Version classiqueVersion mobile

Indian Africa

Adam Michel

Living Apart Together: Economic and Spatial Logic of Indian Communities in Nakuru (Kenya)1

Barbara Morovich

Texte intégral

  • 1 The author is grateful to all the people she interviewed in Nakuru and Nairobi as well as the Frenc (...)
  • 2 After Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu towns (CBS, 1994).

1Like most urban areas of Kenya, Nakuru town is home to a small population of Indian origin that is mainly engaged in commercial and industrial activities. This minority, the fourth largest in all cities of Kenya, is clustered in the town centre and lives relatively far away from the African population though it maintains close business and professional relationships with the latter. For several decades now, Asian minorities have been an important element of city life2.

2With a population of 256,300 inhabitants, Nakuru is the third largest city of Kenya and is located approximately 160 kilometres northwest of Nairobi. Nakuru is a dusty town in the Rift Valley (derived from nagurro, meaning a “dusty place” in Maasai language) and is known for its salt lake that is associated with thousands of flamingos as well as the animal park that bears its name. Given the value of this natural heritage, the residents of Nakuru are differently involved in relatively prosperous commercial activities that are nurtured and maintained through tourism, both inside and outside the park (guides, travel agencies, hotels and lodges, restaurants, handicrafts, etc.). The representatives of the Kenyan Asian are differently involved in these activities.

  • 3 For the native Maasai population, the central part of the Rift Valley was their pasture and route, (...)

3Nakuru town is also one of Kenya’s main agricultural areas. It was formerly occupied by British settlers but is currently redistributed to African large scale farmers. There are more and more different industrial activities in the immediate neighbourhood of this municipality (flour mills, food industries, textile, mechanical, etc.). The town was established by the British settlers in the early decades of the twentieth century and marked an important step in the construction of the Mombasa – Kampala railway line. Nakuru is in fact halfway between the two cities. It currently accommodates a heterogeneous population that is largely made up of immigrants from outside the region, most of them from two opposite sides of the Rift Valley (the Kalenjin in the West and the Kikuyu in the East3.

  • 4 Figures from the 1989 census (CBS, 1994).
  • 5 See the appendix. Since the last census of 1999 did not give details about ethnic belonging in the (...)

4The Asian settlers established themselves in Nakuru early in the twentieth century with the arrival of the railway and just like elsewhere in Kenya where there were various fluctuations especially after independence; they gradually increased as the town grew. In the first two years after independence (1963–1965), they were affected by significant departures, and after accommodating a section of Indian refugees from Uganda in 1972, the town once again witnessed the beginning of an exodus in 1982, following persecutions that affected many traders. Since then, the population of Asian settlers has been up and down: significant increase from 1983 to 1989 (up to 2516 people in 1989)4; significant decline since the departure of many residents (mainly towards Western countries) who were not offset by the recent arrival of a new wave of immigrants from India (1892 persons in 2006 according to our own census)5.

5Throughout the colonial period, Nakuru Asians were subjected to segregation imposed by the British settlers, though they did not object to all of its consequences. Thus, in educational matters, representatives of different communities greeted with some satisfaction the principle of separate Asian schools whose languages of instruction were vernacular languages (primarily Gujarati and occasionally Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi). Another satisfactory effect of this segregation to Asians is that they were able to remain respectful to certain specific traditions (for example vegetarianism and other dietary restrictions).

  • 6 In 1950, Ibrahim Karimbux of Kenya Oatmeal Limited wrote to the District Commissioner: “The above p (...)
  • 7 On 11 April 1950, the leaders of this association complained that the Indian representatives chosen (...)

6Regarding residential areas, all Asian immigrants were from 1940 clustered in an area known as “58” in Section III of the residential area. Sections I (on the hilltops overlooking the city) and II (in the lower parts of the city) were respectively assigned to the Europeans (European residential area) and Africans (African location). Muslims were initially mixed with members of other religions (mainly Hindus and Sikhs) but they were later resettled in an area where there was a mosque after an intervention by the Muslim Association of Nakuru6. In the 1950s, concessions of plots were generally controlled by the two largest associations, namely the Muslim Association and the Indian Association7. Many letters testify the role of these associations at the time: pressure groups in which hierarchies are important with some families holding dominant posts. For the most recent immigrants, obtaining their protection was a major asset.

7Visible geographical and physical description of the Indian position by Europeans and Africans was the symbolic translation of their intermediate position in labour division, in wealth distribution and hierarchal honours as commissioned by the colonial order. Since Asians were divided into numerous castes that were strongly hierarchical and closed and were widely believed to be a unified ethnic community, they formed a sort of caste that was between the British order and the African mass of peasants and pastoralists.

  • 8 In this residential area, there are currently about twenty community and religious centres (six Hin (...)

8Despite total abolition of all forms of discrimination and segregation, the situation today has some similarities with that of the past. If the different communities are no longer confined in strictly segregated neighbourhoods like in the past, (most Europeans have also left the country), the social division of space has reinforced the relics of the old ethnic division which did not disappear completely. Thus, after acquiring several luxury residences, the richest Asians went to occupy part of the European residential areas (Milimani). Other wealthy families (albeit lower levels of wealth), invested in the housing estate called “Nakuru Blanket” along the road from Nairobi. As for the majority of families, they remained in the old residential area “58”, which is synonymous with the colonial segregation. Many of them remain attached to this place because they are used to it and it is also convenient (presence of places of worship and community meetings), not forgetting that the area is safer (collective security to their houses)8.

An overview of various communities: The Hindus

  • 9 Adam (2004: 11).

9With nearly 1600 people (1592), Hindus at large (including Sikhs and Jains) represent 84.5 % of total Asian community. This percentage is considerably higher than those of other towns in Kenya (on average: 63 %; Nairobi: 69 %; Mombasa: 48 %)9. Except for Arya Samaj (a Hindu minority that is moving away from the caste system), Sikhs and Jains (incorporated in the records of the Hindu Council, but in reality at the margin of Hinduism), the Asian community is divided into about twelve communities representing the old castes (jati or gnati). These communities have maintained all characteristics of the old castes that they represent (professional specialization, endogamy, even geographic origins, etc.).

