IF you are the children of the first pioneers of East Africa, is there any point in knowing the history of those first pioneers? If the answer is YES read on. Some of us on the fringe of the new generations of Goans wonder if there is a need to educate the younger generation of the Goan history outside of Goa. JERRY LOBO and I have been pondering a zoom session. However, the problem may that we are not able to find anyone who is still alive and who lived that history. A starting point is an excerpt below which is a clinical miniature history lesson by the outstanding LADIS DA SILVA who, with words, paints a majestic tapestry of the history of Goan’s first pioneers in East Africa. While Da Silva focuses mainly on Zanzibar and Pemba, the story largely mirrors those experiences in other parts of Goan pioneers in Eastern Africa.
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ZANZIBAR GOANS LADIS DA SILVA
TRY AS I MIGHT, I found it immensely difficult to trace the arrival of the first Goan in Zanzibar. The best I can recollect is when I was once invited by some sheikhs near Chukwani Palace, close to a Polytechnic School, and shown a grave by the seafront It had an Arab inscription on it and although age-old, it was in fair condition, even though some of the sides had fallen off with the rain and the storms. I was told by them that this belonged to the first Goan who arrived in Zanzibar more than 100 years prior. He had lived there, worked there and died there. Both Arabs and the natives were descendants of people who lived during his time and got the story from generation to generation. I cannot discount this story as I do know that Goans had come from the east coast of Africa long before any white man had done so. Evidence of this is there because of the trade between India and East Africa.
From historical records I have, I am prepared to state that Goans emigrated to East Africa some 125 years ago. Many Goans land in the port of Mombasa in Kenya earlier and were employed as civil servants in Kenya and Uganda. Kenya history tells you that the first district commissioner’s Chief Clerk was a Goan. The above facts are partially substantiated in the memories of Sir Arthur Hardinge, the Consul General in Zanzibar, who wrote: “A Goanese clerk was engaged in the Health Office in the year 1894.”
At this time, East Africa was under the government of the British Samaraj. This is one reason why Goans were given preferential treatment in the civil service. We are well aware of the fact that when in Bombay, Goa and Greater India, that had studied English and the three Rs, and were therefore well qualified to be civil servants under the British Raj. During this period Indian currency was used in East Africa. I vividly recall that was the currency during my time in the 1930s … rupees, annas, pice.
The judiciary, too, ran on the British system. They had Indians, Goans, Parsee lawyers, while the magistrates and the justice of the peace in the Appeal Court were all Britons. They had adopted the Indian Acts in their Hansard. The Arabs had their system in addition to this, their customs and traditions were age-old. They had khadis (judges) who dealt with minor cases and mudhirs, i.e. district commissioners who were appointed in different suburban areas and remote villages to run and settle the local native affairs. I must say those days all respected the law.
Goans had a rudimentary knowledge of accounts, storekeeping, inventory, customs-clearing, shipping and various other jobs. It is recorded that this was the reason why they had no problems in securing posts with the British, throughout their (the British) stay in East Africa.
During German timesin Heligoland (then called Tanganyika), they called the Goans “Goanese” who were classified as a separate race in the population census. The Germans in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) considered the Goans very special people, and because of this, they were accorded preferential treatment. Goans were popular in sports, they were good musicians, honest and industrious. These are the traits the Germans like in anyone. The European General Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam, the main port of Tanzania, had a special wing for the Goan community. Other ethnic groups were allotted a portion of the Nation Hospital.
Most of the early Goans who travelled abroad arrived without their families as they were single. They felt that they should travel first to a foreign land, tap the sources, see what it was like, secure a job position, earn some money, and if everything was well and favourable they would bring their wives or their families (or return to Goa and find a suitable bride).
In those early pioneering days, there were rumours in India and Goa, that “Africa was a White Man’s Grave” like West Africa … that there were cannibals, malaria, tropical diseases, wild animals, and an environment that was full of difficulties. There were further told that all these took a heavy toll of foreigners. Therefore, it needed some pluck for the few who ventured out as adventurers. These would, of course, include our dear parents who had the grit to do what they did. (Generations will always remain grateful for that and more)
In those days travelling abroad was done by steamship or by dhow. The B.I.A. (British India) ploughed through the Indian Ocean regularly once a month, except for the monsoon season, when the ocean was treacherous with storms and tempests. Passaged cost a fortune. Because of this, it was not common for some Goans to travel to East Africa by the big Cutch Dhows, for which they paid a negligible amount of money. I recall the experiences of some of our Goans had travelled by dhow during my young days.
I understood from them it was no fun travelling by dhow in the high seas for a couple of months … in sheer discomfort, unsanitary conditions, and eating lousy Indian spice food that was half-cooked. There were no vegetables, no fruit or other amenities of life one could expect. With the storms, the heavy swells of the ocean brought about sea-sickness … it was something unbelievable …a terrible experience overall. Goans, generally speaking, who are used to a life of comfort and ease, would find this a nightmare. I have travelled with the British India ships through the Mozambique channel during monsoons and know that even this bad enough for a heavy tonnage steamer. One ship, Clip Fountain, that sailed before us, sank in the storm.
