Ismaili Diaries: The story of Tanga’s iconic Alladin Bapu family

Preamble to this series on life in the Ismaili community: This is the second in a series of articles dealing with life in the Ismaili community from the late 19th century onwards. The first in the series was on a Rare 100 year old photo. The piece that follows has been adapted by Safder Alladina from his book “Ties of Bandhana: The Story of Alladin Bapu” which was published under his pen name Safder Giga Patney. The paperback book, see image below, is available on Amazon.

Front and back covers of "Ties of Bandhana", by Safder, Simerg article
Front and back covers of “Ties of Bandhana”, available from Amazon.

The lead in this special series is Toronto’s Zahir Dhalla, who wishes Jamati members to dig into their archives and submit electronic versions of family historical photos to Simerg@aol.com. Zahir would then be quite willing to work with families, and prepare stories for publication in Simerg or in its two sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos.

Alladin and Prembai

Alladin Suleman Hasham Mohamad Giga Patney of Chhachhar, Kathiawar. Gujarat, India.  c1910, Ismaili Simerg
Alladin Suleman Hasham Mohamad Giga Patney of Chhachhar, Kathiawar, Gujarat, India,  c1910. He was born on Sept 9, 1851, in Pattan, India, and died on July 28, 1926 in Tanga, Tanganyika

By SAFDER ALLADINA

Alladin and Prembai owned fields and orchards in Chhachhar in Kathiavar in Gujarat. But at the end of the 19th century the area suffered a series of droughts and famines, and families were looking towards Zanzibar and the East African countries. In addition to this the British Raj, with the connivance of the Nawab of Junagadh and his officials, had imposed excessive taxes and levies. On Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s advice and support from Ismailiss who had made it good in East Africa, families were encouraged to move to East Africa.

Alladin and Prembai, with their children travelled to German East Africa in a dhow. After thirty odd days on the boat they landed at Tanga, Tanganyika. The family had relations in Moshi so they went there in bullock carts on a journey that took them fifteen days. In Moshi, Alladin and Prembai tried to farm but they were new to the climate, weather and growing conditions. After two years, they decided to return to Tanga. The railways and automobiles had arrived in the country and Alladin, with his eldest son Kassam started a shop selling tires, car parts and other hardware.

The shop was on Marketstrasse, Tanga, Deutsche Ost Afrika (German East Africa, now Tanzania), at the corner of the road that came up from the harbour. A railway line from the station cut through the southern part of the town and went down to the port taking sisal, timber and coffee to the ships anchored in the harbour. Steamboats from Europe brought cars, machinery, cloth and equipment while the dhows from India and the Gulf countries brought cloth, tiles, earthenware pottery, salt cod, carpets, spices and tea.

Kassam, Alladin’s eldest son who had a smattering of German now, was talking to the German officials to be allowed to put a petrol pump at the shop. They liked the young man dressed in long khaki pants and a solar topi in the German fashion, and who spoke German and suggested that he go to Berlin on a scholarship to become an engineer instead of pumping gasoline. Kassam’s young wife, who had a boy and a girl now, and his mother were distraught when they heard this: Hai, hai Allah! Hooñ kadi na jawa daooñ! Prembai asserted. (By God! I’ll never let him go abroad.) [1]

story continues after photo

Prembai Ibrahim Teja, c1910 Simerg Ismaili Diaries
Prembai Ibrahim Teja. She was born on June 29, 1854, in Chhachhar, India, and died on June 12, 1924 in Tanga, Tanganyika.

A couple of years later, their son Karim was identified by the German officials as suitable candidate to be sent to Berlin for further education. In 1914, a passage was booked for Hamburg on the Deutsch Ost Afrika line the Pandakoti for Karim to go to Berlin. But war broke out and the Pandakoti was bombed and sunk at Manza Bay near Tanga. Karim had to stay in Tanga and after his father died, ran the gas station on Market Street.

Eventually, Kassam got a license to sell petrol. Drums of petrol were brought to the shop front. A piston pump, operated by hand, was attached to a drum and the fuel pumped into cars and trucks and also sold in tin jerry cans. Motorcycles had now appeared in town. Alladin and Kassam found that they had to start keeping car parts and tyres for the growing automobile population in town.

