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Indian Africa

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Adam Michel

Panorama of Socio-Religious Communities1

Michel Adam

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  • 1 This chapter lists, updates and expands information previously published by the author in 2004 in C (...)

1 Little India or Little Bombay: the nickname given to one of the shopping malls frequented by the Indo-African communities living in Nairobi is a concentration of the socio-cultural reality of the diaspora, but whose contents are ignored and its extraordinary complexity concealed. Frequently perceived from the outside as uniform – in general opposing contrast to the African people – people of Indian origin are present, as seen from the inside, as an informal confederation tree made up of multiple autonomous and highly compartmentalized sub-groups within which religious, statutory, professional and regional identities are intertwined.

Table 2.1

Hindus
Brahmins 1,500
Kshatriya Rajput 100
Lohana ( “traders”) 5,500
Bathia ( “ship brokers”) 200
Patel ( “traders”, former farmers) 20,000
(including Swaminarayan) (1,000)
Bhoi ( “transporters”) 50
Wanza Darji ( “tailors”) 1,000
Gurjar Sutar ( “carpenters”) 130
Dhobi ( “laundry workers”) 500
Mochi ( “cobblers”) 245
Nayee ( “barbers”) 400
Luhar ( “blacksmiths”) 50
Soni ( “goldsmiths”) 700
Kumbhar ( “potters”) 500
Punjabi Arya Samaj (regional religious group opposed to castes) 1,500
Maharashtra Mandal (regional group) 400
Hindu dissidents
Jains 16,000
(including Oshwal) (12,000)
Sikhs 8,00
Sunni Muslims
Balutchi ( “soldiers”) 150
Cutchi
(Badala, Kumbhar, Luhar, Hajam, Dhobi) 7,500
Kokni ( “sailors”) 400
Memon ( “traders”) 5,000
Punjabi 10,000
Shia Muslims
Ismailis (nizaris) 10,000
Bohra 6,500
Ithnasheri 3,500
Parsis 50
Christians 2,000

Source: author’s survey

  • 2 Because there are no exhaustive reviews, these are rough estimates in the case of Uganda and Tanzan (...)

2 As was mentioned in the introductory chapter, the numerical dissociations in religious representations between India and East Africa (strong over-representation of Muslims and of schismatic organizations of all affiliation). Today, risen to 35 % in Kenya and Uganda (an increase compared to the situation before), the proportion of Muslims is about 40 % in Tanzania (unchanged compared to the situation before)2.

  • 3 According to Prunier (1990: 63).

Table 2.2 Religious affiliations of the Indian populations in Uganda (1948)3

Hindus 58.3 %
Muslims 31.8 % (including a Shia majority)
Sikhs 4.4 %
Goan Catholics 4.4 %
Jains 1.1 %
  • 4 According to Prunier 1 (990: 240) (estimates).

Table 2.3 Religious affiliations of the Indian populations in Tanzania (1963)4

Hindus 50 %
Sikhs 10 %
Ismailis 15 %
Other Muslims, Goans, Parsis 25 %

The Hindus

  • 5 The term gnati (Gujarati) is generally used in East Africa in preference to jati (Hindi) to mean ca (...)
  • 6 Hindus from Gujarat show a special devotion to Amba Devi (the “mother goddess”), also known as Ambi (...)

3Making up between 55 and 60 % of the population of Indian origin, the Hindus are represented in each of the three East African countries by a Hindu National Council, an example of a unifying characteristic of situations in the diaspora (but unimaginable in India). The Hindu Councils bring together the orthodox Hindus (Sanathan Dharma), members of the common Hindu minorities (Arya Samaj, Swaminarayan, etc.) and other religious groups derived from the Hindu branch (Jains and Sikhs). Within the Hindu Orthodox group, there are fifteen organizations corresponding to the main castes and are nominally designated by vernacular autonyms. As is the case in India, these socio-professional statutory categories (jati or gnati) are frequently associated with regional origins, or are subdivided in accordance with this last criterion5. Being very few in Africa, considering their great numbers in India (several thousand as mentioned elsewhere), the gnati often have some religious peculiarities (cults associated with elective or regional divinities, loyalty to particular gurus)6. Being sometimes tied to outdated or obsolete forms of worship (that is to say neglected or abandoned in India), they nevertheless get along very well with the reformist organizations whose main doctrine is most often the rejection of castes.

  • 7 In India, the number of Hindus belonging to the “lower” status represents about 85 % of the total p (...)

4It is known that the principle of hereditary specialization is one of the pillars of the caste system and has been the subject of considerable distortion. Though India does, in this respect, give many examples of collective mobility, examples of individual mobility are, however, much less frequent. When these changes in status operate from the bottom up, they are frequently accompanied by a distortion of genealogy intended to conceal the infringement of the rule of inheritance (Bouglé 1969: 11-26). Thanks to the professional restructuring undertaken at the beginning of the last century and the promotion of education among new generations, the context of immigration offered Indians in Africa highly favourable conditions for this mobility, at the same time allowing them to play amnesia games on their origins. This may explain the unusually high proportion of statutory groups claiming patrician descent (Kshatriya, Brahmin, and Vaishya at the least) and the general challenge of finding members of less honourable statutory groups (Sudra), including representatives from castes of servants (laundry workers, cobblers, etc.)7.

  • 8 Unlike the Shia Ismailis or the Bohras, the Hindus and the Jains generally do not pay regular annua (...)

5All community associations (which also apply to non-Hindus) form miniature governments drawing their resources from the contributions of their members and offering them various services in return: religious, social, hospitals, schools, etc.8 Hindus have more than one hundred and fifty temples in East Africa and dozens of community homes and schools. Among the most significant Hindu communities (or those allied to the Hindus) are the Lohanas and the Patels (Vaishya castes), as well as the Jains and the Sikhs (Hindu dissidents). Although a tiny minority in numbers, other communities of dissidents (Arya Samaj and Swaminarayan) exert great economic and religious influence. In an almost reversed order, the associations bringing together representatives of the higher castes (Brahmins and Kshatriyas) today have more modest resources, in proportion to those of their members, causing them to lose much of their aura.

  • 9 In Hindu worship and even in other Indian religions, the necessity to involve the Brahmins lies in (...)
  • 10 This principle known as “infiltration” which allows a Brahmin to rid himself of the effect of impur (...)
  • 11 In Kenya, we can name Jani (CFC Life Heritage) and Rawal (Devki Steel Works).
  • 12 Besides some non-Hindu minorities – like the Shia Ismaili Muslims – who have ceased in recent years (...)

6The Brahmins represent about 2 % of India’s population (20 million people) and about 1.3 % of Kenyan Hindus, that is to say approximately 1,300 people (the figures for Uganda and Tanzania are not known). The Brahmins are divided into many castes, three of which are mainly represented in East Africa: the Shuklas (officiating priests), the Bhattis (astrologers), the Upadheyas (scribes, accountants, etc.). Aware of the irreplaceable nature of their duties and being very much attached to their status, the Brahmins of East Africa formed several associations (Brahma Sabha) at the beginning of the last century and have their own temples9. Besides the role of priesthood (pujari or shastri) remunerated by various offerings and more or less fixed honoraria (daskina or dakshina), the Brahmins – with the exception of the more impure jobs (tanner, laundry worker, grave digger, etc.) – are allowed to practice a virtually unlimited number of professions: teacher, lawyer, journalist, civil servant, soldier, businessman, or even farmer and artisan. The nature of “permanent purity” with which they are endowed allows them to preserve themselves – and those around them – from contacts considered “pollutants”10. This is how, some Brahmins descending from poor families in Gujarat settled in Kenya, first as pastry chefs, restaurateurs and chefs, offering their clients (or patrons) a mark of purity. Although these professions have been retained by some, most of the Brahmins belonging to those old families are now pursuing academic, legal or financial careers. Contrary to popular belief, however, within East Africa there are only a few great ruling families of Brahmin ancestry11. As for the careers of the priesthood - which are declining in prestige, and fetch very little income - they are completely ignored by the Creole families and are almost entirely occupied by recent immigrants from India. Coming from penniless families, these priests of the temples are moreover less educated. Leading a restricted social life (many of them do not speak English and even less Swahili), they must be content to live on the honoraria paid during the occasions of great ceremonies (weddings, funerals), even simple charitable donations (daskshina), attendance at temples having been on a sharp decline12 almost everywhere. In principle every Hindu community has its own officiating priests, who are not interchangeable as might be the case with priests belonging to the Catholic religion.