When shipping was scarce, Goans and Indians would travel from Zanzibar to the mainland to Dar es Salaam or Mombasa by dhow. They also travelled by dhows to the sister island of Pemba.
When the Goans landed in Zanzibar there were few people of their ethnic group around. These had come earlier. Because of this, they would voluntarily come forward to help any new arrivals. Since of most of these were single men, and Arab mansions were huge, these bachelors preferred to live together in a “mess” (expressed in North America as “rooming” or “sharing an apartment”). The new migrants were then assisted in procuring suitable jobs, and this was done through their compatriots who were in good graces with the British Officials. I was given to understand that they had no difficulties in doing so as the Briton like the Goans.
Living together, learning from each other, cooking, washing, playing cards (flush or poker) was fun in those early days. More than anything, speaking Konkani, their mother tongue among themselves was not unusual. The most amusing event was when they got together on a special festive occasion and had a few drinks. Eating their Goan delicacies, which each tried to cook in their way, interspersed with the Goan music of mandos and fados, they cracked jokes in Konkani, English and Portuguese simultaneously. At this time they had managed to obtain the services of a native servant whom they taught to cook and do some of the household chores. Labour was cheap then. Even when the servant stole food and drinks every day, the bachelor took this with a pinch of salt … life was fun … it was no point griping. When the Goans got into their revelries, eating and drinking and talking gibberish, the natives often wondered whether they were in their right minds or scatter-brained. However, the servants got used to this routine life. Even the English had this hotch-potch at their parties.
Beyond this, the Goans did not go overboard, although it was known that a few had Arab and native mistresses … but these stray cases.
Several Goans had learnt to speak Hindi when back home and this knowledge was put some good use in East Africa with the local Indian traders. I guess this was one reason my brother and I went to an Indian school to learn Gujerati, a little Marathi and Sanskrit, before joining the Mission high school.
In a small Goan community such as this, other than their parties they had practically no other social life at all. So they resorted to playing cards or organising bachelor parties to have good fun. At these parties, they sang their folks songs and played the violin, a favourite instrument of the Goans. A Goan plays musical instruments by notes and not by ear. This was achieved through private tuitions and schools, learning the Konkani “Masters”. At all their parties they never missed drinks. This was must and to a large extent, it still is. I guess we got this trait from the Portuguese. It was not an unusual sight to see bottles of Johnnie Walker which, in those days, cost Rs. 1.50. They had lots of Portuguese wines, mandel, cajel, urrakk, granjeau from Goa. Goa sausages arrived by ship that touched ports every month. Let it be remembered that in those days the island of Zanzibar was a free port and good were allowed to come duty free.
Despite all these expenditures, I know that there were well able to save some money to send home. This is how they managed to bring their wives and their families to East Africa eventually.
Occasionally the British officials invited them to the English club after a friendly, hockey, cricket or soccer game to have drinks and meals (maybe). This strengthened their relationships in the office. Many a Goan was promoted because his boss knew him better after meeting him at sports or at socials.
The Arabs and Swahilis and other ethnic races that lived there were friendly. In fact, Zanzibar was known to be the friendliest place in the whole of East Africa. Slowly Arabs and the natives started inviting them to their parties at home, where they would partake of their rich, spicy sumptuous and scrumptious meals. Of course, the absence of their women at these parties was conspicuous, and no alcoholic drinks were served in their homes. This had a religious significance for them.
Goans who were early pioneers in East Africa had good knowledge of English and Portuguese languages, plus a few other languages they had picked up here and there while doing several jobs abroad. Portuguese was spoken only within their circles and was of no use in official circles or business. I can safely adduce that the Portuguese language did help them immensely with the vocabulary in English, as has been in my case.
Goans likewise adhered to the age-old Hindu man-made caste system wherever they went. But as time passed, with so many problems, in various countries, this system was ironed out. The elimination of this scourge is a boon, as we are all human.
Some of the Goan clergy and Catholic Church in Goa then made no effort to eradicate this cancerous, pernicious system. To the contrary, some walled-in it and promoted it. However, in alien countries they have emigrated to, they cannot afford this anomaly. I have been told by people wherever I went on my travels that, as Catholics, Goans should be ashamed to even mention the caste system.
We heard the good side of the story of Goans in Zanzibar, and now we have to turn to a chapter on how they survived going through initial stages as new immigrants. The tropical heatwave, cholera, dysentery, yellow fever, malaria, smallpox, blackwater fever, bronchitis, pneumonia, and several other tropical diseases took their toll. I know of a few that paid the prices and whose graves are in Zanzibar and Pemba. Civil Servants were at timed compelled to be transferred to the island of Pemba, which was noted for malaria and blackwater fever. I have travelled there several times by the local Arab ferry steamers Al Said and Al Hathera and have witnessed the conditions there. I have made it a point to also visit the graves of friends who succumbed to blackwater fever and were buried there.
