting as a vehicle for Sidi agency. Such organised 'cultural troupe take their culture on the road' making sidis more noticeable through their route of self branding and promotion and enabling the Sidis as 'more sophisticated players in Indian cultural politics, and more conscious of their place and potential in the complex culture-scape of contemporary Indian society'. (Drewal, in Catlin-Jairazbhoy 2004, p. 152 ).

Sidi kinesis

The discourse on the Sidis is narrated from two perspectives: first, by exploring their identity within the changing landscape of postcolonial, urbanising Indian society and, second, by examining the impact of identity transformation and with an attempt of recognition for their dance and music. Within these two broad trends, there are social forces that are shaping the Sidi community.

The cultural elements in the tradition are slowly being replaced by the so called 'pure and accepted Islam' or as popularly known as, the Islam of the Mosque. Dress code and food habits are seen having an affinity towards larger Muslim population of the region. Linguistic affiliation also gravitates towards languages like Hindi and Urdu used by fellow Muslims show a marked prominence. Here it could be inferred that theory on social boundaries is important to understand the above statements. In this case food, dress and language create and regulate a social boundary (Barth 1994) that will allow and control the degree to social interaction to the community. Coming close to the dominant Muslim group gives a facet of identity to Sidi being a Muslim. But the degree of social interaction with other non Sidi community is very rare and limited in term of cross marriages. This gives rise to understand of what is being a Sidi.

Reconfiguring Dhamal: Modern Dhamal

Currently, a remarkable amount of information has emerged regarding Sidi cultural societies performing their dance and music in India and abroad. Some groups have successfully participated in international cultural gatherings. The Sidi group performers have witnessed global audience in universities and other similar settings in the United Kingdom France, Spain, Denmark a "homecoming" tour of East Africa in 2003 and the United States of America (Nath, 2008). These renewed contacts of the Sidis with East Africa have enabled them to (re)collect and employ the gathered new African(ess) feature/s both in mannerism and in their performance to display their diasporic consciousness. This will inevitably lead in their certain aspects of their traditions within the younger generations leading to the difference in a renewed intergeneration identity construction based on East African elements. Thus there was an attempt to investigate into the elements of invention in the Sidi community.

The iconic tradition of the Sidis is dhamāl is a marked shift in the ritual performance observed in the contemporary context and in the past. Concerns geared towards learning the changing format of the performance were structured in way to know whether there are any particular forms of dress for dhamāls. These questions were asked in order to understand the media representation of dhamāls in which dress made from peacock feathers is used. The informant from dhamāls organiser said that 'we have made this dress just for the first public performance" (citation). Asking some non Sidis, residing in locality of Jambur, about the Sidi attire in ritual performances the respondent replied "Peacock feather and coloured body". I asked him did he see in actual, his response was "No, in some Gujǎrāti films and on television". This was surprising that resident in that area did not witness any kind of 'so called traditional dress as such and they saw it in Television and media only. Elders responded that they have not used either seen peacock dress for dhamāls and. Amongst the youth, 6 out of 10 denied any such dress used in the dhamāls performances they have seen and 4 replied that we have seen it, but they did not know where.

A Scholar on Sidi studies, Dr Catlin shared a quite important data in the context of dhamāls stage performances being the marker of Sidi identity.

'Some of Sidis reject the concept of identity they think that stage presentation are not the proper means of identifying the community. They are all shocked at those kinds of markers of identity. One of the Sidi from Baroda was very negative about the means of identifying' furthermore, sharing on the dress of the dhamāls, "Inventedness is a part of everything and new things are part of it. Animal imitation is very African trait and thus peacock feather costume originates peacock movements.

For stage performance the costume was designed by Mr Laique Hussein from the National school of Drama and he involved Sidis in 1988 in Delhi in his play called 'HASHR ' which is still used in Udaipur and costume was developed by him. He is at the Udaipur branch of West Zone Cultural Centre. The play has not been produced since 1988, as it dealt with issues of the time related to the Cold War. He designed the dress and choreographed the play.

Dr Catlin further shared that,

'The dress is made from peacock feathers to show peacock movement because it really works for them (Sidi performers). It is a development from a traditional Sidi peacock 'dance' imitating the peacock movements using feathers'.

'In honour of the famous guest from South Africa, the government in New Delhi staged a performance by a Sidi musical group from Gujǎrāt who dressed in fake Zulu outfits and performed Zulu dances' (KESSEL, 2008)

This reconfiguration is witnessing shifting of identities imparting new forced self within the group. This project's 'ahistorical image of the Sidi culture', encapsulating their Africanness devoid of their lived experiences.

