Ode to the Indian Dukawala on East African Plains

BY KERSI RUSTOMJI

Special to Simerg

INTRODUCTION: This ode is a tribute to the Indian merchants and traders, who played an important part in the economic development of the three East African nations of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. My work fills a gap in the histories of these nations in that, to my knowledge, no work has been written aimed at this particular section of East African Indian/Asian businessmen and even women, while some works on individual merchants exists. It also acknowledges the enormous effort these people put in, often under very poor and hard conditions.

While the tribute is aimed at all the Indian, later termed Asians traders and shop keepers, we should bear in mind that these intrepid early trading pioneers also included Ismailis, who became prominent merchants and developers in all economic fields in East Africa. The Ismailis left behind an admirable record of their contribution, and this work touches them too.

Many of my Ismaili friends have seen this piece in varying forms, and I am particularly pleased that it now finds its place in Simerg for general reading as well as for research and in particular posterity. The work is non-profit, and has been endowed to the Asian African Heritage Trust in Nairobi, Kenya. I would request readers to distribute this page, with its website link to all your friends and give it whatever exposure you see fit.

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Ode to the Indian Dukawala on East African Plains

Kesiru 1

Done the Mombasa Kisumu rail,
And of all the Indian rail men,
Many broken in mind and body,
Back to India in dhows sailed,
To their loved families and friends,

But some majur the workers,
And suthar the carpenters,
As well luhar the smithy and tin workers,
Stone masons and builders,
In the country they had laboured,
To commence a life new they remained.

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

Then soon a fresh and new Indian breed,
Of bold pioneering trading creed,
Sailed the Indian Ocean in creaky wooden dhows,
Along with the Indian crows,
If lost at sea to guide them ashore,
Towards ventures new to commence,
At places wild distant unknown and strange,

Leopard1

Braving malaria black water sleeping sickness,
Diseases fevers many and unknown ills,

Undeterred by lions leopards and snakes,
By hyenas owls bats and other nightly beasts,
Nor afraid were they of the mysterious mchawi,
The lion skin wearing native magic man witch,

 To strive and to pave a new way and life to be had,
Into Kenya Uganda Tanganyika,
Where far inland they all spread,
Through scrubby lands jungles and terrain arid,
Across wide roaring rivers and muddy streams,
Settled at places isolated desolate and depressed,

Tsetsefly

Where mosquitoes tse tse flies bugs and vermin,
Infested the bodies and sucked their blood,
Jiggers the dudus under the skin their eggs laid,
Brought to many ill-health and fevers severely bad,
Malaria, dengue and black water fever,
Made not a few along their routes to fall dead,

On one hot sunny sultry African morn,
Such an Indian on foot he came,
To seek a little plot in the land so hostile and strange,
On the vast sprawling warm savannah plains,

Among grasses yellow and flat-topped thorn trees,
Near a brown barked flat-topped acacia green,
Just the right patch of empty reddish-brown earth he saw,
‘Perfect for a small duka a tiny little store’ said he,

Acacia TreeFrom the hard ground the duka slowly commenced,
The skin robed locals with spears arrows and bows,
Gathered close by and watched as the duka rose,
Daily from a distance they languidly appraised,

As hammer blows on the plain loudly thudded,
While sides and top of mabati the irons corrugated,
Onto a wooden frame with myriad nails were attached,
Now in the mvitu of the stark wilderness,
A small mabati duka a shop in the front,
With a couple of tiny rooms in the back,
Of the Indian dukawala’s a new,
A wilderness shop and abode it became,

In front a place from which to work and trade,
Then in the dark starry and chirpy African night,
A room to eat sit in and read by lantern light,
Then lay his tired aching body,
In another tiny room at rear to bed,

Watu, the bush people with the dogs pied,
And before long people of all tribes arrived,
To the strange mabati structure which they eyed,

see larger image, with detailed  caption below

see larger image, with detailed caption below

Viewed the unknown iron sheet shed kibanda,
A novel structure so wondrous so maridadi,
Full of curiosity first with trepidation then cautiously,
They entered the duka somewhat nervously,
To scan to see to feel to taste and try,
The many new goods foods tools and wares,
That they had never before seen,

New kitamba cloths and nguoclothes,
kisu knives msumari nails implements and tins,
Sukari sugar njugu groundnuts chumvi salt,
Kunde and choroko pulses and grains,
Unga the ground maize dengu the daal,
Mchele rice legumes and a variety of adesi lentils,
Pili pili the hot dried chilli binzari various spices,
Strongly pungent mkarafu cloves aromatic,

Dried ground ginger the sharp tangawizi,
Manjano strongly pungent yellow turmeric,
Pili pili manga the black pepper berries,
Now to add to foods new and to make delicious curries.

