Bangalore, Jan. 20: Too bad, the honey didn’t reach Obama. But the honeymoon has begun again for these forest folks.
Four years ago, when America elected its first black President, a forest tribe in Karnataka that shares Barack Obama’s African roots tried to gift him a pot of pure forest honey.
But red tape and customs regulations came in the way. With Obama back for a second term, the Siddis of Karnataka are celebrating again. They plan to send a greeting and a request for a meeting when Obama visits India next.
“Today, we are Indians with African roots and we feel that Barack Obama’s victory is our victory,” Diog Bastaon Siddi, a prominent leader of the tribe, told The Telegraph from North Canara district.
“The last time, our honey pot didn’t reach him. This time we are sure the US consulate will send our letter to the US President,” Bastaon, who has been waiting for a moment with Obama since the Democrat first made it to the White House in 2009, added.
The Siddis, an economically backward community, have for centuries been forest dwellers, surviving on forest produce or working as labourers. Their strong African features and physical strength set them apart from other local people but only a handful, like former Indian football goalkeeper Juje Siddi, have made it to the mainstream.
The Siddis — some 50,000 live in North Canara district — are now banking on Obama to deliver them from the debilitating stranglehold of backwardness.
Around 2,000 of them today danced and sang in anticipation of Obama’s swearing-in by Sunday noon in America. The celebrations were held in Golehalli, a village skirting the forests in North Canara district, some 400km from here. After a celebratory cake-cutting, they broke into dhamal — the traditional Siddi dance.
Once Obama’s inauguration is over, the Siddis would mail their greetings and a memorandum to the White House to consider them for US welfare projects. A copy will be faxed to the US consulate, Bastaon said. “We are a financially, educationally and socially backward community that needs help from wherever possible,” he said.
Brought as slaves by Portuguese, British and Arab traders, the Siddis have since spread out in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Shivananda Kalave, a local activist who works for the Siddis, said the tribe has for long been seeking recognition. “While a majority are Muslims, there are Hindus and Christians as well and cross-community marriages are common,” Kalave said.
The Siddis had celebrated when Nelson Mandela walked out of a South African jail after 27 years in prison. “That was perhaps the most important moment for us Siddis who identify closely with the great leader,” Bastaon said.
With Obama back for a second four-year term, the Siddis are hoping again — honey or no honey. “It’s a matter of pride that a person of African origin like us is the US President,” Bastaon, who has spearheaded several welfare measures for his tribe, said.
“We will not miss this chance to first inform the US President of our existence in this far corner of India and then try and convince him for some help to educate our children for a better tomorrow.”
So shake a leg for Obama, honey.