Ismaili Diary: A rare 100 year old family photo fills in a few blanks of Ismaili Khoja history in East Africa

Author Zahir Dhalla’s Preamble: Khojas, and Indians in general, were not known for keeping personal journals. Thus, there is a dearth of records documenting our history. However, the practice of keeping family photo albums was quite widespread. Photos can fill in some of those blanks, provided someone can tell the stories behind them. This would be a valuable series, people digging into their memorabilia and writing the stories behind them. Below then, is my attempt to do so, hoping it can also serve as one of the templates that others may want to use or adapt as preferred.

Huseinali Harji (with sword) historical Zanzibar wedding photo
Photo 1: Huseinali Harji (with sword) wedding photo. In the Ismaili Club’s courtyard, Zanzibar, early 1920s. It used to be the British Club where Dr. David Livingstone stayed in the late 1860s. Photo: Safder Alladina, Zerabai’s {10 in photo} youngest son. Captioning: Marhum Kassamali Tejpar, Roshan’s {3} husband. Please click on photo for enlargement.

By ZAHIR K. DHALLA

Gulamhusein Harji Sumar Walji Jendhani* was a pawn broker in the Soko Mahogo neighbourhood of Zanzibar’s Stone Town. Gulamhusein had a large brood, as was common at the time, of 9 sons and 3 daughters, by three wives, the eldest son, Ali {17 in top photo}, being my paternal grandmother Sakarbai’s {16} father. This wedding photo is of Gulamhusein Harji’s third son Huseinali’s marriage to Rukiya.

{1} Hassanali (Hasina){2} Saleh{3} Roshan Abdulhusein Alidina Saleh (Mrs Kassamali Tejpar)
{4} Hamdu Wali Dilgir{5} Badru Ali Harji{6} Kasu Ali Harji
{7} Mohamedali Ali Harji{8} Abdulmalek Ali Harji{9} Gulibai Hassina Harji
{10} Zerabai Hassina Harji{11} A G Abdulhusein{12} Sherbanu Hassina Harji
{13} Hussein “Tumbo” Harji{14} Kanu{15} Rahim Husein Dilgir
{16} Sakarbai Ali Harji{17} Ali Harji 
A guide to individuals in the annotated wedding photo. Dilgir {4} composed the Ismaili anthem.

These are their stories:

All elders and a few toddlers are wearing hats, while youngsters are bare headed, the groom and his eldest brother Ali {17} are wearing ceremonial turbans. By the 1950s, hats were no longer in vogue!

Of the Gulamhusein’s nine sons, Haji (see photo 4, below) and Noorali “Mamma” are not in the above wedding photo. “Mamma” chacha is possibly in the photo, just unidentified.

The Harjis spent, all told, a couple of decades or so in Tanga, Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where at one time they ran a grocery-wines-spirits store called Planters Store. All then left Tanga: Ali {17} going to Mombasa; Haji to Lushoto (see photo 4 below); Hussein {13} to Dar es Salaam; Saleh {2} taking over the grocery business under the name Korogwe Stores, with a branch store in Korogwe, a small town west of Tanga — he also ran a petrol station in Tanga; and Huseinali (the groom) running a chai, toast, maandazi, etc. restaurant called “Karaketa” at the Korogwe railway station, which his widow Rukiya ran after his death.

Story continues after photo

Khoja Ismaili family photo, Tanga, Tanganyika.
Photo 2: Khatibai and her three sons, right to left, Mohamedali {7 in top photo}, Kasu {6} and Abdulmalek {8}, Tanga, early 1950s.

KASU {6}: Younger half-brother of my paternal grandmother Sakarbai Ali Harji {16}, his is a touching story.

