PIRBHAI VISRAM FIRST LANDS IN LAMU, KENYA – 1897 (Part 3)
Pirbhai Visram Kaka’s Travels File:
This section covers our community in Uganda, Congo, Ruanda-Urundi (presently Rwanda and Burundi)
In 1940, Pirbhai Visram (Kaka) who lived in Bukoba opened a branch in Kampala, Uganda. The branch started growing steadily and it ventured in coffee business in 1942. Pirbhai’s eldest son Gulamali operated the business. Gulamali was known for his diligence, knowledge and business acumen. They sold their Bukoba Coffee Factory to Rashid Moledina and moved to Kampala. Pirbhai Kaka then lived in Kampala till his death. Relating to the settlement of our community in Kampala, Kaka writes:
“Although I moved to Uganda in 1945, I travelled to Kampala quite often after Tanganyika came under British mandate in 1918. I will therefore try to recall about families settled in Uganda: “
Community members started establishing their business from 1902 onwards. Sheth Bahadurali Mawji established business in Jinja and Kampala in 1904.
Hasham Jamal Rattansi started their business in Mbale and Kumi between 1905 and 1910. By 1920 they had built cotton ginneries.
Sheth Abdulla Nathoo opened a business during the same period in Jinja. Cotton farming had started in Uganda and he built a cotton ginnery in Busoga district.
Haji Mehralli family had business in Jinja and had started constructing the ginneries and had made a valuable contribution to cotton industry in Uganda.
Sheth Walji Bhanji had established themselves in Teso district by constructing ginneries.
Jamal Ramji was like a jewel among the businesses of our community. They started their business in 1910 dealing with clothes. Due to their hard work and diligence, they made huge progress and by 1920 had established ginneries. By 1930, they involved themselves in Coffee business and are ranked top in coffee business.
Sheth Jamal Walji, Ladha Kassam, Jaffer Pardhan and others had migrated from Malia, Kathiawad, India in 1920. All of them had cotton ginneries.
Sheth Rashid Noormohamed had arrived in 1910 and their business was considered among the top ones in the country.
Sheth Amarsi Sunderji and Kurji Jetha had spread out their busineses too.
At Hoima we had Kassam Mohamed and Alibhai Rattansi and at Masindi we had Mawji Walji and Alibhai Mawji. Establishing businesses in these areas between 1910 and 1920 led to their development.
At Toro, business activity was on increase during the period 1910-1920 as a result of settlement of our community including Sheth Pardhan Jivraj and Sheth Abdulrasul Moledina.
Some joint business ventures had spread out in the countryside in Ruanda and Urundi. At that time the countries were under German rule. These adventurous companies had reached the far-flung Gisenyi port on Lake Kivu. On the opposite side of the lake was Congo, which was governed by the Belgians. There was lot of business activity between the two. Pirbhai Gulamhussein had several branches in Congo. Our community’s businessmen in Bukoba were very successful people in trade around this area. All export and import from Bukoba was done by our community members while there was only one concern of the Ismaili community, Alidina Visram, who were winding up their businesses.
Like Bukoba, our community were very successful in Ruanda. There were a few Hindu artisans who lived in Bukoba and Ruanda.
The reader, in the comfort of his coach and under electric lighting, can imagine the Africa at the time we lived in – unknown and dark. Every step taken by residents was fraught with danger of attack by wild animals. In the heavily humid climate, there was fear of sickness due to malaria and other diseases and absence of reliable medical treatment and facilities. Even if one was to imagine such conditions, very few would be able comprehend vividly the immense difficulties which were faced by our community and how they stood firm in the face of these difficulties. Their risk and bravery has resulted in bringing the country to its present stage of the development and their contribution needs to be most appreciated. This area was the one of the battle fields during the First World War (1914). Tanganyika and Ruanda-Urundi, both being German territories were under attack. Movement of merchandise had stopped during the war. Most of the centres and large towns were looted. Being the top business community, our community suffered most. Others, who had minimal property or business, had little to lose. Germany lost the war. Ruanda-Urundi came under Belgian and Tanganyika under British jurisdiction. British administration led to sense of stability and security in the country. Africa became famous as a result of this war and Indians in India, being used by the British administration; they found it easy to migrate to East Africa.
