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The African Presence in India

9 September 2008 at 13:48 | 2389 views

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By Runoko Rashidi
http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/runoko.html

AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

One of the foremost tasks for contemporary African centered scholars is to provide an historical overview of the global African community. This is a critical task that must be completed in its entirety. This includes the history, culture and present condition of African people both at home and abroad. We are already aware, it should be pointed out, 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. This series of articles, "The African Presence in India: An Historical Overview," is designed to provide some of those 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."

Another important writer from antiquity, Apollonius of Tyana, who is said to have visited India near the end of the first century C.E., was convinced that "The Ethiopians are colonists sent from India, who follow their forefathers in matters of wisdom." The literary work of the early Christian writer Eusebius preserves the tradition that, "In the reign of Amenophis III [the mighty Dynasty XVIII Egyptian king] a body of Ethiopians migrated from the country about the Indus, and settled in the valley of the Nile." And still another document from ancient times, the Itinerarium Alexandri, says that "India, taken as a whole, beginning from the north and embracing what of it is subject to Persia, is a continuation of Egypt and the Ethiopians."

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."

DRAVIDIAN KINGDOMS OF SOUTH INDIA

It is safe to say that when we speak of the Dravidians as a people we are speaking of the living descendants of the Harappan people of the ancient Indus Valley who were pushed into South India as the result of the Aryan invasions. This is certainly consistent with Dravidian traditions which recall flourishing cities that were either lost or destroyed in antiquity. The term "Dravidian," however, encompasses both an ethnic group and a linguistic group. The ethnic group is characterized by straight to wavy hair textures, combined with Africoid physical features. In reference to this Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop stated that:

"There are two well-defined Black races: one has a black skin and woolly hair; the other also has black skin, often exceptionally black, with straight hair, aquiline nose, thin lips, an acute cheekbone angle. We find a prototype of this race in India: the Dravidian. It is also known that certain Nubians likewise belong to the same Negro type...Thus, it is inexact, anti-scientific, to do anthropological research, encounter a Dravidian type, and then conclude that the Negro type is absent."

Dravidian, in addition to its ethnic component, however, is an important family of languages spoken by more than a hundred million people, primarily in South India. These languages include Tamil (the largest element), Kannada, Malayalam (from which the name of the Asian country Malaya is derived), Telegu and Tulu. The term "Dravidian" itself is apparently an Aryan corruption of Tamil.

From at least the third century C.E. three major Dravidian kingdoms existed in South India: the kingdoms of Pandya, Chera and Chola. Pandya was the southernmost Dravidian kingdom. The major city of Pandya was Madurai, the location of the famous chapel of the Tamil Sangam (Academy). The Sangam, of which there were three, was initiated by a body of forty-eight exceptionally learned scholars who established standards over all literary productions. The Pandyan rulers received these intellectuals with lavish honors.

It is also important to note that in the kingdom of the Pandyas women seem to have enjoyed a high status. This is the exact opposite of the regions of India where the Whites ruled. In these lands of Aryan domination it is said that a woman was never independent. "When she is a child she belongs to her father. As an adult when she marries she belongs to her husband. If she outlives her husband she belongs to her sons." An early queen of the Pandyas, on the other hand, for example, is credited with controlling an army of 500 elephants, 4,000 cavalry and 13,000 infantry.

In 1288 and again in 1293 the Venetian traveler Marco Polo visited the Pandyan kingdom and left a vivid description of the land and its people. Polo exclaimed that:

"The darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than the others who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and their idols black and their devils white as snow. For they say that God and all the saints are black and the devils are all white. That is why they portray them as I have described."

To the northwest of Pandya was the kingdom of Chera (present-day Kerala). Northwest of Pandya lay the kingdom of Chola, said to be the place where Saint Thomas the Apostle was buried. The same Marco Polo who visited Pandya referred to Chola as "the best province and the most refined in all India."