His mother Khatibai (nee Jiwan Lalji, Itmadi, of Zanzibar), a most beautiful lady, became demented (during WWII) and was hospitalized in Nairobi. Her three sons, Mohamedali {7}, Kasu {6} and Abdulmalek {8} (in decreasing order of age; see photo 2, above) conferred and decided that they would buy a native bride in Tanga for Kasu, who would settle there as a fishmonger. His bride, Chausiku, was a fine lady, devotedly looking after Khatibai. Khatibai, despite her condition, could always remember faces. Whenever we visited her, she would smile at each one of us, lighting up the whole room! When both Kasu and Khatibai passed away, Mohamedali sent support money to Chausiku. Before he passed away, he instructed son Zul (a fine guitar player in Nairobi, now in Tri-Cities, British Columbia, Canada) to continue support payments, which he did until one day he received a letter from Chausiku’s family, informing him that she had passed away, so not to send support money any more!

ABDULMALEK {8}: Youngest half-brother of my paternal grandmother Sakarbai Ali Harji {16}, he was the youngest of Khatibai’s sons. There was a comical vignette he told me: In 1940, he and three friends decided to enlist in the army (WW II). Mother Khatibai was against it, while father Ali {17} was okay with the idea. They headed for Nairobi for interviews, and along the way one of them dropped out! In Nairobi, someone questioned them as to what they thought they were doing: Didn’t they know they would get only black tea and burnt roti?

Part of their enlistment interview was an examination of their education:

Q. 7 + 5? A. 11. Wrong.

Q. 14 + 9? A. 22. Wrong.

They all came up short and were told, “All you Mombasa guys are hopeless” and were given tickets to return home. Actually, Abdulmalek’s whole class in Mombasa had failed Cambridge, except for one solitary student! Abdulmalek returned to working at his old job at Fatehali Dhala Grocers for 60 shillings a month, filling candy jars, opening and displaying crates of fruit from South Africa. Once he was in the middle of enjoying a nice peach from South Africa, when in walked Count Fatehali who remarked, “It is good that you are tasting and approving these fruits because only then will customers buy them!”

ALI {17}: Father of my paternal grandmother Sakarbai Ali Harji {16}, he was the eldest of the 9 brothers, born in Zanzibar in c1890. In the late 1920s, he worked at a cotton ginnery in Entebbe, Uganda, alongside my paternal grandfather, Gulamhusein, Ali’s son-in-law to be. His last job was as a detective with the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) in Mombasa. He was engaged by the head of the department, an Abdallah Mzee. But soon Ali crashed his motor bike, badly hurting his leg. He retired! Before he died, he told youngest son Abdulmalek {8} that he would be reborn as his son. Sure enough, within a year of his death, a son was born, Gulamali, named by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III. Gulamali would go on to play up his grandfather role to maximum advantage –- yes, he was untouchable!

Story continues after photo

Gulamhusein Harji Sumar residence in Zanzibar.
Photo 3: Gulamhusein Harji Sumar residence in Zanzibar.

GULIBAY {9}: Lady Gulibai, first cousin of my paternal grandmother Sakarbai Ali Harji {16}, was very well known in Nairobi. She married Ramzanbha of the K. B. Jamal family, owners of Tropicana bistro on Hardinge Street (now Kimathi Street), as well as of Keby’s restaurant further north of Tropicana.

SAKARBAI {16}: My paternal grandmother was very independent, not wanting to be a burden on anybody, even in death, for she had a small briefcase under her bed, which she showed everyone over time, containing everything necessary for a funeral and its rites: a shroud, cotton wool, holy water tablets (made from the earth at the well of Zam Zam), rose water, etc plus enough money for the prayer plate! Her independence also showed in how she addressed my paternal grandfather, her husband: she called him Dhalla, something unheard of in those days when a wife never called her husband by name, resorting to something oblique like “Are you listening?” or simply “Listen then”.

ZERABAI {10}: Born in Zanzibar, she moved to Tanga when she was 12/13 years old. She lived in Tanga the rest of the time until moving to Vancouver. She married Shariffbha Aladin Giga Patni. The Aladin clan adapted this name to a Muslim one: Alladina. This was around the time of the Indo-Pak hostilities after the partition. The Patni refers to people of the town of Patan in Gujarat, India, it having been built on the banks of the mythical river Saraswati.

