The Khojas in Zanzibar History
By Iqbal I. Dewji, Editor, Khojawaki.org
The word Zanzibar or as the Kutchis call it “Jangbar” is Persian for "black coast" alluding perhaps to its two indigenous Bantu tribes, although archeological evidence suggests many different races have lived on this close-shore island for over 20,000 years.
From ancient times, traders from Arabia (mostly Yemen), the Persian Gulf region of Iran (especially Shiraz) and West India (Gujarat) have visited Zanzibar. The “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea”, a Greco-Roman travelogue of 100 AD refers to Menouthias (Zanzibar) and its then already cosmopolitan trading peoples.
"During those two thousand years, hundreds of dhows would sail across the Indian Ocean every year from Arabia, Persia, and India with the monsoon winds blowing in from the northeast, bringing iron, cloth, sugar and dates. When the winds reversed to the southwest in March or April, the traders would leave with their ships packed full of tortoiseshell, copal, cloves, coir, coconuts, rice, ivory and slaves." 
As Kutch was the main place where the Omani Arabs had their dhows built, Kutchi sailors and traders followed their conquests into East Africa. By the early 1500s, Khojas were also amongst those early visitors to Zanzibar, trading as they also did along with the entire Indian Ocean littoral areas, including the shores of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
In the 1500s, during the period of European maritime expansion, the Portuguese man-of-wars entered the Indian Ocean with their ship-mounted cannons, severely disrupting the millennials old trading arrangements.
Eventually, in 1698, Omanis re-conquered Zanzibar and in the late 1700s, Muscat once again became a major maritime trading power in the Indian Ocean. Around 1785, a branch of the Hyderabadi Khojas (now called Luti or Luwatiyas) migrated to Muscat. 
The Khojas and other Kutchis who were by then some of the most prominent traders in Muscat, sought to grow their trade businesses and their strong presence suggests that they would have begun migration to Zanzibar after 1744 when an Omani governor was formally installed there.
“By 1820, a small community of Khojas was present in Zanzibar: their affairs were administered by two local functionaries." 
Despite the restoration of Omani rule, getting from India to Zanzibar posed a substantial risk for the Khojas, because, notwithstanding the patronage of Sultan Sayyid Saīd, his authority often did not extend even to his own Arab subjects.
“At first they were obliged to travel to Zanzibar by way of Maskat, (Muscat) in a certain ship which sailed once a year; they were exposed to many hardships and peril; they were often murdered, and when they died at Zanzibar their property was not infrequently seized and divided among the Arab chiefs.” 
In 1839, Sultan Sayyed Said approved a commercial protection treaty with Britain guaranteeing British subjects freedom to enter, trade and reside within his domains. In an astute move, the Sultan also signed a treaty with the young United States and a US consulate was established in Zanzibar in 1837. 
There is some evidence to suggest that the Indian traders including the Khojas (undoubtedly to increase their security) were instrumental in persuading the Sultan to then move his throne to Zanzibar in 1840. 
The Khoja presence started to grow rapidly in the decades after 1820, according to the records maintained by the British Consul. 
Khoja oral history informs that the first Mukhi (mukhia=traditional head of Indian village council) was elected in Zanzibar in 1834 and in “1838: The first Jamatkhana community hall in East Africa is built-in Zanzibar’s Stone Town with a capacity for a few hundred people.” 
By the 1840s, Khojas were permitted to acquire property and own clove plantations. 
It was around this time (1835) that Taria Topan arrived as a stowaway from Kera, Kutch and rose to become “one of the richest man in town” in what is one of the most famous of the many rags to riches stories of Zanzibar and East Africa.
“A rough estimate indicates that half of the South Asian business owners, in Zanzibar between 1875 and 1912 claimed to have started their own businesses with no money, or ‘little money”
Another well-known Khoja of this early era was "Sewa" Haji Paroo, a well-liked merchant-philanthropist who was born in Zanzibar in 1851 and went from a small dukawalla to becoming famous in European history for supplying porters and supplies for the expeditions of David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. 
