Goans in Kenya… proving themselves under adversity, by Frederick Noronha

From: Frederick Noronha fred@goa1.dot.net.in
Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 02:36:54 0500

From Frederick Noronha


It’s easy to locate Dr Teresa Albuquerque. You simply need to
keep track of the villages and localities that she has written
about, and you can guess she’ll be somewhere there.

But of course, this prolific writer’s pen has taken on many more
areas than one person can live in. She earlier wrote on Anjuna
(her scenic but fast-changing village in Bardez) and Santa Cruz
(where her family home in Bombay), apart from other subjects. Her
focus has now shifted to Kenya, which happens to be the land of
birth of her husband, as of quite a few other emigrant Goans.

Albuquerque’s latest book, released just days back, deals with
the Goans of Kenya. Awaiting a suitable publisher for some time
now, this work is based on her research to that region in 1994-95.

When we met the other day at her family home at Chinvar,
Anjuna, she had many stories to narrate. Albuquerque said her
story was one of how Goans “work best under adversity” and how
they managed to “come out winners again” in the trying post-
colonial times of that East African country.

She pieced together this story in a country she had not visited
earlier by meeting many Goans there. In particular the three
widows of prominent persons who dared to stand apart from their
community and play a crucial role in Kenyan political affairs.

Published by Michael Lobo of Bombay, this book is not in the same
coffee-table series as Albuquerque’s earlier ‘Rachol’, focussing
on that historic Salcete village. So, it is priced far more
affordably, and could find its way to many more Goan homes.

Says Albuquerque: “I had interest in Goan migration, and earlier
worked on the (Catholic) Goans of Bombay in my book called ‘To
Love is To Serve’. During my PhD research, I came across many
references of Goans. It struck me that though such a small
community in Bombay, they too had done quite something in fields
like education.”

Reading the files of decades-old periodicals like the ‘Anglo-
Lusitano’ was a fascinating experience. This bilingual periodical
threw much light on the early Goans migrating to that city at the
turn of the century.

Albuquerque came across references to her own grandfather, the
late B.X.Furtado. He was one of the founders of the prominent St.
Xavier’s High School at Cavel and ran a shop of music and
religious articles.

“That really whetted my appetite,” she recalls. She realised how
Goans had struggled to come up. She also got particularly
interested in East Africa, one of the places of Goan migration.
Her father-in-law had worked under the British administration
there, and her husband was born in a place called Lamu, near
Malindi in Kenya. “He had never seen it after returning as a
child. Africa was a sort of fascination,” she recalls.

She then happened to mention this to Placido D’Souza, the Pune-
based former High Commission for India in Kenya and in many other
places. He offered to help, and put Albuquerque in touch with an
influential Goan there Dr Fitz D’Souza.

Barrister D’Souza had supported the defence of Jomo Kenyatta in
his trial. In free Kenya, he rose to become Speaker of the
Legislative Assembly and was also a businessman. He currently
spends time between homes in Goa (Bambolim), London and Nairobi.

D’Souza introduced Albuquerque to a wide range of Goans in Kenya.
By the time of her study, this figure had of course dwindled
considerably, to just a few hundred families in Nairobi.

“By then, Goans had been established. Earlier generations of
pioneers had come and risked their lives, and braved hazards of
the deep and of the jungle, unknown terrain and unfamiliar
people. That stage had passed. The second-generation were white
collar workers. They had got into the administration and had done
very well for themselves. They were quite happy,” she recalls.

But when Uhuru (independence) came, Goans found themselves in a
very peculiar situation. Many were Portuguese subjects. “Finally,
they found they were neither fish nor fowl. The vast majority was
not really really interested in politics, many still remaining
apolitical today too.

But, retracing their footsteps, Albuquerque found that a few had
really done outstanding things. People like Pio Gama Pinto who
fought for Kenya’s freedom, and was assassinated. Then, there was
the half-Goan Joseph (Zuzart Murumbi) — whose mother was Masai
and father from Goa — who rose to become Kenya’s Vice-President
for awhile. There also was Jawaharlal Rodrigues, who Albuquerque
describes as a fearless journalist and pro-independence fighter,
who also died under some rather peculiar circumstances.

