<< There is one surname among Bhatias which we believe came from the word Swahili - ie Swali. It is the descendants of Ibji Shivji who are called that because they were the first Bhatias to come to Zanzibar. >> 

An interesting revelation. Such information if not elicited from Zanzibar Archives must go into records, and you certainly can do justice to it. Do you have any literature on Zanzibar Bhatias? Sometime back when i was seeking certain information on Bhatias i was referred to one Mr. Dewani but then he wasn't around. 

The Swalis that you are referring to must be the family of Mr. Swali of Agakhan school. He was such a popular teacher that in those days i recall whoever took tuition from him always scored one point in Geography and Book Keeping in the Cambridge Examination. One of his brothers was a contractor and very popular with the old timers who used to have the walls and ceilings of their stone houses bricked up by him.   

<<Yes, Abdul, I have heard from my father that Gandhiji visited Z'bar on his way from S Africa to India. He was invited to the Bhatia Mahajanwadi (near the Prison). He refused to enter the building as there was a notice saying 'Bhatia sivay koine andar aavavani raja nathi.' (It was a notice to say 'only Bhatias were allowed to enter' - meaning - 'formembers only'). But it really embarrassed the committee and the notice was removed for ever.>> 

This is very interesting. Jaatbhedbhav! It must have had shocking effect on Gandhiji. 

In reality such notices are placed to preserve the sanctity of a place or draw some distinction. From experience Bhatias are the friendliest of people (may be in our case the sameness of the language 'Kutchi' helped). They can be shrewd in business but also display humility. 

In fact Bhatias need to be recognized as the original Indian inhabitants of East Africa. They were the very first ones to land up in Zanzibar (before 1850) followed by others like Khojas, Vanias, Lohanas, Bohoras and Kutchi Sunnis (Memon, Khatri etc). One fails to understand why our settlement in East Africa is ascribed to the Railways. Those who had come to work for the railways were the third batch immigrants and that was around 1900. Settlers in Zanzibar and coastal towns of Bagamoyo, Kilwa, Mombasa and Lamu had landed much earlier as traders in look out for greener pastures. 

The Bhatias were held in very high esteem by the Sultan and even acted as advisers to him. It is this Zanzibar connection that makes the Bhatias enjoy special relationship today with Sultan Kabus of Muscat. The Jetha Leela private bank may be recorded as one of the oldest financial institutions in East Africa.



Last updated November 2007 Copyright Abdulrazak Fazal 2007 - All Rights Reserved