Malik Ambar, the African General who became King in India

Four centuries ago, this Ethiopian man who was enslaved in India rose by force to the rank of king. He is the greatest Black man in the medieval history of the country.

Malik Ambar
Reproduction from an authentic portrait of the regent (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

At the origins, Chapu

Chapu or Shembu was born around 1546 in present-day Ethiopia, in the Harar country. He was enslaved by the Arabs and deported to Yemen and then Baghdad. Unlike so many young Black men put into bondage at the time, he escaped castration and was placed under the authority of a noble man named Kazi Hussein. He received the Muslim name of Ambar. Hussein, impressed by his intelligence, his knowledge of several languages, his abilities in reflection and memorization, taught him administration and management of finances.

When Kazi Hussein died, Ambar was 22 years old. He was then sold and sent to India, where he arrived like many Ethiopians called “Habashi”, at Chengiz Khan’s home. Khan was also of Ethiopian descent and was prime minister of Ahmadnagar state in the southern of India. Under Khan, Ambar received military training. Thanks to his intellectual and physical qualities, he became the highest-ranking Habashi soldier in the state of Ahmadnagar.

Ambar, the conquering warrior

At the death of Chengiz Khan, Ambar founded an army of mercenaries who would sell their services to the states of the region. At that time the Mughals were reigning over the northern of India and were constantly seeking to extend their domination over the south. Ambar at the head of his army illustrated himself so well in the defence of the southern states that one assimilated his strength to that of a king. He thus received the title of Malik, that means “king” in Arabic.

He became the major figure of resistance to the Mughal’s expansion. Attracted by his prestige and gain, young men joined the army of Malik Ambar, which was constantly growing.

The Mughal Emperor Jahangir whose dream was to kill Ambar, but didn’t manage to fulfil it, merely put his fantasy on painting.

In 1595, Malik Ambar was integrated along with his troops in the national army of Ahmadnagar. The Mughals determined to take the country, attacked and encircled the capital. The general managed to escape with his men and reconquered Ahmadnagar. He took advantage of the succession disputes in the state to impose himself as regent. The Ethiopian warrior married his daughter to a distant presumptive heir who only served as a stooge and then put on the throne a 3-year-old prince without power. By his military authority and his cunning, Malik Ambar emerged as the sole effective ruler of the state of Ahmadnagar.

Malik Ambar, the builder

The sovereign founded a new capital, Khadki, today called Aurangabad. In love with architecture, he endowed the city with gates, fortifications and other imposing and elaborate buildings. Facing the lack of water, Khadki suffered; he then decided to use the underground reserves located in the mountains further north. Malik Ambar undertook the gigantic project of building aqueducts that bring water to the capital and supply it all year round. Despite the skepticism surrounding the realization of such a project, he carried it out in 15 months only and at a low cost. Neher’s sophisticated water supply system is the most acclaimed work of the African ruler.

The Bhadkal Gate, built by Malik Ambar
A pavilion on the mausoleum of Malik Ambar
The Kham River that was used to build the Neher Irrigation System

Militarily, the regent acquired artillery through his contacts with Europeans. With his modern weapons and guerrilla methods, he kept on defeating the Mughal emperors, constantly frustrating them. At the end of his life he had an army of 50,000 men, including 10,000 Habashi. Malik Ambar died in 1626 at age of 80 with a reputation that transcended the southern and central India. He was succeeded by his son. His memory remains strong in Aurangabad today even though Indian historiography, which is racist, has generally chosen to deny this man and his prestige.

The tomb of Malik Ambar in Aurangabad
The interior of the tomb

Hotep!  

By: Lisapo ya Kama ©

Notes:

  • African Presence in Early Asia, by Ivan Van Sertima and Runoko Rashidi ; quoted by beyondvictoriana.com
  • Black Past
  • Wikipédia
  • Interview of Liliane De Latour, author of Malik Ambar: L’Histoire Vraie D’Un Esclave Africain Ne En Abyssinie Devenu Roi En Inde; RFI
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