  • 13 The number of the Kshatriyas is less than 1 % of India’s total population, slightly less than 10 mi (...)

7Strictly endogamous and very proud of their origins, the Kshatriya Rajputs consider themselves the only true Kshatriyas in East Africa, several gnatis – including those of modest means – having also claimed a similar origin. Forming a minority of about one million people in Rajasthan, from where they originate, they say, according to Cynthia Salvadori, that they are the descendants of the Huns who invaded India in the fifth century AD (Salvadori 1989: 111)13. The Rajputs frequently add the suffix Sinh to their name (variant of Singh or Sikh meaning “lion”). A metaphorical endonym also adopted by all Sikhs, this name brings confusion in the identities of the two community groups. Former railroad workers, and belonging to the small minority of those who chose to remain in Africa, many Rajputs settled in the area of Nakuru (Kenya) to practice businesses of all kinds, an activity that is permitted to Kshatriyas in situations of need. Numbering a few thousands (2000?) at the end of the colonial period, many Kshatriyas left Africa in the early years of independence. Today reduced to a small number (between 100 and 200 people, of whom a small colony still lives in Nakuru), the Rajput families in East Africa are neither among the most powerful nor the wealthiest, but they strongly assert the will “to not demean themselves”. As we have seen in other cultural contexts - and just like the old Brahmin families - they maintain the obsessive attention to ensure that their children get a first-class education, usually at the cost of expensive expatriation.

  • 14 Among the wealthy families of this community there are: Chande (textiles) Daruda (food industry), M (...)
  • 15 Many Cutchi Patels live quite modestly in unpretentious homes.
  • 16 See the introductory chapter.
  • 17 Among the Patel families with substantial interests in the East African economy are the names of D. (...)

8Forming the third varna of “the reborns” (dvija), and minorities in India (about 13 % of the population), the Vaishyas are, if we believe them, the representatives of all the gnatis and represent the totality of the East African Orthodox Hindus, Brahmins and Kshatriyas put aside. They are divided into a dozen castes, many of which claim, as we said a little earlier, Brahmin or Kshatriya ancestries. Such is the case of the Lohanas, a large trading community originally from Gujarat (about 10,000 people in East Africa according to community associations), who have become one of the most prosperous among the Hindu statutory groups. Descending from textile traders settled in Zanzibar, the Lohanas today control large industrial and commercial establishments (food, textiles, hotels)14. Such is still the case for the Patels (also known as Patidar), probably the most significant and one of the best known Indian statutory groups in East Africa. Claiming remote Kshatriya origins, the Patels are actually former farmers of Gujarat and Cutch, converted to civil servants by the Mughal administration and reemployed in the same capacity by the British. While the Lohanas have old ties with the African coast, the Patels are more recent immigrants, appreciated by the colonial administration because of their knowledge of English. The present community consists of descendants of an original community which was quite diverse: former beneficiaries of Kenyan farmers (as was reported a few pages back), junior civil servants of the colony; skilled artisans (especially masons); owners of several shops (dukawallah), to the point of borrowing the nickname. With at least 40,000 people in East Africa (20,000 in Kenya), the Patels are divided into two main communities of uneven ranks: the Kaira Leva Patels, minorities of higher status (originating from the Kathiawar region) and the Cutchi Leva Patels, by far the most numerous. At the same time as they were giving up their occupation of shopkeepers, many of the Patels were securing their economic advancement (as public works contractors, industrialists, bankers). While the Kaira Patels are all orthodox Hindus, the Cutchi Patels are mostly followers of the Swaminarayan sect, itself progressive and puritan15. Reconnecting, somehow, with their rural origins, several Cutchi Patel families recently turned towards agro-industrial activities (sugar, horticulture), particularly in Kenya16. Like other Indo-African communities, the Patels have not given up their traditions, while at the same time displaying their social success in clubs and other social circles. Public rumour also has it that they are significantly involved in Freemasonry17.

  • 18 Besides the various caste associations, there are, as noted earlier, purely regional associations l (...)

9By far numerically fewer, the other orthodox Hindu gnati are more marked by their corporate career orientation (Bhatia: “maritime traders” Bhoi: “carriers” Wanza Darji: “tailors” Gurjar: “carpenters”; Luhar: “blacksmiths” Dhobi: “laundry workers” Soni: “goldsmiths” Mochi: “cobblers” Nayee: “barbers” Kumbhar: “Potters”). Provided from the outset – except for the Bhatias – with a lesser status, they have not achieved the fame of the Lohanas and the Patels. As will be discussed a little further, their socio-economic advancement has also been slower. Scattered over the vast East African territory, some groups have reached critical numerical thresholds (less than 100 people), rendering the perpetuation of community life difficult (Bhoi, Gurjar Sutar, Luhar)18.

  • 19 In Kenya, several Arya Samaj leaders had nevertheless backed the African nationalist organizations (...)

10There are several dissident Hindu organisations in East Africa. Three of them have numerous adherents and play a major role in the social life of the immigrant communities. Coming into existence around 1870 in Bombay and presenting itself as a revival of the original Vedic religion, the Arya Samaj dissidence asserts monotheistic beliefs, practices a reduced and iconoclast worship, challenges the prejudices of caste and the fate of women in ancient Hindu tradition (early marriages, prohibition of widow remarriage, etc.). Popular in Punjab and among intellectuals (8 million followers in India), the Arya Samaj featured among the main supporters of Gandhi in the 1940s. Although they are now affected by a nationalist drift towards xenophobic tendencies in India, they still have many followers in the diaspora, particularly in the United States. Having been part of the colonial administration staff in Kenya, their numbers in East Africa reached at least 15,000 people just before independence. Their numbers have since dropped significantly, probably not exceeding 2,000 people at the end of the twentieth century. Bringing together a majority of Punjabi Hindus (teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc.), they defend progressive political views, but keep away from other liberal minority groups (Ismailis, reformed Bohras, Parsis), more engaged in dialogue with the Africans19.

11The Swaminarayan, who appeared in Gujarat in the early nineteenth century, is another dissident Reformist movement, equally active in East Africa where it probably has thousands of followers, especially among the Cutchi Patels. Less radical than the Arya Samaj (no questioning of polytheism, no speeches about liberating women), the Swaminarayan faithful preach equality among castes and defend principles from moderate puritanism to conservative resonance (strict vegetarianism, separation of sexes in public places). Today, given their significant resources, having, like the Arya Samaj, spread to Britain and the United States, the Swaminarayan are known for the splendour of their temples (Nairobi, Kampala, and Mombasa).

12A contemporary of Buddhism – and in many respects similar to it in terms of doctrine –, Jainism is not strictly speaking a reformist dissent, but a religion in itself, claiming however its ties with Hinduism, with which it still shares many doctrinal and ceremonial traits. Appearing in the fifth century BC, but probably based on much older traditions, Jainism rejects the principle of a creator god and objects to the existence of castes, all while retaining the archetype of reincarnation.

  • 20 The Jains recognize three levels of liberation: of ordinary believers, of monks (sadhu), of spiritu (...)

13More than the Buddhists, the Jains have developed an ascetic philosophy of the mastery of passions and the ideal of respect for all life, a correlate of non-violence (ahimsa)20. Somehow predisposed to intellectual and business professions (other professions are more exposed to risks that can put any life in danger), the Jains embraced the careers of traders and financiers very early. In the seventeenth century, several of them were already lending to the Mughal rulers. Having lived in East Africa for several centuries (especially in Zanzibar), they quickly formed one of the largest and one of the richest Indian communities of the colonial era.

  • 21 A rough estimate of community associations in Kenya, as no census has been conducted in Tanzania an (...)

14The Jain community, which has been declining steadily over the past decade, has approximately 15,000 people in Kenya, but probably not more than 10,000 people in Tanzania and Uganda21. Called Bania or Banian in the colonial chronicles (from Gujarati banya or vaniya: “Merchant”), the Jains are more frequently referred to by the (non-derogatory) nickname of Shah, this surname, incidentally belonging to some Muslim families from northern India, is widespread within their group. They are divided into two numerically unequal regional groups (Vanik): the Oshwals (the greater majority) and the Navnats.

  • 22 In 1916, according to Cynthia Salvadori, 95 % of the textile trade was in the hands of the Oshwals (...)