As early as 1857, when the explorer, Richard Burton visited Zanzibar, the Khojas were “the chief shopkeepers of Zanzibar.”. 
An example was Mohamed Khalfan who had migrated from Jamnagar in 1855 to start a modest shop and went on to create soap factories in Zanzibar & Mombasa with his family.
By the mid-1860s, we begin to see Kathiawari Khojas from such towns as Jamnagar, Porbandar, Bhavnagar, who would sail by larger dhows to Mombasa and then to Zanzibar. Later Kathiawari migrants were often called “nangarias” from the word "nangar" or anchor because they began arriving in the steamships that plied between Bombay, Porbander. Mombasa & Zanzibar.
"Place of origin in India No. of Families (1871-1872)
Kutch:.....................................422 Jamnnaggur:................................100 Bhawnuggur:..................................7 Bombay:......................................5 Muskat:......................................1 Total:......................................635
The primary reason driving the migration after the 1850s was the persistent and devastating famines during the British Raj as explored more fully in “Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations”.
A decade later, by 1879, a British official was able to confirm:
“There are 700 married females in the Zanzibar population of 2,100 Khoja. Thirty-year ago there were here only 165 families and 20 married women, showing that the members of this sect have multiplied six-fold in the last 30 years, and the married or settled part have increased in a still greater ratio. This increase has been of late entirely owing to the arrival of emigrants from Kutch.”
By 1890, the Khojas in Zanzibar had numerically overtaken all other Indians combined.
"The British Indian colonists or traders in the Zanzibar dominions come under the following designations Hindus, who number about 1000; Parsis, about 100; Khojas, who are the most numerous, reach probably a total of 4,000” 
We know from oral family histories that most if not all worked in trading either for family enterprises or for other Khojas and that once settled, they would venture on their own, either on the Zanzibar Islands or on the mainland with loans of cash or goods from established relatives or Khoja wholesalers respectively.
“Arriving at his future scene of business with little beyond the credentials of his fellow caste men, after perhaps a brief apprenticeship in some older firm, the Indian entrepreneur starts a shop of his own with goods advanced on in credit by some large house, After a few years, when he has made a little money, he generally returns home to marry, to make fresh of business connections and then comes back to Africa to repeat, on a large scale." 
Alarakhia Dossani arrived in 1880 at age 28 in a steamship "AWAKA" and worked for Janmohamed Hansraj for 6 months and then went to work for Sewa Haji Paroo for 11 years. In 1891, he started his own business selling Arab silks, Indian foodstuff and exporting to the mainland.
His son, Moloobhai joined him in 1884 at age 10 and by 13 started a small shop in Soko Mohogo. By 1891, he found a niche, going on board ships/dhows to hawk food, cigarettes, ready-made clothes, curios. In 1903, he started the landmark retail enterprise called Moloo Brothers & Co.
When the Omani rulers themselves went into large scale agriculture production, particularly coconuts and spices, Khoja traders bought and sold at the local markets and then later began buying wholesale and exporting to Asia and Europe.
Ibrahim Ladha migrated from Bhadreshwar, Kutch around the 1890s, started working in a retail store in town, then brokering coconuts, then making copra, finally having his own shambas farms. His business exported cloves and coconut products to Europe and Asia.
The Khojas excelled at the opportunities created by the growing importance of Zanzibar as an African entrepot. “Khojas and Banyans insured vessels and often acted as underwriters making a fortune as they avoided paying out unless the vessel was completely lost.”
The Stone Town we see today dates mostly from the late 1800s when Zanzibar was at its most prosperous. Dr. Abdul Sheriff, its foremost historian, describes the scene in the 1870s.