Between 1920 and 1930 there was a lot of migration of Hindu, Ismaili and other communities from India. This tide of humans led the British government to enact Immigration Act. Due to political situation and the looting suffered by our community during the war, our leadership in business started to decline. There are some businesses in Bukoba still holding sway e.g. Rashid Moledina, Sheriff Jiwa, Kassamali Allarakhia, Suleman Jaffer, among others.
In 1925, Pirbhai Kaka left the concern of Pirbhai Gulamhussein and started his own business in the name of Pirbhai Visram. In 1930, he ventured into industry and installed machinery for coffee, oil and flour. Pirbhai was the first person to venture into industry in Bukoba where most of the businessmen had never shown interest in industries.
By 1920, most of our community had established in the Ugandan countryside. There were a lot of Ismailis, most of them businessmen. There were a few Hindus mostly as accountants, clerks, agents or civil service in the government.
Starting 1920, after the establishment of British administration following the defeat of Germans in the war, there was a lot of migration from India to Kenya and Uganda as was the case in Tanganyika. Most of the migrants from India were Lohanas, Vaniya and Patidar community. Sheth Nanji Kalidas and Vithaldas Haridas constructed sugar factories at Lugazi and Kakira around 1920. They were also involved in the cotton industry. British rule had brought security and people found safety in venturing into business. The great businessman of Uganda, also considered a King business community, Alidina Visram passed away in 1916. His death resulted the slipping of his power and several others rose in his stead. By 1925 the business had closed down.
Pirbhai Kaka does not remember when Br Kassamali Jaffer left Jamnagar, India for Zanzibar and then Mombasa. His son, Habib famously known as H K Jaffer started as a clerk at Standard Bank in Mombasa. He later obtained agency from the South British Insurance Company for Jinja and Kampala branches. Thanks to the efforts and business acumen of Habibbhai, this insurance business expanded and it eventually became the top insurance company in the country. Habib bhai is the member of the legislative assembly of Uganda for the last 15 years. Kaka says that although he does not know about his education level, his oratory power and excellent control over English language is praiseworthy. He is influential in government circles and this has helped the community a lot.
Our community may have undergone some setbacks due to circumstances, but a few have continued to be in leading positions in business during the period 1940-1953. Jamal Ramji & Co was leading in Tea and Coffee farming and cotton industry and they also did buying and selling; Jamal Walji & Co was leading in Tea and Coffee farming and cotton industry; the families of Habib Walji and Jaffer Pardhan were leading in spare parts for motor vehicles; Hasham Jamal family were leading in Saw Mills and Cotton business; Ladha Kassam in Cotton and Grocery; Sunderji Jetha’s descendants Alibhai Sunderji in Oil and Soap business; Gulamhussein Kurji in Saw Mills business; and Merali Dewji are foremost in the Cotton industry.
At the end of the letter detailing the history of our community, Murabbi Pirbhai Visram (Kaka) writes (in 1953): “I would like to clarify that this should not be considered a complete historical document as this is only from my memory. Members of our community from Zanzibar, Kenya and Tanganyika writing an official history, in proper sequence, may find information in this document helpful in filling in the blanks. I would consider myself fortunate for such consideration. Since I have not lived in most of the parts of Zanzibar, Kenya or Tanganyika, I have written only about Lamu. I end my report by hoping that a chronological history will be written by my scholarly brothers.” (Source: 1960 Trade Directory)
Pirbhai Kaka passed away on 26 June 1960 (First Muharram 1380) at the age of 80 and is buried at Kampala Cemetery.
Please recite Sura-e-Fatiha for the Maghferat of Pirbhai Kaka and the Marhumeens mentioned in these 3 parts of the article and all the Marhumeens who have served our community who played important roles in the development of our community in Africa we see today.
Source: AFED Trade Directory – 1960
ARCHIVES SECTION OF THE AFRICA FEDERATION