DEL 2 // PART 2 (7 September – 20 November 2015)


nawab sidi mohamed haider Khan_34
Nawab Sidi Haidar Khan of Sachin
(Kenneth and Joyce Robbin Collection)


 Africans in India: A Rediscovery a travelling exhibition put together by, Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf , historian and curator of digital collections at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York Schomburg and Dr. Kenneth X. Robbins , collector and co-author of the book African Elites in India : Habshi Amarat.

This exhibition retraces the lives and achievements of some of the talented and prominent Africans of yesterday who became an integral part of the socio-cultural heritage of India.

Monday 07 September 2015 at 7:00pm

Opening speech by Dr. Ali Moussa Iye, Chief History and Memory for Dialogue Section Division Heritage Culture Sector – UNESCO

Expert Panel: The Duty of Memory, for Recognition, Justice and Cultural Interaction, seen in a Global Perspective.


  • Dr. Faeeza Jasdanwalla, Department of History Aberystwyth University (Wales) a descendant of the African dynasty of Janjira (India)
  • Dr. Sylviane Diouf, Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf , historian and curator of digital collections at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York Schomburg
  • Dr. Ali Moussa Iye, UNESCO

Dr. Sylviane Diouf

Dr. Sylviane Diouf

Dr. Ali Moussa Iye

Dr. Ali Moussa Iye

Dr. Faeeza Jasdanwalla

Dr. Faeeza Jasdanwalla

Africans in India
From Slaves To Generals and Rulers

Generals, commanders, admirals, prime ministers, and rulers,

East Africans, over the centuries, have greatly distinguished themselves in India. They have written 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. It was a feat few of them could have imagined when, as captives, they sailed across the Indian Ocean and its adjoining

seas in overcrowded dhows, destined to unknown lands and uncertain futures. But from Bengal in the northeast to Gujarat in the west and to the Deccan in Central India, East Africans—known as Sidis and Habshis—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, Africans ruled over indigenous Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations. As rulers, city planners, and architects, the Africans have left an impressive historical and architectural legacy that testify to their 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.

From humble beginnings, some Africans carved out princely states 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. Although they were a common sight, the Africans who were an integral part of the history and culture of the Indian subcontinent have not received, in the present, the recognition they deserve. This groundbreaking exhibition retraces the lives and achievements of some of the talented and prominent Sidis of yesterday

E African Migrations_8

Elite Slavery
The African men and women who were taken to India through the early slave trade were known as Habshi(Abyssinian) and Sidi(Siddi, derived either from sayyidi, my lord in Arabic; or from saydi, meaning captive or prisoner of war). They came mostly from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and adjoining areas. Trained as soldiers they were highly prized for their military skills. It is among these men that the generals, commanders, and rulers emerged. Indians had an abundance of local slaves to perform hard labor. As a consequence, the Africans, Turks, Persians, and Europeans they purchased were mostly employed in specialized jobs as domestics in wealthy households, in the royal courts, and in the armed forces. To be sure, most men and women enslaved in India spent their existence dependent and marginalized; their lives unheralded and forgotten. But for others, slavery was not an impediment to high office nor was color.

They could rise through the ranks and become “elite slaves,” amassing wealth and power and even becoming rulers in their own right. Due to Islamic laws and societal conventions, East Africans and their enslaved descendants in India tended to have much greater social mobility than West Africans and their off spring did in the Americas. One distinctive trait of slavery in India and in the Islamic world was that bondage and “race” were not linked. Instead, factors such as religion, ethnicity, and caste were often more influential than color.

Emancipation, based on Qur’anic grounds (Sura Al-Nur 24:33), was frequent. It was commonly done verbally and did not require any legal process. Enslaved women’s children by free men were free at birth, while the mothers became free upon their owners’ death.

Elite slavery was often a frontier phenomenon, more entrenched in areas that underwent instability due to struggles between factions and where hereditary authority was weak. There, rulers considered Africans reliable because they were outsiders with no filial connections to the indigenous populations and did not possess traditional authority. As a consequence they made them court officials, administrators, and army commanders. These elite slaves were frequently at the center of court disputes and sometimes seized power for themselves.