Kesiru 2

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

Tumbaku the dark rolled tobacco,
To smoke in novel pipes the kiko,
The dark brown scented snuff the fine ugolo,
In fancy snuff bottles the tiny tabakelo,
The new sigara cigarettes in packets or readily rolled,
And amazing to wash with Indian sabu sabuni the soap,

Kesiru 3

The shiny small kioo hand mirrors on a pole,
For one’s face to look at and adorn,
For their belles and their many wives they saw,
Colourful beads baubles combs pretty,
Their necks and arms to decorate with,

Metal enamel and china containers held them all in awe,
Msusimeno the saw and shoka the iron axes,
For wood to easily cut and chop,
Wire for binders and long choir ropes,
Wire mesh for chicken coops strong,

The dukawala too from the locals,
Many needy things he required,
Milk honey skins and hides,
From them all he regularly acquired,
Makka the charcoal to cook with,
Mswaki the acacia tooth-brush stick,
Many other local produce and products,
A lot of different local stuff he bought,

In his duka too the locals he employed,
Sukuma sukuma push push,
Haraka haraka hurry hurry,
His employees to work he spurred on,
Paid for it all in the tinkling rupee rupiah shiny,
Of the Imperial British East Africa Company,
Then replaced by cents centi and shillings shilingi
Brought to the country,
By the new white government serikali,

Kesiru 4l

Year by year and on and on,
The little duka it did so very well,
Glassware jars pots and pans,
Even an odd iron frying pan,
From long nails in the rafter beams hanged,
Needles buttons and coloured threads,
Scissors razor blades machete the panga and spades,

Bata shoes in leather and canvas,
Tough merikani the strong woven cotton cloth,
Kitenge wraps and various white and coloured cotton bolts,
By yard were there for all to be bought,
Also coloured beads necklaces,
Even iron and copper bangles and earrings,
For all the wanawake the women to wear,

Kesiru 5

With magic kiberiti the box of matches,
And amazing mafuta maji the clear kerosene,
Mshumaa candles and fanusi hurricane lanterns,
In hundreds of rustic grass huts,
Now every night they lit,

Amid the thick bushes and thorny trees,
The narrow earthen bush tracks and paths,
The hand-held lamps lighted,
To spot and avoid many animals wild,
As they walked in the dark African night,

mafuta new oil superfine and samli ghee,
Gave a flavour fine and different tasting,
So very rich so very food enhancing,

And very different from the old boring,
Unlike the old boiling way of cooking,
And not long after roti the Indian flat chapatti,
Fresh piping hot smeared with ghee,
Now replaced the old morning maize meal the uji.
Ghee

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

There were also now treatments new,
For ills and sicknesses of past and present,
That came with the many new dawa the medicine,
From India and white man’s patent remedies,
For the churning maradhi ya tumbo,
The crooked worm ridden tummy,

There was the yellow castor oil,
The foulest of all and smelly,
Not at all or the tiniest bit yummy,
None was there other bitterest any,
Than the malaria curing quinine,
For cuts bruises and lacerations,
A burning liquid in a dark glass bottle tiny,
The brown sharp smelling tincture of iodine,

For the muscles stretched aching and tired limbs,
The mustachioed Sloan’s yellow liniment,
Or the Indian Amrutanjan balm,
On the hurting aching parts to rub in,
As well Indian medicinal oils and salves,
The cotton cloth poultice of mustard or ground turmeric

Mustard Uniment
Soon new aluminium sufuria pots and pans,
And other such metal utensils,

Sitting around the stone jiko the cooking fire,
Of the olden pots and the ancient wares,
Crafted from hollowed gourd wood and earth,
The end of these brought quickly,
Changing in bush and huts,
Of days of yore cooking habits,

Cooking
The shiny small and big kijiko,
The gleaming metal spoons,
To stir and eat with into use daily,
Came so very quickly and so very early,
Utencils
For tea the enamel pots birika
And the colourful kikombe the mugs,
With the many coloured enamel sahani the plates,
Of the old eating boards and banana leaf platters,
And the half cut drinking coconut shells and gourds,
Of it all brought demise rapid,
For now coffee the kahawa or chai the tea,

