Sep 20, 2015

Bead Bai: Excerpt from the Chapter on the Great Migration

The elders’ shifting eyes expressed doubts such as those that come from the fright of loss of direction of one gone astray in a jungle. Then someone asked a different question that made the panchayat assembly think again, “Why is it that every caste around Haripur is going to Africa but the African Siddis are not?” More doubts were now expressed in questions about the Siddis, “Why are the Siddis staying behind? What will they eat? Where will they get the water from?” These questions silenced all for a while before they began asking again, “Do they know something we don’t? Do they eat people in Africa? Will the English enslave us to work in mines and on plantations?” The elders shook their heads from side to side dole dole in agreement, “Yes there must be a reason why they are not leaving.” Finally the panchayat council sent Mota Bhai to enquire from the Siddis why they do not leave Saurashtra for Africa yet they have no food in their granaries.

When Mota Bhai returned, his hands were trembling; his voice shook when he told the panchayat what the Siddis said to him. “Our forefathers worked this land and fought for dignity. Here they served, ruled, cleared the jungle and built forts so we may live with pride,” they said. “Our ancestors protect us now. If we leave, who will bring the unshaven coconuts and incense smoke to their altars? Who will dance the goma? Whom shall we consult when our children are born and their destinies made?  Whom shall we consult at marriages? Whom shall we consult at funerals? Yes, we are hungry, yes there is no food in our granaries but our ancestors reside here. This land is ours and we are free.”

The Siddis then put questions to Mota Bhai that he said, he not only had no replies to but had never before even thought about. They asked: How could the panchayats of Saurashtra, who had never been enslaved or dispossessed of their country, know what was in the hearts of the Siddis? How could they understand the African custom that reveres the land where the ancestors are buried not cremated? Did the Indians have slave memories like those of the Siddis? Did their ancestors walk in coffles under the blazing sun? Ancestors, exhausted-beaten-starved sleeping in coffles? Ancestors, in coffles made to copulate to replenish the slave stock for their masters? Then a Siddi elder who was so thin and weak that he could not stand without shaking even when holding a stick, asked, "How could they? Their heads are full of what the English did to the Indians, not what the Indians did to the Africans?"


To read on famines in India during the raj and on taxation, revenue collected and export of grain out of India click and then also from here click on an article by Mike Davis and Jambudeep's Blog

BBC Documentary on Indian Migrations during the Famine Years

For more on the Siddhis of the Indian sub-continent click below. View some amazing historical photographs and paintings of the Siddhis

For the present day photos of Siddhis see:

Siddhis the fast disappearing Indians of African origin:


williasa said...

Just discovered Bead Bai! We met at Nairobi U in the mid-80s when I was beginning my SUNY MA on Turkana material culture. You suggested I read Ngugi wa Thiong'o. How to thank you? I teach just across the border and am hoping a conversation might be possible, at your convenience, please? Sarah Williams

Sultan Somjee said...

Hi Sarah:

I cannot recall. Had many students at the campus. It will be nice to talk. Wait for the 2nd edition of Bead Bai to be out in March if you have not ordered already.

Thanks for writing,