Search This Blog

The earliest Goans in Lamu Island

Apologies: I have no idea where I got this:


Goans at Lamu 1800-2000 : A story of bandsmen, sailors, clerks and tailors.

Towards the later part of the nineteenth century the Germans and the British were politically active in the Lamu area. The Germans finally placed the settlement of Witu under German protection, thereby making it independent of the Sultan of Zanzibar. However German aspirations had spread from Witu to nearby Lamu where they established a post office. In 1886 the Germans and British worked out a deal which gave Lamu to the Sultan of Zanzibar who ceded it to the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC) who sent an agent to Lamu in 1888. Germany finally abandoned her claim to Witu in 1890 by the terms of the Anglo-German Treaty. As part of an ongoing issue with the Sultan of Witu several Royal Navy ships were sent to Lamu in October 1890 including the Boadica, Cossack and Brisk to instate British supremacy on behalf of the Sultan of Zanzibar. In all the Witu Expedition consisted of nearly 800 sailors and Marines together with 150 Indian police of the Imperial British East Africa Company[1]. On board the Boadica was a band led by Band Captain Gregory P DeSouza, and including A.M De Souza, A. Pinto, A.M Sequeira and L. Trinidade[2]. Also on board the Boadica were Caridade DeSouza and P. Fernandes. The band would have performed ahead of the marching column as it landed at Lamu and paraded along the waterfront street and would have led the expedition column inland through the forests. All of these Goans were awarded medals for their participation, which the bandsmen collected during their service in subsequent years[3].

The need for the Royal Navy and Indian Marine intervention at Lamu pressed home the difficulties facing the IBEAC, and in November 1890 the Lamu area was declared a British Protectorate though the IBEAC continued to administer Lamu. Peace did not last and in 1891 another Royal Navy force was sent to the region. The IBEAC administered Lamu until 1895 when the British Foreign Office (FO) in London took over from the IBEAC. It is very likely that there were Goans at Lamu in the later years of the IBEAC but they are difficult to find in archives[4].The first appointed representative of the FO in Zanzibar created the provincial hierarchy with British commissioners to administer the districts[5]. Below the District Commissioner (DC) were the local “mudirs” and clerks[6]. Records show that one of the first Goan clerks in the Lamu area was Mr. C.J. Dias who was actually appointed as a Grade II Administrative Clerk to Lamu in May 1899, another Konkani –speaking Asian G.M. Karekar had been appointed in January of the same year[7]. At this time Lamu with its sheltered harbour was best known for its exports of “boroti” or mangrove poles which were used for the construction of buildings in the Middle East and Somalia[8]. Palm frond mats and baskets were other exports. Almost all trade at this time was in dhows.

Probably one of the first European clerks at Lamu was Benjamin Peters who had a very good career originally with the IBEAC and then with the Protectorate government in Mombasa. Peters arrived in Lamu in 1900 leaving his wife in Mombasa. However, life in Lamu was hard and Peters died of a heart attack at Lamu on 15th December 1900[9]. The coast had a bad reputation for Europeans and the death of Peters seemed to confirm this, adding to the need for Goan clerks. In July 1903 G.C. Mendonca was appointed Grade III Administrative Clerk at Lamu. Colonial records show that Mendonca applied for a revolver licence in 1906 while living and working at Lamu. Life was improving in Lamu at this time, with a regular steamboat connection by the Juba to Kismayu and Shimoni[10]. In 1907 the famous shipping agents Smith Mackenzie were so positive about the trade prospects of the Lamu area that they opened an office on the seafront. In April 1907 another Goan clerk, C.S. De Souza arrived in Lamu, and he was followed in June 1908 by A.S. Pinto[11].  There is a grave on the outskirts of Lamu town that includes an inscription “Michael Joao De Cruz, born 8th June 1868, died 23rd March 1908”. This is one of the few monuments to Goans in Lamu in the twentieth century[12]. In the wake of the clerks a few Goan tailors arrived in the early twentieth century, but there was already an established community of tailors from the Comoro Islands in the town[13].

By 1911 Ralph E. Skene reported that there were 46 Goans in Lamu – over double the number of Europeans[14]. A non-native census report for that year accounted for 43 “others” in Lamu, suggesting that Goans were the predominant group in this racial category. The Goans of Lamu were favoured above the other Asians. They were allowed to belong to the local British club (now known as the Civil Servants’ Club) and were allowed on the tennis court, unlike other Asians[15]. Clearly Goan women were part of the community at this time, but details on their lives are not known.

Just before the First World War the number of Goans in Lamu declined as the families of civil servants were evacuated to Malindi by road, while their possessions were sent to Malindi by dhow[16]. Among these evacuees was the five year old Archie Mendes, son of Salizinho C. Mendes.

The number of Goans at Lamu during the 1920's was probably never more then 15[17]. 
In the 1930’s the Goan community of Lamu included the customs officer, a baker, a tailor, a retailer, the liquor store owner (where the Marhous Hotel now stands) and a medical doctor whose tour of duty was limited to one year. The 1931 non-native census includes 36 Goans in Lamu of which 16 were women[18]. The Liquor store is also remembered in the oral accounts of the Khoja community[19].

