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A Brief History of The Khoja in Dar es Salaam By I.I.Dewji

(I wish to acknowledge the generous helpings I have taken from the book "The Emerging Metropolis: A history of Dar es Salaam, circa 1862-2000 by James R. Brennan & Andrew Burton, published by my good friend, Walter Bugoya of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd. of Dar es Salaam-Any additions or deletions are of course, my responsibility and stand to be corrected)

In 1862, when Sultan Majid of Zanzibar first imagined a city he called “Harbour of Peace” (Dar es Salaam), he could not have realized how prophetic his words would be. This world-class Tanzanian city has had an enviable 160 year history of multiculturalism and peaceful racial co-existence, well before such concepts became popular in the West. And the Khojas of Gujarat have been through it all, thriving significantly despite three disastrous economic setbacks.

In the first half of the 1800’s, the small fishing village of Mzizima came to be a convenient commercial meeting point between three migrants peoples; Khoja merchants, who by then had been trading along the East African coast for a few hundred years, the Wazaramo, an inland Bantu tribe who had made their way to the coast, 200 miles from their home in the Uluguru mountains near Morogoro and the “Shomvi,” a Swahili/Shirazi people, who originated from Barawa, Somalia. A study of the Arab and German records by Professor Walter Thaddues Brown confirmed that by 1866, there were 40 Khojas in Mzizima, a relatively small number compared to Zanzibar (over 2,000) or even Bagamoyo with 131 individuals.(1)

The local economy was farming, harvesting coconuts, fishing, hunting, and crafts-making such as embroidery, wood-carving, metal and leather work, which were traded with Khoja “dukawallas” for cloth, building materials, beads etc. In 1866, a French visitor wrote this: “Situated on the shore of its harbour, like an Arab woman in rags in the ruined home of her former husband, Dari Salama appears to mourn its isolation and poverty”.(2) Unlike Bagamoyo with its interior caravans, this unhygienic village was hardly a place to build a home,let alone a fortune, yet the hardy shopkeepers, who had been forced to leave Kutch and Kathiawar due to the persistent famines during British rule, (See Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations) managed not only to survive but also to save.

“The trajectory of nineteenth century developments also led to increased indebtedness and commercial marginalization of Shomvi and other Shirazi ‘patricians’ to Indian creditors, as well as their loss of effective sovereignty to Arab political power centered in Zanzibar. The sudden projection of political power by the Sultan of Zanzibar, in part to circumvent the commercial power of Indian traders and creditors centered in Bagamoyo, marks the beginning of Dar es Salaam’s history”(3)

In 1865 or 1866, Sultan Majid began building the port of Dar es Salaam but within a short 5 years, after his death in 1870, the town was back into serious decline. In 1873, the Indian traders were forced to relocate to nearby villages to trade with the Zaramo, who had boycotted the town; large houses fell in value from US$500 in 1871 to US$200 by 1873.(4) Worse was to follow—an outbreak of smallpox in 1882 killed perhaps three- quarters of the town’s inhabitants; and in late 1884 a drought and famine took the lives of hundreds of local Zaramo, and brought increased slave trading, inter-village kidnapping, and the pawning of children for food.(5)

For the Khojas families, there was much commercial loss and many returned to Zanzibar or went on to Bagamoyo.

However, in 1885, when German colonial ambitions arrived (by way of “gunboat diplomacy" and in the form of the German East African Company), things started to improve for the remaining traders. And after 1st January 1891, when Dar es Salaam became the new capital of German East Africa, government money poured in - nonetheless, the Indians investors were not enticed from Bagamoyo or Zanzibar; both because Bagamoyo remained a more vibrant commercial centre and also because the German administrators viewed the British-Indians with some suspicion.

“It is no secret that much of the recent troubles and difficulties of the German Company in East Africa arose from the unwisdom of its employees in endeavoring to rudely and suddenly oust the Indians from their commercial supremacy, and in thereby making Indian sentiment opposed to the extension of German rule.” (6)

When the Central Line was began in 1905, Dar es Salaam took off with the addition of significant infrastructural development.Two grand German churches were built-the Lutheran Church, begun in 1898 in a Bavarian Alpine style and the Catholic St. Joseph’s Cathedral, completed in 1902, built in a Gothic style. The State House and the equally imposing European hospital were sited facing the Indian Ocean. Along Azania Front, adjacent to the harbour, lay the government’s main office buildings, all built in a simple classical style.(7)

A period description of the (Indian) bazaar area states “To the north of Marktstrasse and south of both Sultanstrasse (now roughly Bibi Titi Mohammad Road and Libya Street) and Ringstrasse (Jamhuri Street) lay an overwhelmingly African neighborhood of makuti huts, with a handful of Indian residents inhabiting stone buildings next to the town market (roughly at Indira Ghandi between Mosque Street and Morogoro Road).” (8) The Maji Maji Rebellion lead to the importation of a large portion of “Askari Schutztruppe”, most of whom were either Sudanese mercenaries or so-called ‘Zulu’ (i.e., Shangaan) mercenaries hired in Mozambique.

