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A microcosmic minority The Indo-Kenyans of Nairobi1 Michel Adam Anyone who has ever lived in Nairobi will have noticed the Indian presence to the point of overestimating its demographic importance. In an African country such as Kenya, which has cast off a large number of traditional values (particularly tribal dress), meeting representatives of the Indian Diaspora brings back to mind the clichés of a melting pot inherited from the British• ƒQ   ¢  to the inside of boutiques and stalls—Indo-Kenyans display the polychrome             dimension such as the Jamia Mosque (an ecumenical sanctuary equally frequented by all Muslim groups) or more recently the Jains or Swaminarayan temples. The curious traveller walking the streets and byways of the capital will discover that Indo-Kenyan mosques and temples are many, and added to the hundred or so religious buildings in the rest of the country, they bear witness to the dispersion of these same communities countrywide. But the existence in Nairobi––and in Kenya in general––of an Indian minority does not only conjure up coloured pictures and architectural lines. &"    #   on Kenyan national culture. It is more than just a few recipes and dishes of Indian origin and several Indian words (particularly Gujarati) in the Swahili vocabulary. In a more explicit manner, the presence of the Indian diaspora is very remarkable in the urban economy. Disproportionately to their numbers, Indo-Kenyans play a large economic role, controlling most of the wholesale and retail trade, a substantial part of industry and numerous banking and insurance companies and services in general. THE INDIAN MIGRATION TO KENYA The activities of Indian traders in East Africa date back to early times. The seat of ancient and brilliant civilisations (Vedic, Greco-Buddhist, Scythe, 1 By Indo-Kenyan, we mean people residing in Kenyans and who are originally from the Indian subcontinent (mainly India and Pakistan). Locally called by the English word ‘Asians’, the majority of whom are Kenyan citizens as we shall see later. 200 NAIROBI TODAY Pallava, Turco-mogul, etc.), renowned religious, artistic and literary centres, principal points of contact with the West and the Arabian and Persian worlds, North-western India––from where most of the immigrants come––has for centuries shown its high level of economic development. Situated on the trade route from the Persian Gulf to Lahore and Delhi, capitals of mogul kings,˜         of the peninsula until the XIXth century. Named the ‘Manchester of India’ by the British, the great city of Ahmedabad, situated near the vast cotton belt, was renowned for its cotton and silk manufacture, its iron works as well as for its numerous goldsmiths. Trade in opium, indigo and spices was practiced.2 Despite frequenting the shores of the Indian Ocean, traders from Gujarat preferred the western coasts. In fact, from a deep-sea navigational point of view, climatic conditions depending on the monsoons in that part of the     #&› /  Channel. During the winter monsoon (from October to March), the trade            from the Sea of Oman, the western coast of India and the Gulf of Aden. During the summer monsoon (from April to September), the direction of the wind reverses (the so called ‘sabean’ phenomenon).    ›          centuries and whose origin is probably Arabian or Persian. Known in French  Ÿ   •                 speeds when the wind blows from behind. In the same way that they sailed to the East African shores, the Arabian dhows were blown by the counter winds to the ports of Northern India, from Gujarat to Bombay. As for Indian vessels of a type similar to those used by Arabs (kotia, dhangi, barig, manji or mota), they accompanied the winter monsoon in the Arabian peninsula and from there sailed along the coast of Hadramaout up to Ormuz before going south to Mogadishu, Lamu, Mombasa, Pemba and Zanzibar. In the reverse direction of the itinerary––but always in a southwest direction––a dhow having left port in Gujarat in October could, by sailing along the western coast of India, make a round trip via the Comoros, Zanzibar, Mombasa and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Swahili civilisation owes part of its traits to these intermixed cultural attributes, from India, Persia and Southern Arabia. Benefiting from the protection of Arabian sovereigns ruling in their overseas principalities, Indian traders who settled in the ports of East Africa (Zanzibar, Pemba, Mombasa, Lamu) belonged to different Hindu and Muslim communities. Two groups from Gujarat and the region of Bombay were mostly represented: the Jains (dissident Hindus known for their ocean trade) 2 Goody, J., L’Orient en Occident...


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