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of Indian textiles, including silks and brocades. Many literary works of the early 14th century have revealed the deep Ethiopian interest in India. By this time Ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan traveler in Africa and Asia, was also making several references to the presence of “Habshis” in the slave trade during his visit to India (1333-1342)

Kozhikode), which also faced the African continent and traded with Ethiopia. Habshis were also reported in the interior of north India. Ibn Battuta recalls that at Alipur, north of Delhi, the governor was “the Abyssinian Badr…, a man whose bravery passed into a proverb”. He was “continually making raids on the infidels alone, and single-handed killing and taking captive, so that his fame spread far and wide and the infidels Ethiopians in India went in fear of them”. Later in the century a slave called Malik Sarwar, described as a Habshi, was appointed further north as The flourishing trade relations between India and Ethiopia governor of Jaunpur. that began during the ancient period continued in the subseNumerous Habshis and other foreign slaves were likewise quent centuries with the added dimension of the slave trade. politically very prominent in 15th century Bengal, which also According to historian Richard Pankhurst, the coming of enjoyed extensive trade with Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. Ethiopian and other East African slaves to India a millennium The then Bengali ruler, Sultan Rukun al-Din (1450-1474), or so later is abundantly documented in various historical reportedly had no less than 8,000 African slaves, some of whom records. Western India, from the 13th to the 17th century, wit- rose to positions of considerable importance. Such slaves were nessed massive forced migration of Ethiopians and other East particularly influential during the ensuing reign of Jalal al-Din African slaves. Such slaves were known mainly by three alter- Fath Shah (1481-1487). Habshis were in fact so powerful in native names: ‘Habshis’, ‘Sidis’ and ‘Kaffirs’. The term Habshi Bengal that a group of them conspired to overthrow Jalal alwas a corruption of Habbash, the Din Fath but were killed later. Thus The trade between India and Arabic name for Abyssinia (now from protectors of the dynasty, the Ethiopia). The word Habshi was Ethiopia that began during the Habshis became masters of the kinglater used more widely for all dom. There are many such stories of ancient period continued in the protectors becoming masters. The Africans. However, most slaves from subsequent centuries with the Africa to India would, for geographHabshis, who had shown themselves ical reasons, have originated on the so formidable in the bloody struggles added dimension of the slave eastern coast of the continent, parof the time, were subsequently bantrade. The coming of Ethiopian ished from Bengal. Many sought ticularly Abyssinia. The term ‘Sidi’ slaves to India a millennium or refuge further north, in Delhi and by contrast was a corruption of the Arabic word “Sayid” or ‘master’. The Jaunpur, after which they drifted to so later is documented in term ‘Kaffir’ was derived from the the Deccan in the south and Gujarat historical records. Western Arabic ‘Kaffir’, originally an infidel, in the west. India, from the 13th to the 17th or the ones who did not believe in The Deccan, in south-western Islam. The word tended to be used in India, was another area in which the century, witnessed massive India for any non-Muslim and was in Habshis gained prominence, and, as forced migration of Ethiopians many cases applied to African immielsewhere, became involved in many and other East African slaves. grants and their descendants. conflicts of the day. At the beginning “Habshis” (Ethiopian slaves) are of the 15th century, the local known to have arrived in India as early as the 13th century. Bahmani ruler, Sultan Firuz (1397-1422), had many Habshi Many of them subsequently rose to very high positions. The slaves as his personal attendants, as well as his bodyguards and first prominent “Habshi” of whom we have record was a slave harem. Indeed, many notable Habshis feature in the Deccan called Jamal al-Din Yaqut, a royal courtier in the kingdom of chronicles. Ethiopian and other African slaves were at this Delhi. A handsome and most likeable individual, he is report- time probably arriving in India in large numbers. Though ed to have won favour of then reigning sovereign Queen most Habshis came to India as slaves, their faithfulness, Razzia. This aroused much jealousy in court. He was eventu- courage and energy often raised them to positions of high trust ally murdered by his rivals. Habshis, it is evident from 14th in the Bahmani court, so much so that they were exalted to century records, were also prominent in several other parts of the highest positions in the state. Several Habshis became India. The largest concentration of slaves was apparently found prominent during the ensuing periods. The importance of in the north-west, facing Africa, in Gujarat, and immediately Habshis of this time is also evident from the fact that a hill outto the east, around the Gulf of Cambay. Both areas had long side the capital city of Bidar, where once they had their been in close commercial contact, across the Arabian and Red stronghold –– and where many of them were buried –– is to Sea, with Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Evidence of an this day known as “Habshi Kot”. Ethiopian slave presence in the Indian subcontinent is also proHabshis at this time were also prominent at several points vided by Battuta in the 14th century. These Ethiopian slaves along India’s western coast, particularly at the island fort of were also used as famous guarantors of safety on the Indian Janjira, and in the nearby creek of Danda-Rajpuri, where they Ocean against pirates and idolators. A sizeable number of were almost invariably referred to as Sidis. There are different Habshis were also found much further south, at Calicut (now stories as to how the Sidis established themselves strongly at


February-April 2007


February 2007-April 2007