Malaria was very common in Zanzibar and no one slept on any of these islands without a mosquito net at night. Zanzibar and Pemba, as you will note, are malarious because of the mangrove swamps, thick jungles, clove and coconut palms. During the monsoons, it rains incessantly and these heavy rains form puddles and pools, where mosquitoes breed. The government took every possible measure to either control it or eliminate it in those days. I know this for sure because of several friends I had in the Health Office on both islands. There was a belief that neglected malaria brought about blackwater fever, which caused high temperature and the passing of blood urine. Hospitals, dispensaries and various medical facilities in those days were limited. And dispensaries and various medical facilities in those days were limited. And the few that existed were crowded every day. It was a ritual for everyone who lived on both islands in those days to dose him with quinine daily.
Few Goans ever wanted to go to Pemba, but gradually several Indians, Arabs, and European civil servants and hospital personnel commenced going there and eventually settling down, including my uncle Martin D’Silva who worked in the hospital, retired, went to Goa and died there. Goans who went to Pemba worked in hospitals, as lawyers, court clerks, businessmen, bakers, tailoring concerns, grocery shops, etc. Pioneers such as these paved the way for many others who followed suit, undaunted despite several difficulties and obstacles they had to encounter.
Geography plays a paramount role in emigration. Only those living close to convenient ports in India, like Karachi, Bombay, Goa, were likely to make the long and arduous trip by sea. Consequently, as described before, these were not unskilled labourers as were the coolies and manual labourers who built the East African Railways (Kenya-Uganda to start with) or, for that matter like the settlers in South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Fiji, and the West Indies. We should not forget that these coolies were recruited by indenture for work on sugar cane, banana, clove, tea and coffee plantations. Those that were brought even for this purpose made their respective countries rich with their sweat and toil, to collect the harvest for sale to the rest of the world. We cannot deny even those groups of coolies who stayed and settled earned their money honestly. Their children were well-educated and enhanced the whole structure of the countries they lived in. Most of the indentured coolies were sent back to their homelands after their contracts expired.
We will come back to the subject of the missionaries, as they played a very important part in our Goan lives when they encouraged our children to go to their missions, schools and convents. Missionaries those days identified each and every member of the congregation by name and made it a point to visit each and every parishioner at least once a year to bless their homes. This was an old Goan custom and perhaps a custom and tradition in Christendom. They would try and get better acquainted with the family, inquire about the children, their education, personal welfare, and take more interest in everything that has happened in the community. This was not resented by the Goans; as a matter of fact, it was welcomed, since the missionaries learnt our ways, customs and characteristics. All in all, we could say that in those days we had meaningful relationships between the Church and individual Catholic families. We must admit that a priest or the clergy was practically a member of the family in those days.
The missionaries knew that the ancestors of the Goans were converted by St Thomas and St Francis Xavier, and because of this, they respected the Goans.
Turning to Goans in Zanzibar and East Africa it is recorded that they eventually brought their families to live with them. Those who were single went back on overseas leave (which was granted under the British) and brought back their brides. All this happened after they had worked for some time, saved some leave, and were in a position to rent a place and live independently. I can envisage that this was no easy task for those early settlers. It should not be overlooked that before they brought their families, they initiated them as to what to expect and what not to expect in East Africa. We should find some consolation that our ancestors and parents did agree, after listening to the tales of their husbands, to take their chances in a new country.
The arrival of the families meant that the number of the community had increased considerably. Our Goans are noted to be good organisers, and as there appeared to be a requisite need to find a meeting place for the families to gossip and share their ideas, their joys and sorrows, they formed small clubs and institutes. In Zanzibar, we had the Goan Institute, and on special occasions and feast days, the Goans gathered at a rented place to dance, eat and drink to the melodies of the Goan band. As time went on, they collected sufficient funds to buy a suitable building which would be permanently theirs. Here they had a library, arranged indoor games, concerts, socials, literary societies and sports. This was the first Goan Institute. Goan Institutes were set up in all the main cities and townships of East Africa.
All this was a novelty to the other ethnic groups and is small wonder that they too slowly organised their clubs.
Without warning came the Revolution in Zanzibar on January 12 1964, thus bringing to an end a long reign by the Omani Arab Sultanate. The revolution was so swift and quick that there was no time for reprisal. And so the Asians and with them, the Goans migrated to the mainland. Most of them migrated to Mombasa and Nairobi. Others went back to their homeland in Goa.
The wheel of Destiny slowly turned and with it came changes all over East Africa. These were sparked by revolutions, rebellions from the armies and the people. They wanted their countries for themselves … Africa for Africans … they wanted all the amenities that other ethnic groups had such as homes, cars, good food, clothes, farms, land, and above all jobs that the foreigners had supposedly taken from them. It was the birth of Nationalism, Africanisation and self-determination for the natives of Africa