Bagamoyo Beach Landing, where Aga Khan III was the first Ismaili Imam ever to set foot on East African soil in 1899

(Special to Simergphotos).
Bagamoyo Beach Landing. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

This is a present-day photo of Bagamoyo Beach, Tanzania, where sea-going vessels have dropped and weighed anchor since time immemorial. It was taken in August, 2017, from the front portion of the German Customs House built in 1895, the lone pillar still standing being a remaining corner pillar of the walled front yard. As always, the waters are full of ngalawa, dugouts with outriggers, mashua, small constructed boats, and jahazi, somewhat larger boats with roofs.

It was here, well over a century ago, in 1899, that a young 22-year-old Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, came by yacht from Zanzibar, the first Ismaili Imam ever to set foot on East African soil, in the then German East Africa. This historic event was not lost on the Bagamoyo community, for dignitaries from all its sections – German, Arab, Indians, Swahilis – gathered here to welcome and honour the young Aga Khan. Among the attendees were two prominent Ismaili pioneers, Allidina Visram and Jaffer Somji. [Jaffer’s younger brother Abdulrasul would certainly have joined in but he had moved north to Tanga which was becoming prominent under German rule and where he would become the first Ismaili Mukhi in 1905.]

Allidina was extending his business all over East Africa, and in Uganda he came to be known as its “uncrowned king”. His legacy lives on at the Allidina Visram High School in Mombasa, Kenya. Jaffer, a prominent businessman, also held an important position in the German administration, being known as Bwana Fedha, Mr. Money in Swahili, on account of being their treasurer. He too later moved to Tanga where like his younger brother he became a Mukhi of the Ismaili Jamatkhana. The Somji legacy continues with the still prominent family in Mombasa. Mwambaoni Primary School, Bagamoyo, 1896, donated by Sewa Haji (Paroo) – see plaque in photo below  Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

Another prominent Ismaili pioneer who would certainly have been part of the welcoming dignitaries was Sewa Haji (Paroo, the same family as Kassamali Paroo of Mombasa) but he had passed away a few years earlier. His business was bought by Allidina Visram. Sewa Haji’s legacy lives on right here in Bagamoyo at the Mwambaoni (meaning, at the beach, in Swahili) Primary School donated (or willed) by him in 1896, the first multi-racial school in East Africa, which is still functioning.

Plaque at top right reads: “Mwambaoni Primary School, built by Germans 1896, donated by Sewa Haji, first multi-racial school. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.Bagamoyo Beach Landing from the Jamatkhana/Cemetery grounds. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.Head stone at Jenabai Merali Remtulla’s grave. The following are the English transliteration and translation of the Gujarati inscription on the plaque: “Ya Ali Madad. Marhum Jenabai te Merali Remtullani dharmapatni sahebjini rahemate pota chhe. Umar 66. Ta. 19-5-60.” Translation: “O Ali Help. Deceased Jenabai, Merali Remtulla’s wife is in the grace of the Lord. Age 66. Date May 19, 1960.” Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

What is interesting is that a Merali Remtulla was in the welcoming crowd at the above historic event. His brother, Bandali, was the Mukhi at that historic time. Was he the same Merali, Jenabai’s husband whose grave stone is shown above? Unfortunately, most of the graves in the cemetery do not have inscribed headstones. The headstones I identified are: Virji Manji, 60, d.1936; Abdulrasul Dharamsi, d.1944; Nasser L. Khamsi, 72, d.1939; Satbai Haji Pirani; Rashid Virji, d.1956; Chagbai Janmamad Hansraj, d.1950; Rematbai Ibhram Remathani, d.1966; Jenabai Merali Remtulla, 66, d.1960; Mrs Tasreem Nizar; Sadru Gulamhusein, d.2004; Yasmin Gulamhusein; Kulsumbai Mulji, d.1933; and Kakhadia Mamad Damji Pirani, d.1950.

Ismaili Jamat Khana and Cemetery, as seen from the beach. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.Ismaili Cemetery, at the Beach and the Indian Ocean, seen from the balacony of the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana.  Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

Date posted: August 19, 2017.

Copyright: Zahir K. Dhalla. 2017.


For profile of Zahir Dhalla, please click Contributors.

Related: When His Highness the Aga Khan III First Visited East Africa by Otto Mahnke.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box which appears below. For a complete list as well as links to fantastic photo essays published on this blog please click on Table of Contents or visit Home Page.