'A reifying history for emerging markets of cultural consumptions is relatively new phenomenon experienced and meaningfully exploited as a new avenue for social and economic mobility. This has actively facilitated their reconfiguring their 'performance personas' (Meier 2004, 87-97). Meier also notes that their African dance and costumes were based on a West African dance troupe. In an attempt to actively mobilise their new visibility, the inventedness was advertised via print and electronic media. A section within the Sidi community invariably is made to negotiate at different intersections, their daily life, governmental programmes, and scholarly knowledge production in an attempt to engender new power constellations (Meier 2004, 87-97). Using Water's theory of social reward, it can be seen that as using peacock helps the performers analyses ethnic identification in the light of social pay offs- rewards and understands ethnic identity as a personal choice as a 'social category where an individual actively decides to adopt or stress. (Water 1990 cited in Cerulo, 1997, p.389-390) The theory of Invented traditions is also a means to give continuity to the past, like the imagined descent for the Sidi community thus wherever possible, there has been an attempt establish continuity with a suitable historic or religious past.

One of the '[C]entral cultural problematic' for the Sidis is one of 'invisibility and namelessness', which corresponds to deficient in power to represent themselves. To counter the latter one would use the policy of politics of representation' (Barker 2000). Thus, we see that the re-invented tradition of dhamāls is sustained by new inventions within the traditions. It is through these traditions that an imagined community is sustained and is moved forward. This data shows congruence with Hobsbawm's (1983) theory of Invention of tradition and argues that traditions which appear or are claimed to be old could be recent in origin and were at times plainly invented in a solitary event or over a short time period.

Negotiating traditions (this is part of the above paragraph)

However, when asked about one of their traditions, dhamāl, which is their religious icon, there seems a paradoxical shift in the data that is generated. When initially the interviewer asked about the tradition of dhamāl, majority of the respondents did not appreciate their association with the dhamāl. However, when the respondents were informed about the popularity of the dhamāl performances in USA and UK, there was observable shift within the perspective of respondents. It was now that the respondents were trying to establish their association and showed a growing interest in the tradition of dhamāl.

The literature review on the Sidis both by the academics and in media narrates this tradition with a big academic and media performance propaganda. However, the respondents did appreciate the traditions but experience a feeling of dissension of it. The scholarship on dhamāl and the way it heighten it within academic circles, is not experienced on the ground realities. Within the community and mostly among youth and women, there was a serious dissonance. Both tensions and contestation were observed regarding the ritual performance. As ritual performance dhamāl is performed by commercial groups and the local people within Jambur at several instance denied their association

The academic discussions about the impact of globalisation have emphasised seeming dichotomies and tensions between the local and the global. In the case of Sidis, it is observed that there is a trend in which the local culture 'adapts, appropriates and reworks the global phenomenon (Meier, 2004). This dialectical relationship between the both the local and global create a different dynamics and which has a gendered value to it.

'[T]he symbiotic relationship between the local and the global, where the nascent 'local agencies and situations mediate the global, transforming the global rhetoric and phenomenon to serve' the current conditions of existence. 'From this perspective a more nuanced understanding of how the global is accessed by negotiating local histories and cultural traditions' in the context of Sidis in Jambur'(Meier, 2004). While 'culture', as a means of distinguishing social agents, groups and individuals, attains an increased significance in a 'globalized world' [Traditions] are counted as 'cultural property, what people can 'own' and that can be 'traded as a form of capital in the Bourdieuian sense.' (Brosius, 2011)


Consequently, they identify themselves both as a Sidi and Muslims at the same. Sometimes, ethnic identity, religious identity and national may 'co-exist'. This approach to the ethnic identity opens a space for newly emerging and evolving hybrid and hyphenated identities, (Anwar, 1998). Hence in the scholarship, Sidis are variously addressed as Afro-Indians, Indo-Africans. African Indian. This asks an important question that how many generations do an ethnic minority community take to assimilate and become indigenised.

Said Edward argues that 'no one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, woman, or Muslim or American are no more than starting points in defining ones identity'.

In modern and globalised conditions of the world results in the exchange of societies and cultures leading to formation of new ethnic groups associations. Abdul Aziz Lodi (2004) notes that in the wave of globalization and 'technological advancement of the world that have affected India have strongly pushed the Sidi communities assimilating and becoming culturally heterogeneous'. There are some sections within the Sidi community where with the use of minority language some Sidis have acquired the Schedule tribe status and play a vital role in formation of ethnic minorities whether 'traditionally inherited or newly constructed" (Lodhi 2004) . In the 'face of globalisation' which is making the world become more 'inter-connected, ethnicity is increasingly emphasized in many parts of the world where claims to specific local identities and renewed or (re)constructed ethnicities are more loudly presented' (Lodhi 1992).

Recently, there are various agencies that are showing interest in the Sidi communities in India. Government portrays Sidi dance and music in the cultural shows on national events like republic day. Such an interest corresponds to the governments discourse on cultural diversity. There are various ethnic minorities in India but what makes Sidis different is distinct African look that acquires a 'premium value'. This premium is capitalised either by Sidi dance and music performance tours that are taking place. Another is media, which is highlighting the 'Sidiness' or the Africaness. Recently in media Indian Sidis are taken for their African looks.

Though dhamāls is equally participated both by both the genders, the participation in commercial groups was till now limited to males only. However, female participation is observed for the first time where female are allowed to sit and sing for chorus effect. Women empowerment negotiates this through lens of progress and views the latter as regression and an unsustainable means to progress within the society.