Composition of the groups affiliated to the Hindu Council of Nakuru

Statutory Hindu groups (gnati)

  • Brahma Samaj (Brahmas):
  • Rajput (kshatryya)
  • Lohana (traders)
  • Patel (traders, former peasants)
  • Prajapati or Kumbhar (potters)
  • Vanza Community (tailors)
  • Hindu dissidents or non-Hindus, strictly speaking
  • Arya Samaj
  • Majority Jains (Visa Oshwal Community)
  • Minority Jains (Navnat Vanik Mahajan)
  • Sikhs
  • Umbrella regional organisations
  • Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union
  • Kutchi Community
  • South Indian Community

10A section on Nakuru in the Hindu Council of Kenya’s booklet lists Asian communities in alphabetical order, irrespective of caste hierarchy and differences in religion. As mentioned earlier, the Hindu Council is composed of orthodox Hindus and dissidents (Arya Samaj, Jain, etc.) as well as Sikhs. Officials of the organization have used this method of classification in order to avoid displaying differences in social status or religious primacy among Hindus. This in turn makes other people think that Asians have a very strong internal solidarity. While respecting religious differences (Hindus, Hindu dissenters, Sikhs), we chose to present these communities according to their population sizes. We have also separately classified regional umbrella religious organizations for purposes of clarity and consistency.

The Patels

  • 10 The Patels formed one of the largest Hindu communities in Kenya but left the country en masse after (...)
  • 11 Up to the 1960s, a number of Patels were masons by profession.

11The population of the Patels, also known as Patidar in Kenya is about 10,000. They are 350 in Nakuru and of all orthodox Hindu groups, they are first in terms of importance, economically if not in terms of integration into the town10. Most Patels in Nakuru are in fact relatively recent immigrants from families that settled shortly before or after the Second World War. Other families arrived after independence, and were either small shopkeepers from the bush, former construction workers11 or low cadre employees coming from all over, especially after the British had fired most of the small colonial officers, among them large numbers of Patels. Having fought hard to get a place in business between Lohanas and Jains, the Patels are mainly in retail trade. This means that they do not occupy dominant positions although they are comfortable. There are representatives of two best known groups of Patels in Nakuru, both of them originally from Gujarat. These are the minority and higher status Kaira Leva from the Kathiawar peninsula and the Cutchi Leva from Cutch. APatel Brotherhood Centre comprised of a library, a reading room and a sports field opened its doors in 1931 in Nakuru. Extensions of this community centre took place in 1957 and 1972, including the construction of a temple dedicated to Krishna (Salvadori 1989: 107).

The Lohanas

  • 12 When the research was done (2005), the then Chairman had been elected for two years. His own father (...)

12Numbering about 90 people of thirty domestic groups, the Lohanas are a prosperous, powerful and organized Hindu group in Nakuru. They settled in the area since the arrival of the railway line (at the very beginning of the last century), the majority of them being businessmen. The Lohanas have two associations, one for men (Lohana Mahajan Mandal) and the other for women (Lohana Mahila Mandal). Their temple, Raghuvansh Bhavan, is located opposite Lions Primary School, currently one of the most reputable private primary schools in Nakuru. The school is meant for children from this community, though it welcomes students from all backgrounds, including a majority from the Indian diaspora. The school’s current chairman is a Lohana (2005). In addition, the Hindu Council of Nakuru was largely dominated by Lohanas for almost two decades12. The Lohanas living in Nakuru largely remain tied to endogamous practices. While showing their willingness to overcome these constraints (by choosing their spouse from another Asian community, or even from a European family), almost all young people usually end up bending community directives.

The Prajapatis

  • 13 Salvadori (1989: 109).
  • 14 Although the Prajapati mainly live in section “58” as already mentioned, many of their representati (...)

13There are 19 domestic groups (72 people) in Nakuru belonging to the Prajapati Hindu community. Also known as the Kumbhar, the Prajapatis were originally potters. This profession is not well respected in India. In Kenya, the Prajapatis abandoned their statutory specialty and frequently work as masons or carpenters13. In the city of Nakuru, the Prajapatis are represented in many industrial occupations: construction (conventional outlet for masons and carpenters), oil based industries, food and soap industries, automobile industry14.

The Brahmas

  • 15 According to the 2005 Hindu Council Directory, 10 groups of domestic workers are housed in annexes (...)

14About 45 people (eleven families), the Brahmas are a strictly endogamous group. Only some of its members are engaged in religious activities, others are generally engaged in educational, administrative or service related professions. There settlement in Nakuru dates back to many decades and the community is represented by the Brahma Samaj association. In the recent past, the community partly revitalized itself by severally welcoming young priests from India. The newcomers came because there were no Brahmins with the required religious training on the ground. The community provided houses in which they settled15.

The Vanza (or Wanza)

15Having been present in East Africa from the nineteenth century, the Vanza or Wanza Darji are among the first immigrants in Kenya. They are sizeable in Mombasa, Nairobi and other towns, though their numbers have greatly reduced. They do not exceed one thousand people in Kenya (Adam 2004: 11). In Nakuru, they form a small community of 26 individuals (seven domestic groups). Almost all of them live in section “58”, but they have their shops and stalls in town. Since they have not lost their occupational ties, most of them are still tailors, garment retailers or wholesalers, and even fabric traders. One of the characteristics of the Darji is their progressive attitude towards marriage. Opposed to the excesses of the dowry system (whose practice is also declining in the whole of East Africa), they show a certain tolerance to divorce among women and even accept remarriage of divorced women or widows (Salvadori 1989: 115).

The Rajputs

  • 16 Salvadori (1989: 111).

16It is known that the Rajputs belong to the Kshatriya minority (former aristocrats); their members still work in different socioeconomic sectors and occupy various positions. There are currently about one hundred Rajputs in Kenya. At the beginning of last century, a famous member of this community, Harisinh Gujabhai Jethwa, brought many Rajputs to Nakuru after opening stores for the railway employees (rations shop and grocery)16. Thus, Nakuru was for some time the centre of the Kshatriya community of Kenya. Their association, the East African Rajput League, founded in 1955, still maintains its headquarters in Nakuru, though its local members are now reduced to five families. The Rajputs no longer have their own temple and for this reason, they worship in temples belonging to other orthodox Hindus.