“Zanzibar was then a cosmopolitan metropolis. Its harbor teemed with square-rigged ships from the West and oriental dhows with their lateen sails from many countries in the East, carrying all the colors of the rainbow. Here Yankee merchants from New England drove a hard bargain with Hindu traders in their large crimson turbans or Khojas in their long coats, exchanging ivory for American cloth; the Marseilles haggled with the Somali for hides and sesame seeds from Benadir; Hamburg entrepreneurs shipped tons of cowrie shells to West Africa, where they served as currency; and Arab caravans rubbed shoulders with their African counterparts from the Mountains of the Moon"
Import Export - Bombay to Congo via Zanzibar
The Omani Sultans had been astute traders in the Indian Ocean prior to the Portuguese disruptions and in Zanzibar, the Sultanate depended extensively on customs duties. They encouraged their Indian subjects to trade far into the East African hinterland and the Khojas, with their extensive "jat" and family networks dominated the interior commerce throughout the century and well into the 1960s.
"The Indian rupee owed its early supremacy in East Africa to the preponderant commercial influence of Indians in Zanzibar, the center of East African trade during the nineteenth century."
In the second half of the 19th century, when Africa was being colonized by the Europeans and greater opportunities began opening up for trade, many Khojas first landed in Zanzibar and then went on create extensive merchant empires on the mainland. Their life stories (mostly oral) is the history of the opening up of East Africa as it joined the global trading networks.
The legendary Allidina Visram came from Kera, Kutch in 1863, aged 12 and penniless. After a brief apprenticeship with Sewa Haji Paroo, he partnered with his cousin, Nasser Virji for their first interior caravan - later Alidina’s his own caravans and branches of his firm dotted Dar-es-Salaam, Saadani, Tabora, Ujiji and Alima and Tindo in the Belgian Congo and Southern Sudan. He came to know as the “Uncrowned King of Uganda."
“Caravans with porters often numbering over a thousand became mobile markets trading imported items such as cloth, beads, and brass wire for ivory and other East African commodities ......Thus, Indian, British, and American cloth delivered to Zanzibar reached markets for more than one thousand kilometers inland." 
Nasser Virji was also 12 when he arrived from Kutch in 1877 and over time, the Nasser Virji group went on to operate 70-72 different companies in German East Africa, their main business being the Mwanza Cotton Trading Company Limited.
Another legend Dharamsi Khatau, a later arrival from Bombay in 1890, established 40 branches of his import business throughout East Africa.
Abdullah Ratansi arrived in Zanzibar in 1881 aged 13 and in 1884, also went to work for Allidina Visram, later joining Sewa Haji Paroo and was in charge of supplying goods, porters, guards, guides. When the American explorer Henry Morton Stanley arrived in Zanzibar in February 1887 to arrange the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, Abdullah Bhai was its quartermaster into the interior, well past Bagamoyo.
With the help of the commercially astute Sultans, the Khojas were able to link their African mainland networks to the commercial India in effect re-creating the ancient Indian Ocean trade that existed prior to the Portuguese disruptions.
“The ubiquity of Indian firms in East Africa ideally positioned Bombay’s textile industry to produce for the East African market. Moreover, in the 1870s, the establishment of a telegraph station at Zanzibar allowed immediate communication between Bombay firms and their Zanzibar agents. Perhaps most important, expanded steamship service between Zanzibar and Bombay substantially lowered transportation costs and, in the late 1870s, Sultan Barghash bin Said of Zanzibar, as part of his vision for the commercial pre-eminence of his sultanate, introduced a line of six steamships to run between Bombay, Zanzibar, and Madagascar." 
See Sir Currimbhoy Ebrahim of Bombay whose many mills supplied cotton goods to Zanzibar.
Jangbar - the Khoja Entrepot
Hasham Jamal Pradhan's granddaughter writes: “The year was 1900 and with only four rupees in his pocket, Bapaji boarded a steamer bound for the east coast of Africa, sailing through Aden, and then Zanzibar. There, he met Allidina Visram, and it the start of a relationship that was to lead to the financial success of the Jamals in Uganda Protectorate. Allidina entrusted him with a substantial quantity of trade goods, including rolls of the common imported cotton called “merikani”, to be collected from his stores in Mombasa.”