This increased business for the traders and enhanced the tolerant lifestyle of the colonized inhabitants of Dar es Salaam. The latter-day Mayor (year 2000), Kleist Sykes, a class-mate to those who studied at the Agakhan Boys Secondary (later called Tambaza) School, as well as his uncle, Abbas Sykes,the 1st African Regional Commissioner of Dar Es salaam after Independence, were descendants of those early Zulu migrants! (Thanks to Lilian Sykes for this information.Ed.)

The German suspicions of the Indians even extended to initially curtailing their educational aspirations.

‘The Indians, who by their high intelligence and endeavor get the most out of education, without being useful to the Government will be held back and segregated.’ (8A)

It remains a mystery, worthy of further research why, even though the Bombay Khojas were well advanced in education(8B), there were no Khoja schools at this time; to fill the gap, the well-known philanthropist, Sewa Haji Paroo donated the building for a multiracial school in Bagamoyo in 1890.(9)

Whilst other Khoja donors did the same for Zanzibar:

“Tharia Topan was one of the first Indian leaders to establish an ‘Indian School’ in Zanzibar, where South Asian Hindus and Muslim were educated in their own languages" (9A)

However, “A government school was established in 1895, and by 1897 was attended regularly by some forty students ranging in age from 7 to 35; additionally some 39 Indian students took advanced courses in Gujerati at this school.” (10) Around 1907, a number of German companies relocated their businesses from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, including the Deutsch Ost Afrikanische Bank, affording opportunity for the Khoja traders to become agents and suppliers to these companies. Kassum Sunderji Samji worked for one of these companies and remained a fluent German speaker till his death!(11)

"In the late 1890s, a Goan skilled builder could earn between 2.5-3 rupees per day, while a Hindu and Muslim Indian doing the same work would earn between 2-2.5 rupees per day".(12)

“The German government in particular had a conflicting relationship with the Indian community, which grew in size from 100 in 1891, to 900 in 1900, and leaped to 2,600 by 1913. On the one hand it was reliant upon Indian capital for key urban investments—including Sewa Haji’s gift of 12,400 rupees to build a school and hospital. Yet the state was also pressured by European settlers, businessmen, and some of its own officials—who criticized Indians on grounds of unfair trading and unhygienic practices—to restrict Indian immigration and commercial penetration.” (13). However rich an Asian merchant, to the Germans he was a native because he could not observe German civil law. The Khojas, it seems, had to compete with one hand tied to their backs.

In 1913, the Germans bought Indian and Arab lands in Upanga for European development and Schöller’s shamba to create a planned African neighborhood of Kariakoo and created an adjacent “cordon sanitaire” (now Mnazi Mmoja) that would separate it from the rest of the town. It is an irony of history that this racist buffer-land, Mnazi Moja and it’s famous Arnuatoglu Hall (named after its donor of Greek-Turkish origin) were to play such an important role in the rise of Julius Nyerere as the leader of the independence movement.


Julius Nyerere after his election as Leader of TANU party.

The Imperial War of 1914-1918 was the second major setback for the Khojas (and other Indians). Defying the Congo Act, which specifically stated that the European powers were not to extend their wars into central Africa, the British opened hostilities in Tanganyika. White settlers and up country traders streamed into Dares salaam for safety, creating food and housing shortages, whilst poorer Africans were forced return to farms to survive. The biggest hit to business was the confiscation of Indian goods and transportation by the German authorities “for the war effort”, in exchange for worthless German paper currency and colonial IOUs.(14)

After the British victors entered Tanganyika in 1916, they engineered a collapse of the German rupee (by circulating forged rupees) leading to the widespread trade disruption. Then on January 1st 1922, the German and Indian Rupee (which was also used extensively in East Africa) were completely demonetized, impoverishing all those who held those currencies. The Kenyan currency (the E.A Shilling) was made the only legal tender.(15). British banks and companies were given credit facilities to acquire the bankrupt Khoja assets, whilst the German government would only honour their obligations in Germany (so returning Germans settlers got compensated-Impoverished Indians could not!). As was the usual pattern throughout the British Empire, Indians were victimized by both sides of a conflict.

