Musa Kanji

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Musa Kanji
Honorary Titles
  • Musa Mzuri
Town of birth
Country of birth
Place of Death
Place of longest stay
Profession or occupation carriedout for the longest period in life
Where-City or Country

Born in Surat

Khoja oral traditions confirm that one Musa Kanji and his brother Sayyan (Sajan?) Kanji, originally from Surat and working through Zanzibar had already set-up their business on the mainland, sometimes before 1820.

“According to Rai Shamsuddïn Tejpar, there is some evidence that the "Müsa Mzuri', who helped Burton and Speke at Tabora (in 1857 ed.), was surnamed 'Kanji'. At Mombasa, an old and reliable Ismaili gentleman told Aziz lsmail (in 1965) that Müsa Mzuri had come from Surat about 1820 to join a business already established in East Africa by his brother: the two then penetrated inland” King, Noel - Towards A History Of The Ismailis In East Africa - edited by Ismail Raji al Faruq (

"Tabora was founded in the 1820s as a trading company of two Indian merchants, Musa Mzuri and his older brother." per Wikipedia citing Richard F. Burton, The Lake Regions of Central Africa, 2nd vol., Vol. I, p. 326, Vol. II; Pp. 223-226'

"Despite determined attempts at denigration, Burton could not avoid some praise of the Khojas. He described how they travelled far and wide and how several had reached the Lake regions deep in the interior of Africa well before the Europeans had even thought of going there. Burton met Musa Mzuri, handsome Moses, and his brother Sayyan in the interior in 1857 and they told him how they had started travelling in central Africa almost thirty years previously (that is in the late 1820s). As a fellow traveller and explorer, Burton could not fail to admire the adventurous spirit and successful journeys of the two brothers." Aldrick, Judy. The Sultan's Spymaster: Peera Dewjee of Zanzibar

"He had become at the age of forty-five or so, the pre-eminent man of business with large investments of wire, beads, and cotton cloths, some of them valuable and are regularly forwarded to him from the coast (....) His gains (...) are principally represented by outlying debts: he could not leave the country without enormous sacrifices.” Richard Burton, The Lake Regions of Central AfricaPicture of Exploration (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1860 Pp. 223-226)

Musa Mzuri is also mentioned by Capt. James Grant of having “an establishment of 300 native men and women round him. His abode had, three years ago, taken two months to build and it was surrounded by a circular wall which enclosed his houses, fruit and vegetable trees and a stock of cattle”. ' Grant, James Augustus. A walk across Africa: or, domestic scenes from my Nile journal. Whitefish, MT.: Kessinger, 2007.

It was also Musa who told the explorer Jack Speke about the great river flowing north out of Lake Nyanza. Jeal, Tim. Explorers of the Nile: the triumph and tragedy of a great Victorian adventure. London: Faber, 2012. 102-103

The first South Asian known to have settled upcountry was Musa Mzuri, a Khoja from Surat. In 1825, he and his brother Sayyan set out on an expedition from Zanzibar and were probably the first non-Africans to reach Unyamwezi territory in western Tanzania, where they traded cloth and heads for ivory, turning a handsome profit. On the return, Sayyan died. Musa however, continued conducting caravans for another 30 years, reaching as far inland as Buganda in Uganda and Rwanda. Oonk,Gijsbert.Settled Strangers: Asian Business Elites in East Africa (1800-2000) Sage Publication, UK 284pp. Clearly, the controversy between the European colonialist-explorers about the source of the Nile River was superfluous; Musa Kanji clearly was the one of the first “outsider” to see it, although Speke may have been the first European to write about it.[1]

  1. The claim that Speke 'discovered' the source of Nile. Whereas he was directed to it by the Indian traders, who had preceded him,in fact drew a route map forhim, years ago. Similarly, they had seen and knew of Lake Victoria, which I believe they called Maan Sarovar. Similarly they knew of Ruwenzori Mountains on the wester border of Uganda. They called the range, Chandragiri Shekhar, which the Whites for once correctly translated as Mountains of the Moon, as it was known for quite a long time. I also challenged how the White explorers 'discovered' what was already there. Rustomji, Kersi. East African Teacher, Author, Poet