Kassim Lakha

From Khoja Wiki
Mukhi Kassim Lakha
Town of birth
Country of birth
Date of Birth
  • 1853
Date of Death
  • 1910
Place of Death
Country of death
Source of Information
  • The Making of a Diasporic Muslim Family in East Africa by Salim Lakha
Place of longest stay
Profession or occupation carriedout for the longest period in life
Where-City or Country

Born in 1853 Berberaja

Kassim Lakha’s father, Lakho better known as Lakha, was a hawker (Khojas worked with "rekri" carts, selling produce in Kathiawar) and lost his house in one of the terrible famines in India during British Raj See Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations for more details. Reduced to extreme destitution, he wandered from village to village in search of livelihood.

His son Kassim, who was born in 1853, also had to toil and moil in Kutch. Nothing is known of Kassim's early life except that he did work in a grocery shop.

It is a known fact that most of the Indian Ismailis came to Africa with entrepreneurial skills in their blood, business in their brains and immense caliber to labour in their muscles, but with empty pockets. This illustration richly permeated the life of Kassim Lakha, who earned his bread and butter by the sweat of his brow.

When Kassim Lakha was 18 years old, he left his birthplace and boarded a dhow at Porbandar with few Khoja Ismailis and landed in Zanzibar in 1871. At that time, another Khoja, Peera Dewjee was in charge of many of Sultan Bargash's businesses including a shipping line. See Peera Dewjee

Kassim Lakha started his work in Sultan Sayed Bargash’s firm (1870-1888). Within a year, he was well established with the Sultan. He was promoted to an advance party responsible for providing logistics to the Sultan’s encampment as he toured various parts of his lands including Pemba and coastal strip of Mombasa and Malindi upto Lamu, as well as supplies for thevarious explorer expeditions travelling to the mainland (Salim Lakha-Location 170-173). He learnt how to cook for the retinue. He was tall, very strong, and well built and could lift a cooking pot weighing over 100 lbs. When he felt well settled in his position, he called his mother and his wife, Ratanbai Pradhan with whom he had married in 1870, just before he left India. They came both by dhow to Zanzibar by the end of 1871. In 1880, Kassim Lakha’s first child was born, a daughter Kursha. In 1884, a son, Mohammad was born.

After having worked with the Sultan’s firm for nearly 10 years, Kassim first moved to Lamu with his family, where he opened a small duka grocery shop.He was the first among his family members to venture into the business field. His family enlarged with the birth of Fatima, Alibhai, Hassan, Sakina, Rehmatullah and Jina.

"His secular, unorthodox view of learning was demonstrated in his choice of education for his boys in Lamu. He recruited a Hindu Brahmin teacher by the name of Raval from Zanzibar to teach them to read and write, but they were also sent to a madrasa to learn the Quran. Additionally, they attended the Khoja community’s religious school to acquire a knowledge of the ginans which are a central component of the community’s ‘literary heritage’, and normally ‘recited’ or ‘sung’ to a particular raga in jamatkhanas every day wherever in the world the Khojas reside."

(Salim Lakha - Location 173-176)

Kassim Lakha was a social worker and focused on helping the Khoja Ismailis who followed him from India. He was appointed Mukhi of the Lamu Jamatkhana.

by 1898, the British had established a Protectorate in Kenya with the headquarters in Mombasa. Following the greater opportunities, Kassim moved his family from Lamu to Mombasa, where he lived for a few years after opening a small duka shop and later joined Alidina Visram as his manager. In 1903, soon after the Uganda Railway reached Kisumu, he moved to this city and in 1905, he was appointed by Alidina Visram to be the inspector of all his shops in Uganda.

Further, he had set up two shops for himself in Mombasa and Kisumu that were operated by his four sons, Mohamed, Hassan, Rahemtulla, and Alibhai, my grandfather.

(Salim Lakha - Location 191-192)

His son Mohammad was also employed by Alidina Visram as a manager of the Kisumu branch. The other three brothers, Rehmatullah, Hassan, and Alibhai were also employed in the same firm as junior accountants, where they learnt bookkeeping. Kassim Lakha’s job required a great deal of traveling, which was difficult because bicycles and bullock-carts were used in and around Kisumu, while dhows were used to navigate on Lake Victoria.

Because of the hardship of traveling and poor medical facilities, Kassim Lakha died of malaria in 1910 in Kampala, where he had gone for treatment.

It has been recorded that during the plague that broke out in Kisumu town in 1905, resulting in heavy casualties in the town, Kassim Lakha rendered help & medical assistance to the residents without discrimination of caste and creed at his own expenses.

"At the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, the Kassim Lakha family donated a clock tower to the city of Kampala, Uganda, in recognition of the occasion. Despite the expulsion of Asians in 1972 from Uganda and the ravages of Idi Amin’s regime, the clock tower still stands in one of the city’s major landmarks."

(Salim Lakha - Location 205-207).1

Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the Governor of Kenya at the time, performed its opening ceremony on August 19, 1938.

Mohamed, Rahemtullah, Alibhai, and Hassan go their own ways. Significant changes in direction of the Kassim Lakha family can be seen in the third generation to which I belong, who were not drawn into the family business network, but instead moved out into professional occupations or entered business with others outside the family.

(Salim Lakha - Location 264-266).1

What is distinctive in the migratory experience of the Kassim Lakha family is its continuing diasporic narrative. It is a narrative marked by a double displacement: first from the Indian subcontinent and then East Africa.

(Salim Lakha - Location 327-329 ).


1.The Making of a Diasporic Muslim Family in East Africa by Salim Lakha. 2. Abdulrasul A. Kassim-Lakha. 2000. ‘The Sultan’s Aide-de-Camp’, in Cynthia Salvadori (compiler), We Came in Dhows, vol. 1. Nairobi: Paperchase Kenya Limited, pp. 26–7