Forces of modernisation are responsible for the changing and evolving role of Sidi females. Modernisation has observed unprecedented growth in the gender equality and thus women empowerment has lead to the change in gender roles (Sharma 1990). Within the broader trend of Globalization; Diaspora, women empowerment, education, government interventions and media, are creating a social impact on the Sidi community. Within these various forces the 'self and newly evolving self' within the Sidi communities are articulated.

Arjun Appadurai notes that 'The new global cultural economy has to be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order, which cannot any longer be understood in terms of centre-periphery models'. Meier (2004) attempts to interrogate some important questions in this context, 'How does the Sidi community engage the challenge of the collapse of borders and disjuncture's seen as characteristics of contemporary globalisation? How do they negotiate local, national and transnational notions of status, orthodoxy and identity, does the discourse on globalisation simply act as a coercive force that's appropriates their local realities to serve as a platform for institutional discourse'? Baker 2000, notes that in the paradigm of globalisation, culture transcends time and place. Thus, cultural artefacts and its construed meaning from different historical periods and geographical places amalgamate together further projecting itself.

Impact of media

In order to situate the role played by media impacting communities, it is worth taking note of influence media draws over society. Television, is a proliferate source of the identity as understood through the lens of the Foucauldian triad of knowledge, power and discourse. Television programs broadcast across geographical boundaries and greatly contribute to the making of rich and complex hybrid and diaspora, identities. Television as an agent of globalization, a powerful medium, which cannot be simply dismissed as mere facilitator of western cultural imperialism. (Baker, 1999). First, television is not only a site of framing various stereotypes through stabilizing dominant ideology, but a competing ground for different political and cultural meanings behind seemingly neutral and objective programming under the banner of realism. The current trends in the Sidis community seem to be involved within the active negotiation process between the information broadcast and their lived realities where the audience cannot be just treated as 'cultural dopes'. Television serves as an edifice of cultural identity for the Sidi audience position their cultural identities and competencies to make sense of programmes in their own specific way seeing other African nations and diasporas. .As televisions has become globalised, so the place of television in the 'constitutions of ethic and national identities has taken on a particular significance' (Barker 1999). The values and meaning attached to place remain significant. However, the networks in which people are involved extend far beyond their physical locations.

Media has strong influence over Sidi society. Media is not only a means to entertain but it has socio-cognitive influence on the certain members of the society. In this current time, television has created a revolution in binding people virtually. It is through the effect of media that today Sidis take pride in President Barack Obama and Bryan Lara (former West Indian international cricket player) These figures having media profile and success stories are creating an impact upon the Sidi of Gujǎrāt who attempts to see their self perception of their identity through the success stories of other famous personalities with whom Sidis would like to associate themselves. When asked about Barak Obama and what do they feel about him, there was a very positive and over whelming response from all the members and sections of the community, both from urban- rural sectors from all walks of life. 'We all performed Dhamāl when Barack Obama became the president and we all were so happy that there is a Sidi in the world highest position in White house. It is like Allah has sent us a helper let him be from any religion, he is a Sidi'. He looks like us, he has short hair, thick lips and he looks like us in all the form. He is one from us. He is all from us. He is from our nath, (ethnic background), our Jamat (Community)

This sort of media representation enables the people of Jambur to renew their linkages with Africa, there by forging links and pseudo memories to benefit from the capitalistic consumsions of society. Looking at Situational phenomenal approach that views ethnicity as based on rational choice theory that acknowledges the salience of ethnic identity which varies according to its relevance in a given context. In other words, individual may choose to be regarded as member of an ethnic group if they find it to their advantage. (Ross, 1982 cited in Isajiw, 1992). Identities shift depending on how an agent is socially positioned in a specific context. "Identities are wholly social constructions" and agency has to do with "the socially constructed capacity to act". (Barker 1999)



All this constitutes a desire to be acknowledged and to be represented, manifesting in the re-emergence, via staged performance, of dhamāls, which is sustained by new inventions within the traditions, like the use of animated dress and painted face, visually portraying newly gathered 'African-ness'. Today, dhamāl, the designated Sufi dance, is designed for ritual participation of males as opposed to community participation as observed on the shrines, where traditionally these are observed. The ritual performance of dhamāl has had a marked shift in the attire from common cultural clothing to plain white by some male members of the communities, to specifically designed and tailored attire for staged performances.

Contemporary commercial ventures within the emerging markets of cultural consumption are a relatively new phenomenon experienced by the Sidi groups. This idea is meaningfully employed by some as a new avenue for social and economic mobility. In an attempt to actively mobilise their new visibility, both print and electronic media is being used. Any traditional art performance when acquires commercial form, undergoes a series of changes adjusting the ritual performances to suit contemporary audiences.

This (re)emergence of Black Sufis will eventually refashion the historical cultural heritage of the Sidi community to negotiate the future of the ritual performances under the demand of the global audience, giving new direction to the future to the art form.

It complements but also contrasts with the ethnic notion of being Sidi. Hence the Sidi self perception of their identity is shaped by various social and religious forces that Sidis live in. As this study was conducted on very limited sample populations, a more comprehensive study could different results in the Sidi self perception of their identity.

The word Africa is a 20th century term