The Khojas in Mandvi History.

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This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History

The Khoja migrations from Multan to lower Sind and later into Kutch in the early 1400's and 1500's is closely tied to the flight of the Lohanas from the violent Afghan invasions of the India during those times. Our research of this early period of our history is ongoing and will be published later.

For now, we begin our journey from Kutch in the early 1600's, where we find the Khojas entrenched as a mercantile community in the urban centers such as Mandvi,Mundra etc.

We start first,however,with a detailed British report on Kutch in 1878, which gives us the most complete pictures of the Kutchi Khojas, by now settled as a leading self-governing trading community:

"KHOJAS, honorable or worshipful converts, numbering 7,253 souls, are found all over Cutch, chiefly on the south coast in Mandvi. Of middle size, strongly made and of fair complexion, they wear the beard short and the mustache long. They dress like other Cutchis and at home speak Cutchi without any marked peculiarity. They are well off, in no way scrimped for food or clothes, but if they seem likely to gain by it they are ready to take up any new calling. Several of them of late, prospering in trade, have, near Bhuj, sunk wells and built rest-houses among themselves, the Khojas form a distinct community whose caste disputes are settled by mass meetings; give their children more schooling than formerly, and are on the whole a prosperous and rising class.[1]

The name, Mandvi (also known as 'Madi/Madai') comes from the Kutchi word “mandi” or market and indeed Mandvi has been an important trading port on Kutch coast from its foundation in 1580.[2]

We know from Portuguese records that from 1535, the famous merchant Khoja Shams-ud-din Gillani, who was based in Cambay (Khambhatt) traded extensively with them and as well as other Khoja merchants from Mandvi.

In 1572, the Mughals conquered Surat and made it their principal port and in 1619, the English East Indian Company chose Surat as its trading center - we know from the story of Khoja Kurji, a Surat shipowner and the pirating of his large ship, The Quedagh Merchant in 1699, that the Khojas were an important part of Gujarat's large trading/shipowning community.

During those times, Mandvi was one of the constellation of important smaller ports that served the trade in the Western Indian Ocean.[3]

In the middle of the eighteenth century, Mandvi shared the cosmopolitanism of Surat.[4]

Mandvi already had trade connections with Karachi, Bombay, Malabar Coast, and Calcutta and out of India, with the Persian Gulf, Aden and Zanzibar; its early exports were cotton, wool, aluminum, butter, garlic and black cloth; the imports were grain, groceries, oilman's stores, cloth, pepper, ivory, iron and brass and copper wares.[5]

Towards the close of the eighteenth century Ráo (ruler of Kutch.ed.) Godji (1760-1778), a great patron of traders and seamen, did much for the town, making a palace and a dockyard, and personally superintending the building of ships. One, built in the Mandvi yard and manned and commanded entirely by Cutchmen, sailed safely to England and back to the Malabár coast. At that time (1780), there is said to have been a fleet of not less than 400 vessels, chiefly the property of rich Mandvi merchants"[6]

By 1804, the trade of Arabia, the Persian Gulf and Africa was indeed significantly intertwined towards the Gulf of Kachchh. Being closely linked with Bombay, the Kachchh importers, generally Bhatias, Vanias, Lohanas, and Khojas, were men of capital with agents or branch-houses in Bombay and Zanzibar [7]

Thus, during the first half of 1800's, many Khojas were part of the wealthy commercial elite in Kutch and possessed fine homes in Mandvi.[8]

However, earlier in 1819, Kutch had experienced a major earthquake with considerable loss of life and property.

The most disastrous, severer than any that had happened for more than 400 years, began on the 16th June 1819. .. For six weeks there were daily shocks, and, during the next four months, they were felt at intervals.....hundreds of houses in Anjár, Mándvi, and Lakhpat were screamed to the ground;[9]

This tragedy and the subsequent famines in Gujarat (see Gujarat Famines and Khoja Migrations began the busiest period of the historic exodus of Kutchi Khojas to Bombay and East Africa - Ebrahim Pabaney of Mandvi whose ships traded with Zanzibar, Muscat & Bombay, moved both his home and business to Bombay and most East African Khojas trace their personal family histories to Kutch after that date.

For hundreds of years, Mandvi port was the home of the famous Suvali (Swahili) fleet, which used to sail back and forth to Zanzibar [10] and it is likely that Tharia Topan, the famous Khoja merchant, was a stowaway on one of these ships when he fled to Zanzibar in 1835. Most early migrants to Zanzibar would have embarked from Mandvi in these sailing ships (subsequently erroneously called 'dhows' by migrant families) and latterly from Porbandar and Bombay by steamships.

