- Entrepreneur & Real Estate Developer
Born in 1880 Sinugra
HAMIR BROTHERS - Chronicle of a Kutchi Khoja Family
By Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji MD.DMRT DABRT FRCPC Vancouver, BC, Canada
Indian Ocean provided the main base linking Arabia, Persia and India with the Eastern Coast of Africa. Movement between these regions was set by the directions of "seasonal reversal of winds" called monsoons The summer monsoon blows strongest from about June to September which allowed sailors a faster trip from East African ports to west coast of India; in winter the winds flow is reversed and in winter monsoons sailors could sail from India's western coast to the east coast of Africa or to the Persian Gulf or the Red Sea.
Maritime history shows that there were trade links between Kutch, Gujarat and African coast back to ancient Babylon. Modern day migration of Indians (or Asians as they were called in East Africa) to East Africa started in early 19th Century and then in 1890s, 31,983 workers from Kutch and Punjab were involved in laying a railway line from Mombasa to Kampala. Between 1896 and 1901, 2493 workers died and 6454 became invalid while laying the tracks, After the completions, only about 7000 workers chose to stay back; rest of them returned to India. It is therefore a misconception that the people of Indian origin in East Africa are descendants of the labourers who built Kenya-Uganda railway.
Before, during and after the completion of laying of the railway tracks both in Kenya, Uganda and German East Africa(Tanganyika), Indian traders, mostly from Kutch initially and then Kathiawar, had migrated and continued to migrate to East African countries. They helped to established trading posts along the railway routes.. These trading posts called "dukas" were also established in unexplored regions of these countries providing needs of the indigenous population and also to the British and German administrators, living in the towns established by them. One such region was Southern Highland region of Tanganyika, In 1890's the German administration, under Captain Prince established centers called "Bomas". One was in Iringa, home to the Hehe people and Chief Makwawa, built on the hilltop overlooking the Little Ruaha River and second one in Neu-Langenburg (presently known as Tukuyu) a small hillside town that lies about 36 miles (58 km) south of the city of Mbeya, at an elevation of around 5,000 ft (1,500 m) in the highland Rungwe District of southern Tanganyika. This attracted over a thousand traders. One such family was of Hamir Pardhan of Kutch, India from my mother's side and the other family was Lalji Bharmal family of Kutch as well, from my father's side. Pradhan had 2 sons, Hamir and Korji. Korji's son Mohamed settled in India and was quite involved in the Bombay Golden Jubilee arrangement of Sir Sultan Mohamedshah Aga Khan. Korji's second son was Ladak who had a son called Tajdin. Korji's children settled in India while Hamir's children migrated to Africa.
Hamir Pardhan had 7 sons and one daughter called Sikina. She was married but had no children. His sons were Jaffer, Haji, Mohamed, Sachedina(Sachu as he was commonly addressed), Kassam, Jivraj, Ladak and Fazal. Jaffer and Sikina both died in Kutch and never came to East Africa. However it sure was totally different story with other children with the exception of Fazal. There is practically no information about Fazal except he had no children. Jaffer Hamir was married but had no children. He died in Kutch and his widow latter married Mr. Somji Pardhan who also had settled in Iringa, Tanganyika.
It is not clear, out of Haji and Sachu, which brother came to Tanganyika first, though the timing between their arrival was short. It was Haji who was considered to have come first. They came to East Africa at the end of 19th Century or at the beginning of 20th Century.
The German Colonial Handbook 1908 mentions the firm of "Muhamed Hamir" as a merchant in Iringa in 1908.
According to John Illiffe (see below), 1000 Indians & family followed German settler, Capt. Tom Prince to Iringa in 1898. But the the German Colonial Handbook Supplement 1904 omits this fact. So Mohamed Hamir & his brothers, haji Hamir & Sachedina(Sachu) Hamir may have arrived much earlier but are recorded as being there in 1908.
Mohamed Hamir by Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji
Mohamed Hamir, my maternal grandfather. followed his brothers Haji and Satchu around 1905-1906. He had to work as a masonry in Bombay for about six to eight months to earn his fare to Africa. He joined and worked with his brother Haji Hamir in Bagamoyo/Dar es Salaam and then worked briefly with his brother Sachu Hamir in Iringa before he decided to go on his own. In his first year, he traded further inland, used to be called "Whiteman's Grave" region and travelled by foot to remote areas of Langenburg (Tukuyu) and Maya (Kyela) at the shores of Lake Nyassa (Malawi) He would have a native (Pagazi-carrier) to accompany him; they would carry on their backs, 2 bundles each of cotton clothing called Mirikhani. The journey would take 12 to 24 days, depending on the weather, to reach a distance of about 300 miles. The route was from Iringa to Tosmaganga, Madbira, Malangali, Makambako, Isangu, Igali and end at Tukuyu and Masoko After about 6-7 trips, he decided to open a "dukha" in Iringa; he rented a "Tembe" (native hut), at 3 rupees a month rent. A year later, he bought a plot near the present Jamatkhana in Iringa and he also sent a word to his wife Bachibai to travel to Tanganyika. She with their first daughter Fatma then travelled to Bagamoyo and they stayed there 6 months before proceeding to Iringa when the house Mr Mohamed Hamir was building got completed.