The Arya Samaj (reformed Hindus)

  • 17 For more information about the Arya Samaj movement in Kenya, read Salvadori (1989: 121-125).
  • 18 The same Arya Samaj family established and owns 4 private schools in Nakuru: Shiner’s Girls High Sc (...)

17The Arya Samaj reformed movement, which is opposed to the caste principle and idol worship, encourages ascetic behaviour by preaching a return to Vedic principles. They are mostly represented by Punjab belonging to the vaishya castes. The Arya Samaj in Kenya were once the most educated group of railway workers (Salvadori 1989: 123). Numbering about a thousand in Kenya, they extol virtues of openness towards Africans, whose rights they defended in colonial times. If their representatives are to be believed, the organizational structure of this group is fully democratic and reserves an active role to women17. They have been in Nakuru since 1906 where they opened a prayer room that was refurbished and enlarged in 1931. Although the community is now barely 60 people (divided into 21 household groups), its influence is great in the local intellectual life. The Arya Samaj participate in educational activities of the town, both as school managers and as teachers, including in schools attended mostly by Kenyan students18. Other community members are engaged in industrial and commercial activities (motor vehicles, food industry, public works and construction). While Arya Samaj initially held a modest place in the administration of the Hindu Council, their influence has grown, suggesting the hypothesis of a modernist approach of the institution’s proposed by the group.

The Jains

18The Jains have a religion contemporary and close to Buddhism, dating back to the fifth century BC. They are the best known Hindu dissenters. They settled in Kenya along time ago and are particularly numerous in the country (about 15,000 people). They are well represented in Nakuru, both in number (630 persons) and business, being among the most successful groups of all Asian Kenyans. Just like elsewhere in Kenya, in Nakuru they are divided between two regional groups, also separated by a few doctrinal differences: the Navnat and the Oshwal, or Visa Oshwal, who are predominant. Though they remain united, the two Jain communities have formed separate associations (Visa Oshwal Mahila Mandal and Navnat Vanik Mahajan).

  • 19 The success of Nakumatt contributed to some Jain families’ good reputation in entrepreneurship. Nak (...)
  • 20 Established in 1988 under the name Menangai Soap Factory by a family of fabric merchants, this indu (...)

19At the national level, the Visa Oshwal Jains are dominant in several economic sectors (banking, insurance, imports and exports, textiles, pharmaceuticals, food industry, supermarkets)19. There are 144 Visa Oshwal Jain family groups in Nakuru where they work in different sectors, often with high levels of professional qualifications: physicians, pharmacists, engineers, teachers, industrialists and all types of merchants (from specialized business to mass marketing). The Visa Oshwal community in Nakuru has more than 70 industrial, commercial and service companies (textiles, food industry, mechanical engineering, insurance, etc.). The case of Menengai Oil Refineries illustrates local success of a vibrant industrial diversification20.

20The Navnat Vanik Mahajan Community (with 24 domestic groups) is also present in Nakuru and lives in several residential areas (Section 58, Nakuru Blanket as well as other areas, including Milimani). Its members specialize in trade (supermarkets, food, etc.), insurance, as well as the automobile industry.

  • 21 The example of Sushi Shah, the first elected woman to head the 411 A Lions Club District (Kenya and (...)

21In social life, the Jains exhibit liberal behaviours and are rather tolerant to mixed marriages (even if they strongly continue advocating for endogamy within the community). Moreover, they are advocates of women’s emancipation21. The local branch of the Theosophical Society is headed by a woman and has shown its willingness to accept intermarriage with Africans.

The Sikhs

  • 22 Note Tayler’s Travel Ltd., a major travel agency belonging to a member of the Sikh community.

22After Patels and Jains, Sikhs are the third largest in population among communities of Asian origin in Nakuru (200 people split among 80 families that are grouped into 25 household groups). Having been in Nakuru for many decades, (their temple was built there more than sixty years ago), this community is also one of the most dynamic since it is involved in various activities. The Sikhs acquired some sort of speciality in the automobile mechanics and construction industry in Kenya, but are also involved in other industries, including textiles, food processing and tourism22. The presence of several Sikhs in the luxurious residential area of Milimani attests to their economic success.

23Although they chose to join the umbrella organization of Hindus, it is a known fact that Sikhs claim to follow a religion that merges different doctrines. Their religion has a strong Muslim influence and is principally opposed to the caste system. In addition, this community showed a rare example in Kenya in that, among all religious communities from India, it tried to convert people to Sikhism by publishing a booklet entitled Dini ya Sikh in 1968, whose aim was to explain Sikhism in Kiswahili.

  • 23 The local section of the Hindu Council of Kenya was headed by a Sikh in 1984, 1989 and 1990. Establ (...)

24The Sikhs retained their community centre in section “58” of Nakuru (temple, school, headquarters of the Siri Guru Singh Sabha Association, etc.) and they work in collaboration with Hindus and Jains in the administration of the Hindu local council23.

The Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union and the Kutchi community

  • 24 It is a noble building made up of several rooms, surrounded by adjoining constructions and a garden

25Being a vestige of an era where every statutory group was too small to organize itself into an association, the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union was established in Nakuru in 1905 with the aim of constructing a crematory (completed in 1907). It is therefore the oldest of the federal community based extra regional institutions. Although it still brings together Hindus belonging to various jati (as already mentioned above and some of them holding dual membership of different associations), the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union has retained its unique identity. It has one of the oldest temples in Kenya, built in 1914 in the heart of section “58” and is frequented by a multitude of Hindu followers24.

26Members of the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union (some of them among the richest of the Hindu community) are represented by 16 groups and 51 households. The majority of them reside in section “58” but also Milimani and Nakuru Blanket.

  • 25 Pierre Lachaier’s written communication. In India, Kachch has a maritime façade and known to be the (...)

27Although there is no trace of its existence in the national registry of the Hindu Council, the Kutchi community is, just like the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union, a supra-regional organization, probably claiming to be representatives of a small region called Kachch, which belongs to Gujarat province and occupied by a minority of Kachchi25 language speakers. Mainly based in Nakuru Blanket or Section 58, the Kutchi community is comprised of twenty domestic groups (74 households) who are engaged in various professional activities, including real estate construction and sale of automobile spare parts.