In the first part of the 1800s', after many of the merchants of Mandvi and Mundra invested in textile export and ivory and pearl import, which marked the strength of their enterprises, textiles became a most important export of Mandvi. [11]

There were 20 spells of black cloth distinguished chiefly from the number of threads in the warp.....kaniki, a coarse Marwar cloth dyed black in Mandvi, .......; and the large article of export siakapda, (black cloth) made at Mandvi from English thread and dyed with indigo.[12]

Many East African dukawalla oral family histories speak of 'kaniki' cloth being a popular throughout the 1800's (before it was challenged by 'merikani" from Salem, USA) and it was the Khoja communal networks within the Indian Ocean area that generated this mutually beneficial trade for both Kutch and Eastern Africa; sadly those ties were severed and forgotten in the 1900's during a period that some Khoja historians have termed as "induced amnesia".

Khoja merchants were well integrated both in the financing and supply of jewellery as Kutchi craftsmanship was admired both within India and across the Indian Ocean.

Especially when the demand is brisk, the leading craftsmen keep a large staff of workers.They buy what gold and silver they want from Vania,Bhatia,and Khoja merchants, who bring most of it from Bombay and the rest from Zanzibar."[13]

Khoja migrants used Mandvi as a departure port from the earliest times as it was also an important port of call with anywhere from 250-400 vessels of all kinds at all times and with arrival of steamships in 1872-73, it became a place of call for a regular line. "In 1875, ,,,there were 1,358 arrivals and 1,920 departures."[14]

The steamer traffic is almost entirely in passengers.[15]

Sewa or community philanthropy and self-help is an age-old pillar of the Khoja ethos and was evident in the 1870's in the private donation of a strong musafarkhana building for migrants which still stands in Mandvi.

Among objects of interest are a very large and handsome two-storied rest-house built by a Khoja of Bhadresar.[16]

The buildings of Dhalamshala and MushfalKhana,the accommodations for passengers of particular castes like Bhatia,Vania, Luhana and Khoja still remain near the new harbor.[17]

But the emergence of large steam vessels and the development of modern maritime technology caused the change of major shipping routes. Then Mandvi started to decline and Surat and Bombay became the maritime center of west India.[18]

Most Khoja merchants moved on to Surat, Bombay or East Africa. Others with farms or distribution businesses and still others with relatives overseas, have continued to live in their ancestral city.

As we will explore in our next essay-blog, the decline of Mandvi also saw the phenomenal growth of Bombay as a major industrial centre and entre-port of the Indian Ocean and the exponential rise in the fortunes of the Bombay Khojas, who went on to become an important part of the history of early Bombay, providing no less than six Lord Mayors!

Iqbal I. Dewji (2024)

References & Notes

  1. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Volume V: Cutch, Palanpur, and Mahi Kantha. Bombay-Printed at Government Central Press, 1880. (Kindle Reader Location 2565). From 1850, many communities, including other mercantile jatis were setting up English language schools during this British Regency period in Kutch;astonishingly,the prosperous and rising community of Khojas was unable to create its own schools until after the 1900's and the progressives had to send their children to the schools of other communities.
  2. EARLY MODERN CITIES UNIT 28: Capitalism, Colonialism and Cities in Early Modern India (Indira Gandhi National University. “During the early centuries, it was a well-known port as recorded by Ain-i-Akbari, Mirat-i-Sikandari, Arabic History of Gujarat, and Mirat-i-Ahmadi; while English writers, MacMurdo, James Burns etc. speak high of it for nineteenth century.”
  3. Mandvi-Tale of a walled Port Town. Goswamy, Chhaya(Kindle ebook Location: 106-110)
  4. Nadri, Ghulam A. Exploring the Gulf of Kachh: Regional Economy and Trade in the Eighteenth Century-Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient Vol. 51, No. 3 (2008), pp. 460-486 (27 pages) Published By: Brill (Kindle Location 221-223)
  5. ibid Nadri (location 150-153) "When the Dutch arrived at Mandvi in 1750 they found the ports of the Gulf of Kachchh, particularly Mandvi, visited by merchant-ships from different directions, affluent local merchants engaged in local and overseas commerce, and a fertile interior."
  6. ibid Gazetteer (Location 6542-6546)
  7. ibid Goswamy (Location 76-77)
  8. ibid Gazetteer (Location 6542-6546) “In 1833, English Capt. James Todd, described Mandvi as follows  Mandvi fortified, remained prosperous due to sea trade: merchants and traders'.  200 vessels which belonged to kachchhi traders.  It had more than 50 shroffs/bankers that owned big residential places.“
  9. ibid Gazetteer (Location 479)
  10. EARLY MODERN CITIES UNIT_28: Capitalism, Colonialism and Cities in Early Modern India (Indira Gandhi National Open University) (Kindle Location 375-375)
  11. ibid Goswamy (Ebook Location 85-92)
  12. ibid Goswamy (Ebook Location 85-92)
  13. ibid Gazetteer. (Kindle Location 3400)
  14. ibid EARLY MODERN CITIES. (Kindle Location 113-115))
  15. ibid Gazetteer (Kindle Location 4475)
  16. ibid Gazetteer(Kindle Location 6715)
  17. ibid Goswamy, (Kindle Location 106-110)
  18. Shu Yamane, Naoko Fukami, Tomoaki Okamura - Spatial Formation of the Port Cities of Kutch Region, India

This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History