African by origin, Indian by nationality with Gujarati as their lingua franca – the Siddi tribe lives in a village called Jambur in the heart of Gujarat. Just like any other village, Jambur has red mud by lanes, houses with thatched rooftops and a few small local shops. Located approximately 100 km from Junagadh, the village is surrounded by the forest of Gir, which is home to the last of the remaining Asiatic lions.
Their faces are painted in shades of red, blue and green with designs symbolising traditional African body art, they wear bright orange tiger print skirts, straw caps and breathe fire. We are not talking about a circus troop, but of the Siddi tribe who don different avatars at different times of the day.
They have completed more than 300 years in Gujarat and this is the fourth generation in Jambur. This settlement did not happen out of choice but by force. There is a long history to their presence in India. The Nawab of Junagadh had once visited Africa where he fell in love with an African woman. They got married and she moved to India with him. She came to India with a hundred slaves and since then they have been based in Gujarat. Their claim to fame is their origin and they cash-in very well on this. They have a dual profession – although they do small time jobs in the day, they dance to the African beats at night. On a daily basis, the tribals are engaged in various occupations. They work on the fields, in the forest department, and some as tourist guides and truck drivers. With the meagre salary it is very difficult to manage. This extra money helps them tremendously, While many members of the tribe work in the forest, there are some who are in government jobs. And as the night sets in, the Siddis once again dress up in their tiger prints and set out to perform another spectacular tribal tradition.