The South Indian community

28Like the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union and the Kutchi Community, the South Indian Community is another supra-regional community association that brings together a small number of families from different Hindu communities, but all originating from South India. In Nakuru, the organization includes about forty people (44 households and 12 domestic groups) mainly residing in the section “58” area.

The Muslims

  • 26 Adam (2004: 11).

29Muslims of Indian origin are present in Nakuru though they are still a small minority among the representatives of the diaspora (350 people in total, approximately 18 % of the town’s Asian Kenyans instead of 36 % for the whole of Kenya)26. As expected, given the relative importance of the number of Muslims in coastal regions, the proportion of Muslim Asian Kenyans is high in those regions and significantly decreases in districts where Muslims of African origin are themselves poorly represented.

  • 27 Adam (2004: 26).

30Just like elsewhere in Kenya, Muslims of Indian origin in Nakuru are divided in two communities, the Sunni and the Shia. But the proportion of Indian Sunnis in this town is slightly higher than the national level (200 out of 350 people or 57 % of the total instead of 53.5 %)27. This is a small difference for which there is no particular explanation. Muslim Asian Kenyans are generally members of specific community organizations, some of them purely religious (which differentiate affiliation of each group in the case of the Shia), and others which are modelled on those of Hindus and often reflect former statutory stratifications similar to those of Hindu jatis (in the case of the Sunni). Sunnis and Shia also adhere to Islamic institutions of ecumenical nature like the Islamic Foundation (dominated by Sunnis), the East African Muslim Welfare Association (dominated by the Ismailia) or the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (an authority that represents all Muslims to the government). Finally, Sunnis of Indian origin have a common organization with the Swahili and Somali Muslims living in the town: the Muslim Association of Nakuru.

The Ismaili

31Like in the rest of Kenya, and generally like elsewhere in the world, the Ismailia of Nakuru virtually control managerial positions: supermarket owners, hotel owners, industrialists, architects, doctors, etc. With 60 people, the community is represented by the Ismailis Aga Khanis association. Apart from the community’s internal administration (dealing with statutory issues, Marriage Council, Religion Board, Education Board, Social Welfare Board), the association is particularly dedicated to benevolent work.

The Bohra

32Being Ismailia dissidents, the Bohra (Tayyibi Dawoodi) form a small discreet community in Nakuru of about twenty families, generally dispersed in residential areas belonging to Asians. Nevertheless, they have a place of worship. Like elsewhere in East Africa, Nakuru Bohras are traders and businessmen, specialized in hardware, glassware, health facilities and property management. They are more attentive to women’s advancement than the Ithnasheri, their closest religious cousins. They are no less concerned about their attire, requiring them to wear a long skirt and a bui bui (a cap that resembles the Islamic veil).

The Ithnasheri

33The Ithnasheri (Shia Muslims linked to the dominant Shi’ism) are about thirty families in Nakuru and generally pursue business. Despite their small numbers, they have their own mosque. They do not belong to Muslim ecumenical associations but are members of the Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya, an association meant for conversion to Islam. The Ithnasheri of Nakuru do not seem to contradict the reputation of social conservatism that is meant for the Kenyan Ithnasheri in general. Ithnasheri women usually wear the chador or the hijab and long skirts and few of them are engaged in professional activities. All of their marriages are arranged. Mostly originating from what is now Pakistan (former western provinces of India), the Ithnasheri of Nakuru speak Urdu, which makes them somewhat different from other communities of Indian origin in the town because almost all of them originated from Gujarat.

The Sunni

34The Sunni are about 200 people in Nakuru and the majority belongs to the three major Sunni organizations represented in Kenya: the Punjabi, the Cutchi and the Memon. Punjabi Muslims are engaged in various professions (especially in trade and industry), and are particularly known for their socially liberal positions, particularly in relation to matrimonial alliances. They accept (though this is not encouraged) occasional unions with Africans. Sunnis of Indian origin lack their own place of worship and for this reason, they share Jaamia Mosque with the Swahili and Somali. This mosque is used by all Sunni followers in town.

Professional diversification and social development

35As noted in the preceding chapters, lack of economic specialization is a common characteristic among various communities of Indian origin living in Nakuru. There is also a second feature that has not been discussed so far and is a result of the first one: the capacity to revitalize activities. Many Asian Kenyan entrepreneurs exhibit opportunistic behaviours that make them quickly change their activities. In fact, they do not hesitate to abandon a previous activity, or to establish a second one which is sometimes very different from the previous one. Though stories of individual upward mobility usually conceal the difficulties and failures met, the variety of industrial and commercial careers provides an overview of qualities that Asian Kenyan business families are known for; that is to say: anticipation, adaptation and financial audacity. It is possible that the “positive versatility” shown with this type of behaviour is related to immigration status, which motivated them to venture in business while intercommunity social control has considerably weakened (Adam 2010: 230). In addition, the second explanatory factor (and which is related to the first one) is relatively based on the homogeneous character of the origins of their social status because a big majority of immigrants belong to castes (or virtual castes among non-Hindus) from intermediate-level hierarchy of the ranks of different vaishya (Ibid: 227).

36Indeed, a systematic analysis of individual careers contradicts a widespread notion within the non-Indian observers that the community is uniformly wealthy. A visit to section 58 in Nakuru shows that while many Kenyan Asian residents have luxurious villas surrounded by gardens, others simply live in overcrowded apartments that open onto narrow and unhealthy courtyards. All the same, compared to the economic situation that characterized – in the past and today – recent immigrant families, almost all of them have had a substantial upward mobility, even spectacular for a few of them.

Business and prestige: The path of an Asian Kenyan family

37The special case of a Cutchi Gujarati Leva Patel family, whose business career we would like to trace is a success story, marked by an economic opportunistic business attitude that complies with the preceding remarks. The economic rise is viewed by the head of the family as a divine blessing. As such, he considers it appropriate to make people around him benefit, that is his family and the community at large. Family representatives belong to several charities, which in turn provide a network of useful relationships that are beneficial to his business activities and contribute in enhancing his prestige.