Another merchant prince was Dewji Jamal, who was one of the few rich merchants of Bombay to come to Zanzibar in about 1878. In 1885, one of his sons, Nazerali Dewji moved to Lamu and in 1887 to Mombasa to establish branches of Dewji Jamal & Co.
Kassim Lakha, the founder-figure of the Kassim-Lakha clan and a very successful pioneer around Lake Victoria also first landed in Zanzibar in 1878 and used it to launch his business life on to the mainland.
Habib Adat Dewji of Bharapur migrated first to Zanzibar and after few years in “service”, moved to Bagamoyo and then to Dar es Salaam, the new German capital. In 1910, Habib Bhai establishes a well-known import business house that survived until the 1960s.
Other Zanzibari Khojas settled into further into Africa, such as Shariff Jiwa Surti who went to Madagascar to become a major supplier to the French colonial army.
This migration accelerated in the early part of the 1900s when the Germans began to aggressively grow their newly acquired “Deutsche Ost Afrika" colony, reluctantly accepting the enterprising Khojas who moved in on the new opportunities in the rail-head towns along the Central Railway. Jeraj Shariff ended up in Tanga with a bead business. Merali Jiwa's first job was as a rickshaw driver in Zanzibar and after he moved to Tanga, his family opened several businesses there. Mussa Jetha did well after migrating to Zanzibar and his children spread to Tanga, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam in the 1920s.
The trend to use Zanzibar as an entry point continued well into the 1930’s-FakirMohamed Gaidher went from Zanzibar to distant Kyela on the shores of Lake Malawi.
British German Rivalry & Khoja Intrigue
Sultan Barghash who had been exiled to Bombay in 1859 by the British, learnt Hindustani and returned to Zanzibar with a deep appreciation of India. Khojas began to rise to powerful positions in his administration. Taria Topan became his “Prime Minister” and Peera Dewjee who started as the Sultan Barghash’s barber eventually came to control the palace finances, the running of the household and stables. Both these prominent Zanzibar citizens accompanied the Sultan on his famous visit to London in 1875 and later Peera was sent back to Europe on a number of occasions to purchase warships, livestock, etc. However, as the struggle for colonial dominance intensified, the Sultan tried to leverage the Germans against the ambitions of the British and Peera, as his agent was arrested and exiled to Bombay because legally, he was a “British colonial subject”.
Sewa Haji Paroo is well-known as a generous donor both in Zanzibar and across Eastern Africa. Muhammad Husayn Tharia Topan was the main driving force behind the first Indian school in East Africa - The Sir Euan Smith Madrassa, (SESM) which was founded in 1891. In effect, Sir Tharia’s son finally got to build the school Tharia so desired and was denied. 
"This non-denominational school was the most important Indian school in Zanzibar throughout the colonial period."
Datu Hemani left money for a girls' school which was known as Datu Hemani Kanya Shara.
Art & Leisure
The Khojas were early contributors in the development of a Zanzibar that was very much accustomed to public leisure. “They (Zanzibaris) had well-established erudite traditions of learning and literature. Zanzibar was actually the second nation in the continent of Africa, after Egypt, to obtain a printing press.”
In 1900, Fazal Janmohamed Master set up East Arica’s first Indian newspaper, the weekly Samachar, which began as a single-sheet Gujarati paper and started coverage of politics in English in 1918. It published continuously until 1967.
Fazal Valli Nathu was born in Zanzibar in 1874 and was famous as “Kavi Dilgir”, "Poet Conqueror of the Heart". He wrote poems in Urdu, Hindi, Gujarati, Swahili and Arabic, played the upright harmonium, fiddle and had a melodious voice. He frequently composed poems for the Sultans.
Sultan Barghash himself was an accomplished musician and had weekly public concerts called Taarab where he mixed the music from Arabia, India and Europe. Peera Dewjee was frequently the Master of Ceremonies at these concerts.