Over the next two decades, he was successful in his business. During and after First World War, he was able to establish very good relationship with the German and later with British administrators in Iringa and benefited from the war economy. He bought properties in Dar es Salaam, Dodoma and Iringa. He also went into partnership owning a sisal farm near Morogoro.
My grandparents Mohamed and Bachibai Hamir had four daughters Fatma, Sikina, Jena and youngest Rhemat and one son Akber. My aunts Fatma married Mohamed Ladha, Sikina married Bhimji Assar Sachedina, Jena married Ramzan Parpia. They all continued to live in Iringa and were in retail business.
Mohamed & Fatma Ladha's oldest son unfortunately died of "black water" fever; remaining children were three daughters Kulsum, Khatijha and Malek and surviving four sons Nazarali(Naji),Sadrudin, Mehdi and Amin. Kulsum married my father’s first cousin Mohamedali Abdulla Walji (Dr Hassanali Walji’s elder brother). Khatijha (Khatibai, as she was popularly known) was married to Karim Manji's son Hassanali, well known prosperous family in Iringa. The third daughter Malekbai got married to Abdul Hassam who became a manager of a car company in Iringa. The sons Nazarali(Naji), Sadru and Amin went into retail business in Iringa, while Mehdi , after marriage moved to Mwanza.
Bhimji & Sikina Assar Sachedina had 2 sons Fateh and Kabirdin and 3 daughters Roshan, Kulsum and Zaitoon. Elder son Fateh married my sister Kulsum; they initially had retail business in Iringa, Mbozi and finally in Dar es Salaam. Kabirdin and his mother had retail shop and also went into farming business.
Ramzan and Jennabai Parpia had 3 sons Badrudin, Sadrudin and Akber. They were in retail business run by Badrudin and his wife Gulbanu; Sadrudin worked as an accountant in Assar Moloo firm, a prominent family's business in Iringa and Akber, the youngest son and his mother bought a tobacco farm and ran it. Akber, later moved to Mombasa Kenya and became the manager of one of the largest bus company in Kenya, called Akamba Bus Service.
The youngest daughter Rhemat (my mother) got married to my father Fazal Manji (Lalji)(used Manji as his surname) from Tukuyu in 1931. This marriage was made to fulfil and honour the promise my father's uncle Kanji Lalji and his wife Sikina had made to Mohamed Hamir that one of the sons in their extended family will marry one of Mohamed Hamir's daughter.
After her marriage, Rhemat moved to Tukuyu. Fazal & Rehmat Manji had retail business in Tukuyu and also went into partnership with his uncle Hussein Lalji forming a company called Hussein Lalji & Co. After the birth of their second child in mid 1930's they moved to Mbeya and went on their own. They were very successful in retail and wholesale business; also went into transport business which became 2nd largest private transport company in Mbeya Region. One of the activity of the transport business was involved with coffee transportation, after its harvest and drying process, in the month of June to September of each year. My father also had wholesale business, dealing in various produce; He had Caltex(petrol) agency and a gas station. He had Karimjee Jivanji & Co( most prominent family business company in East Africa) agencies dealing with insurance, Hamam soap and Michelin tyres etc. He also acquired many properties in Mbeya, Mbozi Iringa and Dar es Salaam.
They had a total of 6 children; 3 sons Nurdin, Shamshudin, Mohamed and 3 daughters Kulsum, Malek and third daughter, a female infant who was stillborn. Nurdin and Shamshudin joined my father's business in which my mother Rehmat played a full part in its success. I, Mohamed, was named after my maternal grandfather Mohamed Hamir and I became a medical doctor, moved to Canada in 1972 and specialised in cancer treatments as a Radiation Oncologist at the prestigious Princess Margaret Hospital (now called Cancer Center) in Toronto.(see Khojawiki write up). My sister Kulsum married my cousin Fateh Bhimji Assar and my second sister Malek married Sadrudin, son of Mohamed Dewshi, one of the early famous business pioneers in Dar es Salaam.