38TK… X… is a well-known person in Nakuru town. He is the owner of an important company specializing in the food canning and has a strong workforce of hundreds of employees (180 permanent employees and 1,000 casual employees). Being an entrepreneur, TK contributes to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. He is also a trustee for the Hindu Council of Kenya local branch and Chairman of the Hindu Temple (Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Temple). These honorary duties are related to his economic power as well as the importance of his networks. Born in India, TK arrived in Mombasa in 1961 after marrying the daughter of a family that had settled in Kenya two generations earlier and was doing business in Mombasa and Limuru (near Nairobi city). In 1966, being an associate in his in-laws’ businesses and in collaboration with one of his brothers in law, TK opened a branch of the family company in Nakuru. The story of his social mobility may be food for thought concerning this type of cultural attitude supported by ambition, confidence, fearlessness, perseverance and ability to constantly adapt to new circumstances. From his hometown, TK crossed the ocean aboard a precarious boat (dhow), the same type of vessel that was subsequently feted as one of the ingredients of the myth of the “the borderless Indian”. The memory of his arrival in Mombasa, on 31st October 1961, is very vivid in his mind and he talks about it during interviews until today. To him, this date reveals the importance attached to the very fact of migration, the birth of a new life.

  • 28 The agreement with Bonduelle and Saupiquet ended in 2001 after the French firm decided to get suppl (...)

39It is clear that the bride’s family is the key to TK’s success. Nevertheless, his willingness to rise and social recognition greatly contribute to his promotion. While he had taken significant responsibilities in the sales department of the family company, it was after creating his own company in Nakuru in 1978 that he crossed the first steps of his illustrious career in industry. Still associated with his brother, TK made use of the family network to sell his goods. It is in Nakuru that TK made a fortune. By virtue of his intuition, he developed an expanding economic sector: food canning. TK initially produced for the domestic market, but later turned to the export market after responding to a proposal by a French firm already set up in Kenya. Later on, his activities were based on the principle of diversification. In this way, there were continuous business deals, the first ones being the continuity of the initial activity: freezing and drying of fruits and vegetables, selling spices, selling flowers (roses). Afterwards, he diversified his business activities to other sectors like banking and the Internet28. Currently, TK has also made other investments in India and England. He controls these investments through family networks.

  • 29 It is worth mentioning that in 2006, he was in five Hindu associations: Cutchi Gujarati Hindu, Unio (...)
  • 30 While talking about East African Asians, Cynthia Salvadori wrote that “Non-Catholic Christians do n (...)

40Since he is successful in business, TK is a member of about twelve cultural, religious and philanthropic associations29. If it is easy to relate to economic success, the desire to assert social prestige and the network logic involved in such participation in associations, religious investment can also be interpreted as a believer’s response to God’s grace. This can be compared to Weber’s model of the Protestant ethic (Salvadori 1989: 95)30. Social achievements must also be shown: the TK villa in the posh Milimani area of Nakuru is an example of success. There are always three or four cars in the parking yard: Mercedes Benz and 4WD cars. Inside the villa, ostentatious signs display the success and show the family members’ social status: photos and pictures (illustrious fore fathers, members of the extended family living in European countries), diplomas, awards, medals, certificates of club membership, awards from different associations, etc.).

  • 31 Max Weber recognizes that economic ethic has never been determined by religion alone because life i (...)

41Religious investment is associated with the practice of giving and sharing, which is a fundamental requirement of Hinduism31. TK stresses the fact that he has always helped small African entrepreneurs by providing credit to future traders. TK also states that he treats his employees well, both at the factory and at home. In turn, his employees are dedicated to work and remain loyal to him.

Matrimonial alliances

  • 32 A Lohana father stated, “My daughters were given the freedom to marry any Asian but I would be happ (...)

42The vast majority of marriages in families of Indian origin in Nakuru are arranged. After removing the risks of incestuous alliance (clan exogamy is still the practice everywhere), preference is always given to candidates from the same community. Marriage therefore plays the role of strengthening the group and also confirms and renews the network of family solidarity, especially for migratory reasons. In particular, when the future partners have willingly participated32, they mostly accept their parents’ choices. However, in case of problems in the marriage, they can in retrospect criticize it. In comparison to “European” marriages, arranged marriages are sometimes presented as a superior form of alliance. From its defenders point of view, the Indian style marriage can be considered as learning the art of loving a person. In choosing the latter, aren’t parents a better judge since they know and love their children better than someone else? According to the proponents of arranged marriage, the choice of this type of marriage depends not only on the socio-economic factors, but also on other personal information: aesthetic, psychological and moral.

  • 33 We mean by this term a Western type of marriage where the youth choose (at least apparently) their (...)
  • 34 Some parents’ comments on this issue are listed, some of them are rather moderate and close to what (...)
  • 35 Some people explain how they see their own marriages as follows: “According to my husband, I fell i (...)

43Respondents on this issue – parents and young people – suggest a current trend towards “modernization” of marriage33. However, this tendency hardly seems to have taken root in the town of Nakuru. Behind planned marriages, there is always a significant interference by the family group on the girl’s or the boy’s individual paths. The family provides the means to develop professional capacities and wishes – provided that they are realized in a predetermined and more or less strict order. While girls and boys (especially boys) will take the family path in life already established by their parents, parents will make considerable sacrifices on their side (including sending them to study far away and in expensive institutions) to realize the dream of self-fulfilment through affiliation. So as not to be outdone, children will demonstrate their gratitude by accepting instructions concerning the future marriage. The feeling of deep appreciation towards parents is therefore counterbalanced by the latter’s interference in the choice of the spouse34. It is however not uncommon for the young people – maybe because of frustration or due to unconscious compensation for obedience – to have some sort of mock romance which somehow “cheers up” the sad logic of arranged marriages. Whether chosen or approached by parents, the future spouse becomes a love object for whom it is supposed to be “love at first sight.”35.

  • 36 Read the chapter about marriages in this book.

44According to traditions of Northern India, combined with that of the joint family, marriage is primarily patrilocal. This means that the wife comes to live in the father-in-law’s family home where she will be mostly under the supervision of her mother-in-law. However, this requirement is occasionally challenged by one of the local effects of “arranged marriage”, namely the need – in the diaspora’s demographic context – to get a husband from abroad. As noted by Michel Adam, the reversal of the residency rule also often masks the existence of female hypergamy which is either based on rank or wealth36.