Brooke Bond Chai

Has become a morning ritual new,
A daily invigorating treat,
With a wheaten ghee smeared chapatti or two,
The red blue and yellow designed sinia,
The large round enamel platters,
Now in huts shambas farming plots and soko the markets,
Wanawake ya soko the market women and street hawkers,
On colourfully scarf-covered heads they bear,
With their loud cries of korosho kashew and tende dates,
Their various wares and produce they vend,

Impala and other skins also soon discarded,
For cotton shukas and kitenges as wraps,
Of designs and patterns in brilliant colours,
With limerick or a verse at the bottom hems,
Naku penda malaika yangu, love you my angel,
The attire new all women now adopted,

Nakupends Malaika
Even the Masai the Samburu ,
And the Turkana men of the plains,
On the nyika wilderness and everywhere else,
Their skin cloaks of old divested,
A fashion bold and new adopted,
A knotted drape of a red blanket blanketi,
Bought for mere two rupees rupia mbili,
At the small Indian shop duka ya mhindi,
Cloth

But the mode of dress for many more across the countries,
Once more and again the attire changed,
Another fashion of apparel new now accepted,
Shati sleeved shirt and pants the seruali,
Almost all men in the land started wearing,
dressing

And wanawake the women too,
Their worn ochre robes and string skirts of past,
They replaced with colourful nguo nzuri ,
Pretty cotton drapes and dresses.

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

The hard dry digging sticks of old,
These too were of use not anymore,
Its place now taken by grey jembe,
A new strong iron hoe,

Panga
Together with panga the metal machete,
Changes on the landscape wide these wrought,
With ardhi the soil now easily dug turned and aired,
Big shambas farms over the land,
Not before long stretched,

And now the village mwanamke the women,
From early morn till late in the day,
Long and wide they toiled on the soil,
For bigger cash crops to sow and raise,
Seeds from the Indian duka they bought and planted,
Africanshambawomen
Lentils mung pulses and other beans,
Along with large cob bearing tufted maize mahindi,
Then soon potato cabbage and peas,
Coffee cotton millet and sorghum they raised,

Tomato onion garlic and chillies,
Beetroot lettuce and radish,
Karela bitter gourd and mbibringani brinjal,
Carrots cauliflower spinach,

Fresh green coriander, kakari cucumber,
figili, pungent white horseradish,
On their shamba plots they established,
For the many wahindi the Indians, and the wazungu the whites,
Who now in the three countries resided,
Vegetables
The trade at the little rusted mabati duka,
It prospered and did so very well,
The myriad goods spread on the counter,
Along with boxes of produce and grains,
In the midst of all an eye-catching weighing scale,

To weigh it all in pounds or ratli,
Beside on the floor in front of the counter,
Sat tins of ghee cooking oil and kerosene,
Ladled out with a long handle tiny scoops,
At only senti tano five cents each,
Scale
Varied coloured cloths and clothes,
From the roof beams hung,
All in hot dusty winds gently swung,
Over the tall shelves thickly loaded and stacked,
With pencils pens ink pots envelopes writing pads,

Needles reels of thread cards of buttons,
Safety pins ribbons and hair clips,
Combs hair pins safety razors,
Shoe polishes penknives and blades,
An accumulation of things myriad,
Only the dukawala knew what else the shelves held,

The long time Indian dukawala of old,
On many new deals and ventures big embarked,
Still filled with vitality vigour and pep,
He forged ahead in great big striding steps,

From the locals all and surrounds wide he bought,
Their labour produce and products,
In greater and larger and heavier lots,
Also bought some small farming plots,

And the donkey cart that hauled goods sundry,
Now in its place a big load-carrying lorry,
Painted in colour bright and wooden sides,
It hauled its load from towns and shops,
With the locals seated on top of goods piled high,
Went to villages and traversed the country,
LorriesNot long after the mzungu P.C and the D.C, [1]
In the loaded OHMS [2] lorries rolled in,
Indian contractors built their bomas offices,
And bungalows for the men of the government the serikali,

Followed by the farmers and settlers white,
And not unlike the pioneering Indian dukawala
With the silvery corrugated mabati tin,
Their early farmhouses and homes
They all also to start with built,