15Having initially originated from the town of Oshia (Rajasthan), the Oshwals then migrated to the region of Jamnagar (Gujarat) where they curiously converted to agriculture. Of the 70,000 people who now make up this small community, only half remained in India (part of whom live in the Bombay region), the rest have been dispersed across the United States (20,000), Canada (5,000) England and East Africa. Initially settling along the coastal areas of East Africa (Zanzibar and Mombasa), the Oshwals then settled in the central province of Kenya and in the towns served by the railway line (Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kampala). Very quickly, the Oshwals acquired a dominant position in the textile trade where they competed with the Lohanas22. From the 1930s, some of the Oshwals converted to tin trade, an area that soon became their virtual monopoly. Subsequently, some of the most prosperous industrial families engaged in banking activities, thereby reviving very old occupational ties. The Oshwals form a strong association (Visa Oshwal) and have numerous religious and civic structures (schools). Occupying a vast campus in the district of Parklands in Nairobi, their community centre (temple, meeting rooms, auditoriums, sports facilities, etc.) is among the most luxurious of all the Indo-Kenyan diaspora.

16Also from the region of Jamnagar (Gujarat) are the Navnat Jains who belong to old families of traders who first settled in Zanzibar and then in Mombasa. Displaying a higher social status than the Oshwals, they are followers of an iconoclast religious movement (the Swetamber Stanakwasi which is different from the majority Swetamber Derawasi). Very active in philanthropic activities, the Navnats also have several homes, libraries, schools, foundations, etc.

  • 23 Purely vegetarian, their meals neither include tubers nor vegetables rooted in the soil (garlic, on (...)

17The spiritual capital of the Jains in East Africa is Mombasa where their very famous temple is found, a replica of one of those in Dilwar in Rajasthan. Despite these differences in rank, the Jains form a rather close-knit community, notable for its religious tolerance and an exogamic openness, accepting, for example, marriages with orthodox Hindus. Within their social centres, the Jains hold frequent community meals, bringing together several hundred guests23. From a strictly religious point of view, however, Jainism is – just as Hinduism in general – in sharp decline in the younger generations.

  • 24 Considered the second taxpayer in Kenya, Vimal Shah owns two very important edible oil refineries i (...)

18Two of the top business leaders in East Africa are Jains: Manu Chandaria (whose brief biography is included in another chapter of this book) and Vimal Shah, owner of Bidco Oil Refineries and first in Africa to manufacture and market food products made from palm oil24.

  • 25 Sikhs believe in one God, creator of the universe. This God is not incarnate; no representation of (...)

19The Sikhs, represent a religious community of a syncretic nature born in Punjab in the fifteenth century as a result of a confrontation between Hinduism and Islam25. Having had to face persecution from the Mughal rulers, the Sikhs organized themselves in the seventeenth century into an armed brotherhood movement, the “Khalsa lions of Punjab” (singh), adopting an emblem with two swords, encouraging the disciples from then henceforth to give up vegetarianism. Since then, every Sikh man is in principle obliged to respect in his physical appearance and in his dressing the five precepts that have made the reputation of the community: long hair tight in a turban (kesh), comb (kangha), the fighter shorts (kacha), steel bracelet (kara) and dagger (kirpan). Despite these martial affirmations, the Sikhs claim to care about gender equality, with women being permitted to divorce and remarry. As little respected as it is, this declaration has long placed the Sikhs at the forefront of women’s emancipation in India.

20Like most syncretic movements, Sikhism is not without contradictions arising from difficulties in combining irreconcilable cultural realities. In complete opposition to their stated willingness to ignore the castes, the Sikhs are divided into several groups, arising from the social hierarchy of the first Hindu converts. The Jats or Zamindars represent former peasant-soldiers from Punjab who were assimilated into the kshatriya aristocracy. The Ramgarhias (among whom there is a religious minority called Namdhari) are made up of the following people: Tarkhan (carpenters), Raj (masons), Luhar (blacksmiths), etc. Below them are the Ahluwalia (potters), the Julahaz (weavers). Coming in the last position are the descendants of the ‘untouchables’ or inferior castes of former sudra: sweepers, laundry workers, cobblers, peddlers, minstrels and musicians. Between these different categories, relationships are in fact – if not in principle – subject to certain restrictions: attendance of distinct temples, endogamy, etc. Furthermore, although in principle they have abandoned the observance of Hindu rituals, the Sikhs celebrate, in common with the Hindus, many Vedic calendar festivals in which the traditional gods (Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, etc.) are merely regarded as epic heroes.

21After they rebelled against the British occupation, the Sikhs (especially the Zamindars) formed the backbone of the Indian Army, making up more than a third of its workforce. It is under military and police titles that the first Sikhs settled in East Africa. After the creation of King’s Africa Rifles (famous infantry regiment of the colonial army in Africa), many demobilized Sikhs chose to stay in the country. Another fraction of the Sikhs came to Kenya as railroad workers: masons, carpenters, and above all as blacksmiths and mechanics. In the continuation of these ancient crafts, the advancement of the newcomers was rapid. Today, among the Sikhs, there are many public works and building contractors, dealers in timber, furniture manufacturers, owners of garages, automobile repair workshops, petrol stations, importers of automobile spare parts, and even farmers (fractions of the Zamindars are engaged in the sugar agro-industry within the region of Kisumu). The statutory gap between the Zamindars, the Ramgarhias and other categories has not disappeared, each of these communities form their separate associations (Singh Sabha, Ramgarhia Sabha).

  • 26 The old Indian province of Punjab was cut in half in 1947 by the partition between India and Pakist (...)

22With almost all of them having originated from the Indo-Pakistani province of Punjab, the Sikhs of East Africa have generally maintained close links with other Punjabis in the diaspora, Hindus and Muslims26. Reaching at least 30,000 people in the 1960s (including 20,000 in Kenya), the community has since dwindled and now does not exceed 15 to 20,000 people (including 8,000 in Kenya).

  • 27 See further below the chapter dedicated to family and marriages.

23One of the cultural characteristics of the Sikhs, as often highlighted by observers, when compared more to the Hindus than to the Muslims from the subcontinent, is their ability to adapt to cultural contexts far from their original homeland. Sikhs, as consumers of meat – which distinguishes them from the Jains and a majority of Hindus are also consumers of alcohol, which distinguishes them from both Muslims and Hindus. However, the consumption of meat and alcohol brings the Sikhs closer to most Africans with whom their commensality does not know the difficult prejudices of other representatives of the Indian diaspora, Goan Catholics left aside. The Sikhs also have lesser reluctance regarding intermarriage, at least under the relatively common practices of cohabitation27. Having, since the beginnings of colonization, spread to small urban centres in rural areas, the Sikhs reside gladly in close physical proximity to Africans, never or rarely forming micro community neighbourhoods as some Hindus, or most Jains and Ismailis do.

The Muslims

  • 28 Muslim population in the three countries: Tanzania: 10.5 million (30 %), Kenya: 3.5 million (10 %), (...)
  • 29 Data for Uganda is imprecise. See below the chapter by Laurent Nowik.

24Representing a tiny portion of the 19 million of their fellow adherents28 in East Africa, Muslims of Indian origin (about 62,000 people), when compared to other members in the diaspora, form a strong minority in Kenya and in Tanzania, bordering on 40 % of the total number of immigrants (40,000 people in Kenya, 20,000 people in Tanzania and 3500 people in Uganda)29. As is the case in the Indian subcontinent, the Indo-Muslims of the diaspora are divided into two major communities: Sunnis (between 35 and 40,000 people) and Shia (between 22 and 28,000 people. The relative importance of Shia Islam is a specific feature of the Indo-Africans. As reported earlier, this allegiance is a minority in India, and virtually absent among the Muslims of East Africa.

  • 30 Having played – and still playing – an important role in the political history of Tanzania given th (...)
  • 31 Founded by the Aga Khan in 1937, the East African Muslim Welfare Society is an ecumenical charitabl (...)

25Independent from their own institutions, the Indo-Muslim Africans generally maintain ties with religious institutions of their host countries and in some cases, participate in these institutions, particularly in Tanzania and Kenya. In general, however, this involvement remains cautious and selective, given the political complexity that characterizes the situation of Muslims in this region of the world30. Besides national organizations, the Indo-African Muslims run various philanthropic organizations in which their participation is a strong majority. This is the case in Kenya with East African Muslim Welfare Society, dominated by the Ismailis, or the Islamic Foundation, controlled by the Punjabi Sunnis31.