The family photo, below, shows Karim and Alimohamed newly married. Trinkets of gold and bandhanis of silk were brought out for the marriages of their sons Karim and Ali Mohamed. There was now an extended family of Alladin and Prembai: three married sons and their wives and at least five to six children. Shariff and Fatehali, Kassam and Maanbai’s eldest son, were unmarried.

Shariff had a fine singing voice and was a favourite of the ladies in town. He also used to sing Ginans in the Jamatkhana. (For Shariff Alladina’s 4 Ginans, see Soundcloud, Safder, Bapaji )

story continues after photo

Alladin and Prembai’s family, Ismaili Simerg
Alladin and Prembai’s family, c1925, Tanga, Tanzania (then Tanganyika). Children seated on floor, l. to r : Sherbanu, Amir and Murad; Middle row, l to r: Nurbanu and Milli (2 children), Sikina, Maanbai and Kursum (ladies), Kursum (young girl); Gentlemen l. to r: Shariff, Alimohamed, Kassam, Karim and Fatehali, Kassam and Maanbai’s eldest son. See Note [2] below for more info.

In the August of 1914, there was word around that there was going to be a world war. The British were going to attack German East Africa.

That September, the Districtkommissar went in his open sided automobile to the bigger shops and businesses of the Indians and told them that they would have to leave town and find somewhere to stay until they were given permission to return to their homes. The businessmen were ordered to inform all the other Indian homes in town. Being colonial subjects of the British, the German government saw them as security risk. An Indian owned provision store and Alladin’s petrol pump were told to remain open but their families would have to leave.

story continues after photo

Alladina Bros & Shariff Service Station, Tanga Tanganyika, Simerg Ismaili
Business cum Residence Alladina Bros & Shariff Service Station, 26 Marketstrasse Tanga, German East Africa, antebellum WW I. Photo: Karim Alladin, via his youngest son Mirza, Vancouver. BC.

Alladin and Kassam stayed to keep the business open, while Prembai, and her sons with their wives and children, left by train for Muheza thirty miles inland, in the foothills of the East Usambara Mountain. They stayed with a family from Kodinar, a small town near Chhachhar, the Alladins home village.

On 14th November of 1918, Armistice was declared and the First World War had ended. On 25 November, what was German East Africa became Tanganyika and was given a Class B Mandate by the League of Nations and effectively became Tanganyika Territory of the United Kingdom. The Union Jack now flew over the Customs House, the boma of the District Commissioner, the police station and the Schule school.

Prembai died after the war and Alladin a few years later. They were buried in the Ismaili cemetery at the southern edge of the town. Maanbai became Moti Ma, the matriarch of the household, and Kassam became Mota Bapa  – Big Father of the family.

Today, the Alladin family members are dispersed around the globe in Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom and Belgium, engaged in various professions and businesses – many are still connected to the automobile business.

Date posted: July 14, 2020.

_________________

Safder Alladina

Safder Alladina has taught English as a Foreign Language in England, Japan and Portugal and English as a Second Language in England and Canada. In his 35 years of teaching, he has taught Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Adult classes; and developed and taught Teacher Education programmes at graduate and post-graduate levels at the University of North London, UK, and the University of British Columbia, BC. His research work is in Sociolinguistics. He has retired to a hobby farm in the interior of British Columbia where he does his writing under the pen name of S. Giga Patney.

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The following additional details have been compiled by Zahir Dhalla, author of Ismailis in Tanga.

Alladin and Prembai’s sons started their own businesses in Tanga as follows: Kassam started an auto parts business with his sons; Karim managed the petrol station on Market Street and then went on to start as auctioneer and accountant; Alimohamad started a provision store with his brother Shariff; and Shariff went on to start as copra merchant on his own. He then went into rice milling and producing coir fibre for export.

Collectively, the Alladins became the biggest of Tanga Ismailis Big Five Clans viz. The Alladins: 60; The Hajis: 50; The Nathoos: 40; The Babuls: 30; and The Bhanji Jiwas: 30.

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Notes:

[1]. Kassam and Maanbai were parents to Fateali, Milli, Sherbanu, Amir and Murad; Roshan and Sikina were sisters; all gentlemen standing were sons of Alladin and Prembai and were born in India as was Maanbai. Everyone else in the photo was born in Tanga.

[2]. Offering scholarships to young men was seen elsewhere too: Ismail Jaffer Somji, born 1901, in Bagamoyo, was offered in 1914 full scholarship for himself and elder brother Kassamali. But, as happened above, his ma refused to let them go! Zahir K. Dhalla.

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