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. In continued celebration of Black History Month, a groundbreaking exhibition at the Schomburg Center — on view from February 1 to July 6 — retraces their extraordinary story.
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.
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