Calamities-Natural & Man-made
Between 1869-1870, a great cholera outbreak in Zanzibar devastated the island’s population. Dr. James Christie, physician to the Sultan notes that Khojas were hit hard as they preferred to live in cramped quarters and in general, in unsanitary conditions as both Khoja spouses worked in the family business to the neglect of the home. 
They lived in "...the congested old Khoja area of Kiponda behind the market, with its narrow streets and terraces of cramped shop houses." 
In April 1872, a cyclone devastated the entire island. All ships in the harbor except for one were lost. In fact, everything but the solid stone houses of Zanzibar was thrown down and the streets for the time were impassable. Dhows, with their crews, sank in the harbor and many of the inhabitants perished in the wreck of their houses. Most of the plantation crop was also destroyed. 
In August 1896, British ships indiscriminately bombarded Zanzibar waterfront to impose their choice of Sultan and caused extensive damage. This bombardment, romantically titled “the Shortest War in History” caused much economic loss to the Khojas. "In this war, many houses and businesses near the Sultan’s palace were bombarded by the British and were destroyed. Consequently, 79 bankruptcies were filed against businesses in 1898, of which 44 were related to the war."
The losses from epidemic and hurricane seemed to have been absorbed because Khoja businesses continued to thrive in the following decades but the bombardment of 1896 appears to have broken the backbone of the business community in Zanzibar and it never regained its former stature.
At the same time, the European colonization of the mainland created greater opportunities for the Khojas who either left Zanzibar or went directly to the new mainland towns upon migration. The British, having acquired vast rich colonies in Kenya and Uganda lost interest in Zanzibar for the next six decades, holding on to it only for strategic reasons, as they also did with the “Trust” territory of Tanganyika after the First World War.
Perhaps the most enduring testament of the Khojas presence in Africa is in the great number of Kutchi loan-words to the Swahili language, which now is not only the lingua-franca of over 300 million Africans but has recently been selected as an African language to be taught across whole of Africa.
“That Indian words in Swahili previously thought of as Hindi are actually Kutchi. Swahili itself is 40% Oriental, having acquired these in the two thousand years of its history”
Apart from the loan-words, the spoken language of many Zanzibari Khojas is a unique Indo-African dialect popularly called “Jangbari”, which is a source of pride and some amusement among all Khojas.
Judith Aldrick puts it so well in her excellent book on Peera Dewjee
References & Notes
- Lodhi, Abdulaziz. Oriental loanwords in Swahili. Nairobi, Kenya: Oxford University Press East Africa Limited, 2015.
- Frere, H.B.E - The Khojas: The Disciples Of The Old Mam Of The Mountain, MacMillan's Magazine, Volume 34 1876 342
- Allen, Calvin H. "The Indian merchant community of Masqat." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 44, no. 01 (1981): 39.
- King, Noel - Towards A History Of The Ismailis In East Africa - edited by Ismail Raji al Faruq (http://www.ismaili.net/Source/beforecol.html)
- ibid Chatterji (pp
- Johnston, H.H. F.R.G.S. Her Majesty’s Consul, Mozambique - THE ASIATIC COLONISATION OF EAST AFRICA- JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF ARTS. [February 1st 1889) 159
- , Thomas P and Yeager, Rodger Historical Dictionary of Tanzania Page Number: xviii
- Vaughan, J H - The Dual Mandate in Zanzibar, Zanzibar Government Printers, 1935 11-12.
- ibid Allen 44
- ibid Hopkins 53
- (Hopkins, Peter E., and Richard T. Gale. Muslims in Britain: race, place and identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012. 53
- Stanley, H. M. Through the dark continent: or, The sources of the Nile around the Great Lakes of Equatorial Africa and down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean. New York: Dover, 1988 63
- ibid Sheriff 348-349
- Aldrick, Judith. The Sultan's spymaster: Peera Dewjee of Zanzibar. Naivasha: Old Africa Books, 2015.
