Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: Goans in East Africa, a piece of history

Goans in East Africa
By L.J. Denis
Mr. Denis, who hailed from Anjuna, was one of the early pioneers of the Colony. After a long and meritorious service extending over a period of thirty-three years in the Provincial Administration he retired in 1935.  

He did much to foster the Community's social and other welfare in this Colonv. He was intensely interested in agriculture and was inspired by ambitious agricultural projects of various KindS.

Mr. Denis was connected with the management of the Institute for a number of vears, having been one of its General Secretaries.

He died on the 21st August, 1953 at the venerable age of 70.


Every Goan who goes out of Goa has one thought uppermost in his mind. His sole asset in foreign land lay in his services. He goes in search of new lands and pastures. He is highly enterprising in pursuit of new activities in life. He travels vast oceans always with a stout heart.  His outlook on life is never obscured by the length of his journey. He has, indeed, the conquest of the whole world by his fearless travels. His penetration in the hinterland of Africa has been deeply marked with great thrills and excitement.  He has lived not only in the midst of unfriendly natives but in the environment of lions, elephants, rhinos, baboons, etc. He has had varied life in the history of Kenya Colony. His contribution to the economic and political development of Kenya Colony has been of no mean importance.

Historical review of Goan life in Africa may be reckoned in the beginning of 1904 when the reminiscences of the writer were impressively formed; at this time a few people lived in tents in the heart of Nairobi - the capital of Kenya Colony. Nairobi presented an uncouth scene of buildings constructed of corrugated iron sheets. Spade work was being done in all directions - coffee growing was  energetically pushed forward; imported cattle, sheep and pigs were introduced.  Vast tracts of beautiful and fertile land lay dormant without any tillage by outside colonists.  Rush for rapid allotments began in earnest.  Human intelligence was a simple problem in a new land.

In these improvised houses, Goans lived and were shivering at night with cold. Housing accommodation was most scanty. Two Goan clerks of the Forest Department had to live in the tents during the day and sleep on the tables in the office at night-one slept peacefully with a woollen jersey and with two blankets well covered. Most of the time in bed was spent in recaling ghost stories of Goa. In the youthful days, these stories were awe-inspiring and most thriling. These ghosts were not doing much harm to our ancestors in their drunken bouts they were carried by ghosts, hidden for a while and were soon let loose. Ghosts would disappear when the stimulation of "Fenin" came down.

Apparently, Goans do not seem to be affected by ghosts in Africa, though natives are liable to this phenomenon called "Pepo". Mostly women are liable to this attack. When a native woman is affected by "Saitani" she is made to undergo certain formalities of dances called "Ngoma ya Pepo". This is a nauseating formality. Great noise is continuously kept up for days by beating drums and singing. So terrific. is the noise the ghost soon leaves the person in an exhausted condition.


By 1904, the Railway construction had reached Kisumu on the bank of Lake Nyanza-500 miles from the Coast. People could travel with ease and comfort to the terminus of the Railway whereas prior to the advent of the Railway, people had to do this journey in six months, accompanied by a considerable risk to life. This Railway construction to Kisumu was intended to link Kenya Colony with Uganda. This Lake is infested with crocodiles of great size-they are man eaters.

In the early days of the construction of the Railway the worst station was Tsavo where lions played great havoc at the Punjabi Labour Camp.  Every night a man was carried away from the midst of the Camp. To take revenge on these man-eating lions, a party of 3 Europeans slept in the Railway Compartment in the proximity of the Camp. A man on the upper berth was dragged and carried away to the horror of the other companions in the lower berths.

At this time in Nairobi, all Government Offices were, so to say, monopolised by the Goan Clerical staff. They played an important part in the work of the Government, always rising equal to any task imposed on them by the rapid progress of every Government Department. The Governor's Office was conspicuous by the presence of a Goan Head Clerk.


The Administration was fully represented by Goans. They followed the march of its extensive progress-penetrated deeper into the hinterland.  In the olden days, the administration staff consisted of the District Commissioner, a Goan clerk and native staff. They stood beside the flagpost of the Government, moved it from place to place - lived in the hazardous conditions of life, surrounded by natives and wild animals.  Lions often came at the huts of the officials and roared loudly solemn protest against the Government encroachment on their land - poisonous snakes crawled on the wattle and mud walls while a Goan clerk lay asleep on an improvised bed in perfect serenity. Incidentally, the wife of a Goan official was bitten by a snake in one of these huts-a snake doctor was immediately requisitioned. The snake-poiscned patient was cured with marvellous rapidity. Monkeys and baboons came daily to pay their regards to the newcomers into their land-much to their timidity tempered with admiration....  Baboons must have wondered from a sense of inquisitiveness how in Darwin's theory that man showed finer qualities of human development.

After a lapse of 30 years, monkeys could readily admire the genius of a man in seeing rubber monkeys to their own likeness in shops established in their own land.  