Zerabai too, like her grandpa Gulamhusein Harji, had a large family of 5 sons and 3 daughters. She herself was of a large family; she was the eldest of a brood of 4 brothers and 6 sisters. When her mother, Khati Gulamhusein Bhaloo Kurji, died while most of her children were still growing up, her uncles Saleh {2} and Haji  stepped up and adopted all the young ones, each picking up 4 children! Zerabai herself was married off to Shariffbha when she was in her early teens.

BADRU {5}: He was the younger brother of my paternal grandmother Sakarbai Ali Harji {16}. He and his family lived in two places, in Tanga first, where most of his children were born, then in Mombasa.

Story continues after photo

Photo 4: Chacha Haji with adopted children Sherbanu, Gavar and Dolat, Lushoto, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), c1930s.

Any still around? To my knowledge, none of the identified people above are alive today, although Gulibai’s {9} younger sisters, Dolat (in photo 4 above), and Lily are alive and live in Vancouver and Toronto respectively. The Harji clan today is huge, of several hundred!

Readers may be interested in viewing a collection of Noorali Harji’s historical family photos with Mawlana Hazar Imam, and learn more about Gulamhusein Harji Sumar.

Date posted: April 23, 2020.
Last updated: May 1, 2020 (added 1905 historical photo in author’s footnote, see below).

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* Author’s footnote: Gulamhusein Harji Sumar (father of the groom, with the sword in the wedding photo) was a member of the first Supreme Council for Africa, 1905, Zanzibar. Itmadi Jiwan Lalji (father of Khatibai, photo 2) was a member too. Please see Noorali Harji’s historical family photos with Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Gulamhusein Bhaloo Kurji (maternal grandfather of Zerabai, number 10 in the wedding photo) ditto.

All the above three are also in the classic photo of Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III with the Supreme Council; see photo 5 below.

Aga Khan III 1905 Zanzibar historical photo with Ismaili leaders
Photo 5: Zanzibar 1905 — Aga Khan III, 48th Ismaili Imam, with Ismaili leaders. BACK ROW (left to right): Mohamed Bhanji, Gulamhussein Harji Sumar, Mohamed Rashid Alana, Ali Valli Issa, Gulamhussein Karmali Bhaloo; CENTRE ROW (left to right): Peermohamed Kanji, Visram Harji, President Varas Mohamed Remtulla Hemani, MAWLANA SULTAN MAHOMED SHAH, HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN, Varas Salehmohamed Kasmani, Fazal Issani, Gulamhussein Bhaloo Kurji; FRONT ROW (left to right): Mukhi Rajabali Gangji, Varas Kassam Damani, Varas Janmohamed Hansraj, Rai Mitha Jessa, Juma Bhagat Ismail, Itmadi Jivan Lalji, Salehmohamed Valli Dharsi, Janmohamed Jetha, Kamadia Fazal Shivji. Photo Credit: Nashir Abdulla Collection, Ottawa, Canada. Please click on photo for an annotated version.

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Zahir K. Dhalla is a retired GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and IT (Information Technology) freelance consultant in Toronto, Canada. He is a graduate of the University of Nairobi, Kenya (mapping science) and the University of Toronto, Canada (computer science). In addition to his non-fiction writings (see list below) he has also written many private biographies as family keepsakes. He is also the editor of Ismailis of Tanga.

