Kassam HAJI

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Kassam HAJI
Haji Thawer 18631931

Born in

Haji's two older sons, Kassam and Juma Haji left Lalpar before the start of the First World War around 1912; they first went to Zanzibar.Their younger brother Ebrahim (b. 1891) followed soon after.

Arriving in Zanzibar, Juma soon left for Dar-es- Salaam where he was joined by his brother Ebrahim. Soon afterwards the two brothers went to Tabora, an important trading centre in Tanganyika—at that time a German Colony. Kassam the oldest brother had passed away at an early age. At this time Popat Rawji, the brother of Ebrahim's wife Mongibai was already in Tabora. He owned a successful oil-pressing mill, bought from the Pirbhais and was quite well off. Popat's wife, Rehmat, was called 'Mama Tabora' by the natives.

Popat employed Juma who became his manager for a short time. In later years Popat in turn worked forthe Hajis in Dar-esSalaam. Afewyears later when Popat fell on bad times he sold his mill to Juma.

After a few years in Tabora the 2 Haji brothers came back to Dar. Juma Haji initially worked for Sharif Jiwa in Dar es Salaam in his large export business. (In later years this business expanded significantly and Sharif probably became the first Isna Ashari millionaire in Africa!)

In 1918-19, towards the end of WW1 a 'flu pandemic swept through the world killing even morepeoplethanTheGreatWar. Ittook50million lives worldwide, more than the 4-year bubonic plague of the 1300's! In Dar es Salaam, Ebrahim and his wife Mongibai (sister of Popat and Merali Rawji) lost their first two children, Abdul and Shireen.

During the war years many people made good money; but many currencies failed and German banknotes became completely worthless when Tanganyika changed hands and became a British colony. Many of our families, especially those who were in Tanganyika went bankrupt at this time; Karmali Pirbhai was one of the few exceptions.

Soon after the end of the war, around 1919, Juma and his brother Ebrahim opened their own shop in Dar es Salaam called 'Juma Haji & Co.' However, business for these recent immigrants in Dar-es- Salaam was tough as they had to compete with the larger and more established Hindu and Ismaili communities who had been there for decades and had very large establishments. So when the opportunity arose, Juma and Ebrahim decided to go to the Congo.

Soon after the end of the war, The Belgian Congo began opening up to the Asian trader. Courageous pioneers left behind their modest but relatively comfortable homes with running water and electricity and ventured west into the unknown from a large, established British colonial city they went to small towns in the newly formed Belgian Congo, even though living conditions there were very basic.

The Congo

Juma left for The Congo in 1922. He went to Albertville, situated on the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. This large elongated lake formed the divide between Congo in the west and Tanzania in the east. Soon afterwards he sent for his brother Ebrahim to join him here.

Their uncle Pirbhai was already in Albertville and helped them to start a small shop selling sundry goodsto the natives.

Rubab, the eldest daughter of Ebrahim recalls their simple thatched huts at the bottom of the hills, lit by lanterns and petro-maxes. Cooking was done on firewood collected from the surrounding areas; and when it rained their homes were flooded with water that cascaded down from the hills! Clothes were kept in trunks supported on stilts. Most places were infested by mosquitoes!

Though domestic life was hard, sales were good in their general goods and sundries store where they sold necessities like candles, soap. lanterns, aluminium utensils, and other daily needs to the local, native population.

A favourite item was kitenge, sold by the metre and thereforeaffordable bythevillagers.

The business expanded and gradually the 2 enterprising brothers opened a chain of similar provision stores under the name of 'Ebrahim Haji' in other small towns and villages nearby, Kongolo, Kasongo, Kabalo, Kindu. At this time people were transported from town to town by 'tepoys', a kind of palki horse drawn chair.

A few years later the two younger brothers, Nazarali and Fazal came to work here too. Nazarali settled in Kasongo and ran the shop in this small town. In Kongolo, another small town nearby, a small shop was run by 2 more cousins, Nasserali and Rehmatali, the sons of Thawer Mohamed's youngest son Visram. Their families lived in tiny quarters behind the shop.


In 1924-25 Juma left for Stanleyville. Armed with the capital the brothers had amassed from the successful chain of general stores, he opened a larger business house under the name of 'Ebrahim Haji Freres'

This became their Congo Head Office. This enterprise was very ably managed by Abdullah Ismail (the father of Khairun, Asghar, et al.), who was given a partnership in the business. Prior to this Abdullah worked with an importantand very successful import-export business house of Haji Dawood Nasser in Dar; they also had an office in Japan and Haji Dawood Nasser was very highly regarded in the Isna Ashari community. Dawood Nasser was fondly called 'FakhreQom',Pride of the Community, and schools were given a holiday every time he visited them. Abdullah was a good partner and manager for the Hajis. In 1927 he constructed a building that accommodated the shop and also provided a residence for the family.

A few years later, in 1931 Abdullah gave up his partnership and left Ebrahim Haji Freres. The partnership was then taken up by Merali Rawji, after his arrival from Tabora. (Merali's sister Mongibai was married to Ebrahim).

A branch of Ebrahim Haji Freres was soon opened in Kindu, in Eastern Congo and was managed by Mohamedali Alibhai (Bapa). Kindu occupied a strategic location on the Congo River system which had long made it important for commerce and transport. Goods which arrived by ship from abroad at Dar were sent to Kindu, and then carried furtherto the other branches by road.

By 1927 the Hajis had built modest housesin all the small towns in which they had theirshops. In 1927 Juma left Congo and went to Dar-es Salaam. He took his brother Ebrahim's three older children, Rubab, Mohamed and Fidahussain, aged nine, seven and five with him and admitted them into school there. There were no schools for Asian children in the Congo. Asians were not admitted into the Belgian schools; nor into the schools run by missionaries for the local Congolese children, where instruction was given in the local dialects. Some Asian youngsters got a little schooling at home whenever an Asian teacher was available.

Otherwise girls spent their time helping in the home and the boys worked in the store where help was always required. However in Dar es Salaam the children could enroll in theGovernmentschool for Asian children. There was a large population of Asians in Dar, and many teachers from India were attracted here bythe highersalaries.

In 1931 Ebrahim Haji took all his children to India for a visit to their ancestral home in the village of Lalpar, and from here they went to Syria and Iran for Ziarat.

That same year, 1931, Ebrahim and Juma's father Haji went for Haj with his brother Pirbhai; Haji died there while still on pilgrimage, aged 68 years. Coincidently, Haji was born on Haj day, and had thus acquired his name.