26Descendants, almost entirely, from converted Hindu families, the Indian Muslims have preserved in their beliefs, their rituals and their social organization many traces of Hinduism. While in principle rejecting the caste system, in complete contradiction to the precepts of Islam, they recognize a statutory and socio-professional division, widely copied from the Hindu model and sometimes called the “ghost castes” system. Particularly explicit among the Sunnis, is the divide between ashraf (aristocrats or onchii jat) and ajlaf (commoners or neechi jat) which also enshrines the division of this last category in multiple jati, exact equivalents of their Hindu models. As for the Arzals, not represented in East Africa, they are still in India the true images of the “untouchables” (Mussani, Kutana, Lal Begis, Chuhra, etc.).

27Originating mostly from two regions: Gujarat and Punjab, the Sunnis form rather modest groups of families, who are mainly traders and craftsmen. Except for the Koknis, they are all followers of the Hanafi ritual, which is dominant in the Indian peninsula, but ultra-minority in East Africa. In the same manner as – and even more than the Hindus – the Sunnis are divided into regional groups, partially subdivided into professional sub-groups similar, as was mentioned a little earlier, to the jati from which they borrow their social characteristics. Three communities are clearly the majority: the Cutchis, the Memons and the Punjabis.

28Undoubtedly about 20,000 people (mostly in Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi), the Cutchis come from the poor and sparsely populated Cutch province (or Kutch, which borders Pakistan, on the north-west of Gujarat). From a subgroup of Sudra Hindus converted to Islam in the sixteenth century, they have fully retained their corporate organization, as direct heirs of ancient jati whose names have survived (Salvadori 1989: 189). About twenty of these communities are represented in East Africa (Kumbhar: “potters”, Luhar: “blacksmiths”, Dhobi: “laundry workers”, Badala: “seamen”, etc.). Keeping away from Islamist propaganda, the Cutchis nevertheless have a conservative reputation, especially when it comes to the promotion of women. Like a majority of the Sunnis, the Cutchis are highly integrated in their respective host countries. Often living together with the Swahilis – and not forming community neighbourhoods like other Indo-Africans – they practice caste endogamy, sometimes even, family endogamy, the preferred model inherited from Arab marriage (marriage of Ego to his paternal uncle’s daughter). Living in large numbers in coastal towns (especially in Mombasa), the Cutchi Badalas also run modest businesses.

29Descendants of the fifteenth century Lohana converts in Sindh (south-east of the present-day Pakistan), who subsequently spread to north-western India, the Memons (from Sindhi momeen: “faithful”) have a much higher social status than the Cutchis. They are at least 10,000 people in East Africa, divided into three regional groups, which can be barely differentiated (the Halais, the Akais and the Nasserpuria majorities). Trading in fabric (a speciality inherited from their distant Lohana influence), the Memons, who are many in Mombasa, also have representatives in Nairobi and in north-eastern Kenya (especially the Halais and the Akais). Like other Indian Muslims, they have preserved many Hindu customs, especially the exclusion of women from inheritance.

  • 32 Prototype of Mughal religious art, the great mosque in Nairobi was built under the supervision of a (...)

30In the early twentieth century, about 15,000 Sunni Punjabi immigrated as contract workers in various fields (Salvadori 1989: 209). Like most Punjabis (Hindus included), they are indifferent to caste status, profess liberal views and lack their own organization. Most Punjabis have secured a remarkable upward mobility, especially in intellectual professions (journalists, doctors, architects, consulting engineers, and teachers). They are known in East Africa to have contributed to the construction of many mosques, particularly the Jaamia Mosque in Nairobi32. Among the Punjabis, there is a small Kashmiri group which maintains an autonomous association.

  • 33 They own a famous cricket club.

31Among the other Sunni groups, there are two (the Koknis and the Balutchis) who have retained historical significance despite their small numbers. Originating from the region of Kokan (Bombay), the Koknis (or Kankonis) descend from Hindu marines converted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Salvadori 1989: 194). Almost all of them arrived in Zanzibar and Kenya in the late nineteenth century as independent workers (especially construction workers). Often polyglot (an ability prevalent in the Indian state of Maharashtra), the Koknis make modernist claims33. Like the Punjabis, they quickly secured their social advancement (lawyers, doctors, engineers, businessmen, small manufacturers, etc.). Their adherence to the Shafite sect (dominant in East Africa) allows them to attend the same mosques as the Swahilis.

32Belonging to warrior tribes, the Balutchis (Balochis) are descendants of soldiers who migrated to Gujarat: some were engaged in Zanzibar in the service of the emirates, while others came to East Africa later. Established in the coastal towns (especially in Mombasa), the Baluchis are now reduced to a few hundred people. One of their main subgroups, the Nangaria, is among the most integrated of the Indo-Africans (Salvadori 1989: 188).

33While there is, as already mentioned, virtually no Shia followers among the Kenyan Arabs and the Swahilis, the presence of Indian Shia in East Africa dates from a long time ago, some of them, like the Ismailis, have long exercised important brokerage and trading functions. The Shia, who enjoy a higher socio-economic presence than the Sunnis, are represented by three communities in East Africa: the Ismailis, the Bohras and the Ithnasheris.

  • 34 See below the chapter by Colette Le Cour Grandmaison.
  • 35 From Gujarati khwaja meaning “lord”.

34Followers of Ishmael, the eldest son of the sixth Imam (who died in 765), the Ismailis are an original group within Shia Islam, now mostly concentrated in India and numbering, according to various assessments, five to twenty million people34. Although they have monopolized the name of Ismailis, the Nizaris (followers of Nizar) form a fraction of it. Locally better known by the name of Khoja35 or Agakhanists (disciples of the Aga Khan), to distinguish them from the Bohras, equally Ismailis but a dissident minority. The Nizari Ismailis are currently scattered in many countries (mainly in India and Pakistan, and the rest in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, Great Britain, United States, Canada and Australia).

35Coming from Syria and Persia, the Ismailis settled in north-western India in several stages, but the main conversion trends took place in the fourteenth century (Sindh, Gujarat and Maharashtra). In the same way, and even more than the Memons or some Sunni Punjabis, – and as their honorary nickname “Khoja” suggests, the Ismailis have their roots in the community of prosperous Lohana merchants and not among more modest castes, as is the case for a majority of Sunni Muslims. Very quickly, the Indian Ismailis absorbed Hindu beliefs from the new converts. Thus, in a book dated in the fifteenth century, popular among both Hindus and Ismailis (Das Avatar), Ali is described as the tenth avatar of Vishnu and the Koran as the last of the Vedas. When each Imam dies, the “divine light” that entered him is transmitted to his successors. It is in this way that the current Aga Khan inherits this syncretic and miraculous identity. The Nizari syncretism was not challenged after the Aga Khan, originally established in Persia, had found refuge in India in 1840.

36The Ismailis are also distinct from other Muslims in that they reject a literal (or ethnic) interpretation of the Koran due to its cultural inscription in the seventh century Bedouin society (zahir reading). Conversely, they advocate for an esoteric interpretation, which is essential and, indeed, cross-cultural (batin reading). This nonconformist and “comprehensive” attitude is sustained by a learning and initiation processes. This has led the Ismailis to neglect many of the usual precepts of Islam as derived from reading the hadith, Sharia, etc. However, the Ismailis share with other Shia a monarchical conception of the religious organization; the living Imam, light of God, plays the role of supreme and infallible guide (hazar imam). Called Noorani, “The Shining”, the Aga Khan is considered sinless. His term cannot be questioned. All property held by the community are under his exclusive control and become, therefore, his quasi-property.

  • 36 “Islam”, said the Aga Khan in one of his many speeches to industrialists, “does not only mean faith (...)

37As explained by Colette Le Cour Grandmaison in this book, the hierarchical and quasi-brotherhood organization particular to the Ismailis may be related to their condition of religious minority, once exposed to persecution. We also sought to understand the link between social minority and entrepreneurial vocations adopted by the disciples of the Aga Khan, a special example of “community groups”, other examples of them existing in India, especially among the Jains and the Sikhs (Weber 1996: 167-176). Their trading origins, their lack of attachment to land property, their tolerance towards lending with interest (banned by Islamic purists) have largely contributed to their rise in banking and financial activities as well as industrial companies36.

38The economic activity of the Ismailis cannot be separated from their corporate and religious organizations. The Khojas pay the zakat or legal alms, part of which is transferred to the Aga Khan. In accordance with the tariqah (batin reading of the Sharia), they also stipulate the payment of an annual tithe called dasond. These para-fiscal contributions feed the community budget, directly managed by the Aga Khan, and which has amassed a huge fortune, since its establishment in India more than one and a half centuries ago, making him largely independent of the deductions on the revenues of the faithful. To pay out important community grants, the Imamate government offers to the faithful dispersed throughout the world benefits of various kinds: religious, judicial, educational, social and financial.