Zahir Dhalla’s books available from Amazon: 

  1. My F-word Plan: How I Routinely Maintain Low Weight & Good Health
  2. Poetry: The Magic of Few Words (Definition and Some Poetry on East Africa)
  3. Nine Ginans of Nine Ismaili Pirs: A Brief History of Khoja Ismailis
  4. Learn Good Swahili Step by Step: A Complete Language Textbook in 3 volumes:
    • A Complete Grammar
    • Swahili-English Dictionary (5,750 words)
    • English-Swahili Dictionary (5,750 words)
  5. The Willowdale Jamat Khana Story
  6. Writing [Auto] Biographies: Demonstrated by author’s early autobiography
  7. From Kibwezi to Kensington: Sherbanu K. Dhalla’s Memories of East Africa
  8. My Tanga Days: 1950s & 60s
  9. Learn Urdu: اُردو: Read, Write, Speak, includes 4,000-word Tri-directional Dictionary
  10. Naked Eye Astronomy: How to Read the Heavens
  11. Two Short Stories: I. Happy Phoebe, II. Troglodytes
  12. Khojo Aawyo! The Khoja has Come! A Story of Migrations
  13. Editor: http://theismailisoftanga50s60s.blogspot.com/

Also, read Zahir’s piece in Simergphotos Bagamoyo Beach Landing, where Aga Khan III was the first Ismaili Imam ever to set foot on East African soil in 1899.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

A Superb Life-Size Depiction of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights – Download High Resolution Photo

By MALIK MERCHANT

Please click on photo below to view/download a high resolution image

His Highness the Aga Khan, Canadian Museum for Human Rights
A life-size depiction of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mawlana Hazar Imam is depicted with other Honorary Canadian Citizens in a special section on the floor dedicated to “Turning Points of Humanity. The caption in the photo reads: “AGA KHAN IV: The fourth Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslim communities was named an Honorary Canadian Citizen in 2009 for advancing tolerance and human right.” The last line in the caption, presumably crediting the photo, says, “French Delegation of the AKDN Foundation.” I wondered whether this credit was correct and wrote to the Museum to verify it. I took the photo when I visited the Museum in Winnipeg during my 4500 km drive from Vancouver to Ottawa. Please click on image to download a high resolution version of the image. Photo: Malik Merchant / Barakah.

Date posted: December 15, 2019.
Last updated: January 12, 2020.

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2019 Fall Rhapsody: Autumn Colours in Ottawa/Gatineau are spectacular and best ever!

PLEASE CLICK: 2019 Fall Rhapsody: A Superabundance of Autumn Colours in Canada’s National Capital Region, Ottawa and Gatineau, that no City in the World can (Ever) Match

Gatineau Park, October 2019, Fall Rhaspody
Champlain Lookout, Gatineau Park, Quebec, Canada, on October 18, 2019. Photo: Malik and Nurin Merchant. Please click on image for more photos and story.

Of course, the “best ever” is our labelling having lived in the city for a long time! If you live in Ottawa/Gatineau or are visiting the region, please drive to Gatineau Park or take the special free shuttle from downtown Ottawa. You shouldn’t miss this glorious show of nature at its most colourful! Weather forecast to Monday, October 21, 2019 — splendid!

Date posted: October 19, 2019.

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The Life of Jehangir Merchant: Ismaili missionary who rendered long and dedicated services to the Jamat and the Imam-of-the-Time

PLEASE CLICK: “Life of Jehangir” – includes historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam

Please click on image for “Life of Jehangir” in photos.

Date posted: September 11, 2018.

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Beautiful Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 80th Birthday Celebrations in Montreal by Muslim Harji

Immerse yourself in beautifully vibrant photos that Muslim Harji captured in Montreal during the celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s historic 80th birthday on December 13th and 17th, 2016. Like his other distinguished and highly acclaimed photo pieces on this site and its sister photo blog Simergphotos, Muslim Harji brilliantly captures — and brings to life — the spirit and happiness of Ismailis at the event in Montreal’s headquarters jamatkhana. Volunteers, children, youth, the senior citizens…no one is left out in this fine assortment of photographs!

PLEASE CLICK: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th Birthday – Montreal’s Beautiful Event

Please click for a gorgeous collection of photos of the Montreal Saligrah. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

Please click for a gorgeous collection of photos of the Montreal Saligrah. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

Date posted: December 21, 2016.

