Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan’s lost African past


Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan’s lost African past:

Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan's lost African pastCrocodiles : KARACHI: Dancing and chanting in Swahili in a crocodile shrine out Karachi, hundreds of Pakistani Sheedis swayed barefoot into the rhythm of a speech they no more talk — the party offering a rare opportunity to get in touch with their African origins.

For most Sheedis, the swampy crocodile shrine to Sufi saint Haji Syed Shaikh Sultan — popularly called Mangho Pir — would be the strongest symbol of the shared African American ago, as they fight to discover the path that led their ancestors into Pakistan.

Many, such as 75-year-old Mohammad Akbar, have given up the hunt for their loved ones´s roots.

The descendants of Africans that were coming on the beaches of the subcontinent for centuries, the Sheedis climbed to lofty places as generals and leaders throughout the Mughal Empire, which ruled swathes of South Asia.

But actively discriminated against throughout British rule, their customs started to fade, and they found themselves entirely shunned when Pakistan was made in 1947, absent in the nation´s elite military and political circles.

Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan's lost African past

Statistics are scant but it’s usually accepted that Pakistan retains the maximum amount of Sheedis on the subcontinent, upwards of approximately 50,000 people.

However, their history was scantily composed, which makes it hard if not impossible for Sheedis — including even those such as Akbar whose ancestors came in Pakistan relatively lately — to follow their antecedents.

“We were advised that we could never attain them until we could identify our tribe which we don´t understand,” he explained. “I never attempted.”

His plight is more most common, with little in the means of scholarship or documentation on the area.

What’s available indicates many came within the African slave trade to the east — an idea rejected by several Sheedis, many of whom currently live in southern Sindh province.

Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan's lost African past

“We don´t subscribe to the notions that somebody brought us slaves to the area as Sheedis as a country haven’t been slaves,” claims Yaqoob Qanbarani, the chairman of Pakistan Sheedi Ittehad, a neighborhood team.

Since the understanding of their roots has faded, so too have a lot of their customs, such as the vestiges of Swahili formerly spoken in areas of Karachi.

“I recall my grandma would broadly use Swahili phrases in our everyday conversation,” states 50-year-old Atta Mohammad, who struggles to recall even a few expressions.

With all these customs lost before, the Sheedi mela, or festival, in the Mangho Pir shrine has supposed rich importance and become the epicentre of this community in Sindh for centuries.

Crocodiles guard secrets of Pakistan's lost African past

They no longer understand the reason it’s held, they are just following in the steps and repeating the phrases of the ancestors.

“We observe Mangho Pir mela over Eid,” he adds.

The party includes a dance procession called the Dhamal, together with people in trance-like countries — a rare sight in conservative, frequently gender-segregated Pakistan.

“The Dhamal dancing… is performed with good dedication and even delicacy,” says Atta Mohammad, who talked with AFP in the festival. “A number people are captured by sacred spirits”

Mangho Pir can be home to over 100 lumbering crocodiles which waddle involving the devotees near a swampy green pond where they’ve resided for generations.

Legend holds that lice on the Sufi saint´s thoughts changed to the reptiles who live in the shrine.

The earliest crocodile — called Sawab, and considered to be anywhere between 70 and 100 years old — is feted in the festival´s climax with garlands and cosmetic powder while being fed chunks of meat.

Honouring the crocodile

This tenuous connection to the neighborhood´s beyond is at risk of being chased, however.

The parties this March were very first time that the festival was held in nine decades, after climbing extremism saw Sufi shrines come under threat throughout Pakistan, with recurrent suicide and gun bomb attacks.


“The situation wasn’t acceptable for us as people and children also take part in the mela,” explained Qanbarani, as heavily armed police commandos flanked the audience.

However, with remarkable improvements in safety in the last couple of decades, the community expects to keep the mela, observing customs that have endured slavery, colonisation, and modernisation.

“We look forward to observing the mela following year also, and indefinitely.”


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