The May 31 AFP-JIJI article “India’s Africans keeping ancient customs alive” brought back memories of my visit to two Shidi villages in Sindh province, Pakistan, some years back.
I was introduced by a rural organizer, Khurshid Khan, who as a writer was one of the few to concern himself with that community. As we approached one village, I asked my friend how he was going to introduce me, and he said “watch.”
As we entered the village, the male members were assembled and I was introduced as a Shidi from across the ocean. Each member of the community approached me, offering the traditional hug, saying “Welcome Shidi brother.”
No attention was paid to my skin color. Each of the eldest community members held a drum one with a blue ribbon and one with a red ribbon. When asked what they represented, they could only say that that was what their fathers had told them. Their traditions, they said, had been eaten by the Punjabis. As marriage was between cousins, genetic problems were frequent and life expectancy was shorter than most.
The total absence of race consciousness was indeed remarkable. They were the poorest of the poor, but had a wonderful sense of pride. My friend Khurshid began a project to translate their songs, searching for place names that would identify their home area in east Africa. A truly amazing experience.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.