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3 Rare and Memorable Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 1966 Nairobi Primary School Visit @Simergphotos

GEMS IN YOUR ALBUMS OR ARCHIVES – A NOTE TO OUR READERS

Do your family albums or archives contain historic photos, documents, letters or other pieces of information that offer insights on recent and past Ismaili history? Many readers have found gems looking through old photo albums and their unique contributions can be viewed at our photoblog, http://www.simergphotos.com. We encourage you to do the same, and share your discoveries with readers of this website. Please write in confidence to simerg@aol.com with details of the hidden gem you found or had forgotten about, and we will reply within 24 hours.

PLEASE CLICK: A Former Standard 3 Ismaili Student of Aga Khan Primary School, Nairobi, Shares Memorable Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1966 Visit to School

Aga Khan Primary School Nairobi Visit 1Please click on photo for story. Photo: Juby Sprake Collection, Vancouver, Canada. Special to Simergphotos.

Date posted: April 16, 2016.

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35 Historical and Rare Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan by “Papa Jaan” On One Image

Please click on the following image to zoom on an excellent PDF version of the photo

Please click on image to view PDF file. Copyright Simerg/Abdul M. Ismaily Family Collection.

Please click on image to view PDF file. Copyright Simerg/Abdul M. Ismaily Family Collection.

Simerg was thrilled and privileged to recently publish on its sister photoblog never-before-seen photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, which were captured by Abdul M. Ismaily (1926-1981) during Hazar Imam’s visits to Hunza, Uganda and Pakistan in the early 1960’s. The collection was provided for exclusive publication on Simerg by the family of the late “Papa Jaan,” through Muslim Harji of Montreal.

We pay a small tribute to the memory of “Papa Jaan” for his outstanding photos by presenting a PDF image (click image on top) which contains 35 images from more than fifty that appeared in the Hunza, Uganda and Pakistan pieces. First time visitors to this website as well as readers who may have overlooked one or more photo posts are invited to click on the following links:

Copyright. Simerg.

Date posted: February 23, 2016

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We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment

Pakistan Visit 1961: Exclusive Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, by Abdul M. Ismaily

PLEASE CLICK: Exclusive: Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Pakistan by the Late Abdul M. Ismaily (“Papa Jaan”)

Please click on image for exclusive photos by Abdul M. Ismaily

Please click on image for exclusive photos by Abdul M. Ismaily

Date posted: February 20, 2016.

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Sultan Jessa Collection: Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Azhar Chaudhry & Others

PLEASE CLICK: Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to East Africa by Azhar Chaudhry

Please click on image for photos by Azhar Chaudhry & others

Please click on image for photos by Azhar Chaudhry & others

Date posted: February 17, 2017.

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Uganda: Exclusive Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Abdul M. Ismaily (“Papa Jaan”)

PLEASE CLICK: Exclusive: Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Uganda by the Late Abdul M. Ismaily (“Papa Jaan”) 

Please click on image for more photos by "Papa Jaan" of His Highness the Aga Khan's visit to Uganda. Photo: Abdul M. Ismaily. Copyright.

Please click on image for more photos by “Papa Jaan” of His Highness the Aga Khan’s visit to Uganda. Photo: Abdul M. Ismaily. Copyright.

Editor’s Note: Following our recent posting of the late Abdul Mohamed Ismaily’s photographs of His Highness the Aga Khan’s historical first visit to Hunza in 1960, we now present you a collection of his photographs taken in Uganda. Please share this website with your family and friends via email and the social media. We thank our readers for their excellent response to the Hunza photos, and welcome your feedback by completing the applicable comments box or by sending an email to simerg@aol.com.

PLEASE CLICK: Exclusive: Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Uganda by the Late Abdul M. Ismaily (“Papa Jaan”) 

Date posted: February 14, 2016.

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For Hunza photos, please click Exclusive: Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1960 Visit to Hunza by the Late Abdul M. Ismaily (“Papa Jaan”)