45The practice of paying dowry seems not very widespread. In contrast, an educated woman (especially when she is a university graduate) is an asset in transactions between rich families. As elsewhere in Kenya – and sometimes despite contrary claims – intermarriage with Africans (in reality African women) remains rare and limited, except in the case of Sunni Muslims as earlier mentioned.


46The preceding pages have discussed the importance of associations in the collective existence of Asian Kenyans living in Nakuru. There are two types of associations: 1) those belonging to a particular community (and which are often confused with a local caste organization), 2) umbrella organizations that bring together several statutory and regional communities or several religious communities (for example those that bring Hindus and Muslims together).

47The first type of associations serves as a meeting point for each community and in many cases, it is through various activities that are common to them (women’s clubs, children’s activities, etc.). This is one of the privileged places for women’s advancement. As representatives of micro-cultures, they first appear as a kind of extension of the extended family - to share each community’s statutory and religious customs among themselves in peace and security. The context of migration in East Africa is marked by both socio-cultural isolation and tolerance (inherited from the British influence) towards a multiplicity of identities. In this connection, associations also play the role of a semi-autonomous government rendering various services (civil justice and arbitration, education, urban protection, assistance, etc.).

48At the beginning of the diaspora, umbrella associations exercised the same functions as the first type of associations, although with less efficiency given the existing diversity of particularities among all immigrants. They have now largely changed. Their primary role is to ensure interaction across communities – thus counterbalancing the centripetal logic of each gnati mandal (regional and statutory association). Another mission is to represent all or part of the diaspora abroad. This task is not only to defend collective interests to administrative and political authorities (especially in situations of xenophobic threats, as was sometimes experienced almost everywhere in East Africa). In addition, umbrella associations have currently taken up the mission of leading others in being open towards the African population, which has largely remained reluctant to get into contact with the diaspora – except for commercial or professional reasons.

49We have already mentioned community associations (Brahma Samaj, East African Rajput League, Lohana Mahajan Mandal, Lohana Mahila Mandal, Charotar Patida, etc.) and it is needless to discuss them again. Among the umbrella community associations, three of them deserve special comments.

50The Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union is closely associated with the Hindu Temple, which is the headquarters. Although all Hindus are not members of the association (especially Hindus from the South, not to mention the Jains and Sikhs), all prefer the Hindu temple where its ecumenical nature is affirmed. Apart from daily worship (morning and evening), the temple also organizes at least one ceremony per week, hoping to attract young people whose enthusiasm is fading everywhere. The recent recruitment of Brahmins from India together with their families has been already discussed. These newcomers contribute to the revival of ties with the motherland and renew the expatriate community.

  • 37 Arya Samaj (Hindu breakaways), Brahma Samaj (Brahmans), Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union (supra-communit (...)

51The Hindu Council of Kenya was established in 1973 (although it was formed in 1968), succeeding the Indian Association (which brought Indians of all religious communities, including Muslims together during the colonial period). In the beginning, the Hindu Council of Kenya only brought together followers of orthodox Hinduism, combining all statutory communities. From 1982, the Hindu Council integrated most secessionist groups, including Jains and the majority of Sikhs as mentioned several times before (Salvadori 1989: 332). The Hindu Council federates associations (not individuals) and currently, its local branch has 24 representatives (two for each of the 12 Hindu communities present at Nakuru)37.

52The aim of the Hindu Council is to maintain cultural and religious identities through publications, language lessons, performances, not to mention social, sports and professional gatherings. The organization is also involved in mutual and philanthropic activities, particularly in health and urban protection. Through its headquarters in Nairobi, it facilitates relationships with foreign communities, whether in India or in other countries. It also intercedes in individuals’ administrative issues, including immigration. It organizes various religious ceremonies as well as national celebrations for Kenyan citizens, especially for majority of its members with Kenyan citizenship. At the town level, the Hindu Council is the preferred contact of the local political authorities. The Hindu Council therefore participates in some political consultations and plays an important role as a pressure group given the economic weight of some of its members.

53The Muslims’Association (Muslim Association) is the second largest umbrella community organization in Nakuru. Founded after the Second World War by the Sunni Koknis from Mombasa, this association, as noted earlier, unites Sunni followers of all origins. In fact, Africans have become the majority (out of thirteen board members, only five of them – including the current chairman – are of Indian origin. It carries out important philanthropic and charitable activities (education, medical assistance, assistance aged people, financial contribution in funerals). The Muslim Association is also striving to bring Indians closer to Africans. The Shia of Indian origin (Ismailia, Bohra and Ithnasheri) have no umbrella organization because they have isolated themselves, a situation that negatively affects their social integration at the local level (unlike – as it seems – the Shia who settled in the coastal region of Kenya).

  • 38 The Lions Club of Kenya was established in Nairobi in 1958 by an Asian who had been denied entry to (...)

54Though clubs have not been mentioned so far, clubs represent the last type of umbrella community social groupings. The Lions Club of Nakuru is a non-religious and transboundary organization that plays a semi-brotherhood role and recruits its members from the local ruling class. Asians have become the largest majority since independence but the club also accommodates Africans38. However, their participation remains very low considering the high annual subscription. Although prevention against Africans does not exist at the local scale, any one can assume that the strong presence of members of Asian origin also inhibits minority candidates whatever their origin. Through their club, members of Asian origin do not only content themselves with the feeling of being members of a truly international corporation of notables; they also participate in an extensive network of cosmopolitan relationships, often connected to their own professional networks.

Temptation of a fresh departure

55Today, a glimpse of the Indian diaspora’s situation suggests the fact that Asian Kenyans in Nakuru generally agree that their numbers are continuously decreasing. This is a local reflection of the fact that Kenya is losing its attractiveness in relation to other English-speaking destinations (Great Britain, United States, Canada and Australia). In adults, the willingness for expatriation is likely to be motivated by several reasons (economic hardship, rejoining parents who have already left, fear of insecurity, desire for a peaceful retirement, etc.). On the other hand, fascination for the Western countries in general is what motivates the youth today. Secondarily, the temptation of departure can be relied on freedom of movement that is attached to the lives of Westerners, especially in romantic and marital matters. It follows that the desire for further studies abroad (a Western country in this case) seems to be almost unanimous. However the future (expatriation or final return) is never planned at this time. Of course, it is not possible for all families to implement such projects. Regardless of financial conditions, opportunities between boys and girls are unequal (the latter being more incited to pursue their studies locally, except on the assumption of following their husbands). As for the boys, the paradox is that it is often the richest ( “heirs” of companies based in Kenya) who are in fact encouraged to come back and settle in the country. Of course, this does not undermine the principle of studying abroad. In this regard, knowing the extreme importance that all parents of Asian origin attach to their children’s education, there is no doubt that the initial number of candidates who go abroad for further studies will only increase in the future.