39Under the autocratic leadership of the Imam, who’s furthermore very open to Western influences, the Ismailis form a kind of a deterritorialized nation. The Enlightened despot benefiting across the world from the statutory recognition reserved for heads of states, surrounded by ministers and advisers, the Aga Khan from his home in France, has authority over territorial delegates, and receives the allegiance of local councils (jamaat) in return.

  • 37 Among the outstanding Indian personalities in East Africa at the turn of the 19th and 20th centurie (...)
  • 38 Gérard Prunier gives a figure of 14,000 Ismailis in Uganda in 1972, on the eve of the expulsion of (...)
  • 39 Part of the Ismaili investments actually belong to the Aga Khan himself through various agencies (I (...)

40The long history of Ismailis in East Africa generally coincides with those of the first Indo-Africans. Among the pioneers of trade along the Indian Ocean, the Nizaris, as mentioned earlier, have shared trading posts with the Arab principalities of Zanzibar, Lamu and Mombasa. They established their first community centre in Mombasa in 1888 and benefited from a special favour from the British37 from the very beginning of the colonial period. Thus, they increased in numbers, reaching about 50,000 people at the end of the colonial period (20,000 in Kenya, 10,000 in Zanzibar, 12,000 in Tanganyika and at least 15,000 in Uganda), forming, with the Sikhs, the Goans and the Patels, the largest Indian immigrant communities38. Despite a sharp population decline (20,000 people in the early 2000s), the disciples of the Aga Khan continue to hold leading economic positions in Kenya and Uganda. A majority shareholder in the liberal newspaper, The Daily Nation, the Aga Khan controls major industrial and banking institutions and part of the hotel industry in Kenya. The Ismailis are also present in various sectors: higher education and research, journalism, medicine, professional services, etc.39

41In order to address criticisms of cosmopolitanism, the Ismaili faithful were asked from long ago to acquire the nationality of their host countries and to fulfil their civic obligations. This is also the objective of the numerous philanthropic activities of the Aga Khan: financing education campaigns, health care and medical programs, banks and architectural restoration (the Aga Khan Award for Architecture), environmental protection etc. In all the three East African countries, the Aga Khan Foundation has birthed the Aga Khan Hospitals, profitable ultra-modern health facilities which are expensive but open to all.

42Having had to contend with accusations by some Muslim zealots, regarding doctrinal drift (both Hinduizing and Westernizing) and moral laxity, the Ismailis go to great lengths to show their membership to the Umma, the community of all Muslims. After having belatedly adopted Arabic as the liturgical language, they made its learning compulsory in their schools. In the early 1970s, teachings were given by the Aga Khan, aiming to shorten the rituals of Hindu origin while presiding at weddings and funerals. Whereas the disciples of the Aga Khan only have very few converted African faithful (between one and two thousand for the three East African countries), they founded the East African Muslim Welfare Society which works favour of non-Ismailis, as mentioned a little earlier.

  • 40 As Colette Le Cour Grandmaison explains in her contribution, the Ismaili “government” has five “min (...)

43Since the expulsion of Ismailis from Zanzibar in 1964, the city of Nairobi is the headquarters of the Regional Council of East Africa, controlling several institutions: the Ismailia Supreme Council, the Tariqah and Religious Education Board, the Aga Khan Foundation, etc.40

44Second in importance among the Shia of East Africa, the Ismaili Bohras (less commonly called by their anthroponyms, Tayyibi Dawoodi) are descendants of a fraction of orthodox Ismailis who seceded shortly after the fall of the Fatimids in the early twelfth century. Refugees in Yemen, the Tayyibis (disciples of the Imam Al-Tayyib who mysteriously disappeared in 1132) became successful merchants, with trading posts on the west coast of India. According to the myth of origin, a group of religious Tayyibis established in Gujarat brought about conversions within the affluent circles in the region: Vaishya, Kshatriya, and even Brahmins. Separated from the Yemenis in the sixteenth century, the Tayyibis of India were soon known as the Bohras (a nickname derived from Gujarati meaning “merchant”). For their part, the Tayyibis of Yemen, greatly reduced in numbers, took the name of Sulaymani. Initially concentrated in Ahmedabad, the Indian community was persecuted by Aurengzebe, a Mughal ruler and dispersed across Gujarat, and up to Bombay (Salvadori 1989: 256).

  • 41 Designated by the respectful title of Mutlaq ( “His Holiness”), the current Dai, Al-Mutlaq Syedna M (...)

45Unlike the Nizari Ismailis, the Bohras (as indeed the Ithnasheris, who will be discussed later) do not pledge allegiance to the Imams as such, the twenty-first and last of them being Al Tayib, who disappeared before his death according to their beliefs. Pending his “reappearance” they acknowledge as supreme leader, some kind of an interim Imam, regarded as a mere representative of the “hidden imam”. In reality – as explained a little further by Nathalie Gomes – this representative, called Dai ( “missionary”), has many supernatural qualities. Deemed infallible, he has esoteric knowledge in the interpretation of the Koran. He is surrounded by several assistants (Mazoon, Mukasir, Sheikh, Mullah) who have gone through the highest levels of initiation (ilm al-batin). Although his function is not hereditary, he appoints his successor before his death, most often from among the members of his family41.

  • 42 Having had the first woman Dai in their history, in the 12th century, the Bohras advocate for gende (...)

46From a doctrinal point of view, the Bohras hardly differ from the Khoja Nizaris, except for lesser infiltration of Hinduism, greater moral strictness and strong prejudices against Western influences. Just like other Ismailis, they believe, as has just been mentioned, in an esoteric interpretation of the Koran. Known only to them, this gloss must remain secret, although some is well known to the outside, such as the radical rejection of holy war. In their view, Jihad is an internal struggle in the conscience of every believer. The Bohra doctrine calls to mind some aspects of Calvinism, in its version of Anglo-Saxon Puritanism. From a moral point of view, the Bohras normally comply strictly with the Sharia: no alcohol, no tobacco or gambling, and prohibition of lending with interest. Men are required to wear a beard and an Islamic hat while women should cover their head with the rida42.

  • 43 According to Salvadori (1989: 257), there were in Lamu, in 1874, Bohra traders specialized in the e (...)
  • 44 This approach does not seem to have been affected by the control of lending with interest.
    See belo (...)

47After the Jains and the Ismailis, the Dawoodi Bohras were the first Indians to settle in Zanzibar and Lamu in the nineteenth century43. Currently, in East Africa, they represent a small fraction (15,000 people) of a community of about a million faithful still concentrated in India and Pakistan (800,000); the rest are scattered around the world (Middle East, Madagascar, United Kingdom, North America). Initially traders of all kinds, they have not accumulated as large industrial and financial fortunes as the Ismailis. Curiously, in East Africa, the Bohras became specialized in the sale of hardware, glass and sanitary equipment before engaging, more recently, in construction and property development44. On a much smaller scale, the Bohra organization is similar to that of the Ismailis; the Dai appoints his representative to each elected regional council (jamaat). In Kenya and Tanzania, the Bohras have significant mosques, several schools, hospitals, sports clubs, women’s groups, youth groups, a consumer cooperative society, etc. Like the Ismailis – and probably for the same reasons – the Bohras contribute to various charitable works (helping to build schools and mosques, support for health campaigns, etc.).

48Apart from the orthodox Bohras, East Africa has got a tiny community of reformed Bohras. Created in 1910 in India, this modernistic movement (about 10,000 people in India and the diaspora) rose up against the autocratic nature of the community government. Supporters of a democratic and liberal Islam, the reformed Bohras have some similarities with the disciples of the Aga Khan; they nevertheless reject the excessive docility towards the monarchical principle. In East Africa, they are mostly represented by members of the intellectual bourgeoisie (lawyers, doctors, academics, etc.). The reformed Bohras are also known for their stance in favour of the emancipation of women. If one wishes to meet, among the members of the Indo-Muslim diaspora, educated, independent, unmarried or divorced women who are engaged in professional activities, detached from religion, engaged in political movements and associations, free to cut their hair and to dress in Western style, one must look especially among the reformed Bohras (and incidentally among the Ismailis). Despite their small numbers, the reformed Bohras have significant social and political importance in East Africa, especially in view of their active commitment to civic integration. Of all the Indo-Africans, and together with the Ismailis, they associate the most with the Europeans, a fact that has earned them the malicious and unfounded criticism of “aping” the Westerners by some Muslim radicals.

