Meet the Indian who made the Uganda city of Jinja come alive
Did you know that the first Indian to settle in Jinja was called Haji Tamachi aka Tomasi Suleimani in 1903
Did you know that the first person to set up a shop in Jinja was Haji Tamachi in 1904
Did you know that the first post office in Jinja was started by Haji Tamachi in 1906
Did you know that the first storied building in Jinja was built by Haji Tamachi
He has a road named after him in Magwa Parish
Arrival in Uganda
Haji Tamachi was born in 1876 to a farming family in Dhrub, Kutch. Because of the prevailing droughts, his father Turk Haji Suleman Khanani ( “Surpanch” -headman of Dhrub) decided to send his eldest son Haji Tamachi to East Africa in 1887. Haji was only 11 years old. Initially he worked for a goldsmith in Zanzibar and then joined Sewa Haji Paroo’s company under the supervision of Allidina Visram, who was the assistant manager in that firm. Seth Allidina found the young Tamachi to be honest and hardworking and proposed to him to be his agent in Jinja. Tamachi joined Alidina Visram’s caravan going to Uganda. There were no roads, the journey through jungles full of wild animals and waterborne diseases.
Haji Tamachi established Seth’s “duka” in a mud hut on the shores of Lake Victoria across from the present-day Jinja. He and his workers would take their goods on canoes to sell in Jinja and return with produce collected there. Within the year he moved into Jinja itself and set up a “Merikani” cloth tent located on a small hill, present-day site of Barclays Bank. He was the very first Indian to settle in Jinja. His early contributions are reflected in the testimonial of the Assistant Collector dated April 18th 1903. “Tomasi Sulemani” was his common name all over Uganda.
With his business well established, Tamachi brought his brothers Haji Mohamed Khanani and Ahmed Khanani to Uganda in 1904. The two Khanani brothers set up their own business, selling clothes and buying local produce (“karsaji”) : cotton, coffee, peanuts, vimbhi, chora , pilipili and similar. Haji Mohamed Khanani returned to India in 1954 and resumed farming and became such a successful farmer that District of Kutch administration asked him to take charge of the district’s land, but he declined. He is buried in Dhrub, Kutch.
However, his three sons, five daughters and all his grandchildren made Uganda their home until 1972 when the Asian were expelled from Uganda. Now the new generations have made their homes in Canada, UK and USA.
Ahmed Khanani, like his brother Mohamed, was tall, very slim, handsome, and a fearless hunter. He branched out into transport and mail businesses, using bullock carts to take the mail to the coast. Vithaldas Haridas Madhvani had consulted him on the suitability of the land around Jinja for sugar-cane farming. Ahmed too returned to his native Dhrub and is buried there. However his son Salehmohamed, daughter-in-law Sherbanu and their three children made Uganda their home until Asian exodus of 1972.
Like other Asians, they lost all their properties in Jinja.The fortunes made by our ancestors were all lost. The new generation have made their home in Canada and UK.
Sponsoring others and connections with pioneers
During trips to India he brought his brother-in-law Mohamed Rahemtulla and many other Turks to Uganda. He had close relationships with notable personalities of his time in Uganda like Vithaldas Haridas and Muljibhai Madhvani, Nanji Kalidas Mehta, Mohamed Manek, Bhanji Moman, and HK Jaffer. Soon after his arrival in Jinja, Nanji Kalidas Mehta had worked for Haji Tamachi as an accountant for a short time. Even Muljibhai Madhvani worked with Haji Tamachi at one of his shops in Jinja. Haji Tamachi employed a special cook to cater vegetarian food for all his Hindu employees. Up to fifty people dined together with Haji Tamachi at every meal time. Every new Asian newcomer to Jinja was a welcome guest of the family.
In 1908 Haji Tamachi went to India to get married and brought his bride Mariam to Jinja after completing the pilgrimage at Makkah.Haji and Mariam raised five sons – Haji Osman, Hussein, Kassam, Musa, and Haji Ebrahim;
and four daughters – Zulekha, Hajiani Sara, Hajiani Sakina, and Rukya. Except Hajiani Sara (born Dhrub) all children, grandchildren, and seven great
grandchildren were born in Uganda. The new generation were born in Canada, UK, USA, Kenya, Tanzania, India, and Pakistan.
