From Khoja Wiki

This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History


Oral tradition credits the founding of Mombasa to two Swahili rulers: Mwana Mkisi (female) and Shehe Mvita (male) and the “Thenashara Taifa” (“Twelve Nations”) Swahili lineages and families are still as the considered the original inhabitants of the town.

Early records put the founding of the Mombasa to around the 8th century, whilst Indian historians confirm definite trade links with the Chola Empire of South India (peak 9th to 13th century) with key exports being ivory, millet, sesame, and coconuts. [1]

Through several centuries before steamboats, many Arab ocean-going dhows were made in the shipping yards of Mandvi, in Kutch. The wood was imported from Kerala and the dhows were exported to the Gulf and Arabia. This provided an opportunity for the ambitious Kutchi to find work as sailors or others to venture out as traders distant lands on the Indian Ocean trade routes.

By the 18th century, the Mandvi merchants collectively owned a fleet of 400 vessels trading with East Africa, Malabar coast and the Persian Gulf. [2]

The presence of Indians in East Africa is well documented in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea or Guidebook of Red Sea by an ancient Greek author written in 60 AD. The ancient Indian work the Puranas also mention the East African coast as well interior of Kenya as far as Lake Victoria, which was known as 'Nil (Nile?) Sarover,' Lake Nil, and knew the source the of ‘Nil’ [3]

The Omani Arabs controlled most of the Indian Ocean trade during the later centuries and appointed local governors for Mombasa.

The Portuguese arrived through the merchant-adventurer, Vasco da Gama in 1498. He found Indians there and the oral tradition of the Badalas of Mombasa is:

you want to know who was the first member of our family to be in Africa and when? Well, his name is Mohammed, he was known as “Kanji Maalim”. That name means’ master of the tille’, because in the language of Gujarat, which is where we Badalas are from, the word for tiller or ruder, is ‘sukhan’. He was the pilot who showed Vasco Da Gama the way from Malindi to India.[4]

Almost a century later, in 1589, the Portuguese captured Mombasa and shortly after, built Fort Jesus to administer the region. They also left thier mark on Mombasa in other many other ways as well.

Perhaps the most famous marriage was that of the Sultan of Mombasa, Yusuf bin Hasan (“Dom Jeronimo Chingulia” at the time of his marriage), to a Portuguese woman while in exile in Goa.[5]

The 16th-century Portuguese voyager, Duarte Barbosa enthused:

[Mombasa] is a place of great traffic and has a good harbour in which there are always moored small craft of many kinds and also great ships, both of which are bound from Sofala and others which come from Cambay (India) and Melinde and others which sail to the island of Zanzibar.[6]

However,a century later, in 1698, the Omanis were back, re-capturing the fort and for next two centuries, Mombasa once again,came under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman.

Because the Omanis also controlled the present-day Pakistani port of Gwadar since 1786, many Khojas migrated to and from Muscat, where a separate walled quarter was tolerated for them by the Sultans. Khoja merchants traded in Mombasa and lived there under the security of the Omanis and the Swahilis, who likewise protected the Indian merchant traders, so vital to the prosperity of their city-state.

Khoja oral records show that the brothers Musa & Sayan Kanji of Surat had established themselves in Mombasa before 1820, after which they moved into the interior and established! You upthe settlement of Tabora in present-day Tanzania.

Records show that in 1867, Waljee Hirjee, a prominent merchant of Zanzibar, opened a shop at the Old Port. [7]

In 1887, the combined Khoja population (both Ismailis and Ithna-asheris) on the island was estimated at only twenty-five compared to around 1,900 in Zanzibar and 385! Hiin Bagamoyo. [8]

In 1887, the British bought Mombasa and in 1888, its administration was given a private corporation, the Imperial British East Africa Company.

Large numbers of Khojas began to arrive from the old mercantile centers of Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, Lamu, and Kilwa; others came directly from India. Khojas who had already established firms in Zanzibar, Bagamoyo or Lamu decided to open branches or shift altogether to Mombasa. [9]

In 1887, Nazerali Dewji left Lamu and moved to Mombasa to manage a branch of Dewji Jamal & Co.