As the first National Bank of India in Nairobi,
Was built too of such corrugated mabati,
Its chief cashier a pheta [3] wearing Mr. Mehta,
One of the many pioneering Parsis,
Who too settled traded and worked,
In the three East African countries,

Now the white farmers with tinga tinga their tractors,
Vast farms and tracts they cut and cleared,
They ploughed and furrowed acres and acres,
On the African plains of fertile soil red rich,
Wheat maize oat coffee tea,
And many other crops they established,

Which only through many wazungu the white man’s,
Offices businesses and stores and boards,
Their crops and produce they exported and sold,
Exported to England and the countries abroad,
Tractor
To the new white farmers and officials of the serikali,
And all other whites who now in three countries resided,
The Indian dukawalas to them all the supplies provided,
Yardley shaving stick Gillette shaving kits and blades,
Kiwi boot polish shining cloth with brushes,

Kesiru 6

Lux and Lifebuoy soap cotton towels and napkins,
Kolynos toothpaste tooth and hair brushes,
Vicks for colds and Vaseline for chaffed skin,
Balms and Gin

Haig whiskey tobacco cigarettes and Gilby’s gin,
Dry and tinned hard rations,
Butter jams and English pickles,
Huntley and Palmers biscuits,
Memsahib’s Yardley powder and Avon lipsticks,
Pure white gentle Ponds cold skin cream,
To sooth their sun parched white skin,
Quaker oats Cadbury cocoa and Ovaltine,
Makeup and stir powders

Memsahib’s Yardley powder and Avon lipsticks,
Pure white gentle Ponds cold skin cream,
To sooth their sun parched white skin,
Quaker oats Cadbury cocoa and Ovaltine,

Under the counter a variety of printed cotton bolts,
From which to cut sew stitch,
With multi-coloured cotton thread,
House and farm work clothing,
And garden cocktail and sundowners dresses,
As well evening gowns for the Government House,
The Whites only Christmas garden parties,

But the wazungu white farmers,
Their families and friends,
As well all their bibis the wives,
And all the bwanas and the officers,
Of government the serikali and businessmen white,
For reasons not very sure,
But known to them only,
Disliked derided and mistreated,
The dukawala most unfairly,

He cheats and overcharges claimed they,
And his business account he writes yearly,
In a language ungraspable,
Using systems strange and uncanny,
Difficult to comprehend easily,
For the white taxman to assess clearly,

In such manner the white bwanas the men,
And at the clubs their memsabu the women,
Cursed gossiped and denigrated the dukawala constantly,
Shook their heads yet regularly for victuals ran to him,
Even as one arrogant white farmer Lord,
Debating the Indians called him a sucking Asia tick,
In one of the East African Legislative Council,

Yet when life times and seasons turned hard and mean,
And even the white man’s banks became unfriendly,
It was on the nastily gossiped dukawala Indian,
For their needs fads and even ready cash,
They leaned upon at such times heavily,

Yet the Indian dukawala to them provided all their needs,
On a risky unknown chancy sureties,
Written on flimsy paper pieces,
The ubiquitous and hastily wrote,
The bwana wazungu’s the white man’s notes,
Or the many unguaranteed I O Us and chithi the chits,

Irrespective of ugly taunts and jibes,
Without anger resentment or hate,
The sahibs and their wives supplied he,
With all their fancy needs whims and cash ready.
Comparisons with English Sahib

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

Years passed and the tiny scattered villages,
Into big towns and places grew,
And the towns into cities changed and bloomed,
And now for the inadequate little duka,
Its ripping tearing ignoble end loomed,
As the claw hammer thousands of nails,
With high piercing screech it pulled,

Dusty mabati sheets from the timber frame felled,
The small old duka on its spot no more dwelled,
In the old duka’s space now a swank shopping mall,
Broad sweeping and many storeys glassed plaza tall,

On the roof a neon sign wide and high it flashed,
Below it bearing high above the glassed wall,
Blinking day and night in light red,
Proudly for all to see it proclaimed,
Rustomji Plaza its name,
Rustomji plazaNow the mall is the pride of everyone and all,
From distances great and far,
They all come to it behold,
In it to brows and stroll,
In the new air-conditioned comfort to loll,

Crowds roll in to saunter to buy,
Or to drink a long cold beer,
The sapping African heat and sweat to beat,
With freshly fried samosas to eat,
samosas2
With its cool cafes restaurants and stores,
Novel speciality boutiques and shopping malls,
There was none other like it so new,
So cool clean bright and so very neat,
To beat this rustic dukawala muhindi’s,
New venture a modern business feat,