56In absolute terms, but more so in relative terms, the Asian population in Nakuru is decreasing and is now hardly more than 0.8 % of the total population in a town whose population is strongly growing. However, these modest figures, combined with some behavioural discretion, should not fool the casual observer. As in other Kenyan towns, minorities of Asian origin play a major role in Nakuru’s economic and social life, a role that is disproportionate to their population. Their influence on industrial production and commercial activities is predominant. As noted earlier on, different communities in the diaspora are involved in numerous philanthropic and charitable activities through networks of associations. In some respect, these collective commitments can serve as a guarantor of citizenship in a socio-political context that is still marked by its colonial past. Associative networks are thus an obvious way to cut a niche of additional power in order to participate more actively in social life, outside purely political networks given the fact that Kenyan Asians are still largely excluded from politics. Cynthia Salvadori had earlier proposed this hypothesis and it is valid according to us (Salvadori 1989: 340). At the local and national levels proponents of inter community coexistence agree that an increase in individual relationships (though friendship and... marriage in particular) would effectively contribute in consolidating the future Asian Kenyan presence in the country.



ADAM, Michel

2004, « Qui sont les populations d’origine indienne au Kenya ? », Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est, ‘Diasporas d’Afrique de l’Est’, n° 24: 1-48.

2010, « A Microcosmic Minority: the Indo-Kenyans of Nairobi », in Hélène CHARTON-BIGOT & Deyssi RODRIGUEZ-TORRES, Nairobi Today. The Paradox of a Fragmented City. Dar es Salaam/ Nairobi, Mkuki na Nyota/IFRA: 215-268.

Kenya National Archives: “Nairobi Resident Labourers Ordinance”, Nakuru / 1945-1953; PC/NKU/1/6; PC/ED/12/1/3/1.

Kenya National Archives, Nakuru (Dimu House): non classified documents.

CBS (Central Bureau of Statistics) 1994, 1989 Kenya Population Census, Volume I, March 1994, Table 6: Population by tribe, sex and district. Nairobi, Office of the Vice President. Ministry of Planning and National Development.

Hindu Council of Kenya 2005, Directory. Nakuru, Amu Press.

Lions Club of Nakuru 2003, 41st Annual District Convention. Nakuru, May 2003.

SALVADORI, Cynthia 1989 (1983) Through open Doors. A View of Asian Cultures in Kenya. Nairobi, Kenway Publications.

SHAH, Sushi 2005, District Governor’s Annual Report. Lions Clubs International, District 411-A, 2004-2005.

WEBER, Max 1996, Sociologie des religions. Textes réunis, traduits et présentés par J.-P. Grossein, Introduction par J.-C. Passeron. Paris, Gallimard.



Table 8.1 Demographic information (2005)

Brahmas 45
Kshatrya Rajput 9
Vaishya 573
Lohana 90
Patel 350
Wanza 10
Gurjar Sutar 10
Nayee 15
Soni 6
Kumbhar 50
Maharashtra Mandal 30
Mochi 8
Dhobi 4
Jains 630
Sikhs 240
Punjabi Arya Samaj 30
Bohra 60
Ismalia 60
Ithnasheri 30
Sunnis 200
Goans 15
Total 1,892

Source: Community associations


1 The author is grateful to all the people she interviewed in Nakuru and Nairobi as well as the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) for financing the research. Special thanks go to Michel Adam and Pierre Lachaier for their advice and proofreading.

2 After Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu towns (CBS, 1994).

3 For the native Maasai population, the central part of the Rift Valley was their pasture and route, having been pushed further South during the initial years of the colonial period. In addition, it is well known that allocation of land previously owned by British settlers to the majority of Kikuyus was the cause of conflicts with the Kalenjins and previous Maasai occupants in recent years.

4 Figures from the 1989 census (CBS, 1994).

5 See the appendix. Since the last census of 1999 did not give details about ethnic belonging in the country, it is difficult to know the official figures of the present population of Asians in Kenya. For more information, see Laurent Nowik’s chapter in this volume.

6 In 1950, Ibrahim Karimbux of Kenya Oatmeal Limited wrote to the District Commissioner: “The above plot is just opposite our Mosque and the feelings of the Muslim Community are that this plot should be alloted to some Muslim”, KNA PC/NKU/1/6: letter dated 17/01/50.

7 On 11 April 1950, the leaders of this association complained that the Indian representatives chosen by the British administration to examine their requests for plots were not trusted by the communities. One Mr. Thakker, the association’s chairman, asked the Special Commissioner and Acting Commissioner of Land to seek the Indian Association’s opinion before going ahead with the naming of their representative. The Chairman also requested that when allocating parcels of land, priority be given to families that had been in Kenya for a long time and known to the association and not newcomers. KNA, Resident Labourers Ordinance, Nakuru, 1945-1953, document dated 11 April 1950.

8 In this residential area, there are currently about twenty community and religious centres (six Hindu temples and ten mosques): Jalaram Temple, Khrisna Temple, Shree Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Centre, Swaminarayan Temple, BAPS Temple, Arya Samaj Temple, Visha Oshwal Temple, Shree Hirjibaba, Raghuvansh Bhavan (Lohana Hall), Sikh Temple, Patel Brotherhood Hall, Ismaili Jamatkhana Mosque, Bohra Mosque, Ithnasheri Mosque, Jamia Mosque, Bondani Mosque, 58 Mosque, Ronda Mosque, Railway Mosque, Cambia Somali Mosque, Shabab Mosque.

9 Adam (2004: 11).

10 The Patels formed one of the largest Hindu communities in Kenya but left the country en masse after independence and their populations currently continues to decline. The figure of 10,000 people mentioned here is a very approximate estimate.