49The Ithnasheris (literally “the followers of the twelve”) or still, the Ithnasheri Khoja, are in East Africa, the representatives of the Imami Shia or the Twelvers, which represents 90 % of Shia worldwide, including 25 million in Pakistan and 10 to 15 million in India. The Imami Shia differ notably from the Ismailis for having followed the wishes of Jafar, the sixth Imam who rejected his eldest son Ishmael, and appointed his younger son Musa al Kasim to be his successor. However, the Ithnasheri of East Africa have, within the Twelvers, a specific identity. They are indeed the descendants of former Ismaili Khoja, who clashed with the Aga Khan soon after his arrival in India, and who, having been expelled from the Aga Khan’s disciples’ movement in 1866, joined the mainstream Shia (Salvadori 1989: 247, 1988b Penrad: 20). Although the new converts have always displayed willingness to adhere to the strictest precepts of the Imami Shia, the circumstances of this unexpected “conversion” shows that compared to the Shia of old allegiance, they have not totally abandoned Ismaili customs – they have kept the nickname ( “Khoja”), to distinguish them from the other Imamis.

  • 45 Established in Kenya, Sameer Merali, the chairman of the group, operates in the three countries of (...)
  • 46 In 2002, the number of Ithnasheris in the three East African countries was estimated at 16,000 by t (...)

50Like the Ismailis, the Ithnasheris arrived in East Africa as traders, but their scattering was significant in the early years of the twentieth century (Zanzibar, Comoros, Madagascar, Reunion, Mauritius, Lamu, Mombasa, Mogadishu, Dar es Salaam, Rwanda, Burundi and Congolese Kivu). Initially specializing in the purchase and sale of agricultural products (cotton, coffee, sisal), they then diversified their activities (hardware, glass, furniture, auto parts), with some of them acquiring significant financial or industrial property. Among the East African Ithnasheris today, there is at least one major industrial family: the Meralis, well known for the diversity of their investments: tires (Firestone), telecommunications and computing (Celtel, Kenya Data Networks, East African Cables), agro-industry (tea and coffee), finance and insurance (Equatorial Bank, First Insurance Company), etc.45 Within the three East African countries, the number of the Ithnasheris has never exceeded 15 to 20,000 people, a figure now reduced to about 12,000 (including 3,500 in Kenya)46.

51Unlike the Ismailis, the Ithnasheris have a rather slack and less hierarchical organization that adapts, however, to behavior deemed ultra-conservative: separation of sexes at the age of 9 years, compulsory wearing of the chador for girls and limited access to mosques, arranged marriages, strict endogamy, etc. Despite repeated statements of support for women’s advancement and a genuine effort to educate girls, it seems the percentage of those engaged in professional life remains the lowest of all immigrant communities. From an ultra-minority group that remained in India (125,000 people in southern Gujarat and Bombay), the East African Khoja Ithnasheris have kept few ties with their country of origin, but maintain some contacts with their fellow adherents in Iraq and Iran.

  • 47 The syncretism of the Ahmadiyya borrows from Christianity and Hinduism, accepting Krishna and Rama (...)

52Originally from Punjab, the Ahmadiyya (also known as Qadiani or Mirzai) are a messianic and syncretic Muslim sect born in the nineteenth century, now dispersed throughout the world and practicing a charitable and missionary activity (about 10 million followers). Forming an activist group in East Africa (a few thousand people), the Ahmadiyya were among the few (with the Ismailis and some Hindus already mentioned) to undertake the conversion of Africans. In violation of Islamic orthodox precepts (which prohibits religious translation), they transcribed the Koran into Kiswahili and Kikuyu, but received only a small number of converts. Despite facing fairly strong opposition from other Muslims in other parts of the world (both Sunni and Shia), they are pretty well accepted in East Africa. They have several mosques and religious centres, including a large mosque in Nairobi47.

Other religious communities

53In East Africa, there are representatives of other minority Indian religious groups. The main ones are the Parsis and the Christians.

54Originally from Persia (hence the name Parsi or Farsi), the Parsis are former Zoroastrian refugees in India from the tenth century. The Parsis believe in the existence of two antagonistic entities. The first, considered beneficial (Ahura Mazda), is celebrated by fire rituals, a cult equally widespread among the ancient Indo-Europeans. Any flame, symbol of purity, is treated with great respect, including the domestic hearth. Smoking is prohibited. Everyone constantly keeps a lit oil lamp in the home. Four fires burn within the Parsi temples evoking the division of labour into four categories: priests, warriors, craftsmen and peasants. The role of the priests is to maintain the sacred fires with sandalwood.

55Settled in north-western India (Gujarat and Maharashtra) following a complex history, the Parsis turned to trade, banking, and later industry; sectors in which they now hold a dominant position in India (Tata, Bank of India, etc.). Is there a relationship between the religion of the Parsis and their propensity to engage in this type of profession? This was the basis of the Weberian thesis developed some years ago by an American anthropologist (Kennedy 1962). Having been quickly westernized (the first Indian ennobled by the British was a Parsi), the Parsis – whose total number does not exceed 70,000 people (half of whom live outside the country) – have long adopted English as their domestic language and, to some extent, as their religious language (the tombstone epitaphs are written in English).

56From the late nineteenth century, the Parsis migrated to areas under British influence along the Indian Ocean: Aden, Kenya, Zanzibar and South Africa. Although their number in East Africa has never exceeded 1500 people (including about 800 in Kenya), the Parsis formed a bureaucratic and intellectual elite during the colonial era: bank employees, lawyers, doctors, and architects. In Nairobi, in particular, many public buildings were, at the beginning of last century, the work of Parsi architects. Bank of India, the first bank established in Kenya, was almost exclusively run by the Parsis.

57The two tiny communities in Nairobi and Mombasa (about fifty people in total) are today the remnants of this strong presence. They each have their anjuman (local council), their temple, their cemetery (the Parsis no longer expose their dead as before) and their local association. Regardless of its future in East Africa, the Parsi movement is however highly threatened. Despite having a progressive spirit, the Parsis are committed to the principle of endogamous intermarriage; which they see as their only way of preserving their identity. Zoroastrianism is indeed a religion of the chosen and prohibits proselytizing. As it is difficult to imagine the faithful joining from the outside through spontaneous conversion and as religious endogamy is strictly prescribed, Zoroastrianism has acquired de facto ethnic and hereditary character; the Parsis are all of Persian origin. For this same reason, the number of Zoroastrian followers globally has continued to decline.

  • 48 More specifically, the social and regional ancestries combine to classify the Christians of India i (...)

58Numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 people, the Indian African Christians (mostly Catholics) are representatives of the minority 25 million Christians living in India, mainly in the western part of the country. Leaving aside the Protestants, more recently converted by the British missionaries (mostly from the untouchables or tribal groups), this community comes from two categories of converts: the first ones dating back to the early days of Christianity and heavily influenced by the dominant Hinduism (recognition of caste, imposition of vegetarianism, a practice of suicide of widows, etc.); the second group belonging to the second wave of conversion which took place in the sixteenth century through Portuguese occupation. Originally from Goa, the East African Indo-Christians are mostly representatives of the second group48.

  • 49 In Uganda, Gérard Prunier notes a special fondness for such professions as tailors, watchmakers and (...)

59Highly appreciated by the British because of their trilingual education (Portuguese, English and Hindi) and their ability to assimilate to the European values, the Goans were in the early twentieth century the preferred recruits in the Ugandan and Kenyan civil service, even imposing a kind of monopoly at the intermediate levels of local and regional government (tax, customs, post office, etc.). Apart from the public sector, the Goans also practiced skilled professions, designed to satisfy an exclusively European clientele and rather stingy with its confidence. There were among them physicians, pharmacists, nurses or even cooks, tailors, etc.; not to mention traders in food products meant for the settlers: grocery stores, retailers of wines and spirits, bars and restaurants49.

  • 50 Prunier (1990: 70).

60While Goans formed one of the largest Indian communities in East Africa in 1962 (about 15,000 people in Kenya) and provided the majority of the colonial administration’s staff (about 50 % in Uganda)50, their number declined sharply after independence because of the massive recruitment of Africans to the public service. The majority of the Goans returned to India, while the younger ones tried their luck in England, the United States and Portugal.

  • 51 The Goans follow an implicit hierarchy between the Lobo (priestly caste) and other castes of lower (...)
  • 52 A very thorough description of the Goan community in Kenya is provided by Cynthia Salvadori (1989: (...)

