By Runoko Rashidi
We are already aware… 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.
ANCIENT AFRICA AND EARLY INDIA
Exceptionally 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.”
INDIA’S EARLIEST CIVILIZATION
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.”
APARTHEID IN INDIA
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.
THE BUDDHA AND BUDDHISM IN INDIA
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.”
DALIT: THE BLACK UNTOUCHABLES OF INDIA
Possibly the most substantial percentage of Asia’s Blacks can be identified among India’s 160 million “Untouchables” or “Dalits.” Frequently they are called “Outcasts.” 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.”
HABSHIS AND SIDDIS: AFRICAN DYNASTIES IN INDIA
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.”