Dastaan – Part 1

The author is familiar with the situation in Zanzibar and this Dastaan is an eyewitness account: kind courtesy of Hsseinali Datoo (past editor – Federation Samachar)

The Dastan (Account) of the State of the Poor When Betrayed by the Rich in Zanzibar – 1930 to 1960 – Know Why

Such Dastan Repeats in Every Generation Everywhere in the Community

They, the poor and the rich, are now all dead having lived a life that seemed only a fleeting moment. But during the moment an extra –ordinary poverty struck the community with far reaching effects. Those who were not poor became poor and some even poorer than those who were already poor.

Those caught in the net of poverty formed nearly half of the community about 300 families in 1930 increasing to about 500 in 1960 in the Unguja insland of Zanzibar. So there were those who died in poverty in the 1930s, some died in the 40s and others in the 50s.

Death with rpide was virtually a relief for the poor although it was painful for them to part with those they left behind also support-less in the family to fend for themselves until they too followed a similar relief-through death. As each of them died they became forgotten. When they lived, it was as if they never existed to the others who were with them as a community but not like them.

It all started when the League of Nations appointed Britain as the Administrative Power over the then German Tanganyika, now designated as a Trust Territory, after the end of the First World War. The small Dar es Salaam port began to be developed by the new colonial power as an international commercial port for exports and also imports and distribution of goods to cater fully for the needs of millions of the people of Tanganyika and the eastern part of the Belgian Congo, Zainzibar with some 1,200 business families, almost all of Indian origin, began to lose gradually the mainland’s huge lucrative consumers and exports market which was via Zanzibar.

Members of the community, like other Indian communities, were mostly family shopkeepers and had a huge profitable turn over of capital in wholesale and retail trade connected with the Tanganyikan mainland market and doing a roaring business until late at night seven days a week. And then conditions for livelihood began to change for the worse as a gradual decline set in the trading sector.

However, those who were big exporters or importers, now with the reduced scope, and those engaged in soap and coconut oil industry, maintained their prosperity to some extent.

Those who had working capital to continue with the business of purchasing and storing cloves to speculate in the export trade and those too who could still stocks cloth/textile for sale in their shops eked out their livelihood with some degrees of mental peace.


Those who had their Khanga or grocery shops with a fair rolling capital in the high density Gambu areas like Mbuyuni, Mchangani and Mladenge to cater for the wholesale and retail needs of the people of Unguja and Pemba islands survived.

The families who had primary and secondary educated sons saw them employed in the colonial public service or by international shipping agencies. With tight budgeting, they too happily made two ends meet.

However, such relief did not come to the many others who had retail shops which were disproportionately many to the limited numbers of consumers in the stone town areas like Malindi street, Vadi Bajaar, Chhanga Bajaar and Sokomohogo Street. The houses of the shop-keepers were adjacent to each other in rows in almost all streets. Each house had shop premises on the ground floor and one or two upper floors on each of one bedroom, with the loss of the local customers in the stone town areas, they gradually ate away their meager capital too.

Many of the community’s such families had almost empty shops and passed their daylight house idling in them. Some young male members of the family who could not find a job left for neighboring Dar es Salaam or Mombasa to settle.

Then there were quite a few families with widows and orphans or with aged and sick persons with no sons or with sons lacking education for a respectable employment.

Some of these families had no financial capacity to meet the costs of installation of the plumbing system for piped water supple or electrical wiring in the 1940s when these utilities became available to the stone-town dwellers. Their premises lacked the flush system toilet.

Services from domestic servants were a luxury. The metal trunks under the bed continued to serve as an alternative to a cupboard for the less worn out clothes saved for special occasions and the few other clothes still useable for daily wear were nicely hung from the nails hammered into the walls around the room.

With no electric lights at home and with house-work shared bty all and yet never ending, and therefore, school home-work being almost impossible for the children after sunset, most of them could not do well in their studies however bright they may have been.

There was a Bewakhana (widows-house) which was small and housed mostly lone poor and aged widows having no children. A quarrel would ensue if one was suspected of having used the small depleted piece of soap forgotten by another in the common bathroom.

The Khoja community of the other sect also suffered the economic decline but was not as support-less as our community.

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