Reviving the overlooked history of Africans in India

Reviving the overlooked history of Africans in India

Have you ever wondered about the secret world of African royalty in Indian history? In 2011, The Schomburg Center Center for Research in Black Culture, New York launched a project that illustrates the rich history of Africans in Asian countries ranging from Iran to India to China. Years later, the travelling “Africans in India: A Rediscovery” exhibition hosted by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi.


Relying on the monsoon, Africans visited and were taken to Asia as slaves, merchants, and mercenaries. Some rose up to reach prestigious posts while others simply settled to live simple lives leaving the generations that would become part of the African Diaspora today. Malik Ambar is an often quoted example. Brought as a slave to India from Ethiopia in the 16th century, Ambar would eventually become a governor.


Ambar lived a varied life, first sold to Arab merchants in Yemen, then ending up in Baghdad where he was converted to Islam and taught finance and administration by a new master. Eventually he was sold to an Ethiopian minister in a province in Deccan, India where Ethiopians were popular as military slaves. After gaining his freedom, Ambar went on to establish his army of mercenaries and dabbled in politics becoming a regent in the Deccan then ultimately clashing with the Mughals.


Despite the fact that his legacy is depicted in art, Ambar like others that were part of India’s historical community of Africans have largely been forgotten. As a matter of fact, people remain ignorant to the fact that African descended community still exist today in India and other countries around the Indian Ocean. The Africans in India exhibition could possibly change perspectives through enlightening those that attend of this rich history.


African achievement in history is often ignored. Are exhibitions the best way to draw awareness to this history? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below or by reaching me on Twitter @rafeeeeta

Rafeeat Aliyu

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