The Indian dukawala though,
Stopped not where he now was,
For on and on he went to build greater enterprises,
Arcades karkhana workshops and factories,
To make fabricated goods products and fineries,
Now needed ever more and more,
In the fast growing three East African countries,

Like the little mabati shop of days long gone,
That now stood no more a part of history old,
Now high from the roofline of several storeys,
And on a steel side of his factory,
A coloured sign Rusto Mfg Co. Ltd.,
Proclaimed its new glorious story,
As through day and night it operated,
By men and women of the land,
Goods and products all now locally made,
Sent and sold around the country,
For all the people to be had.
Rusto Mfg CoHara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

The long forgotten Hara Ambe Hara Ambe,
The Indian railway builders’ working chant,
To spur them on to shift to carry loads heavy,
Now it became ‘Harambee, hei, Harambee hei,’
A working chant of the local cart men the hamali,

Pushers of laden handcarts heavy,
And of the high loaded two-wheeled cart the mkokoteni,
The front man while steering ‘Harambee’ he cried,
His pushing mates at the rear ‘Hei’ they replied,
As their heavily laden carts they wheeled,

Also at the railway yards quay sides and wharfs,
The same working chants was daily evoked,
By the pagazi the labourers and the stevedores,
As well at the constructions sites,
When men and women hauled their heavy loads.
Cart PullingYears passed and the colonies now desired to be free,
Seeking fighting for nations new and free to be,
From fetters of colonial white man to be unchained,
‘Harambee Harambee’ one of the their leaders hailed,
‘Hei, hei’ his faithful multitude replied loudly,

Of a nation rich and thriving on the East African plains,
A nation of high yellow swaying savannah grasses,
With a sharp snow-clad peak and long strong rivers muddy,
Land of lions leopards cheetahs giraffes,
Wildebeests zebras and other wild animals many,
Among scattered green flat-topped acacia trees,
For thousands the rallying cry it now is,

‘Harambee Harambee’ again their leader loudly shouted,
‘Hei hei’ wanainchi the struggling people responded,
Through severe trials tribulation and deprivation,
Beaten shot and in harsh detention camps placed,

They stopped not nor for a moment tarry,
Even though their leader remained incarcerated,
At a faraway place desolate dry and isolated,
The country’s freedom the people demanded,
‘Harambee harambee’ they thunderously chanted,
Then as the sun rays Mt. Kenya peak lighted,
A glorious African day it heralded,
Thousands of the nation’s people,
Their freed leader they surrounded,

Kenyaflag

As a new flag bright black red and green,
On a high white mast unfurled,
With that and a resounding cry of uhuru,
The country’s liberation,
Of the East African nation of Kenya it declared,

All the hard-working people,
Of a new nation now free,
‘Harambee’ to pull together,
To spur them on they chanted,
And as the national motto,
For all it was finally adopted.

Coat_of_arms_of_Kenya-s Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

The pioneering dukawala Indian he is not young any more,
His work and efforts taken over by children now grown,
Gone his very busy rushing days of old,
And the complicated business roles,
Hair in a white fringe surrounds the head bald,

In a silver Mercedes that sits before his modern home,
He drives past and observes all that he owns,
For deep within him fully well he knows,
When the time as it surely must come,
Alone bereft and empty-handed he goes,
SilverMercedesecopyLearned and read of two books only,
With schooling of only years two or three,
Only to read and numbers to note knows he,
Able not to write at length all,
Seeks he now a learned scribe,
Who in many words will describe,
The many tales of his hard long work and life,
Of his visions and of a great trading lore,
Of at least one Indian dukawala,
On East Africa’s dusty floor,

For unlike the forgotten Indian railway men,
He yearns to leave behind a name,
At least of one Indian trading pioneers intrepid,
Who to East Africa in dhows came,
To work long hours to toil and to trade,

Amid hardships fevers loneliness and pains,
To help to create countries rich on plains,
To become a proud yet modest,
Man of the tiny mabati duka fame.