The first (Khoja) Ithna-asheri to settle in Mombasa was Abdalla Datoo Hirjee. He arrived on the island from Zanzibar in 1882.[10]

With the abandonment of Zanzibar as a free port in 1899, many merchants began to shift their outfits toward Mombasa and other mainland ports. By 1897, over a thousand Indian shopkeepers resided in Mombasa, according to Metcalf, many of whom had “amassed immense wealth". [11]

In 1888, Suleman Verjee was appointed as a Mukhi of Kuze Jamatkhana. [12]

Mombasa became the capital of the newly established British East Africa Protectorate in 1887 and later, the sea terminal of the Uganda Railway, (started in 1896, completed 1901). Some 32,000 indentured laborers were recruited from British India to build the railway and the city's fortunes soared opening opportunities for Khoja businesses.

For example, in 1893, Dharamsi Khatau called his brother Jivraj Khatau from India to manage a branch of Dharamsi Khatau & Co in Mombasa. Also at this time, two famous Bagamoyo merchant princes, Allidina Visram and his Ithna-asheri nephew, Nasser Virji decided to shift their businesses to Mombasa and opened branches in 1895 and 1900 respectively.[13]Nile.

By the turn of the twentieth century, colonial officials had completed a new deep-water harbor in Mombasa, installed telegram wires beneath the ocean, and connected the interior Lake Region with the Port of Mombasa via the Uganda Railway.[14]

Khoja life in Mombasa was laidback.

Mombasa has a pleasant climate and gorgeous beaches. The food is a mix of Indian, African and Arab. Mandazis, Barazi, halva, Kokotende, Cuckoo Paka, Mogo, Masala Fried Fish. Saffron, Marinated spiced meat. Just the smell is enough. I could write a book about this. The Swahilis are happy in spite of limited resources. Things don't bother them. There is always tomorrow. A belief that God will solve their problems.They are humble and accept adversity without rancor. They believe in Kismet.That God ordains your Destiny. The Indians always wanted more. Sacrificed today for tomorrow.The famines have left an indelible mark on our psyche. It does not affect the next generation.This is the siren song of the melting pot.

Our life in Mombasa was pedestrian. People went to their Dukkas (Shops). Worked long hours. At night they went to the JamatKhana to pray. It was the hub of their social life. Here friendships were formed. Business conducted. Advice sought. For women, it was a forum where they could show their finery. People were there for births, deaths, events. You were not alone. A place to go to where everybody knows your name. We sat on the same benches, played in the compound, and walked the narrow streets. This was the original Community place in Mombasa.<ref>INDIAN SETTLERS IN AFRICA THE LEGACY OF SULEMAN VERJEE AND SONS BY DR KAS JAMAL SULEMAN VERJEE. NEW KINDLE EDITION : March 2021.(Location 787-789)Nile.

References & Notes

  1. Ali, Shanti. The African Dispersal in the Deccan: From Medieval to Modern times. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1996. 24.
  2. Wikipedia
  5. Prestholdt, Jeremy. (2001). Portuguese Conceptual Categories and the "Other" Encounter on the Swahili Coast. Journal of Asian and African studies. 36. 383-406. 10.1163/15685210152691945.
  6. abid – Ali (pp-24)
  7. Zahir Bhaloo-Khoja Shia Ithna-asheries in Lamu and Mombasa, 1870-1930 2008 ( (pp-5)
  8. abid: Bhaloo (pg-5)
  9. abid: Bhaloo (pg-5)
  10. abid: Bhaloo (pg-5)
  11. KENYA ‘SAMAJ’: INDIAN MERCHANTS, COMMUNITY LIFE, AND URBAN SOCIETY IN COLONIAL EAST AFRICA, C. 1890-1980 By Misha A. Mintz-Roth: A dissertation submitted to Johns Hopkins University in conformity with the requirements forthe degree of Doctor of Philosophy Baltimore, Maryland May 2019
  12. Kassamali R. Paroo-Pioneering Ismaili Settlement In East Africa (Published Essay in Ismailimail( (pp-3)
  13. abid: Bhaloo (pg-5)
  14. KENYA ‘SAMAJ’: INDIAN MERCHANTS, COMMUNITY LIFE, AND URBAN SOCIETYIN COLONIAL EAST AFRICA, C. 1890-1980 By Misha A. Mintz-Roth: A dissertation submitted to Johns Hopkins University in conformity with the requirements forthe degree of Doctor of Philosophy Baltimore, Maryland May 2019