A Goan clerk in the Administration Office had to be a jack of all trades. This is emphatically no mean compliment. His prestige, zeal and ability in the service of the Administration have been well weighed. He was to be an accountant a judicial clerk, a postal clerk, a revenue clerk, a police clerk, a prison clerk, and in no less degree a "Daktari".  A District Clerk had to perform duties of a doctor without qualifications, diagnosing various diseases as can be done by a layman and doling out medicines from bottles sent from Government Dispensaries. Ignorance was bliss. Very often the native staff found the medicine verv effective and admired the medical skill of the District Clerk. "Bwana Dogo ni Daktari sana" was generally remarked.

Life of a Goan District Clerk in a district was always marked with remarkable adventures, often in the absence of a District  Commissioner on "safari", the district clerk at once assumed full responsibilities of the control of the District stretching in vast areas to the extent of 5,000 square miles-a mighty land.  This is five times greater in comparison to the area of Goa. His contributory share in the civilising work exerted upon the native-life and in no small measure, upon the wild animals, stand shining in the history of administration. In the space of 30 years it was possible that a lion could happily live and roar loudly in the centre of the city-Nairobi-in full praise of the benevolent work of the administration. The contrast is remarkable. In the olden days a lion roared in protest against the Administration for the encroachment on his land in the district-now he roars in the city with a jubilation of civilization brought to the animal land.

Travelling between the districts was done on foot called "Safari". Usually a party of 20 porters, 2 Askaris and the clerk started on his safari at 5 a.m. walked till 10 a.m. and halted covering a distance of 15 miles. Gasping for breath and almost exhausted by continuous walk, a guide was usually questioned as to how long it was necessary to walk-a prompt reply invariably came "Karibu" meaning close by, but the tired clerk walked and walked-his destination was not nearer.

A Goan clerk in a district cut off from all sources of civilization was placed in a most unsatisfactory situation. Native cooks were unreliable. They lacked even ordinary knowledge of cooking.  Having emerged from school and being drafted immediately in the service of the administration a Goan was much handicapped to get his usual dishes of "assat", "Bafad" and "Caldin". This was his appalling fault which he soon rectified with a little training from an elderly Goan who happened to pass the station. This personage is no other than the Trade Agent in Bombay (Mr. J. M. Campos).  Native cooks almost invariably upset the stomachs of the district clerks within a short time. In consequence of improper food, many Goan clerks were victims of Blackwater and Malaria. They lived in complete isolation from centres of civilization. In Malarial districts they were down with fever on a Sunday but they were quite fit for duties on Monday. Hardened by these circumstances, district clerks were apt to think of a homely life by early marriages. Some of our young wives at
the present time are likewise found wanting in the knowledge of culinary art. When they go in the districts, young husbands generally say, "Potac buk, jivac suc"

Rarely a Goan lady passed through Northern Frontier on the border of Abyssinia, a married couple went from Nyeri-Highland at an altitude of 7,000 feet-to Lamu on the Coast, a distance of 500 miles. This journey was covered in 3 days a mere track of passage for a bus, a hot and waterless country for most of the journey.  At 1 p.m. water carried in a zinc tin came to boiling point. At night fires had to be lit as a protection against lions, elephants, etc. When a halt is made the party sits under the shade of a tree-food is prepared and eaten at the same spot. This happy incident recalls the condition of a "Gantcar" -- "Mujem gantailem sue".

Nairobi had an agglomeration of a larger number of Goans any time in the history of Kenya Colony. Here greater scope for social activities existed. In the absence of a common institution, a move was made early in 1905 for a building 80 Goans, mostly young people stood together in firm resolution and with a contribution of Rs. 50 each, a foundation was soon laid for an institution which was destined to play a great part in the social life of Goans in Nairobi. With a loan of further sum of Rs. 4,000, the buildings were completed in Nairobi. At the inauguration dance the presence of Goan ladies could be countėd on the fingers of one hand only, while there were 75 men. The best enjoyment, in which all took part, was of a "Mando" rendered in rhythmic style to the tune of "Fanta porim veller rautan go tuca". The dance evoked much merriment, it grew more when an Irish Priest joined in the dancing. This was a small beginning. The same institution can now muster a gathering of no less than 200 ladies and an immense number of gents.

Nairobi has recently been declared a City its magnificent buildings, artistically built, adorns Nairobi with superb beauty-its achievement in commerce and industry are a marvel of human skill.

With the growth of the Goan population Goans found necessary to provide social amenities in all centres: Mombasa, the sea gate of East Africa possesses a fine building adequately equipped for social activities of Goans. Keen and enterprising Goans have displayed a remarkable instinct of solidarity in solid unity. Wherever an appreciable number of Goans have appeared, they have invariably started a Club to look after their social welfare.  We find in most of the centres huge buildings, institutions owned on a basis of common ownership.  These buildings command a great prestige in the eyes of other nationalities for Goans who are doubtless keeping pace with the march of time.

The elderly generation of Goans is fast disappearing from the scene of activities in Africa.  They are, however, thrilled by a feeling that they have left a proud heritage in the land of their labour cheerfully borne in the Government and other services _ a heritage of best traditions of their life usefullv spent in Africa.

Anjuna, 1-1-1952

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