KARACHI, Dec 15: The Sheedis (believed to be descendents of Africans enslaved and shipped to South Asia) of Sindh declared on Sunday in an unprecedented – first of its kind in Karachi – programme that they had found their panacea in education to doff the centuries-old tag of slavery associated with the community that never allowed them to prosper.“We are here to stay, we are Sindhis, we are Pakistanis yet we can’t dissociate ourselves from our original identity that associate us with Africa and the black servants of our Holy Prophet (PBUH),” said Yaqoob Qambrani, president of the Pakistan Sheedi Ittehad (PSI), at a programme organised by PSI at the Karachi Press Club’s terrace.

The programme began with a seminar on the origins of the Sheedis, which was symbolically presided by South African leader, Nelson Mandela, with his large smiling portrait, on the day of his funeral. It was heavily influenced with religious anecdotes and metaphors, but culminated with loud music based on Sindhi poetry and influenced with scintillating African signature tunes, dances and a brief tableau.

People belonging to the community, including women and children, came to attend the seminar from Badin, Hyderabad and various parts of Karachi.

“We have always been discriminated against,” said Mr Qambrani, a stout middle-aged man with quintessential African features and complexion.

“Particularly, the Talpur rulers of Sindh humiliated us the most, forcing many of members of our community to migrate to Gwadar and some of them migrated as far as east or south, which is now called India,” he said.

Ironically, he said, the most celebrated son of the community, Hosh Mohammad, alias Hoshu Sheedi, remained loyal to the Talpurs and was killed while fighting against the British invaders in the Battle of Miani. “Hoshu Sheedi is now symbol of Sindh’s nationalism.”

He said the Sheedis were meted out a similar rough treatment by the British rulers, while they had been victims of a biased mentality from the people surrounding them.

He, however, said Nelson Mandela and President Barack Obama were two of the many leaders of African descent who continued to be sources of inspiration for them to get rights through incessant struggle.

He referred to the intellectual Mohammad Siddique Musafir whose influence forced the community to acquire education.

“In the search of our origin, we found that it is education, which gets you to your foundation and makes you free and now a greater number of our youth is becoming literate.”

Agha Mohammad Qambrani, the organisation’s vice president, said after more than one and a half centuries of Hoshu Sheedi’s death, a relentless search for his grave resulted in success lately.

“Hoshu’s grave is not in the fort of Hyderabad, but it is in Miani, the place where he had been martyred while fighting valiantly,” he said.

Akhtar Balouch, columnist and researcher, asked the community to get rid of their centuries-old seclusion and be part of the bigger population.

“Nothing is there to keep you afar from mainstream if you cautiously blend you with the larger picture.”

Hanifa Bilali, a young activist of the community, said time had come to shun referring to Sheedis as slaves and the society at large should encourage the community to think out of box.

The fatigued faces of more than a hundred participants lit up as the organisers removed furniture from the raised platform after long-drawn-out speeches to get entertainers lip-syncing and dancing.

Chilling drumbeats and lively song recordings, especially the famous Sheedi basha humbasha compelled the audience to bop. Young performers in quintessential long African robes danced and lip-synced on the boogie-woogie.

“We have suffered a great deal through the centuries, yet we never forget to sing and dance,” said one performer.

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