The decline in Lamu’s fortunes accompanied by the rise in Mombasa and Malindi during the Second World War led to a steady decrease in the Asian population so that by 1948 there were 12 Goans at Lamu[20]. In 1949 a riot broke out in the Riyadha area of Lamu town. There is some suggestion that the background to the rioting was based on the Comoro Islander and Goan monopoly of the tailoring trade, which was being challenged by the Hadrami women[21].

By the 1950’s there were a hand-full of Goans in Lamu, including a Mr. Viegas working at Smith Mackenzie, and the “old man Barreto”[22]. Mrs Barreto is recorded in the 1952 electoral register as a teacher in The Indian School[23]. Mr. Luis Barreto owned at the Pakistan Cold Drink House, where he held a Wine Merchant’s & Groceries Licence in the late 1950’s and in 1960[24]. In predominantly Moslem Lamu the local Swahili could not hold alcohol licences and indeed do not consume alcohol, so this establishment was essentially aimed at the European and non-Moslem Asian community. From 1954 to 1958 Nairobi-born Goan, Pio Gama Pinto was detained with other Kenyan nationalists at Takwa on Manda Island across from Lamu town[25]. At this time Mr. Joe Pereira who worked in the Forestry Department was based at Lamu where he initiated the planting of trees on Lamu Island to stabilise the sand dunes encroaching on Shela[26].


The Somali-led Shifta movement on the mainland resulted in further insecurity in the region leading during the lead up to Kenyan independence. Shifta attacks and murders increased in the early 1960’s, and forced the end of oil exploration work in the area in 1964[27]. During these years the only way to get to Lamu from Mombasa was either by light aircraft to Manda Island and then a dhow across the creek or by a long road journey from Mombasa and Malindi on little more than dirt tracks, with hand-pulled ferries across the many rivers, including the Tana River. 

By the 1990’s there were just two Goans living at Lamu. The last Goan resident to live at Lamu was Mr. Keith Castelino, who left Lamu in 2000[28]. However Goan tourists to the island continue to visit and provide donations to the local Catholic church.




Acknowledgments:
Mr. K. Castelino, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 2012.
Mr. Mubarak Abdulqadir. Fort Jesus, Mombasa. 2007.
Mr. A. Mendes. Attleborough. Norfolk, England. 2007.
Mr. A. Pereira, Bexleyheath, Kent, England. 2012.
Mr. J.A. Pereira, Nairobi, Kenya. 1999.

Bibliography:
Europeans in British Administered East Africa. – A Provisional List 1889-1903. By Stephen J. North. Oxford.
Kenya Census and Migration Reports. 1947-1953.
Kenya Non-Native Census Report, 1931.
Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in Lamu and Mombasa, 1870-1930. By Zahir Bhalloo. 2008
Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997.
The History of Malindi. By Esmond Bradley Martin, 1973.
Zanzibar, Slavery and the Royal Navy. By Kevin Patience, 2000.

Original Sources.
Kenya Gazette. 13 May 1952.
Kenya Gazette. 29 April 1958.
Kenya Gazette. 21 October 1958.
Kenya Gazette. 25 October 1960. 
The Official Gazette of the East African Protectorate. Vol XV. No. 336. 1913.  Nairobi.
U.K Naval medals and award rolls 1793-1971. Witu Expedition. 1890. ADMN. Class 171. Piece 46.


[1] Zanzibar, Slavery and the Royal Navy. By Kevin Patience. 2000. Pg. 35.
[2] U.K Naval medals and award rolls 1793-1971. Witu Expedition. 1890. ADMN. Class 171. Piece 46.
[3] U.K Naval medals and award rolls 1793-1971. Witu Expedition. 1890. ADMN. Class 171. Piece 46.
[4] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 136.
[5] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 90.
[6] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 136.
[7] The Official Gazette of the East African Protectorate. Vol XV. No. 336. 1913.  Nairobi.
[8] Zanzibar, Slavery and the Royal Navy. By Kevin Patience. 2000. Pg. 35.
[9] Europeans in British Administered East Africa. – A Provisional List 1889-1903. By Stephen J North. Oxford. Pg. 245.
[10] The Official Gazette of the East Africa and Uganda Protectorates. Vol. VIII. No. 167. 1906 Mombasa.
[11] The Official Gazette of the East African Protectorate. Vol XV. No. 336. 1913.  Nairobi.
[12] Mr. Mubarak Abdulqadir. Fort Jesus, Mombasa. 2007.
[13] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 104.
[14] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 137.
[15] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg 177.
[16] Mr. A. Mendes. Attleborugh. Norfolf, England. 2007.
[17] The History of Malindi. By Esmond Bradley Martin, 1973.
[18] Kenya Non-Native Census Report, 1931.
[19] Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in Lamu and Mombasa, 1870-1930. By Zahir Bhalloo. 2008.  Pg. 12.
[20] Kenya Census and Migration Reports. 1947-1953.
[21] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg. 175.
[22] Mr. A. Pereira, Bexleyheath, Kent, England. 2011.
[23] Kenya Gazette 13 May 1952. Nairobi. Kenya. Pg. 509.
[24] Kenya Gazette 25 October 1958. Nairobi, Kenya. Pg. 1325.
[25] Lamu – History, Society and Family in an East African Port City. By Patricia W. Romero, 1997. Pg 220.
[26] Mr. J.A. Pereira, Nairobi, Kenya. 2000.
[27] Mr. A. Pereira, Bexleyheath, Kent, England. 2011.
[28] Mr. Keith Castelino, Edinburgh, Scotland. 2004.