Earlier on April 5, dancing and chanting in Swahili at a crocodile shrine outside Karachi, hundreds of Pakistani Sheedis swayed barefoot to the rhythm of a language they no longer speak — the celebration offering a rare chance to connect with their African roots.
For many Sheedis, the swampy crocodile shrine to Sufi saint Haji Syed Shaikh Sultan — more popularly known as Mangho Pir — is the most potent symbol of their shared African past, as they struggle to uncover the trail that led their ancestors to Pakistan.
Many, like 75-year-old Mohammad Akbar, have simply given up the search for their family’s origins.
The descendants of Africans who have been arriving on the shores of the subcontinent for centuries, the Sheedis rose to lofty positions as generals and leaders during the Mughal Empire
, which ruled swathes of South Asia.
But, actively discriminated against during British rule, their traditions began to fade, and they found themselves wholly shunned when Pakistan was created in 1947, absent from the country’s elite political and military circles.