Living deep within the confines of the forest area in Karnataka are the unique Indo-African Siddi tribe in Tavargatta. The tribal village is inhabited by people from the African decent.
There are multiple stories of how and when the Siddis came to India, but there are two that hold more ground as compared to the rest. The first one is that a small group was brought to India as slaves by the Portuguese and their descendants stayed back even after the Portuguese left and made India their home. The second one is that they came to India as soldiers with the Arab community.
The first of the two theories holds more ground since the Siddi community is only found near the Gir forest in Gujarat and near the Yellapur forest of Karnataka, which are both in close proximity to Goa, Daman and Diu which were under the rule of the Portuguese.
This Siddi tribal village of Tavargatta can be easily accessed from the town of Yellapur. The best way to get to this village is to hop into one of the many share-a-seat jeeps that are parked outside the main bus station. These jeeps are faster and drop travellers near the entrance of the village. The other option is to take the local KSRTC bus which is also good option but the buses are not as frequent as compared to the jeeps.
The village is a short walk from the main road through the woods. At first view the village looks like any other village in India. But once you venture past the village school which is the first small house and painted in white, the other houses have Siddi children playing in the veranda while their mothers and grandmothers are busy doing their daily chores.
On first look the Siddi tribal’s have nothing in common with Indians other than their dressing and the fact that since they have been staying here for over hundred years they speak the local languages. The features of these people are typically African with their dark skin tone and thick curly hair. The major reason why their features have remained so strong over the past 400 years of their existence in India is because the Siddi tribal’s marry only within their community. It is extremely rare for a Siddi person to marry anyone outside their community.
The Siddi tribal’s of Tavargatta village are all Catholics and have their community church in Hunshettykoppa which is a short walk from their village. The tribal’s from this village are very friendly and communicating with them is not a problem at all since nearly all of them can speak and understand Hindi very well. They are well-versed with Hindi since most of them in their younger years before marriage leave their village and move to the cities of Mumbai, Banglore and Goa to find work. The ladies work as house helps while the men work as drivers and security gurds.
The main occupation of the Siddi tribal’s of Tavargatta is working in their paddy fields. The village has vast never ending paddy fields. To reach other Siddi villages it is necessary to walk through the paddy fields. During the day time only children below the age of 12 and women can be seen since the men are all working in the fields and the elder children are in the government boarding school in Yellapur.
The best way of getting around this village is by befriending one of the tribal families. This is not a difficult task as onece they get talking they never seem to stop, but most of the children are very shy and either run inside their homes or start crying.
Most of the Siddi tribal villages are economically backward and live a very simple life. Thier houses till date have dung flooring and have just one small bulb. The houses have no fans and chairs. The family sit on the floor and have their meals.
The Siddi’s are poor with respect to modern day things but are very rich in soul. Even by just talking to a villager for a short time they will willingly accept you into their house and ask you to stay for lunch and will not let you leave their house without a cup of tea. Their staple diet is rice, dal and pickle and on occasions they cook chicken.
There are no provisions for accommodation in the village of Tavargatta, so the only options that travellers have is to stay at Yellapur or get a home stay with the tribal’s. The home-stays are a better options since it the best way to experience the life of the Siddi tribal’s is to live with them.
The Siddi tribal village of Tavargatta is a beautiful place to visit for all those who are interested in tribal’s life and want to experience a bit of the African continent without having to leave main land India. This tribal village is surely a must visit place for a traveller but not so much of a place that a tourist will like.