The wartime native African exodus of Dar es Salaam allowed the British to attempt to set-up the structure for a racist society-by creating separate zones of residence i.e European (e.g., Oyster Bay) and African (e.g., Kariakoo and Ilala) areas and the city centre, (called Uhindini) where the Khojas and other Indians were required to live. This congested bazaar area provided both residential and commercial space for Dar es Salaam’s fastest growing community(rising from 2,600 in the closing years of German rule to almost 9,000 in 1937).(16)

However, in between the 1920s and 30’s, the growing prosperity of the Indian community resulted in the transformation of this area of two- and three-storey stone buildings, and numerous makeshift single-storey structures doubling as both home and duka into stylized buildings incorporating a diverse array of architectural influences from classical to Indian. The communities still stayed close to their religious buildings—notably Khoja Ismailis in the vicinity of their Jamaat Khana on Mosque Street, the Khoja Itnasheries on India Street and Hindus around Kisutu Street— although they were more generally mixed.(17) For instance, the Dahya Punja Indian Library, built in 1929 by a Khoja Ismaili, was located on India Street, well away from the Ismaili Jamatkhana and closer to the Itnasheri Mosque. By its very name, it was intended to be for the enlightenment of all Indians and by usage, was open to all Dar es salaam residents.See Story of Dahyabhai Punja and the Library here.

The British also cleared the racially mixed housing from Mnazi Moja in 1930s. But although Kariakoo was the principal African residential area and technically off limits for Indian housing, officials turned a blind eye to poorer Indians moving in.

On the other side of town, Acacia Avenue despite being the main European shopping area, was controlled by Khoja and other Indian shopkeepers.(18) Haji Brothers, a prominent family business near the Askari Monument, started in the late 30’s, See Haji Ladha This zoning structure of Uzunguni, Uhindini and Uswahilini formed the principal residential locations for the town’s European, Indian and African communities and entrenched racial segregation until independence in 1961.

Like other Indians, Khojas also participated in local and international politics. About the launching of the Ismaili Khoja-owned Africa Sentinel in 1940, Kassum Sunderji Samji the leading Ismaili figure in Tanganyika explained that ‘the patriotic and pro-British sentiment of the Khoja community found no proper representation in the local Indian Press, and that the community wished for this to be rectified’. Africa Sentinel was succeeded by another Ismaili-owned Anglo-Gujarati paper, Young Africa, which remained in print into the 1950s, though few copies survive.(19)

The Second World War dramatically changed this gently-ordered colonial city. Colonial food rationing with the preferential treatment for Europeans aroused African anger that lead to country wide strike in 1947 and effectively started the “Winds of Change”, which was to end so drastically for the Khojas Ismailis.

"Urban conditions were very bad, in part because urban public expenditure, which had always been inadequate, was severely cut. This gave rise to increasing numbers of Indians renting accommodation from Africans in Kariakoo, the quarter nearest the ‘neutral zone’."(20)

Immediately after the war, the community grew prosperous from rising commodity prices and a burgeoning exports/imports economy brought on by the Korean conflict, resulting into substantial re-development of Uhindini, with an array of buildings incorporating many modern influences. (See Rahemtulla Walji Virji and his Building). The Khojas also poured thier life savings into buildings in Kariakoo. See Jiwa Daya & Daya Mansion, built in 1953

"...from a 1948 baseline of 72 units worth 4.8 million shillings, a peak was reached and sustained between 1953 and 1958 when 1004 units were constructed per annum worth 143.4 million shillings (22)

Throughout Dar es Salaam between 1949-51, nearly £1 million worth of new residential buildings were completed, £750,000 worth of commercial buildings and over £600,000 worth of industrial buildings. The following year the value of buildings under construction, or planned, was as high as £7 million.(23)

Notwithstanding the controls imposed on Indian immigration by the British (ostensibly to protect Africans-but one has to contrast that to the massive post-war European immigration into Kenya to see the hypocrisy), the numbers of Indians rose from under nine thousand in 1940 to almost thirty thousand in 1957. This was partly fueled by renewed recruitment of Indian civil servants following the Second World War, but above all by increased birth rates among Indians already resident in Dar es Salaam.(24) From the early 1950s, Upanga to the north of Uhindini experienced rapid development of Indian housing, built upon the experience of cooperative societies legislation, that had allowed the Chaggas and other African tribes, to better themselves by working together to market their produce.