Hara Ambe Hara Ambe
An Indian dukawala
On the East African plains

~~~~~~~~

APPENDIX

It must be noted, that this tribute also extends to the many Indian women, who too braved the solitude, privations, and vicissitudes in inhospitable places, not only by accompanying their husbands, but also in many cases trading and running their dukas.

Indian women

Through the dint of hard application, many of these intrepid ladies also achieved commercial successes, and created entrepreneurial establishments and businesses of great value.

Date posted: Sunday, May 18, 2014.
Copyright: Kersi Rustomji, 2014 (The article, though copyright by the author, may be distributed as widely as possible for maximum exposure. Please credit the author and provide a link to this page).

_______________

Kersi Rustomji

Kersi Rustomji

About the author: Kersi Rustomji, a Parsi, was born in 1936 at Kampala, Uganda. At age 3, his parents moved to Mwanza, Tanzania (then Tanganyika). In Mwanza, even as a child, he was interested in the flora and fauna and the people. Kersi roamed the countryside and observed all. A childhood fall from a tree, resulted in the loss of his left arm, but this did not deter him in any manner.

When the family moved to Kenya, Kersi’s continued forays into the wilderness, and love of the flora and fauna, resulted in him receiving the Silver Acorn, the highest award for Rovers, when he completed a 100-mile hike. During his many foot safaris on Nairobi-Mombasa road and elsewhere, he came to know the Indian dukawalla well. It is his deep regard for their unabating pioneering spirit, that led him to write this much needed tribute.

He had a varied successful forty years in teaching. He now lives in Australia, and continues to write stories with East African themes. He is also writing an autobiography.

Notes:

[1] P.C. and D.C. After the Governor of the colony, P.C. the Provincial Commissioner was in charge of a large province of the country, and D.C. the District Commissioner of a smaller district of the province.
[2] OHMS – All East African the government vehicle bore this registration plate, which stood for, On His or Her Majesty’s Service.
[3] Pheta – A hard high headgear worn by Parsi men.

All graphics unless otherwise indicated obtained from free public domains and reprocessed for the work by Kersi Rustomji. A number of thumbnails are from the Wellcome library, UK, and the US Library of Congress.

________________

THE INDIAN DUKA

The image depicts on the rich red soil, a typical Indian duka, a small trading store, in small towns and remote country areas of East Africa. The signage is also typically hand painted work of the duka owners. These put up with any paint at hand, included some spelling errors. The man behind the counter is my paternal uncle Jehangirji Rustomji, who first opened a small watch repair duka in the old Indian Bazaar, now Biashara Street, in early 1906 in Nairobi, Kenya. He later moved to the then Government Road,  now Moi Avenue, in the corner of a chemist shop, Chemitex,  next to the old Alibhai Sherrif hardware shop, going towards the Ismaili jamatkhana, on the corner of Government Road and River Road. Later his youngest son Rati joined him, and after Jehangirji’s death, Rati carried on the little business until 2009, when he retired and closed the little duka after 103 years of its existence. Rati still lives in Nairobi. Copyright> Kersi Rustomji.

The image depicts on the rich red soil, a typical Indian duka, a small trading store, in small towns and remote country areas of East Africa. The signage is also typically hand painted work of the duka owners. These put up with any paint at hand, included some spelling errors. The man behind the counter is my paternal uncle Jehangirji Rustomji, who first opened a small watch repair duka in the old Indian Bazaar, now Biashara Street, in early 1906 in Nairobi, Kenya. He later moved to the then Government Road, now Moi Avenue, in the corner of a chemist shop, Chemitex, next to the old Alibhai Sherrif hardware shop, going towards the Ismaili jamatkhana, on the corner of Government Road and River Road. Later his youngest son Rati joined him, and after Jehangirji’s death, Rati carried on the little business until 2009, when he retired and closed the little duka after 103 years of its existence. Rati still lives in Nairobi. Copyright: Kersi Rustomji.

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14 thoughts on “Ode to the Indian Dukawala on East African Plains

  1. Thank you very much Karsi, very well said specially the minute detail. The Kiswahili brand ever popular.
    Best of luck.
    Anver Karmali.
    Dar es salaam.
    Originally from Kigoma.

  2. Only getting to know Kersi now as myself and another passionate Moshi resident begin documenting some of Moshi’s Indian history. I really admire that he has dedicated so much time to vaidating the history of Indian pioneers in East Africa. Would be grateful if any of you can put me in touch with people who lived in Moshi who were willing to share their stories, photos etc. Thanks.
    Seema