61A peculiarity of the Indo-African Christians is their uncertainty about their identity. Holders of Portuguese surnames, having long since adopted many Western customs (especially the language and clothing), they gladly show European ancestry. On the contrary, many of them still adhere to the principles of “ghost castes” and claim the heritage of high-caste Hindus51. Such is particularly the case for those practicing intellectual professions today (teachers, lawyers, doctors, architects, journalists and religious). Descending from a more modest status, and having retained the exceptional internal use of Kankani, one of the vernacular languages of Kerala- the large minority of tailors formed its own community organization: the Santo Francisco Xavier Goan Tailors Society. Moreover, in 1978, the wider Goan community formalised a cultural society (the Goan Culture Society) intended to preserve their rich Indo-Portuguese musical heritage (a kind of Fado sung in two voices in the Kankani language and accompanied by violin and tambourine)52.

Bibliographie

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Notes

1 This chapter lists, updates and expands information previously published by the author in 2004 in Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est (Adam 2004).

2 Because there are no exhaustive reviews, these are rough estimates in the case of Uganda and Tanzania. See the chapter by Laurent Nowik below.

3 According to Prunier (1990: 63).

4 According to Prunier 1 (990: 240) (estimates).

5 The term gnati (Gujarati) is generally used in East Africa in preference to jati (Hindi) to mean caste. It is frequently associated with – and occasionally replaced by – the noun Vanik (regional association) or more simply by the terms panchayat, mandal, sabha, samaj or sanstha (association), which can sometimes mean something other than gnati.

6 Hindus from Gujarat show a special devotion to Amba Devi (the “mother goddess”), also known as Ambika ( “The Mother”).

7 In India, the number of Hindus belonging to the “lower” status represents about 85 % of the total population ( “untouchables”: 15 %, Sudras: 70 %) while the number of “superior” varna, also called “twice-born” (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas), does not exceed 15 % (2 % of whom are Brahmins and barely 1 % are Kshatriya). In East Africa, the share allocated to the same varna “superiors” has probably reached 75 %. A common means to reconstruct origins involves tracing the origins of one’s lineage in one of the northern provinces of India where the proportion of the upper castes is higher than anywhere else (Rajasthan, Punjab or even Kashmir where almost all the Hindus have the status of Brahmins).

8 Unlike the Shia Ismailis or the Bohras, the Hindus and the Jains generally do not pay regular annual subscriptions, but make prompt donations to the communities to which they belong.

9 In Hindu worship and even in other Indian religions, the necessity to involve the Brahmins lies in the fact that, being endowed with a kind of “inner purity” (that is to say that they are only affected by “external impurity”, which they can easily get rid of by basic cleansing practices), they are the only ones who can engage in some daily ritual acts necessary for communal life (invocations, mantras, sacrifices). This need is all the more strengthened in the context of expatriation, which exposes migrants to frequent occasions of uncleanness, prohibited in the Vedic, as already quoted elsewhere. In addition to daily rituals there are of course more important ceremonies such as rites of passage. This is what explains the relatively high proportion of Brahmins in the diaspora from the earliest days of colonization.

10 This principle known as “infiltration” which allows a Brahmin to rid himself of the effect of impure contact by means of appropriate rituals actually applies to all individuals. A representative of any caste may occasionally engage in impure domestic tasks without compromising his status. It is even possible to imagine that he permanently compromises himself by practicing an impure activity (such as automotive repair business) provided that he most often keeps himself away from impure gestures. Agehananda Bharati compares this situation to the Europeans’ engaging in DIY activities during the weekend (Bharati 1972: 70).

11 In Kenya, we can name Jani (CFC Life Heritage) and Rawal (Devki Steel Works).

12 Besides some non-Hindu minorities – like the Shia Ismaili Muslims – who have ceased in recent years to use the services of the Brahmins in some of their ceremonies like weddings (see below in this chapter and the chapter on the Ismailis), other minorities who are not strictly Hindu – such as the Sikhs – have also reduced the participation of the Brahmins in their rituals.

13 The number of the Kshatriyas is less than 1 % of India’s total population, slightly less than 10 million people.

14 Among the wealthy families of this community there are: Chande (textiles) Daruda (food industry), Madhvani (food industry), Nattwani (steel), Sanghani (plastics, tourism agencies), Somaya (former Delphis Bank, stationery), Suru Tana (printing).

15 Many Cutchi Patels live quite modestly in unpretentious homes.

16 See the introductory chapter.

17 Among the Patel families with substantial interests in the East African economy are the names of D. Medjee (food), V. and B. Patel (pharmaceuticals), and R. Patel (metal industry, stationery).

18 Besides the various caste associations, there are, as noted earlier, purely regional associations like Maharashtra Mandal (involving Hindus from Maharashtra) and Shree Sanatan Dharma Sabha (association of Punjabi Hindus), both characterized by the relatively high status of their members (engineers, architects, doctors, teachers). For details on all the Hindu communities established in Kenya, see Adam (2004: 1-39).

19 In Kenya, several Arya Samaj leaders had nevertheless backed the African nationalist organizations in the years before independence (Ombongi 1993: 142-161).

20 The Jains recognize three levels of liberation: of ordinary believers, of monks (sadhu), of spiritual guides (tirthanker). The tirthankers are represented by animals (such as bulls, snakes, marine conches, etc.) and by specific colours (yellow, black, blue, etc.). In the Jain cosmology, there are also good and evil animal spirits (dev and nar) which can be seen as remnants of ancient Hindu deities (Vishnu, Krishna, etc.). These deities are given names and are the subject of a popular cult. The same can be said of Lakshmidev, Lakshmi’s avatar, companion of Vishnu and goddess of merchants to the Hindus. Despite the dogmatic divisions, such a supernatural environment brings the worship of the Jains closer to that of the Hindus.

21 A rough estimate of community associations in Kenya, as no census has been conducted in Tanzania and Uganda.

22 In 1916, according to Cynthia Salvadori, 95 % of the textile trade was in the hands of the Oshwals (1989: 175).

23 Purely vegetarian, their meals neither include tubers nor vegetables rooted in the soil (garlic, onions, etc.) for the reason that their removal, in the eyes of the faithful, might injure or to kill the microscopic animals living in their vicinity.

24 Considered the second taxpayer in Kenya, Vimal Shah owns two very important edible oil refineries in Uganda (Jinja) and Tanzania (Dar es Salaam). He also owns a plantation of 60,000 hectares of palm trees in the Ugandan island of Bugala (Lake Victoria), an investment that earned him serious criticism from environmental pressure groups attached to the conservation of forest and natural resources of this region. Among other wealthy families in East Africa, we can name: Mehta (food, insurance, pharmaceuticals, electricity), Manihal Doodhia (banking), M. Shah (banking, insurance, automobile), J.H. Shah (pharmaceuticals). There are at least twenty other Jain families who have taken a leading role in the regional economy.

25 Sikhs believe in one God, creator of the universe. This God is not incarnate; no representation of him can be made. The fate of every human being and the number of his successive rebirths before accessing nirvana are determined by his actions (karma). The way to right actions cannot be given by any ritual, any prayer, any ascetic renunciation or any intermediary (guru, etc.), but by divine grace (sahj) which is obtained through inner experience and meditation.

26 The old Indian province of Punjab was cut in half in 1947 by the partition between India and Pakistan. The majority of the Sikhs occupying the Pakistani side then rejoined the Indian Punjab. In 1994, the Sikhs constituted 61 % of the total population of the Indian state of Punjab (Encyclopeadia of India, XVIII, 1994: 76).

27 See further below the chapter dedicated to family and marriages.

28 Muslim population in the three countries: Tanzania: 10.5 million (30 %), Kenya: 3.5 million (10 %), Uganda: between 3 and 5 million (10 to 16 % according to estimates).

29 Data for Uganda is imprecise. See below the chapter by Laurent Nowik.

30 Having played – and still playing – an important role in the political history of Tanzania given their demographic weight and economic importance, Muslims reside in retreat in Kenya and Uganda. In both Kenya and Tanzania, the Muslim religion is primarily tied to the existence of Arab-Swahili cultural minorities resulting from pro-slavery principalities. In Uganda, the small Muslim minority suffers from the favours it was granted at the time of the dictatorship of Idi Amin Dada, himself a Muslim. Moreover, Muslim institutions in existence since the colonial period come up against fundamentalist activist organizations in all the three East African countries. In Tanzania, the Community of Islamic Institutions unites with difficulties all Muslim organizations, among them BAKWATA (Baraza Kuu la Waislamu wa Tanzania), the ecumenical agency of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and also the representative the government prefers to deal with. In Kenya, the conservative Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims is opposed to various more radical organizations: National Union of Kenya Muslims, Islamic Party of Kenya and Safina Party, representing the Somali minority (itself suffering from a bad image due to the prevailing opinion). To counter the popular stigma after the fall of Idi Amin Dada, the Ugandan Muslims gathered to form the moderate Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. This organization is, however, strongly opposed by the Uganda Islamic Revolutionary Party, which is supported by Tabliq’s fundamentalist activists. Concerning all these issues, see the works of Constantin (1995), Maupeu (2002), Penrad (2003) and Cussac & Gomes (2010).

