The presence of people of African origin on the west coast of India, who arrived in historical times is heard or read in many different contexts. Near the Gir forests they have whole villages of the ‘Sidhis; as they are called. We have record of two princely states in Gujarat and Janjira in Maharashtra being ruled by Sidhis not too far ago.
Another important part of the Sidhi story is the legend of Bab Ghor
Baba Ghor or Babagor Baba Gor or Baba Gour , as the legend goes, was an African religious person who came to India with his followers. Baba Gor was a Muslim and he is considered a saint. He and his relatives have their own dargah complex at a place called Ratanpur or Ratanpore about 22 Kms. from Ankaleshwar. We drive through the rains on an extremely bad road towards the Rajpipla Hills which ultimately culminate into a wildlife sanctuary by the name of Shoolpaneshwar.
We find the Dargah complex easily into a forested area. The greenery in the mist reminds us of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra and Goa.
The people are of unmistakable African origin. The hair and the appearance remains African.
It is not clear from which African country Baba Ghor and his people came from. It is generally believed that they are Abyssinians which is Ethiopia and Eritrea in terms of current geography. If you do a google search you might find something to the effect that Baba Ghor came from Nigeria. This is unlikely as there does not appear be any contact between India and western Africa in those times.
The possibility that the people came from Eastern Africa is reinforced by the fact that they used the word ‘habshi’ in referring themselves. The word means East Africans in general and East African slaves in particular. Bilal-e-Habshi ( Habshi Muezzin) Provision Stores is here.
Baba Gor is known more for a trade reason than religious. He is associated with the mining, cutting and polishing a mineral called Agate. His followers were engaged in this activity in the Rajpipla Hills where this mineral is found. His expertise in this trade is recognized by the fact that a variety of Agate is named after him; Babagor.
The agate mining continues and the processing is industry is spread to other parts of Gujarat. It is no longer practiced at Ratanpur. One funny thing about the place is nobody knows by its name, it is simply called Babagor.
The people at dargah inform us that they are no longer engaged in Agate mining . When asked where it is found, they say that it is everywhere. One doe not even have to dig for it during the rains. Just spade through the mud and you will find the stones.
Baba Ghor was definitely a Muslim. It is not clear to which sub-sect he belongs to. The shopkeepers around has designated him a ‘sufi’, not just an ordinary sufi , a Black Sufi!!
Baba Ghor seems to have to India with a large number of his relatives. His brother has a tomb on a picturesque hill nearby.
Sister Mai Misra rests very close to the brother’s tomb. Mai Misra is a phenomenon that needs to be studied. I have found a tomb with the same name on a beach between Alang and Bhavnagar at a place called Kuda. The locals were of the impression that she come from Sindh.
There are other tombs around. When asked the people at the dargah tell you that they are of Baba’s Khadims- servants in modern language. There is a sizable water tank which has holy water which is reputed to cure people of their ailments.
It is a Sunday and the Dargah has a number of visitors. Buses are coming in. The tea and flower vendors are happy. Incidentally in addition to the flowers and the Chaddars which are the traditional offerings at a dargah, coconut is also offered here. Some sort of fusion.
I am curious about the language they speak. Apparently it is Gujarati. The signboards all over are in Gujarati. I am sure they speak Gujarati with a few words here and there from their native language., now difficult to understand.
An enterprising young man volunteers with some information. He says that their language is Swahili. He offers me a CD ( Rs. 151/-) with recordings of DHAMAAL, which according to him contains Swahili songs. On a casual hearing they appear to be Gujarati. I need to go through the recording carefully to see if it contains any Swahili words which are known to me. Unlikely as Swahili itself developed in the region south of Abyssinia.
In any case the Siddis have enriched Gujarati and Marathi language by giving them the word ‘dhamal’. I am not sure if the ‘Goma’ music that the Siddis use and which has a distinct African rhythm , has influenced any of the Indian musicians.
As more and more devotees start coming in, we decide not to adversely affect the Siddis’ business prospects by idle questioning. We retreat to Ankleshwar.
18th September 2016
Posted on 21.09.2016