Ethiopians in India

By De Birhan 
06 Feb 2013

There is an online exhibition underway named African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World on the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) website.  The exhibition is curated and hosted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black History.  

An Indian blogger  writing about the exhibition says,  

I have talked once in a while with my friends from South Africa about the people of African origin on the Indian subcontinent. I knew of them as Habashis who lived in Gujarat. I know that they came to India first as traders and seamen. However, I did not know anything about them beyond their existence. Habashis or the Abyssinians came to India from Ethiopia (Abyssinia). The exhibit mentions the port of Barygasa (modern day Bharuch, Gujarat) that was considered to be an Ethiopian town because of the east African traders who had settled there. So that is where my story of Africans in Gujarat came from I guess. 

This exhibition, the first of its kind, retraces—in over 100 photographic reproductions of paintings and contemporary photographs—the lives and achievements of a few of the many talented and prominent Sidis of yesterday. The Schomburg Center also has an ongoing exhibition of images and artifacts open till July 6, 2013.
The Online Exhibition presents detailed information on the ties and history of Ethiopia and India here. The following two paragraphs are excerpted from the long piece on Ethiopia, 
The Persian and Byzantine historians Muhammed ibn Jariri al-Tabari and Procopius of Caesarea indicate that between 532 and 535 the Ethiopian general Abraha al-Ashram, a Christian, seized the throne of the Himyarite kingdom and ruled as the king of Saba for some 35 years. His sons by a Yemeni woman ensured that an African presence in Arabia remained following his death in 570.
The archeological record verifies that commercial contacts between Ethiopia and South Asia had been well established in the ancient world. Indian figurines were imported into Ethiopia as early as the third century BCE; and during the first century CE the Roman observer Pliny the Elder described Barygasa (Baruch) in Gujarat, on the western coast of India, as an Ethiopian town. More than 100 gold coins dating to approximately 230 found in Dabra Damo, northern Ethiopia, have been identified as Kushana (from the Kush region between Pakistan and Afghanistan).
The Online Exhibition also explains that as close as the 17th C, Ethiopians/Habshi rulers controlled,  ruled and formed royal relationship with India. 

Ethiopians were also part of crews that crisscrossed the Indian Ocean. Some navigated between Hormuz in southern Iran and Goa and Bengal in India, while others sailed to Malaysia, and a few went to China and Japan with the Portuguese. Along the western coast of India, Ethiopians built a chain of fortifications, controlling sea access from Daman, in the north, down to the island of Janjira, south of Bombay. There, beginning in the early 17th century, Habshi sailors turned rulers established a royal lineage that reigned for nearly 300 years.

The Exhibition also contains drawings and paintings that are many centuries old such as this one it describes “Ethiopians have been known in the Indian Ocean world as “Habshi,” a word derived from “Al-Habash,” the Arabic term for Abyssinia, or Ethiopia.”

a Young Ethiopian in India 
Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.