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Gwadar is a city on the south-western Arabian Sea coastline of Pakistan, in Baluchistan Province. The Port is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz, near the key shipping routes in and out of the Persian Gulf and it has a good natural harbour.
Gwadar is an ancient city. During the homeward march of Alexander the Great Macedonian, its presence was noted as "the home of the fish-eaters", a Greek rendering of the ancient Persian name for the area "Mahi khoran", which itself become the word "Makran", the old name of Baluchistan. The region came under the Arab-Muslim rule in 643 AD and withstood repeated Portuguese attacks under Vasco Da Gama in the 14th century to finally end up under the rule of the Sultan of Oman until 1958, when it was annexed/purchased by Pakistan. Most of the money for the purchase from Oman came from donations, with the Aga Khan III, being the greatest contributor.
Although Sindhi Khojas have lived in Gwadar for many centuries,initially as fishermen and later as small rekri cart-vendors, most Khojas traders migrated from Hyderabad (Sindh) and Kutch around the 1830's.(1)
They ended up running the small import export and retail trade in that strategic Omani town.(2)
By 1891, they were prosperous enough that they built themselves a splendid jamat-khana community centre that was known as the "Gowar-e-Gwadar" or "Light of Gwadar".(4)
They developed a reputation for honesty and eventually came to dominate the fish trade, owning fish trawlers and exporting dried fish to China and Ceylon.(5)
By 1929, according to the British Agent in Gwadar, the Khojas numbered about 400 and had established a fine school and a library in the Jamatkhana community centre. The school had three efficient masters, who supervised 35 girls and 45 boys in classes teaching English, Gujarati, Sindhi, geography, drawing, physical exercises and music!.(4)
Gwadar also played an very important role in global diaspora of the Khojas. During centuries before and after Portuguese colonial disruption of the 1500's, Oman was the dominant maritime power on the Indian Ocean and under Omani rule, many Khojas relocated from Gwadar to Muscat, the capital of Oman and then later, made their way to Mombasa and See our Essay" Early History of Khojas in Zanzibar, which were also under Omani rule.
When the British established their rule over India and Oman, these Khojas became British subjects and many have opted to remain in the Middle East until present time.
Presently, there are many Khoja families in Gwadar, taking advantage of the massive redevelopment of the Port under Chinese administration.
NOTES & REFERENCES
(1) British Political Agent, Gwadar reporting to the British Counsel, Muscat.1929 (British Library File 2216 II (A66) Gwadur' [6r] (16380) pg 1 & 2.(http://London British Library File 2022/16/II/20 (A66) Gwadur.IOR/R/15/1/379)
"Population of the town according to the latest estimate is about ten thousands out of which about 500 are British subjects in whose hands is a large proportion of the local trade. These British subjects mainly comprise of Sindhi Hindus who number about 100 and the Community of His Highness Sir Agha Khan, better called Ismaili Shias or still better Khojas whose total population is about 400. These people originally belong to Hyderabad Sindh and Bombay Presidency from where their ancestors emigrated in almost 1830 and settled down here permanently. They allege themselves Muhammadona of the Shia School but differ in their religious doctrines from the Persians or Indian Shias or Ithna-Ashiris of Muscat who believe in 12 Imams, whereas Khojas' Imams number as 48."
(2) abid pg 3
"Chief articles of export are wool, ghee, cotton, palm tree leaves, mats, hides and dates which generally come from the interior, while the main articles of import are cloth rice, flour, foodstuffs, pulses, piece goods, net threads, crockery and other luxuries articles. Most of the ghee, dates, firewood and foodstuffs brought from Mekran and Persian Balochistan is consumed locally Wool, Ghee and cotton are generally brought to Gwadur only if they are surplus to the needs of the interior people, otherwise these things are also imported from India."
(3) abid pg 7
"Their Prayer House or 'Jamat Khana' which also includes the Community's school, Library and the so called Council, is a huge splendid edifice built in about 1891."
(4) abid pg 7
"The only school of note is an elementary but flourishing school of boys and girls conjointly. It is located in the so called JamatKhana of Khojas. It is run by three efficient schoolmasters and one schoolmistress. About 45 boys and 35 girls attend the school on the curriculum of which are the subjects of English, Gujrati. Sindhi, Geography, Drawing, Physical Exercises and Music."
(5) abid pg 6
"Fish catching and fish preserving are by far the most important industries at Gwadur which yield the bulk of China and Colombo's supply. About fifty thousands of fish packets are exported during the year under report. In Gwadur there are over 500 boats of various sizes known as Rachans, Batel and Yakdars (hooris) engaged for fish catching. The men who catch the fish are called "Janshus " and their headman is often termed as “ Nakhuda'. The Nakhudas or Janshus make special arrangements with the owners of the boats. There is a special Salifa Daryai Court to advise the Authorities on matters of various disputes arising amongst the owners of the boats, Nakhudas and their Janshus."