- Burton, Richard Francis Zanzibar: city, island, and coast- Tinsley Bros -1871 338
- British and Foreign State Papers- VOL. LXII. Compiled By The Librarian And Keeper Of The Papers, Foreign Office, 1871-1872
- Frere, Bartle – quoted in “Federation Samachar” Vol 36 No 51 64
- ibid Aldrick 56
- Sheriff, Abdul, Dr. The history & conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town. London: Dept. of Archives, Museums & Antiquities in association with J. Currey, 1995
- Wallis, Henry Richard. The handbook of Uganda. London: Pub. for the government of the Uganda Protectorate by the Crown Agents for the Colonies, 1920 230
- , Prestholdt, Jeremy. “Zanzibar, the Indian Ocean and Nineteenth-Century Global Interface.” Burkhard Schnepel and Edward A. Alpers eds., Connectivity in Motion: Island Hubs in the Indian Ocean World. London: Palgrave (2018) 138
- Prestholdt, Jeremy. Domesticating the world - African consumerism and the genealogies of globalization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008 101
- ibid Aldrick (pp ???)
- ibid 166 (Sir Taria had wanted to build a school for Khojas but was mysteriously denied permission by the British. The foundation stone of the “Tharia Topan Jubilee Hospital” was laid on 8th July 1885, but Sir Tharia died in India in 1891, causing an interruption to the construction. His widow decided to resume the works but her budget was exhausted in 1893 before completion of the building.)
- Loimeier, Dr. Roman. Between Social Skills and Marketable Skills: the Politics of Islamic Education in 20th century Zanzibar. Leiden: BRILL, 2009 pp????
- Gregory, Robert G. The rise and fall of philanthropy in East Africa: the Asian contribution. New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 2014. 114 S G Mehta interview. ibid 101
- abid pg 166 (This mixed use of the building continued until the revolution in 1964 when the occupants fled the island and the dispensary fell into disuse. It has now been renovated and used as a cultural center.)
- ibid Gregory 103
- ibid Aldrick 176
- ibid Christie 343
- ibid Aldrick 276
- Times of India 10th July 1872. pp 3 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/8926435#)
- ibid Oonk 86
- ibid Lodhi Abstract: "The main conclusions drawn from the present study are: 1) that Oriental loans in Swahili are not satisfactorily documented, and further research is needed to assess their currency in the modem usage, and their socio-cultural importance in Eastern Africa; 2) that Oriental elements are of high frequency and are found in all areas of activity; 3) that contrary to earlier assumptions, Persian and Indie loans in Swahili occur also as verbs, adjectives and adverbs; 4) that most of the Indian loans in Swahili are from Cutchi/Sindhi and Gujarati, rather than from Hindi; 5) that traditional Swahili culture is an Afro-Oriental member of the North-Western Indian Ocean civilization at large.
- ibid Aldrick - Introduction
1. Zanzibar-A Bibliography Compiled by Ayman Jalloul and Bilal Orfali.
Photo Gallery of the Khoja Zanzibar
Arab Dhow, circa 1912-The earlier migration of Khojas was in such dhows- the captain called "Nahoda" was usually Arab but the sailors were Balouch from Gwadar.
- Orphans with Trustees of the Monghibai Orphanage, Zanzibar, Photo: Sadruddin Khimani Family Collection, Vancouver, Canada.
- Members of the Ismailia Provincial Council, 1941-1944.
- Agakhan Boys Scouts 1953
Photo Gallery of Omani & British Rule
The Rupee was the main currency in East Africa for centuries and was in circulation in East Africa till 1923, when the British conquerors demonetised the German Rupee and engineered the collapse of the Indian Rupee, in favour of their own non-gold "East African Shilling", leading to the bankruptcy of many Khojas, who had been forced to take German rupees in exchange for their confiscated merchandise and vehicles.