Monday, November 5, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: Entebbe Goans, pioneers who led the way


By Armand Rodrigues

History shows that economic necessity is what led many a Goan to the unquantified shores of the African continent.  To understand how they then reached the hinterland, we have to take a journey back in time.


The ubiquitous and hardy Goan trekked hundreds of miles and crossed the hippo- and crocodile-infested waters of Lake Victoria, in native canoes, arriving in Entebbe at the turn of the 19th century.  The fragile canoes were made of roughly-hewn planks bound together by flexible jungle vines.

Even white Government officers lived in grass-thatched houses made of mud and wattle, at the time.  Everything was surrounded by wilderness and miles and miles of trackless country.   If the denizens of the deep did not get you, there were their wild and hungry counterparts on land ready and waiting.   If you managed to evade the insatiable appetite of all these, there was still the omnipresent mosquito to contend with.  Malaria, blackwater fever, sleeping sickness and yellow fever were the order of the day.  In other words, it was survival of the fittest.  The unyielding Goan struggled through it all and emerged still on his feet.


In those primitive conditions, our stalwart predecessors carved a niche that will remain forever Goa.   On Monday, April 24, 1905 the community of thirty (30) souls got together and unanimously resolved to form a club.  It was resolved that every member would pay one half of his month’s income as Entrance Fee.  Most paid on the spot; some paid more than called for.

Goans scattered all over Uganda, and even as far as Kisumu in Kenya, immediately enrolled.  Entebbe (meaning seat) understandably became the home port for all Goans in Uganda.

By September 11.1905 our enterprising pioneers had acquired a lot on a 49-year lease, at peppercorn rent of one rupee per annum (about four Cdn. cents today).  They then addressed themselves to the question of collecting funds for a clubhouse.

In those days, all building materials -- including timber but excluding bricks -- had to be imported from Mombasa (Kenya) 860 miles away. The railway had just started.   Those were the days when the man-eaters (lions) of Tsavo had their heyday dragging their human diet out of moving trains!

On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1907, the clubhouse -- a 30’ x 18’ single room, with veranda fore and aft --was formally opened.  It cost Rs.6, 000 (about $200 today). It was a triumph for our brothers and equally-determined sisters.

 The club was originally named “The Goa-Portuguese Institute”.  But this was found to be misleading and somewhat incongruous.  On January 1, 1912 the name was changed to Goan Institute, a nomenclature common to similar Goan clubs that had since sprung up in East Africa.

It is noteworthy that half a month’s income remained the Entrance Fee from
April 24, 1905 to May 1, 1926.

From 1911 until Independence in 1962, the British Governors in office were Patrons of the Entebbe Goan Institute.


The tiny original clubhouse was extended in 1922 and again in 1929, with major improvements in 1947.  In 1947, the old “bucket system”, and basin and stand, were relegated to oblivion and replaced by “modern” plumbing and fixtures.   In 1960, a totally new structure was erected on the existing main foundation.  Unlike other sister institutions, no outside funds were borrowed for the purpose.


The Institute’s social, sporting and moral activities were legendary.  Other than dances, sundowners, whist drives,”trook” sessions, and housie-housie (bingo), there were concerts from time to time.  And, of course, all Goan weddings were held at the club.  From 1949, mass was celebrated in the E.G.I. on one Sunday each month, as was midnight mass at Christmas.  (And who can forget the serenades that followed midnight mass!)  In the month of October, it was customary to have nightly recitation of the rosary at the club.

Goans got on well with all communities and, in sports, E.G.I. interacted with all.   Ordinary membership was open to anybody, and a handful of non-Goans remained members and frequented the club on a regular basis.  A few Africans joined after Independence in 1962; the liberal constitution needed no change to accommodate them.  Some of the non-Goan members represented the club in cricket, tennis, volleyball and bridge tournaments.


The following milestones cannot pass mention:

Activity commenced: Tennis 1907, Soccer 1907 (fizzled out), Badminton 1908, Concerts 1908, Bar 1909, Soccer (revived) 1913, Field Hockey 1916, Spirits at bar 1918, EGI Hockey Cup 1922.
It must be noted that the EGI Hockey Cup was the equivalent of the Gold Cup in Nairobi and that, later, it became the catalyst for Uganda’s Olympic Hockey Team.


With the forced exodus of Goans in 1972, an unforgettable era in Entebbe came to an abrupt and unexpected end.  The abandoned clubhouse fittingly became a parting gift to the true sons of the soil.  For the immeasurable benefits received by members, the consensus has to be that on a relative basis only a pittance was left behind in repayment.           

I would be remiss if I did not say that the club employees, like Sabakaki, Toontoonu, Luka, and those before them, deserve our undying gratitude for serving us so well over the years.

(Acknowledgement: Historical data was researched by the late Mr.Antu Rodrigues, M.B.E., a high-ranking civil servant with access to the public archives in Uganda)

Copyright @ arodrigues, 2003

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