Photograph courtesy of Mrs Anita Abreo taken in 1930
Back row L to R Valu, Adelaide’s
husband, Celu’s husband.
Middle row L to R- Olive (Valu’s wife), Adelaide’s son, Valu’s mum holding Celu’s daughter, Valu’s dad, Adelaide (Valu’s aunt), Celu’s daughter, Celu (Valu’s sister).
Front row L to R – Celu’s daughter, Patru (Valu’s brother), Celu’s daughter, Arthur Nazareth (Olive’s brother), Celu’s daughter, Adelaide’s son
JOSE MARIE VALENTINO DE ABREU M.B.E.
(Better known as Valu Abreu)
By Cyprian Fernandes
NO history of East African Goans could be written without first mentioning Valu Abreu of Mombasa. He was born in Saligao, Goa on February 14, 1901, and arrived in Mombasa in 1919.
His parents were Marcus Antonio Filipe De Abreu and Mafalda Artimizia Dantas. He was the eldest of five but sadly one sibling died in early life. He had two sisters, Anna Celestina (Celu) and Ophelia (Ofu), and a brother, Jose Patrocino Matiniano (Patru), who was born some 18 years after Valu. His father had a butter factory in Amnabad prior to his return to Goa. As Goa was under Portuguese rule, Valu studied in Portuguese and having completed his primary and secondary education he set sail to East Africa. He arrived in Mombasa in 1919, the same year Patru was born in Goa. This was the beginning of a glorious chapter in his life.
Before him, many, many Goans had braved the might of the Indian Ocean in an Omani Arab dhow (later on British steamships) and arrived in the magical island of Zanzibar. The Omani Sultan of Zanzibar welcomed them and offered employment before they moved inland to Kenya.
For those early pioneers, including those that worked on the Kenya-Uganda Railways, life was often nothing short of hell. There were strange diseases, wildest animals and some of the terrain that could only have been designed in hell. However, there was also much more that looked like heaven on earth, especially along the Kenyan, Tanzanian coast.
The earliest of pioneers had cut a niche for themselves as some of the pioneering businessmen, later formidable members of the Colonial Civil Service and a community respected (to a degree, as long as it suited the Colonial bosses) by the heads of the civil service. However, so very successful were the Goans that many of them achieved the highest positions and promotion in the civil service to the point that most people said that “without the Goans, the Colonial Civil Service would crumble.”
One of the great things about belonging to a village in Goa meant that those in a position to recommend someone for a job in East Africa would recommend a family member or a villager from Goa … so the Saligaocars, who were pretty successful, especially in Kenya, encouraged their fellow villagers to come to Kenya where jobs and accommodation was found pretty quickly … and the newcomers were settled pretty quickly. It was not a sussegade kind of the life they had been used to but the money was good and there was enough to send home to Goa. For many there was the regular long service leave to Goa every four years. A job in Africa meant a new home, new land, or a refurbished home, and the respect of your fellow villagers (if you could avoid the evil eye sometimes).
So, the early pioneers (within the ranks of the various villagers, or by caste, or by the North-South divide, or simply as Goans) made it as a taken that they would help most Goans when they first arrived in the darkest Africa. Because they maintained their Goa village links in Kenya, promotion of their social needs (the Goan Institutes in Mombasa, Nairobi,, Kisumu), their catholic religion, education for the growing number of children (especially in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu) was vital. Valu Abreu embraced the required commitment and challenges. He is easily one of the best known in the service and promotion of the Goan Community in Mombasa.
His first job in 1919 was with the Colonial Government in Mombasa. Valu spoke Konkani, Portuguese, English and Hindi, hence he was employed as a Food Controller. Later he moved to the Government Coast Agency, where he served for 40 years. On June 13, 1959, Queen Elizabeth II, awarded Valu the M.B.E. . He rose very quickly and with each step up the ladder of success he was able to employ and encourage many Goans into the service. Eventually, he was rewarded with the top job in the Government Coast Agency , Chief Superintendent, and became the first Goan, indeed the first Asian to do so.
1) On July 29, 1951 his father passed away and so his brother Patru and his wife Anita and their three children went to Goa to bring their mother Artemisia to Mombasa and stayed with them for 13 years. During this time she developed cancer and Valu managed to get the Portuguese Consulate to agree to pay all expenses for him and his mother. He decided to take his wife at his own expense for support.
On June 3, 1929, Valu married Olive Nazareth at the Holy Ghost Cathedral in Mombasa. Olive belonged to the well-known Nazareth family of Moira. Her father was one of the original pioneers and came to Kenya in 1895. Valu and Olive’s first daughter was born in Saligao on June 3, 1930. They had 12 other children: nine girls and four boys.
Valu became a member of the Mombasa Goan Institute in 1919 and was a member until he died on 13th November 1986. He was elected president 11 times, a feat rarely achieved in any Goan association. There was always fierce competition for positions on the committee but most of the ferocity was reserved in the competition for president. His dedication to the Goan Institute Mombasa began in 1919 and lasted the rest of his life …unswerving.
Valu was instrumental in building a hall with a raised stage that was used for dances and concerts. Valu raised the money for this development through his efforts going house to house collecting donations and debentures.
He laid the foundation stone for the hall and was also given the honour of officially opening the new hall on 29th March 1959. This was due to his dedication and personal sacrifices to see the project completed. The event was attended by well over 1000 people.
The Institute wanted to install a plaque to commemorate the opening of the new hall but Valu declined graciously
In 1959 during the Queen Mother’s official visit to Kenya, which included Mombasa, Valu organized an arch to be erected in front of the Goan Institute and bouquet presented to Her Majesty the Queen Mother in front of the Institute by his first grandchild. At the time, members said that this could not happen, however, Valu through the Provincial Commissioner organized for the Queen Mother’s motorcade to stopped in front of the Club for the presentation.
