Click to search the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library Skip Navigation

Africa and the African Diaspora

Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers


Generals, commanders, admirals, prime ministers, and rulers, East Africans greatly distinguished themselves in India. They wrote a story unparalleled in the rest of the world — that of enslaved Africans attaining the pinnacle of military and political authority not only in a foreign country but also on another continent. Come discover their extraordinary story in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Schomburg Center — on view from February 1 to July 6 — and on March 21, join Dr. Faeeza Jasdanwalla, a descendant of the African dynasty of Janjira for a conversation on this unique history.

Following free traders and artisans who migrated to and traded with India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia in the fist centuries of the common era; from the 1300s onward, East Africans from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and adjacent areas entered the Indian subcontinent, mostly though the slave trade. Others came as soldiers and sailors. From Bengal in the northeast to Gujarat in the west and to the Deccan in Central India, they vigorously asserted themselves in the country of their enslavement. The success was theirs but it is also a strong testimony to the open-mindedness of a society in which they were a small religious and ethnic minority, originally of low status. As foreigners and Muslims, some of these Africans ruled over indigenous Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations.

Besides appearing in written documents, East Africans, known as Habshis (Abyssinians) and Sidis, have been immortalized in the rich paintings of different eras, states, and styles that form an important part of Indian culture. Africans in India features dramatically stunning photographic reproductions of some of these paintings, as well as photographs.

As rulers, city planners, and architects, the Sidis have left an impressive historical and architectural legacy that attest to their determination, skills, and intellectual, cultural, military and political savvy. The imposing forts, mosques, mausoleums, and other edifices they built — some more than 500 years ago — still grace the Indian landscape. They left their mark in the religious realm too. The 14th century African Muslim Sufi saint Bava Gor and his sister, Mai Misra, have devotees of all origins, not only in India, but also in Pakistan. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Zoroastrians frequent their shrines.

From humble beginnings, some Africans carved out princely states — Janjira and Sachin — complete with their own coats of arms, armies, mints, and stamps. They fiercely defended them from powerful enemies well into the 20th century when, with another 600 princely states, they were integrated into the Indian State.

To curate this exhibition with my friend Dr. Kenneth X. Robbins, renowned collector, expert in the history of the Africans in India and co-editor of Africans Elites in India: Habshi Amarat, was an old dream. It is also the continuation of an exploration of the eastern reaches of the African Diaspora started in 2011. The first leg of this journey was the online exhibition The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World. Today, it has been seen in over 90 countries. The same year the Schomburg Center hosted, for several months, a gorgeous exhibition of quilts made by Sidi women. Curated by Dr. Henry Drewal, Soulful Stitching was an immense success.

Africans in India presents a unique facet of the African experience in India, one that has not received, in the present, the recognition it deserves. By bringing out of obscurity the lives and accomplishments of some of the Sidis of yesterday, this new exhibition inscribes their fascinating story in the richly diverse history of the global African Diaspora.


For more, please visit

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World

The Sidi Project

Asia's Africans

Africans in India: Then and Now

Related Free Events

March 21 at 6:30pm: Talks at the Schomburg. Join our special guest Dr. Faaeza Jasdanwalla, a descendant of the African dynasty of Janjira, and Dr. Kenneth Robbins and John McLeod, editors of African Elites in India for a conversation on the history of Africans in India.

April 6 at 6:30: Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America




Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.


amazing history.

Is there a book on this subject?

I heard Dr. Clark Mention a book entitled Africans In India. I found it once on amazon books When I return to amazon books I was usableftatewe this to find it. Help!

Books on Africans in India

Apart from "African Elites in India", cited here, you will find a list of books representing the latest scholarship on Africans in India at the bottom of the blog post "Asia's Africans."


This information was really amazing. Thanks for sharing.


As an Indian with a general interest in History, it's surprising this is not widely known. Thanks for throwing light on a new and interesting aspect of Indian History. India continues to amaze.

seeking for a promoterpro

my name is odafen from African i m seeking a where i can be teaching Africa culture ,i m a singer promoting the africa culture i m a member of kegite club Interrnational i want to teach people


They are no slaves, but the founding fathers or Ancestors of the modern India, though some are in denial of their Africa descendants

People might be surprised if

People might be surprised if they Google "India's indigenous people."

The beginning of the Eastern

The beginning of the Eastern Civilizations Arabs,Persia, Israel, Egypt, India was Egypt. They had nothing to do with the European,Africans, or Oriental civilizations. The Eastern Civilizations were the rulers. They are a separate race and their DNA is the beginning of spirituality on this planet from the Pharoahs"the Lotus Flower", the Bhagavad Gita, Buddha, The Torah, Old Testament(Bible),Quran,the Guru Granth(Sikhs). This is why this planet is such a mess from the manipulation of the truth.

Siddhis in India

There are do many races and people who had contributed to the Indian sub-continent becoming a rich and prosperous nation/nations,alongside China,well before the 17th Century. It is good to see that the role African's have played is finally being recognised.

Very interesting and

Very interesting and informative article. Great to know about a phase in world history that is still unknown to many. Sure, your readers will love to know about the African touch in Indian history. Thanks for sharing such a marvelous article.

Post new comment