This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History

REMEMBERING MOMBASA (author unknown)

I left Mombasa, island of raha (happiness),
To emigrate to England, land of opportunity.
Forsook the tropical sun
For cold frigid weather.
Left behind the warm ocean breeze
For the wind-chill of winter.
Abandoned white pristine beaches
For brown muddy shores.
Turned away from a turquoise ocean
For polluted lakes.
Gave up mangoes, papaya, mabuyu, achari and sunflower
For processed apples, pears, peaches and cherries.
Gave up white snapper and kingfish
For boxed cod and sole.
Gave up mishkaki, nyama choma maambri and bharazi
For cereal, bagels, cheese, and salads
Gave up drinking coconut water straight from the coconut
And settled for bottled water.
Left behind the street coffee seller (Kahava)
For the office coffee pot.
Left behind the exotic fragrance of phapa and langi langi
For the pungent smell of sulfuric emissions.
Deprived of hearing the call to prayer
For the sound of police and fire sirens.
Deprived of seeing women clad in mysterious black buibui
For women dressed in jeans and miniskirts.
Deserted a slow relaxed pace of life
For the fast lane.
Gave up afternoon naps
For gym workouts.
Gave up riding a bicycle through the narrow streets
For driving a car on the highways.
Discontinued a course on the coral marine life
For a course in stress management.
Discarded mud and thatched dwellings
For concrete and steel.
Left behind a community-based life
For a human zoo.
It makes me wonder
If I have also left my soul behind in Mombasa?


<gallery widths=450px heights=450px perrow=4 class="m-auto text-center"> File:Njia Kuu, Mombasa circa 1895 (Photo Zahir Bhaloo).png|Njia Kuu, Mombasa circa 1895 (Photo Zaheer Bhaloo) File:Bank of India,1st Commercial Bank in Kenya, 1896.png|Bank of India,1st Commercial Bank in Kenya, 1896. File:Mombasa dhow 1920.jpg|An Indian dhow, (Vahan) Mombasa, 1920- the person on the deck gives a good idea of the immense size of these ocean-going dhows. File:Mukhi-Kamadia plaque - Kuze Rd JK Mombasa.JPG|Khoja Ismaili community leaders appointed by the Agakhan,from 1888,just after the British "Sphere of Influence" was established by the 1885 Berlin Conference. File:Mombasa Coin 1890.png|thumb|Mombasa Rupee Coin 1890. File:Mombasa view 1904.png| Mombasa View, 1904 File:Railway camp.jpg|A Uganda Railway camp with coolies- A painting Kersi Rustomji, ex-Kenya Australian. File:britishgerman Momabasa 1914.jpg| Circa 1910 File:britishgerman Mombasa bank buildings 1910.png| Circa 1910 File:salim road mombasa 1912.jpg|Salim Road circa 1912 File:AlidinaVisram.jpg|Alidina Visram, one of the Merchant Princes of East Africa was buried in Mombasa in 1916. File:mombasa ak school 1930.jpg|Agakhan School, Mombasa opening 1930 File:likoni Ferry 1947.png|Likoni Ferry, 1947. File:Ladies in Bhandhani, Kuza JK Mombasa.png|Khoja ladies in thier beautiful ceremonial bandhanis. File:Oceanic Hotel, Mombasa 1959.jpg|Oceanic Hotel 1959 <gallery>