Page 16



concluded an offensive and defensive inally as a slave and then rose in the Nehru and alliance with the Sidis. service of Sultan Muzaffar Ali, and Gandhi Indian trade with Ethiopia and the later became a big landlord. It is also Gulf of Aden continued to flourish in very much evident that Ethiopian the 17th century and beyond and was stone masons, craftsmen and archiaccompanied by many further shiptects had a hand in the building of ments of slaves. The importance of not only the famous Sidi Sa’id Habshis in Indian political affairs Mosque in Ahmedabad but also in diminished subsequently. It is noted the construction of the same kind in that slave exports from Ethiopia and other states in India, particularly the the Horn of Africa in the first twoDeccan, Gujarat, Khandesh, Oudh thirds of the 19th century was by no and Bengal. Ethiopian war prisoners means inconsiderable. Such exports of Ahmed Grangn (the left-handed), (which were destined for Arabia, who invaded Ethiopia in the 16th India and other places) were then century, were also sent to India as running at close to 10,000 a year, i.e. slaves, but were later educated to almost a 100,000 per decade, or nearbecome soldiers, palace guards and ly a million per century. These figtraders. The important role ures suggest there was a significant Ethiopians played in India in the Tagore Radhakrishnan influx of slaves from Ethiopia and the medieval times thus continued by Horn of Africa, and that they would their holding different positions of Nationalist leaders like Nehru have at least partially replenished the high rank close to Indian rulers. We ranks of the long-established Habshi may now turn to examine the role and Gandhi condemned the population in India. Habshis, or their Italian aggression and gave total that Indians played in Ethiopia. descendants, continued in various support to Ethiopia. President parts of India. Most of the Habshis Indians in Ethiopia largely lived a life of near anonymity Radhakrishnan, who was then a and scarcely feature in the records of As noted earlier, for centuries, professor at Oxford, said: the time. The first marriages of the Ethiopia served as a bridge between Habshis were said to be with natives “Events in Abyssinia constituted India, Mesopotamia, Arabia and of India, but later they largely married Egypt. An organised system of coma betrayal of moral values.” among their own families. This merce continued during the cenPoet, philosopher and Nobel helped them to preserve their nationturies between India and Ethiopia laureate Rabindranath Tagore ality and identity and formed a through the Indian, Arab, Moor and numerous community distinct in figArmenian traders. Later, after the vividly conveyed in his poetry ure, colour and character from all the the then friendly sentiments and defeat of Ahmad Grangn by Emperor other races of Mohammedans in Leba Dengel (1506-1546), with the sympathy that prevailed in India. support of the Portuguese military, India. The export of Ethiopian slaves to Indian technicians (commoners, India, apart from helping to sustain the long-standing trade ties builders, blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, shoe-makers and between the two countries, provided an opportunity to ancient other craftsmen) went to Ethiopia from Goa when Portuguese Ethiopians to contribute significantly to Indian history. They missionaries and travelers were shuttling between East Africa made contributions in many fields, particularly architecture and India in the 17th century. The contributions of Indians in and masonry, among others. Regarding the Ethiopian archi- Ethiopia were significant, especially in the fields of constructectural influence in India during the medieval period, in par- tion and craft. To quote the report of the Jesuit Priest Almeida ticular their ability in designing and construction in general, : “Some masons from India, brought by the patriarch, were I.M. Muthanna has noted that the Habshis who were the employed by the emperor to build a palace of stone and lime, chiefs of governments, army commanders and politicians, had a structure that was wonder in the country.” It is said that the an interest in the Muslim architecture and they continued to Indians played an innovative role, particularly in the building build great structures during the reign of the Bahmini Sultans of bridges and introduction of lime and mortar construction. and the Mughal chiefs in the north. The greatest Habshi con- By the 17th and 18th centuries, trade continued to dominate struction in India was that of an Abyssinian noble, Sheik Sa’id the relations between the two countries. Ethiopian products, Al Habshi, Sultan of Ahmadnagar, who got the Sidi Sa’id especially gold, continued to be exported to India to buy cloth Mosque built. This mosque is now a leading tourist attraction from India. Commercial contacts led to more visible contacts in Ahmedabad. The same writer has noted that little is known in the field of culture and arts. The impact of Indian influence, about this gifted Abyssinian master-mason who created this according to Richard Pankhurst, can also be seen from the 18th marvel of stone in perfect workmanship. He was in India orig- and 19th century Ethiopian Christian arts. In this regard,


February-April 2007


February 2007-April 2007