While the British had envisioned a racially divided city, they were not able to enforce the rules due to lack of resources and Dar es Salaam neighborhoods grew more socially diverse than neighboring capitals such as Nairobi or Lusaka. The Khoja-donated old ‘native’ Sewa Haji Hospital was expanded into the modern Princess Margaret (after independence, The Muhimbili) Hospital in 1956. (Why preserve Khoja contributions, if they themselves, do not make the effort?)

In the 1960s, more self-help housing schemes, modeled on the government-run developments for Africans in Kinondoni and other area, vastly improved the lives of the Khoja under-class-this incredible thirty-odd year construction boom only came to screeching halt with the Acquisition of Buildings Act 1971.

"By the late 1960s, this community-based housing cooperative scheme had resulted in an investment in Dar es Salaam of approximately US S35-41 million, and a further US S2.6 million in up-country towns.(25)

That this frenetic pace of investment growth was maintained until 1971 puts a lie to the racist propaganda by opportunist African leaders that Tanzanian “Asians” did not have confidence in an independent Africa. (25A)

This third financial catastrophe to hit Khojas was ostensibly introduced to advance Tanzania’s socialist goals by nationalization of “second homes”. This law confiscated, without compensation, nearly 3,000 buildings in Dar es Salaam between 1971-3, of which 96 percent belonged to Indians.(26)

"The final spate of acquisitions ended in 1973 by which time 2994 buildings had been acquired worth an estimated 500 million shillings; almost all had belonged to Asians." (27)

The law was cleverly crafted to specifically exclude African landlords by targeting multi-storey buildings, over a value that exempted the bungalow-type homes favoured by Africans,both in Uswahilini and across the country. (A survey of housing in Dar es salaam 10 years earlier had found "over 12,000 houses were African-owned—with 18 percent of men and 47 percent of women owning one house or more."(28)

In breach of its avowed socialist objectives, the newer cooperative housing schemes for poorer Indians (much coveted by the new African elites of the "para-statal sector" and their families and friends) were also fraudulently confiscated under the legal fiction that the co-op society was “one” single owner and owned “multiple” units, thus bringing it under the Act. "While formally exempted from nationalization, a large percentage of Ismaili cooperative housing was also acquired because tenant-purchasers had rented units to third parties" (29) . In fact, the way the law was crafted, even one rented unit out of 300,lead to its confiscation.

"Notice of acquisition appeared in the local press and was immediately followed by the arrival of the police who took possession of the building and attached assets. Basically, individuals were evicted — amidst the scarcely concealed glee of Africans — sometimes without being able to remove personal possessions. In Dar es Salaam approximately 1578 buildings were acquired - fewer than 250 of which were eventually returned — affecting 5300 private tenants (30)

"In the initial surge of acquisition not only privately owned buildings but also those belonging to communal associations - mosques, guest houses and community halls — were also acquired. While the latter were eventually returned, the entire process of appropriation caused a major panic in the Indian population. At the same time, houses belonging to and occupied by individual families were also nationalized and then rented back to their former owners and sitting tenants." (31)

And so most of the predominant Khoja Ismailis (who, as the principal property owners, lost most of their wealth) as well as many other Indians, made a mass exodus out of Dar es Salaam (and Tanzania) mostly with nothing more than their families living overseas.

During the hard days of economic wilderness that followed, many up-country Khojas moved into Dar es Salaam and held on to a precarious living. A change of government and liberalization of trade and economic policies in the 1990’s brought renewed opportunities and once again, they have rebuilt their lives and their wealth-almost phoenix-like.(see story of Mohammed Gulam Dewji.

For almost 150 years, Khojas have enjoyed a peaceful and mostly prosperous existence in this “Abode of Peace” (another translation of “Dar es salaam”) and this puts lie to the another pugnacious argument-that Africa is unsafe for minorities.

Sultan Majid of Zanzibar would have been pleased with the outcome of his dream!.


(1). Walter Thaddeus Brown "A Pre-colonial history of Bagamoyo” (Phd. thesis for the University of Michigan-1970)-He stayed some months in Bagamoyo and Zanzibar, digging up old German and Zanzibari records.

(2). Père LeRoy, 17 April 1886,2K1.1b7, "Archives Générales Spiritains, Chevilly-la-Rue, France". We are indebted to Steven Fabian for his notes on this source and to Gerard Vieira and Vincent O’Toole at the Archives Générales Spiritains.