    • There is a WhatsApp Group called Kibo classics. Which year were you in Moshi? My wife and her family are from Moshi too since last 40+ years .
      Mohsin Jiwa

  3. I knew Kersi as a child growing up in Mwanza, Tanzania. We were in grade school together. I remember the very sad incident when Kersi lost his arm. I have not seen or heard from Kersi after I left Mwanza in 1950. I am a neurologist in Union, NJ USA. I have lived in the US for the past 51 years. I like to congratulate Kersi on the beautiful piece he wrote.

    Nazar H. Haidri, MD
    Union, NJ

  4. Those of us with first hand knowledge of the degrading British colonial administration’s system of apartheid in Kenya and the hard fought movement that forced the colonialists to take down the Union Jack and honour the new flag of an independent Kenya, can only marvel that Kersi Rustomji chooses, with the dignity of a Gandhi or Mandela, not to politicize his remarkable insights into the history of the period.

  5. A sentimental and nostalgia filled trip to East Africa where I lived and worked for almost 2 decades out of which I worked for an Ismaili company (House of Manji Ltd.) for about 3 years. Now retired and settled in the US, and although an Indian by birth, there is a special place in my heart for East Africa and the memories that Kersi’s ode evoked. Keep it up Kersi and best wishes.

  6. I am so glad that this hugely important piece of history is now at last going to be made accessible online to a global audience! Here I take the liberty of reproducing a slightly edited and much condensed version of my review of it published on the Africana-Orientalia List on May 1, 2013:

    “I am privileged to be one of the only two recipients of the hard copy of this work. It is a magnificent print edition, though the pages, alas, are not numbered. (F)irst of all [then] congratulations to Kersi for recording and telling this tale, which forms the backbone really of our collective history. It is a form of poetry in kaleidoscopic motion, as it were. His starting point is the building of the Mombasa-Kisumu railway (though of course there was already a significant Indian settlement in Zanzibar and the coastal parts of East Africa before that).

    There is lots more in Kersi`s narrative which lends credibility and weight to any number of academic studies and other literature on the subject of East African Asians who are now belatedly, at times even grudgingly, recognised as having played a pivotal role in the development of the region as a whole. It captures their transformation from pioneering first generation migrants at the beginning of the 20th century to their 21st century successful descendants superbly in this extraordinary publication.

    So our plaudits and grateful thanks to Kersi for his dogged effort and perseverance”.

    Ramnik Shah
    (c) 2014
    England

  7. I was also born in 1936 in Chake Chake, Pemba, and heard a lot of stories from my parents of the trials and tribulations the Indian immigrant went through. My uncle actually wet through the stress of being a Dukawala “in the interior” working as a shop assistant in one of the Dukas. This is a beautifully written ode to the Dukawala.

  8. Good one Kersi. My scout master in our younger days at St. Tersa, Eastleigh. I remember those days well. Many thanks for the memories.

  9. Kersi Rustmji is one of a kind – a devoted East African Asian, hell-bent to ensure our memories of our days there are preserved for the generations to come. He has a parallel ode on the Railway Builder. He has a book of memories where he explains with illustrations all our pre-cricket traditional games – gilidanda, nagoliyo, hutututu. In one chapter he describes tree-climbing (which ended in a fall and an amputation) and in another “Women’s Co-ops” in making papads in a two-stage process. It’s hilarious. While many people in and out of my book recording our history in Uganda lost patience because the book took so long coming out – now nearing 7 years – Kersi never left my side and ran the extra mile to deflect ill-considered criticisms. He gets a very special mention on my Thank You page. Some of his writings are in my book with his permission. Oh, the book will come out, I can’t eat it, although some people might make me eat some of my words. Mistakes will be pointed and an accusation made that I favoured the Ismailis or rich people. I did neither.

  10. Congratulations dear Kersi
    in the lands “down under”…

    Your prolific literary, poetic,
    and artistic efforts
    are bearing fruit!
    As you were hoping and dreaming…
    They are now indeed multiplying…
    booming and blooming….
    and your readers are gratefully beaming!
    Songs…even epics…
    need to be written
    about unsung heroes
    and their daring, pioneering deeds done…
    You have succeeded…in more ways than one…
    and their gratitude in retrospect
    most deservedly earned and won!
    Here’s wishing you well!

    Greetings, Gerhard

  11. Wonderful! Great contribution and tribute to Indian pioneers in East Africa. I recall all the brands in the pictures and the shillingi currency.

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