My grandfather Mohamed Hamir's youngest child was his son Akber.
Mohamed and Bachibai Hamir's children and their daughter's and son's children are very proud of his gift of an iconic Khoja Kutchi landmark, the Iringa Jamatkhana, to Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah. He financed the building of this Jamatkhana with his own money and built it in late 1920's and early 1930's during the recession of 1929 time,.( see Khojawiki write up: Iringa Jamatkhana. The life story of Mohamed Hamir, "a small man from Kutch with giant dreams for his community). He had hired a "Mistry" (which colloquially approximates to an engineer) by the name of Devji Dahya Visrolia. According to Devjibhai's son Jagdish Devji Visrolia (who was born in Iringa, still alive in his 90's and he used to accompany his father to the construction site of the Jamatkhana; this information received from him directly), his father "Mistry" Devji was the main person in charge of the building construction, including the foundation and building aspect, and modification changes to the Jamatkhana plans. Mistry Devji also was responsible for installing the clock mechanism within the clock tower. My nanabapa Mohamed Hamir did an impressive masonry work in the Jamatkhana building himself in this project. This Jamatkhana has served the Ismaili community and all the peoples of Iringa, Tanzania since then. The town people of Iringa still keep their time as per the Jamatkhana clock. It is considered as one of the most beautiful Jamatkhanas in the world.
All Mohamed and Bachibai Hamir's children and their families relocated to Canada and USA after the building take over by the Tanzanian Government in 1971. His grandchildren are well settled and successful
Mohamed Hamir By Mohamed Hamir (Namesake grandson!)'
"Our grandfather, Mohamed Hamir (Pradhan) was born in Sinogra, Kutch in 1880. Following several of his siblings, he arrived in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1902. After a short stint in Kilosa with one of his brothers, he followed another brother to Iringa where he went to work for him in his retail (Duka) shop. He helped his brother expand his business to inland villages. Eventually he formed his own business and became a successful entrepreneur in retail and residential real estate development. After several years, our grandmother Bhachibai and their three year old daughter were able to join him from India. Over the next several years three more daughters and a son were born into the family.
In early 1930’s and in the midst of global economic depression, our grandfather embarked on a project that would become a matter of pride and an important legacy for our family and the Ismaili community of Iringa. The genesis of this project was his deep religious belief and commitment to community service. He was also inspired by his own father, Hamir Pradhan, who had built and donated a Jamat Khana in their home town of Sinogra. He proposed to the community that he wanted to build a Jamat Khana complex and donate it to the Imam for benefit of the Ismaili community in Iringa. Our grandfather's proposal called for a two story Jamat Khana building with a capacity for 600 people, four times the Jamat size at the time. The complex was to include primary school facilities, a social hall, a guest house (Dharmshara) and a recreation compound. The building was to be located right in the middle of the main street, which later was named as Jamat Street, a tribute to the Ismaili community of Iringa for the Jamat Khana building that manifested prominently on the street.
With determined perseverance and fortitude he was able to get an agreement on his plan and approval for the project from the appropriate jurisdictional leadership as well as our Imam. The construction was commenced in 1931 and completed in 1933. Due to drastic economic conditions, our grandfather had to resort to borrow money to complete the project. Our family folklore describes his obsession with the project that was of legendary proportion. At times things got so desperate that he personally and physically toiled on the projects along with our family members to help the project move along to completion.
At the time of the completion of the Jamat Khana in 1933, it was reported to be one of the best in Tanganyika, and architecturally one of the most beautiful in the whole of East Africa. Over the next twenty five years the Jamat in Iringa grew five-fold, exceeding the original capacity of 600. The Jamat Khana complex was not only the anchor of the community, but also a major catalyst for the growth of the Ismaili community in Iringa.
At the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah in Nairobi 1936, our grandparents were scheduled for special audience with the Hazar Imam in order to formally present the gift of the Iringa Jamat Khana. However due to the last minute illness of our grandmother they were not able to make the long journey to Nairobi. Our Imam accepted their gift in their absence, and conveyed much appreciation and blessings to them and to their family. This was the happiest moment in our grandfather's life! The Imam also bestowed on him an honorific title.
Since its manifestation some 85 years ago, the Iringa Jamat Khana with its prominent clock tower, continues to stand as symbol of the town's identity. It is a source of pride for our community and our family to have the Jamat Khana be such an Iconic monument of the town.It is also a tribute to our grandfather's, foresight, faith, leadership and perseverance. His generosity and service to the community is a remarkable legacy and an inspiration for our family and for the future generations.