(3). John Gray, ‘Dar es Salaam under the Sultans of Zanzibar’, Tanganyika Notes & Records (hereafter TNR)33 (1952)(pp 10-17)

(4). Jonathon Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast,1856-1888 (Portsmouth,1995),(pp.183)

(5). Gray, op cit (pp 10-17)

(6). H. H. Johnston, F.R.G.S. Her Majesty's Consul, Mozambique-"The Asiatic Colonisation of East Africa"- JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF ARTS [February 1st 1889)- pp 160.

(7). W. T. Casson, ‘Architectural notes on Dar es Salaam’, TNR 71 (1970), (pp.183-184)

(8). A. Seidel-"Dar-es-Salaam:Die Hauptstadt Deutsche-Ostafrikas" (Berlin,1898),(pp.29-30.)

(8A) Dar es Salaam report cited in G. Hornsby, German Educational Achievement in East Africa’, in Tanganyika Notes and Records 1964, 86.

(8B) There was an English school run by Khojas in Bombay in 1866 (see Howard, Edward Irving - Speech Notes Agakhan Case 1866 Lawyer, Bombay Oriental Press -1866 (pp 71))

(9). Freundeskreis Bagamoyo E. V. “The Story of Bagamoyo” (http://www.bagamoyo.com)

(9A). Gilsbert Oonk :South Asians in East Africa (1880-1920) with a Particular Focus on Zanzibar(pp-29)

(10). James R. Brennan & Andrew Burton- "The Emerging Metropolis:A history of Dar es Salaam, circa 1862-2000"

(11). Al Nur Kassum -"Africa’s Winds of Change - Memoirs of an International Tanzanian" (pg.2)

(12). abid- Seidel, Hauptstadt,(pp.29-30).

(13). abid - Brennan & Barton (pp)

(14). John E. Sandrock- "A Monetary History Of German East Africa" (pg 25) http://www.thecurrencycollector.com/pdfs/A_MONETARY_HISTORY_OF_GERMAN_EAST_AFRICA.pdf The reverse even carried the phrase “One hundred percent of the face value of this banknote is deposited with the Imperial German East African government”, which was also repeated in Swahili!

(15). The Metallica Currency Ordinance (19220 establishes the East African shilling as only legal tender in Tanganyika Territory.

(16). abid- Brennan & Barton (pp)

(17). Sutton, ‘Dar es Salaam’ (BIEA)-‘Uhindini Building Survey,2004’ (data stored in BIEI Library) (pp.12)

(18). See narrative page of Moloo at www.khojawiki.org

(19) Letter to A.C.S., 19 June 1940, TNA 28798 (f.2). quoted in "POLITICS AND BUSINESS IN THE INDIAN NEWSPAPERS OF COLONIAL TANGANYIKA-James R. Brennan

(20) John R. Campbell-"Culture, Social Organisation and Asian Identity: Difference in Urban East Africa"- Identity and Affect: Experiences of Identity in a Globalising World-Pluto Press (1999) (pg 179)

(22) Mwita, D. M. 1978. ‘Urban Landlordism and the Acquisition of Buildings Act’. Unpublished LLM thesis, University of Dar es Salaam. (appendix viii, p. 291)

(23). By the late 1960s the Jubilee Trust had invested up to $40 million in property in Dar es Salaam. John Campbell,‘Culture,Social organization and Asian identity:Difference in urban East Africa’, in J.Campbell and A.R.Rew (eds),Identity and Effect(London, 1999). (pg 188)

(24). J.F.R. Hill & J.P. Moffett, Tanganyika:A review of its resources and their development (DaresSalaam,1955),(p.805)

(25) Shirin Remtulla Walji-"Ismailis on Mainland Tanzania, 1850-1948" (1974) pg 214-15)

(25A) A lasting monument to the presence of Khojas (and other Indians) in Dar es salaam is the plethora of residential and business buildings constructed by them over the years. A remarkable book by Sarak Markes “Street Level, a collection of drawings and creative writing inspired by Dar es Salaam” provides an insight into the creative aspirations of this minority community and its astounding confidence in their adopted home. See https://darsketches.wordpress.com

(26). Richa Nagar, ‘The South Asian diaspora in Tanzania: a history retold’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 16 (1996), p. 70

(27) abid-Mwita (pg28)

(28). J.A.K. Leslie, A Survey of Dar es Salaam (London,1963), ‘Survey appendices’

(29) abid- Mwita (pg214-16).

(30) abid: (pg 301).

(31) abid-Campbell (pg 189)

A Photo Gallery Of Dar es Salaam