Dhamaal in Bava Gor’s shrine: a glimpse of baithaaki dhamaal in Jamnagar.
Documented by: Hameeda Makwa Siddi, Farooq Maqwa Siddi, Soumali Roy, and Sayan Dey
Date of documentation: 10th September 2022
A note on the Siddis: The term ‘Siddi’ is referred to the African diaspora communities in India, who initially arrived in the 13th century with the Islamic invaders in Gujarat (then Sindh) as slaves, palace guards, traders, and musicians from the eastern parts of Africa like Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Sudan, and Tanzania. In the 15th century, another group of Africans was brought to India by the Portuguese colonizers as slaves from the southern parts of Africa like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.
A note about the usage of Swahili Creole words: It is important to note that the Swahili words that are found in the Siddi zikrs are not identical to standard Swahili words. Though the first generation of Siddis in Gujarat could converse in the standard Swahili language, with the passage of time, the Swahili language got mixed up with Gujarati, Kathiawadi, and other local languages of Gujarat, and gave birth to Swahili Creole.
The emergence of the Swahili Creole language is transoceanic in nature, and it developed due to the interactions between the eastern Africans and local natives of Gujarat. Initially, when the Siddis arrived in Gujarat from eastern Africa across the Indian Ocean, due to their lack of knowledge about the local languages, they failed to communicate and work with the locals. However, with the passage of time, the necessity of working with the locals provoked Siddis to learn local languages like Gujarati, Urdu, Kathiawadi, and others. As the learning process was mostly unorganized and self-taught, so they started mixing Swahili words, phrases, and expressions with the local languages. So, the Swahili words that are found in the following zikrs are creolized forms of standard Swahili. Today, the usage of Swahili Creole is only restricted within the zikrs.
The meaning of the Swahili Creole words in the following zikrs has been interpreted in consultation with various Siddi community members in Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, and Jamnagar. The interpretations are not the ultimate ones, and it keeps varying across the different Siddi communities in Gujarat on the basis of their respective spiritual and geographical contexts.
La illaha ililla Dhamama
Chamka Dhamama Dhamama
Bol Nubi Nubi Nubi Nubi
Habshi Mastana Dhamama
Jungle ke Raja Dhamama
Wo Habshi Diwana Dhamama
Fir sab log boltey hain
Ya Navey bol Navey
Asra piroka asra humara
Meaning: This zikr is in the Urdu, Hindi, and Swahili languages. The Swahili Creole words that have been used are ‘Dhamama’ (a percussion instrument widely played within the communities in eastern Africa) and ‘Habshi’ (referred to the Siddis who are of Abyssinian/Ethiopian descent). This zikr is usually sung as an introduction as an expression of respect and reverence towards Allah. As the meaning goes, in the praise of Allah, it is not only the human beings who are signing ‘La illaha ililla’, but the forests, birds, oceans, and musical instruments are also singing in a chorus. Besides singing praise for Allah, the Dhamama also sings praise for Habshi Mastana (a Siddi sant) and every other Siddi ‘pirs’ (a Muslim spiritual guide).
Ya bolo sabaya hua wey
Ya bolo sabaya hua wey
Salwale Nabi Sultan
Meaning: This zikr is sung in praise of Habshi/Siddi spiritual leader Nabi Sultan, who is believed to have first arrived in Gujarat in the coast of Kuda (located in the Bhavnagar district of Gujarat) from the Nubian Valley (encompasses the geographical regions of Sudan and Egypt). The zikr means that after praising Allah and Bava Gor, it is time to praise Nabi Sultan. The Swahili Creole words that have been used are ‘hu’ (a common Swahili expression to give consent) and ‘sabaya’ (means ‘it is ok/everything is alright’). The zikr means that if the blessings of Siddi Nabi Sultan exist, then no evil can befall on the Siddis of Gujarat.
About Zikrs: The Siddis sing these zikrs and many others to historically preserve their stories of cultural, geographical, and spiritual evolution across the Indian Ocean World that they have learned from their ancestors. The zikrs are sung in honor of Siddi spiritual leaders like Bava Gor, Mai Misra, Bava Habash, Nabi Sultan, and others.
The Swahili Creole words that have been used are ‘Dhamama’ (a percussion instrument widely played within the communities in eastern Africa) and ‘Habshi’ (referred to the Siddis who are of Abyssinian/Ethiopian descent). This zikr is usually sung as an introduction as an expression of respect and reverence towards Allah.
Hazrat Bilal Masjid – this boat-shaped masjid was constructed in 1422 in memory of Bilal Habshi from Ethiopia by the African merchants in the coastal region of Kuda, Gujarat. The shape of the masjid is a reminder of the transoceanic socio-cultural connections of the Siddis.