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The Sheedi Community; A long-lost African tribe in Pakistan



Since protests have been going on against the discrimination and inequality faced by the black community in America and different regions across the globe, let’s look into our own black community in Pakistan. The Sheedis or Siddi, are descendants of African migrants over centuries in South Asia. The Arab merchants had bought them as Slaves in the 19th Century. The population according to the Young Sheedi Welfare Organization varies considerably from 50.000 to just under 1 million. Sheedis reside in southern Pakistan, with an estimated 50% in lower regions of Sindh, 30% in Balochistan and 20% in Karachi. Many Sheedis are Muslims with culturally diverse backgrounds.


The Sheedis have a long history in India and Pakistan and often served as guards or soldiers. Their arrival in South Asia began in the late 7th century as traders in the region of Gujrat. The second wave came across when soldiers were serving in the army of the young Arab general Muhammad Bin Qasim during the 8th century. Many East Africans came later on as the Mughal Emperor’s military guards. The Portuguese traders brought in East Africans as slaves with them to the sub-continent. Now irrespective of their origins, they form one of many minority ethnic groups in South Asia. In the sultanates of Deccani and Delhi, Sheedis also served in armies. Some Sheedis in those armies, such as Malik Ambar, and Jamal ud Din Yaqut, rose to high ranks. The majority of this community in Pakistan lives in the Makran coastal region and lower parts of Sindh. They are generally divided into clans and houses, which are named “Lassi Makan”, “Belaro Makan” etc. Makan means ``house’’, in Urdu.


The Sheedi have a rich, distinct culture. It is a mixture of their ancestral East African culture and the local Islamic culture. This would be most visible in Karachi. Just outside of Karachi is Mangho Pir, a town that contains the shrine of Haji Syed Sultan, a Sufi Saint. Hundreds of Sheedis gather at this shrine and sing Swahili songs and dance to this language which is now barely understood because of the language dying out due to mainstream culture. The really interesting part about Mangho Pir is that the shrine also contains crocodiles that are honored every year. This is done due to their belief that it will bring them happiness and prosperity the entire year. There is a legend that the lice on the great Sufi saint’s head were transformed into crocodiles.




Unfortunately, Sheedis have been victims of racism and discrimination due to their skin tones and appearance, this is more prevalent in rishta culture. Women, in particular, are frequently discriminated against in terms of living conditions and are poorly paid by their employers. These people face poverty and lack of opportunities in different fields because of this. In recent years there have been increased community mobilisations, including the formation of organizations such as the Young Sheedi Welfare Organization, which focuses on providing access to fundamental resources such as education, health, and livelihoods.




In 2018, an inspirational Sheedi woman, Tanzeela Qambrani, secured a seat in Sindh’s legislature, making her the first woman and member of the Sheedi community to become a lawmaker in Pakistan. She has been vocal about the discrimination she faced due to her African descent and how her community has had to struggle to preserve their African roots and cultural expression.



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Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Dec 01, 2023

I loved reading this article! Despite being a resident of Karachi and seeing Sheedi people around the city, I never knew about their true history. One thing which is really bothering me is the fact that I have barely ever seen any representation of the Sheedi community on Pakistani television. The voices of the community have not been given any platform to be heard. Given their interesting history, why do you think Pakistan is not making an active effort to represent them on media platforms? Do you think representing them can bring forth any positive change in their lives, with regards to societal stereotypes and expectations?


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Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
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It is quite surprising to see that residents in Khi themselves are unaware of the fact that a culturally diverse Black community resides in their hometown. Although I can draw some pointers and explanations for the lack of coverage and representation of this community, mainly because they are a minority and there is prevalent Colorism and Discrimination against those who are of darker complexions. I definitely believe that representation leads to positive change, it helps deconstruct stereotypes and educates people on why a community is marginalised and what we can do to stand in solidarty and support for such communities that are deserving of recognition in all spheres, whether it be politically, socially or economically

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Discovering the existence of the Sheedi community in Pakistan was a truly eye-opening experience for me. It was surprising, yet enlightening, to learn about this unique African diaspora within Pakistan, a fact that seems to be largely overlooked in mainstream discussions. The Sheedis, with their rich cultural heritage and significant contributions to Pakistani society, deserve far more recognition and appreciation than they currently receive. It's particularly disconcerting to realize that despite Pakistan's pride in its diverse ethnic tapestry, the Sheedis often find themselves marginalized and facing discrimination. This situation is a poignant reminder of the challenges that minority communities can face, even in societies known for their cultural plurality. It's crucial that we, as a nation, strive to celebrate and…

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Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023
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It is quite saddening to see that Pakistanis are more aware of the black communities in other countries such as the US yet have not acknowledged that they exist in our homeland too, The sheedis have contributed in multiple spheres in our institutions yet they get very little credit. It is time that our community learns to understand, respect and celebrate their rich cultural heritage and include them in our diverse historical narratives

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Mariam
Mariam
Dec 01, 2023

When I first found out there was an African community native to Pakistan here, it blew my mind because why isn't this talked about more? The Sheedis have contributed to this country so much and it's incredibly depressing to see how they're ignored and discriminated against because of their race and skin color. Normally we take pride as a country, of our different identities and ethnicities, but it's really disheartening to hear about a tribe that's long lost and forgotten because they don't "look" like Pakistanis.

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Being a resident of Karachi, I have visited Mango Pir often and found it an incredible place. Your article was incredibly articulate in describing the presence of a community that we often don't see represented in media, much less in any form of conversation. So much of the discrimination is also tied into the effects of colonial standards of beauty too, and the ways in which communities were built, with what colonial forces deemed "Indians" being placed on a higher pedestal and in many instances being sent as colonizing forces into East Africa. Such a vast and multi-cultural history is erased when we are made to actively forget and ignore these communities who do not appear to be "typically" Pakistani,…

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