The Dravidians were an unusually advanced seafaring people, with the Cholas, in particular, distinguishing themselves amongst the dominant maritime powers of their era. Through its ports, the great kings of Chola traded with Ethiopia and Somalia, Iran and Arabia, Combodia and China, Sumatra and Sri Lanka, exporting spices and camphor, ebony and ivory, quality textiles and precious jewels.

It seems readily apparent that the Dravidian kingdoms and the Dravidian people were quite well known internationally. When Augustus became head of the Roman world, for example, the Dravidian kingdoms sent him a congratulatory embassy. Dravidian poets describe Roman ships, which carried bodyguards of archers to ward off pirates, while the Dravidian kings themselves employed bodyguards of Roman soldiers. In respect to the ancient East, at least one author has identified a Dravidian presence in the Philippines, noting that: "From India came civilized Indians, the Dravidians from whom the savage Aryans learned. They began at least 500 BC and soon controlled the coast."

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 BLACK UNTOUCHABLES OF INDIA: THE WORLD’S MOST OPPRESSED PEOPLE

The greatest victims of Hinduism have been the Untouchables. Indeed, probably the most substantial percentage of all the Black people of Asia can be identified among India’s 160 million Untouchables. These people are the long-suffering descendants of Aryan-Sudra unions and native Black populations who retreated into the hinterlands of India in their efforts to escape the advancing Aryan sphere of influence to which they ultimately succumbed. India’s Untouchables number more than the combined populations of England, France, Belgium and Spain.

The existence of Untouchability has been justified within the context of Hindu religious thought as the ultimate and logical extensions of Karma and rebirth. Indus believe that persons are born Untouchables because of the accumulation of sins in previous lives. Hindu texts describe these people as foul and loathsome, and any physical contact with them was regarded as polluting.

Untouchables were usually forced to live in pitiful little settlements on the outskirts of Hindu communities. During certain periods in Indian history Untouchables were only allowed to enter the adjoining Hindu communities at night. Indeed, the Untouchables’ very shadows were considered polluting, and they were required to beat drums and make loud noises to announce their approach. Untouchables had to attach brooms to their backs to erase any evidence of their presence. Cups were tied around their necks to capture any spittle that might escape their lips and contaminate roads and streets. Their meals were taken from broken dishes. Their clothing was taking from corpses. They were forbidden to learn to read and write, and were prohibited from listening to any of the traditional Hindu texts. Untouchables were denied access to public wells. They could not use ornaments and were not allowed to enter Hindu temples. The primary work of Untouchables included scavenging and street sweeping, emptying toilets, the public execution of criminals, the disposal of dead animals and human corpses, and the clean-up of cremation grounds.

The daily life of the Untouchable was filled with degradation, deprivation and humiliation.
The basis status of India’s Untouchables has changed little since ancient times, and it has recently been observed that "Caste Hindus do not allow Untouchables to wear shoes, ride bicycles, use umbrellas or hold their heads up while walking in the street." Untouchables in urban India are crowded together in squalid slums, while in rural India, where the vast majority of Untouchables live, they are exploited as landless agricultural laborers and ruled by terror and intimidation. As evidence of this, several cases from 1991 can be cited: On June 23, 1991 fourteen Untouchables were slaughtered in the eastern state of Bihar. On August 10, 1991 six Untouchables were shot to death in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. On August 16, 1991, an Untouchable woman was stripped in public and savagely beaten in the southern state of Andra Pradesh. On September 6, 1991, in the western state of Maharastra, an Untouchable policeman was killed for entering a Hindu temple. Official Indian figures on violent crimes by caste Hindus against Untouchables have averaged more than 10,000 cases per year, with the figures continuing to rise. The Indian government listed 14,269 cases of atrocities by caste Hindus against Untouchables in 1989 alone. However, Indian human rights workers report that a large number of atrocities against Untouchables, including beatings, gang-rapes, arson and murders, are never recorded. Even when charges are formally filed, justice for Untouchables is rarely dispensed.

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 "Outcastes." 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."

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."

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."

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