As chance would have it, she managed to meet the “widows of these
three really outstanding Goans”. Pio’s wife Emma had just come in
from Canada. Joseph Murumbi’s wife was British, and Cyrilla
Rodrigues helped piece together another side of the Goans-in-
Kenya story.

Albuquerque says Goan migration to Kenya really gathered momentum
at the turn of the century. It was the Railways that opened up
opportunity. Goans generally didn’t work on technical jobs, but
went as cooks and as other support staff for the railways. Soon,
some opened little ‘dukkas’ (shops), working as tailors or in
such jobs. Gujaratis and others engaged their services.

By 1915, Goans started moving into white collar jobs. Soon they
grew overwhelmingly dependent on this. “Perhaps that was because
they were so comfortable with the administration,” says she.

In free Kenya, Goans had the choice to leave or stay, after
taking local citizenship. Most moved away, and went to the
Commonwealth countries. They are now doing “extremely well”
there, opines Albuquerque. Those that stayed on were quite
comfortable with their pensions, but had to prove their mettle
once again. Otherwise they would be nowhere.

“Surprisingly, again they had an answer to a challenge… our
people always work when there is a challenge. Earlier pioneers
had worked because there was a challenge. They had faced all
kinds of odds and had come out the winners. History repeated
itself,” says she. Some, like the Gama Rose family, branched out
into industry and trade, and even the tourism sector.

But the period when she visited Kenya was a troubled one. “Many
houses we went to had double-doors, locked, with dogs outsides,
and watchmen,” she recalls. Financially, Goans were doing well,
but were not very secure there then.

Over the years, Goans in Kenya invested heavily in education.
Many had given their children university education, sometimes in
the UK too.  Quite an impressive showing for a community which
first went as humble menial employees. Many set up schools to
fend for their own educational needs.

Goans there also set up gymkhana-type clubs. Earlier, they also
had their ‘kudds’ (residential clubs). They still celebrate their
village feasts. And Goans — including women — exhibited their
prowess in sport, in East Africa.

Even if colonial policies produced a rift between Indians and
Africans, the latter were somewhat closer to Goans, who they felt
did not directly exploit them, avers Albuquerque.

Migration to Kenya was at it peak after the latter half of this
century. There must have been “many thousand” Goan families in
that country there. There were pockets of Goans in all major East
African cities. Later the number fell and drastically dwindled.

Were Goans attracted to Kenya primarily by the possibility of
higher salaries? “Even now they’re better off. Those who went to
the Commonwealth countries are doing very well. Their children
had excellent education. Our own relatives who went there could
afford many things which we could not. Even though some of us
were better educated. Now, their pound goes such a long way in
Goa,” says Dr Albuquerque.

Goan women in Kenya proved to be very independent, and
accomplished — including doctors, musicians, or running their
own boutiques, or travel and tourism businesses. “It was nice to
meet the girls from an independent younger generation. The older
generation always harked back to their elders, and the glorious
days,” recalls Albuquerque.

Today, a few have moved over to Goa. Many more buy flats here,
for a respite from the northern cold. “Many try to find their
roots, and try to recover their houses. But it has been difficult
— houses have invariably been taken over or demolished.”

To piece together this not-well-documented story, historian
Albuquerque worked on a lot of oral sources. She also got access
to early Goan publications, including souvenirs. Then, she did
much work at the University of Bombay’s African studies department.

One of the person that “fascinated” Albuquerque was the Porvorim
physician, Dr Rozen Ribeiro. He imported the cinchona bark into
Africa, and used it effectively to treat malaria, being treated
as some sort of a wonder-worker.

Albuquerque found the Goans in Kenya to be migrants largely from
Bardez. But their gymkhanas remained divided by caste. “There was
a lot of segregation or discrimination. They could have rallied
together and been a much more potent force. Later on, they became
a little smarter, and sport brought them together,” she says.

Only much later did the “stupid Goan pride” evaporate. Goans
began integrating and mixing socially with the Africans. “A
little too late, but better late than never.”

“What surprised me was that Mombasa is just like Marmagao. It’s
very beautiful and in a way it’s like a replica of Goa. Perhaps
that’s why our Goans took to it and felt very much at home,” says
Albuquerque. (ENDS)

frederick noronha, freelance journalist, fred@goa1.dot.net.in
near lourdes convent, saligao 403511 goa india ph 271490 or 278683

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