Generals, Ministers, Rulers and Queens.
From the 1400s, numerous Africans held high positions in India including generals, admirals, and ministers, in Muslim and Hindu states. The “Abyssinian Party” as it was called dominated the Bijapur Sultanate starting in 1580, and one of its most famous African governors was Ikhlas Khan. He was in charge of administration, commander-in chief and minister of finances under two sultans.

Another powerful leader was Malik Ambar (1548-1626). Born Chapu in Kambata, southwestern Ethiopia, he was enslaved as a young man and converted to Islam. He arrived in India in the early 1570s and became a slave of Chengiz Khan (believed to have been an Ethiopian and a former slave), the prime minister of the sultanate of Ahmadnagar. He was freed upon Chengiz Khan’s death in 1575. Malik Ambar ruled as regent and prime minister and left one of the mostimpressive legacies of any ruler in the Deccan.Two African dynasties were established in western India. The first ruled the state of Janjira also known as Habsan (for Abyssinia). Part of the state consisted of an island that the Ethiopians transformed into a fortress in the early 1700s. Considered one of the best specimens of naval fort architecture, it was never conquered though attacked dozens of times. The second African dynasty ruled the Sachin State in Gujarat from 1791. Like Janjira, Sachin had its own cavalry and state band that included Africans, its coats of arms, currency, and stamped paper.

The African nawabs (princes) of Janjira and Sachin were Muslims and ruled over majority Hindu populations. In 1948, all princely states were incorporated into India and ceased to exist, but the Janjira and the Sachin dynasties still live on.

A few African women became queens in India. An Ethiopian and a former slave, Mehr Lekha Begum Sahiba was the third wife of Sayyid Mansur Ali Khan, the nawab of Bengal from 1838 to 1880.Yasmin Mahal was one of the wives of Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Oudh in Uttar Pradesh (1847-56) in northern India. She has been represented in several paintings alone with the king or among his other wives. Bamba Muller (1848-1887), the daughter of an Ethiopian—who may have been enslaved—and a German banker, became Maharani Bamba Duleep Singh when she married the last ruler of the Sikh Empire in northern India.


Africans in Indian Art
Besides appearing in written documents, East Africans were immortalized in the rich paintings of different eras, states, and styles that form a central and distinctive part of Indian culture. They were captured in vibrant and ex- quisite portraits as principal subjects or in the immediate vicinity of non-African rulers.

The images presented in this exhibition are evidence of the Sid- is’ power and political significance and India’s unique history.



Mandag til fredag kl. 11:00 – 17:00
Lørdag og søndag kl. 12:00 – 16:00
Omvisninger for skoler o.l. holdes mandag – fredag kl. 11:00 – 13:00
For bestillinger: Tlf: 21396107 E-post: afrikult@online.no



Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday through Sunday, 12 p.m. to 16 p.m.

Guided tours for Schools etc. Monday through Friday,
 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To register for a guided tour, please call: 21396106 or email: afrikult@online.no

African Rulers

Sharqi Sultans of Jaunpur (1394-1479?)
(The 1st or all the Sharqui sultans may have been Africans)
Habshi Sultans of Bengal (1486-1493)
Nawabs of Janjira (1618-1948)
Sidi Masud of Adoni (17th century)
Nawabs of Sachin (1791-1948)

Deccani Sultanates With High-Ranking Africans

Bahmani Sultanate (1347-1518)
Ahmadnagar (1496-1636)
Bijapur (1490-1686)
Golconda (1512-1687)

States With High-Ranking Africans
Khandesh (1382-1600)
Gujarat (1407-1572)
Kutch (1500-1948)
Bhavnagar (1660-1948)
Hyderabad (1724-1948)

Africans in India displays photographic reproductions of paintings from the following collections:

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, United Kingdom
The British Library, London, United Kingdom
Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
Francesca Galloway, London, United Kingdom
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
The Kenneth and Joyce Robbins Collection
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Musée des Arts Asiatiques Guimet, Paris, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London, United Kingdom
San Diego Museum of Art

Janjira Nawab Sidi Mohammed III and his mother


H.H. Nawab Sidi Muhammad Khan Sidi Ahmad Khan, Nawab of Janjira