11 Up to the 1960s, a number of Patels were masons by profession.

12 When the research was done (2005), the then Chairman had been elected for two years. His own father held the same position in 1982 when the chairman’s term was only one year. Another Lohana was chairman in 1995 and 1996, and another one from 2000 to 2002, meaning that the Lohana held the chairmanship for seven years.) The first page of the booklet introducing the community shows colour photos of relatives and fore fathers of the current Lohana chairman.

13 Salvadori (1989: 109).

14 Although the Prajapati mainly live in section “58” as already mentioned, many of their representatives also live in Palmac Oil Refineries housing estate. There are six families, among them the company director, all being employees of this company.

15 According to the 2005 Hindu Council Directory, 10 groups of domestic workers are housed in annexes of different Hindu temples in the town (Jalaram, CGHU, Ram Mandir, and BAPS). There is also a Jain temple of the Visa Oshwal.

16 Salvadori (1989: 111).

17 For more information about the Arya Samaj movement in Kenya, read Salvadori (1989: 121-125).

18 The same Arya Samaj family established and owns 4 private schools in Nakuru: Shiner’s Girls High School, Shiner’s Boy High School, Roots Academy Primary School, Jogoo Commercial College. Arya Samaj members teach or are financially involved in running other private schools in Nakuru: St. Michael High School, Coulson Sec. School Gilgil, Melvin Jones Lions.

19 The success of Nakumatt contributed to some Jain families’ good reputation in entrepreneurship. Nakumatt was established in 1965 by a Visa Oshwal family and it initially specialized in mattresses and beddings. It is currently the largest chain of supermarkets in Kenya.

20 Established in 1988 under the name Menangai Soap Factory by a family of fabric merchants, this industry initially specialized in manufacturing of soap before expanding its range of products to cooking oil.

21 The example of Sushi Shah, the first elected woman to head the 411 A Lions Club District (Kenya and Ethiopia) for the 2004-2005 period is worth mentioning (District Governor’s Annual Report, 2004-2005).

22 Note Tayler’s Travel Ltd., a major travel agency belonging to a member of the Sikh community.

23 The local section of the Hindu Council of Kenya was headed by a Sikh in 1984, 1989 and 1990. Established in 2004, the youth organization of this institution (Youth Wing) was also headed by a Sikh in 2004 and 2005.

24 It is a noble building made up of several rooms, surrounded by adjoining constructions and a garden.

25 Pierre Lachaier’s written communication. In India, Kachch has a maritime façade and known to be the birthplace of the Bhadala or Badala, a small Muslim group specialized in shipbuilding.

26 Adam (2004: 11).

27 Adam (2004: 26).

28 The agreement with Bonduelle and Saupiquet ended in 2001 after the French firm decided to get supplies from countries that were proposing cheaper prices. However, T.K. continued with his export activities.

29 It is worth mentioning that in 2006, he was in five Hindu associations: Cutchi Gujarati Hindu, Union Jalaram Temple (chairing), Ram Mandir (steering committee member), Hindu Council of Kenya (trustee); two Patel associations: Patidar Samaj (trustee and steering committee member), Patel Brotherhood (council member and former secretary general): a philanthropic association: the Lions Club (former two-term district chairman and district leader).

30 While talking about East African Asians, Cynthia Salvadori wrote that “Non-Catholic Christians do not have the monopoly on what is usually called protestant ethic.”

31 Max Weber recognizes that economic ethic has never been determined by religion alone because life is also influenced by economic and political factors “within given geographic, political, social and national limits” (Weber, 1996: 332-333). It is possible to relate the Kenyan Asians’ personal success ethic with the Kikuyu’s self-actualisation model ( “a person’s fulfilment”). The Kikuyu are the most important ethnic group in Kenya and are well represented in Nakuru. But if there are some aspects that are similar (metempsychosis, fear of getting tainted, social obligation in sharing and family solidarity), the differences are clear in the sense that the Indian model is pantheistic and hierarchical while the Kikuyu model is rather egalitarian.

32 A Lohana father stated, “My daughters were given the freedom to marry any Asian but I would be happiest if they chose a Lohana. In fact, that is exactly what they did when they met Lohanas in Great Britain.”

33 We mean by this term a Western type of marriage where the youth choose (at least apparently) their partners.

34 Some parents’ comments on this issue are listed, some of them are rather moderate and close to what European parents would say: “She is free to choose but she has to first pursue her studies” (W.N., a Sunni talking about her grand-daughter); “I would like her marriage to be a happy one, she should get a learned and well-established person” (R.P…X..); “I do not want to decide for her what she will do, but I train and counsel her (K.P.B.); “We would like him to study abroad. He can marry anyone, but certainly not an African!” (an Arya Samaj mother); “I will encourage her in areas where she excels; we shall give her the freedom to marry when she wishes; but we are not forgetting the fact that we have taught her how to behave” (a young Lohana mother).

35 Some people explain how they see their own marriages as follows: “According to my husband, I fell in love with him” (an Arya Samaj woman). Also read remarks by Michel Adam on the Bollywood effect in the chapter dedicated to marriages.

36 Read the chapter about marriages in this book.

37 Arya Samaj (Hindu breakaways), Brahma Samaj (Brahmans), Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union (supra-community cutchi organisation), Kutchi, Lohana (statutory organisation: gnati), Navnat Vanik Mahajan (minority branch of Jains), Patel (statutory organisation: gnati), Prajapati (statutory organisation: gnati), Rajput (statutory organisation of Kshatryia), Sikh Community (Sikhs), South Indian Community (extra community organisation of Southern Indians), Vanza Community (statutory organisation: gnati) and Visa Oshwal Community (minority branch of Jains).

38 The Lions Club of Kenya was established in Nairobi in 1958 by an Asian who had been denied entry to the Rotary Club, which was governed by apartheid rules. Originally consisting of Asian members, Africans and liberal Europeans (the first chairman was nonetheless a European), the Lions became very popular among Asians and they quickly took over its control. Like all similar clubs, the Lions recruit members by co-opting them (Salvadori 1989: 339).


Lecturer of Humanities and Social Sciences at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles (France)

© Africae, 2015

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search