31 Founded by the Aga Khan in 1937, the East African Muslim Welfare Society is an ecumenical charitable organization bringing together both Shia and Sunni members. In Tanzania, Nyerere’s government disbanded it in 1968. It is still active in Kenya and Uganda.

32 Prototype of Mughal religious art, the great mosque in Nairobi was built under the supervision of a Punjabi architect. It has many much more modest and often charming replicas in rural Kenya and Tanzania, especially in the central province of Kenya and along the Mombasa-Kampala railway line.

33 They own a famous cricket club.

34 See below the chapter by Colette Le Cour Grandmaison.

35 From Gujarati khwaja meaning “lord”.

36 “Islam”, said the Aga Khan in one of his many speeches to industrialists, “does not only mean faith, but work; it requires, as far as your means, creating a world in which you are drawn to practice your religion and to practice your religion, you should be able to do this: create a world in which you work” (Karim Aga Khan’s speech, quoted by Nanji 1974: 137)

37 Among the outstanding Indian personalities in East Africa at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was Allidina Visram, an Ismaili of humble origins, who arrived in Zanzibar at the age of 16 and was one of the first Indians to settle as a trader in German East Africa. Having opened a trading post at Fort Lugard (Kampala) in 1900, he imported, exported and founded the first Indo-Ugandan bank. His bust was erected in a square in Mombasa.

38 Gérard Prunier gives a figure of 14,000 Ismailis in Uganda in 1972, on the eve of the expulsion of Indians by Idi Amin Dada (Prunier 1990: 67).

39 Part of the Ismaili investments actually belong to the Aga Khan himself through various agencies (Industrial Promotion Services, Tourism Promotion Services, and Industrial Promotion Buildings). But, as Colette Le Cour Grandmaison explains in this book, it is very difficult to separate what belongs directly to the Aga Khan on one hand and what belongs to the other Ismaili societies on the other hand. Among the industries or enterprises controlled by the Aga Khan or other Ismaili investors include: food industry (Premier Food, Farmer’s Choice), the production and exportation of fruits and vegetables (Frigoken), tourism (Serena Hotels), electricity (Tsavo Power), stationery, packaging and printing (All Pack Industries, Printing & Packaging, Kenya Litho), chemicals (TIP Soap Industries), pharmaceuticals (Kampala Pharmaceutical Industries), textiles (Kamyn Industries), automobile (Simba Colt), plastics (Plastic and Rubber Industries), leather industry (Leather Industries of Kenya and Uganda), household electrical equipment (Reefer Industries), industrial fishing (Alpha), banking (Industrial Promotion Service), insurance (Jubilee Insurance).

40 As Colette Le Cour Grandmaison explains in her contribution, the Ismaili “government” has five “ministerial departments” decentralized in the different parts of the world in the form of boards, themselves placed, in each regional constituency (a dozen in total) under the control of regional councils. The Aga Khan exerts his influence on regional councils (elected), appoints the leaders of regional communities (jamaat) and members of arbitration boards; real para-legal bodies. These bodies have competence over civil matters (particularly marital), commercial and religious. They can levy fines and order excommunications or banishments, extreme measures, which not only ostracize from the community but also certainly entail the destruction of the condemned. In all cases, the Aga Khan is the appeal body of last resort. Despite intense competition for the government posts, the Aga Khan controls the ruling class, part of which is his own creation. The leader of the Ismailis has also put in place a system of honours and titles, similar to quasi-nobility, which gives an order of precedence at official ceremonies. However, for the past thirty years or so, the Ismaili bureaucracy has become greatly professionalized, conducting recruitment through competition and calling upon graduates of major international universities to take up leadership positions. Indians in the diaspora view the Nizari organization with a mixture of hostility and envy. As will be discussed in the following pages, the other Shia communities of Indian origin have tried without full success to reproduce the model of the disciples of the Aga Khan.

41 Designated by the respectful title of Mutlaq ( “His Holiness”), the current Dai, Al-Mutlaq Syedna Muhammed Burhanuddin (52nd in the line), was born in 1915 and enthroned in 1966. Just as with the Aga Khan of the Nizaris, the faithful often seek his advice on the events of day-to-day life (choosing a spouse, undertaking an investment, etc.). The Dai made a remarkable visit to Kenya in January 2002.

42 Having had the first woman Dai in their history, in the 12th century, the Bohras advocate for gender equality, a proposition which has resulted in women having a limited access to mosques. Alone of all the Indian Muslims, they practice clitoridectomy, a custom probably inherited from their religious Fatimid or Yemeni ancestors (Salvadori 1989: 265). Hotly challenged by young women of the new generation, this custom is disappearing. From their supposed Brahmin origins, the Bohras retain strong food prejudices, generally observing a vegetarian diet.

43 According to Salvadori (1989: 257), there were in Lamu, in 1874, Bohra traders specialized in the exportation of the bark of mangroves to India, and in the sales of packaging for the transportation of spices in Zanzibar. See below the chapter by Nathalie Gomes.

44 This approach does not seem to have been affected by the control of lending with interest.
See below Nathalie Gomes’ comments on this issue. The Bohras are almost never holders of food businesses and also pride themselves in not engaging in occupations formerly reserved for lower caste status: leather crafts, laundry, etc.

45 Established in Kenya, Sameer Merali, the chairman of the group, operates in the three countries of the economic community. As was already mentioned in a previous chapter, Celtel Kenya in which Sameer Merali owns 40 % of the capital is the second mobile phone operator in Kenya.

46 In 2002, the number of Ithnasheris in the three East African countries was estimated at 16,000 by the chairman of the Nairobi Jaffery Islamic Centre (oral communication). This number, probably overvalued at the time, has since fallen sharply due to the many departures to North America. It is in Tanzania that the Ithnasheris are still numerous (8,000 to 10,000). In Uganda, however, they only have a very small number of representatives.

47 The syncretism of the Ahmadiyya borrows from Christianity and Hinduism, accepting Krishna and Rama as prophets of Islam. Dead in Kashmir and buried in Srinagar, Jesus should, according to their beliefs, reincarnate before the end of time. The Ahmadiyya are not recognized as Muslims in many predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan. Under pressure from Libya, their presence was banned in Uganda at the time of Idi Amin Dada. In Kenya, they are not formally represented in the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, and therefore cannot benefit – at least in theory – from the facilities accorded by this institution to organize the pilgrimage to Mecca.

48 More specifically, the social and regional ancestries combine to classify the Christians of India into three categories: the first, converts of the 1st and 2nd centuries (Syriac Catholics in the western sub-continent) are from the upper castes: Brahmins and Kshatriyas. The converts of the 16th century (Goa and other Portuguese colonies on the west coast) have more diverse social origins, but also have among their ancestors many representatives of the higher castes. The most recent converts (19th and 20th century) are divided between Catholics and Protestants (often Baptist), and generally belong to lower social classes or those discriminated against. Today, they (Sudra, “untouchables”, tribal populations) make up more than half the Christian population. These new converts are concentrated in Tamil Nadu or the north eastern part of the subcontinent. For more on these issues, see the recent and well-documented book written by Catherine Clementin-Ojha (2008). In East Africa, there is a small minority of Indo-African Baptists (1,000 people?), some of them from the Sunni Memon group.

49 In Uganda, Gérard Prunier notes a special fondness for such professions as tailors, watchmakers and photographers among the Goans (Prunier 1990: 70). Little is known about the financial contribution of the Goans towards the building of churches and Catholic schools in Kenya and Uganda (especially the cathedrals of Nairobi and Mombasa).

50 Prunier (1990: 70).

51 The Goans follow an implicit hierarchy between the Lobo (priestly caste) and other castes of lower status designated by Portuguese surnames (Braganza, Da Costa, Da Souza, etc.).

52 A very thorough description of the Goan community in Kenya is provided by Cynthia Salvadori (1989: 305-325).

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