PIRBHAI VISRAM FIRST LANDS IN LAMU, KENYA – 1897 (Part 2)
The Tabora and Bukoba Venture:
At the age of 22, Pirbhai Kaka left Lamu for Tabora where he arrived in 1904. He worked for four years as Manager in the firm of Sheth Omar Abdulkarim & Sons. It took him 45 days to travel by foot from Lamu to Tabora via Bukoba.
There were six main families in Tabora which he can remember. Sheth Nasser Virji was running a booming business and their merchandise went to distant places like Ujiji, Rwanda and Bujumbura. Arabs used to be their major customers. At that time it would take about 45 days for merchandise to reach Tabora from Bagamoyo, the main port. The goods were carried by porters who had to pass through dense forests amid danger of attack by wild animals. Sometimes the porters would be looted by raiders. There was no way to get any news of the movement of goods. It is only when the porters would reach Tabora that they would tell of their escape. Under such difficult circumstances, the company was still able to expand its business and had branches at Mwanza, Bukoba, Biharamulo, Dar es Salaam, Kigali, etc. They were considered King among the businesses in Tanganyika and they had a great influence on the German government of the time.
Merali Remtulla’s family moved from Bagamoyo to Tabora around 1900. They too had business connections in Ujiji and Bujumbura. Some of our community businesses had been established in Bagamoyo at the time of Sultan Barghash, before the occupation of Tanganyika by the Germans.
Abdulla Allarakhia’s family moved from Bagamoyo to Tabora around 1900. They had booming business with Ujiji and Bujumbura towns. It would take porters about 20 days to carry goods from Tabora to Ujiji.
Sheriff Jiwa with his brother Jeraj Jiwa arrived in Tabora in 1902 after travelling from Bukoba via Biharamulo. Sheriff sailed from Tithwa, Kathiawad, India in 1899. He worked at Alidina Visram for one year and then started his own small business. His honesty and business acumen led to steady progress. In a short time, they had branches in Mombasa, Bukoba, Mwanza, Ujiji, etc – all being business hubs at that time. Due to their friendly nature and hard work, they soon became part of the major business firms of the time.
Nazarali and his son Mohamedali started a soda factory in Tabora. The business was very successful. Unfortunately Kaka does not remember Nazarali’s father’s name.
Apart from the above, there were some small retail shops belonging to our community. Arabs were the main buyers and our community members were their main suppliers. There were about seven Ismaili families and about two Hindu families, mainly artisan e.g. carpentry.
In 1909, Pirbhai Kaka left Tabora for Bukoba where he stayed for a month before leaving for India. In 1914 he returned to Bukoba where he lived upto 1945. He writes, “Bukoba was a completely new settlement. At the German Government offices (Boma) some officers were carrying out their duties in grass-thatched huts. The following businesses had been established in Bukoba at that time:
- Sheth Nasser Mawji – Established in 1904
- Sheth Nasser Virji – Already in the third successful year since it s establishment.
- Sheth Sheriff Jiwa – Also in the third year of success
- Sheth Walji Bhanji – Established in 1907 and growing very well
- Sheth Pirbhai Gulamhussein – Arrived in 1908
- Sheth Amarsi Kurji – Arrived in 1912
- Sheth Abdulla Khimji – Established in 1908
- Sheth Amarsi Sunderji – Started in 1913
- Nasser Virji & Co
- Pirbhai Gulamhussein & Co
- Walji Bhanji & Co
- Abdulla Khimji
Some more community members kept on arriving and opened up small businesses. By 1914, the community had grown to 150 people.
Once the Government allowed business with Rwanda-Burundi, the following opened their branches in Kigali:
In the next and final issue – Part 3: Pirbhai Kaka gives an account of our community in Kampala
Source: AFED Trade Directory – 1960
ARCHIVES SECTION OF THE AFRICA FEDERATION