On the 15th of May 1963, Valu’s wife Olive passed on. He had since retired and at the time assumed the role of both Father and Mother.
Daddy Valu [as his grandchildren fondly referred to him] cared for his children very well……in those days husbands did not tend to the home affairs. This was left to the mothers. Mothers were good economists. The fathers looked after the finances etc. He must have had quite a task feeding so many on one salary.
It was as if lightning hit and an angel got into daddy with some miraculous powers. He had no one to turn to for help but he did it all wonderfully. He had the help of the older children who rallied to keep the family intact.
Each morning he would wake up very early by 5:00 AM to prepare the breakfast for the children so that they would not go to school on an empty stomach. He was very particular about the lunch break, making sure they would also have a good lunch and then proceed back to school.
He took over the role of mother with no hesitation. Valu went walking almost daily to the Vegetable & Meat markets and would come back by bus with two full baskets of food stuff. The Fish market which was located near Fort Jesus was a separate marketing day. He made sure the children continued to eat healthy just like when Olive was living. Valu would even go to Edward St. Rose to buy necessities for the girls until a time they were old enough to shop for themselves. He even made sure the children who were in colleges had pocket money.
Valu who was once quite strict while being caring and understanding became very gentle and calm. He would always care for the children and worry when they were not at home. He knew when they came home no matter what time in the night after their shift at work or evening outing. Even after they were married and came home to visit, he would make sure they would have what they enjoyed eating. He loved to give his grandchildren candy.
Valu had a houseboy who left employment hardly 6 months after Olive’s death and Bekele Ngala started helping Valu in 1964 with the cooking of lunch and dinner for the family and with the other household chores. Bekele Ngala left his previous employment and was employed by Valu in 1965 where he has been in our family for 55 years and currently working at our brother Larian’s [Valu’s grandson] home. He is a part of our family having worked for Valu, Andrew and now Larian.
God gave Valu the strength and courage he needed to look after the children and take charge of the home.
When Valu died in 1986, due to his dedication and service rendered to the Institute, the Institute Management requested that the viewing and his leaving be from the club but this was declined by the family as they felt he should leave from his last place of residence. The family, however, accepted that after the church service the funeral procession would stop in front of the Institute. Valu’s casket was draped with the Institute colours and a wreath placed on it before proceeding to the Mbaraki Cemetery in Mombasa where was he was laid to rest.
Needless to say, Valu also rendered valuable service to the Goan Community. He not only served as president and chairman on several occasions during an era when members would campaign for the role... very different from the current day and age where no one wants to take up the honorary roles in the Institute but also played an active part in the welfare of the needy members of the community for many years.
He had quite a sense of humour and would tell anyone who would listen that his first grandchild was born in 1952 and after that in 1953 Valu and Olive’s last child was born. When his friends asked him what happened, his reply was “We were celebrating the Queen’s coronation”
In 1954 when Valu was travelling by sea to Goa he was asked by the Purser about his family. He mentioned he had twelve children. The Purser was surprised and said “What?” his reply was “it is cheaper by the dozen”. In 1959/60 Valu’s mother was diagnosed with Cancer and he intended to take her to Bombay for treatment. Being Portuguese nationals, a medical visa was denied by India. Valu contacted the Portuguese Consul, who at the time was in Portugal informing him of the incidence. The reply received was that Valu, his wife and mother were to fly to Portugal, where all expenses to include air tickets, hotel accommodation and medical expenses were borne by the Portuguese Government.
In 1961 when Goa was liberated, Valu vowed he would never return to India because they would not grant them a medical visa.
Valu Abreu was indeed a very special Goan, an outstanding member of his community and the pride and joy of his family and friends.
I REMEMBER ….
JENNIFER: “Daddy was well respected by all communities for his good deeds irrespective of their race, religion or creed. He never used abusive language and spoke kindly to all. He treated the poor well and when food rationing was in effect he made sure they got enough, always trying to follow the Government regulations.
He walked everywhere until I bought a used Morris Minor and drove him around.
Daddy attended cocktails and dinner parties at the Governor's House. One time after mum's death, he was invited to the Oceanic Hotel for a reception honouring the late President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and he took me. What an honour to shake the late President’s hand and hear him say “habari yako.”
He worked for the Government Coast Agency and his hard work, honesty and ethics earned him the position of Coast Agent. Having worked 40 years with such diligence he made his name and earned his MBE Medal (Member of the British Empire). Unfortunately he was unable to make the trip to the United Kingdom to receive his medal. He was presented the medal in Mombasa. On retirement he was presented with 4 silver goblets and a wooden clock which to date has a place in my home, since Joan left the country for Canada.
When Sana (Agnelo) asked daddy for my hand in marriage, dad said, “I was waiting a long time for you to ask me.”
PETER: His second wife was the GI! Apart from being president for so many years after work and in hia spare time he went door to door asking for donations for the club’s building fund.
I think all the men who wanted to marry his daughters had to be members of the GI or become members. I have heard my dad say this. He reckoned you had to be of good repute to become a member, and thus suitable to marry one of his daughters.
He lost his wife at the age of 49. I think just a month before her 50th birthday.
Valu, as he was known has a living sister in-law in London.
Valu has a total of 22 grandchildren. I am number 21! I have twin girls who are the only descendants born on his birthday, February 14, hence his name Valentine!.
Valu Abreu, his wife Olive Abreu and children Alvito, Blanche, Myrna, Victor, Joan, Marie, Jennifer, Andrew, Vivian, Belinda, Judith [being carried by househelp] and Peter [inset]