Haji Tamachi branched out on his own from Allidina Visram in 1904. Testament to this fact is in the reference letter, dated February 26th 1918 from the retiring Protectorate’s Provincial Commissioner: “The Bearer Tomasi Suleman has been engaged in trade in this Province for a long time & I have known him for about ten years as a most respectful man. He requests me to give him this letter on my departure from this Country.” A year later, on the occasion of Haji Tamachi’s trip to India, he received another letter (attached, dated November 23rd 1919) from the acting Provincial Commissioner confirming his reputation as a “…most respectable trader of the Eastern Province of Uganda…”Haji
Tamachi built the first double story building in Jinja with business premises located at ground level and residence upstairs. This house was great surprise for locals as they used to see people going into home, disappear and reappear again upstairs. For quiet long time locals used to come and see this “magical house” from remote places.
Jinja Post Office
Realising prevailing communication problems, Mr Tamachi proposed to the British to establish a postal service. The British said the proposal was not viable because of lack of traffic. Tamachi said he was willing to put his own money in the proposal in form of a guarantee of 500 rupees worth of annual sales of postage and revenue stamps. Thus he started the first post office in Jinja in 1906. Telegraph services were introduced in the same year. Haji Tamachi went on financing the post office for a long time until the post office was profitable. During the inauguration of the new Post Office building, Haji Tamachi was invited as an honoured guest and the Governor in his speech acknowledged his role in establishing the first post office in Jinja.
Haji Tamachi loved all human beings, black, brown or white.He was the
President of the Muslim Association of Jinja for many years and participated in
many events of the Ithnasheri community. He was the arbitrator of family and
community disputes. During his trips to India, Haji Tamachi anonymously contributed funds to build a Masjid, a jamatkhana and a school in Dhrub.
*Freeing a slave
Haji Tamachi was a righteous person. Once he had to postpone his pilgrimage to Makkah due to heavy rains. One day he heard screams in the market. A man was being sold off as a slave. Haji took out the money he had saved to go to Makkah to free the man. He told the man he was free to do whatever he wanted and go wherever he wanted. The man said he had nothing to do and no family to go to as all of them were sold off to different slave masters. Haji Tamachi recruited him to work in his company as a porter (tarisi). Within a short time the
freed man was promoted to be a supervisor of tarisis. Many years later his
descendents owned a “shamba” in Iganga. They expressed gratefulness to the
Tamachi family for freeing their grandfather from slavery.
Quote from Qur’an (sura 2:177): “…Righteous are those who believe in Allah…give the money, cheerfully,…to free the slaves… ”
*Chief Semei Kakungulu and the British
Haji Tamachi was very well respected by the British Government officials, including the governor, as well as the local tribal chiefs who used to consult him to settle disputes. One such person was the Baganda chief by the name of Semei Kakungulu, a strong man with great organizational abilities. During Haji Tamachi’s first audience with Chief Kakungulu, Haji gifted him with clothes, beads and mirror.Looking into the mirror, the Chief was shocked to see “another Chief” like him facing him. Seeing this, he thought Haji Tamachi had captured his soul and immediately ordered his guards to apprehend him until his soul was released. Haji then explained the phenomenon of the mirror,
after which Haji was released by the guards. After this incident, they
became good friends.Chief had once led an uprising against the British. He turned to Haji Tamachi to resolve the dispute and as a result in 1908 Kakungulu was appointed as the head of the Busoga Lukiiko.
*Gift of a lion
Haji Tamachi had bought a sugar plantation called “Mwangada” for the manufacture of molasses (sukari guru) near the village of Bamugaya near Jinja. One day he found a lion’s cub abandoned near the farm. Haji Tamachi brought it home and raised it as a pet. As a grownup it kept other wild animals at bay but grandma Mariam, fearing for the safety of her family, asked Haji Tamachi to give it away.Indecently, one day the Tamachis’ were on a boat going to Jinja from Entebbe, they were joined by the Governor and his wife Lady Jackson who had just come from England. Being new to Uganda, Lady Jackson was very scared seeing so many animals: lions, buffalos, crocodiles, and hippos.
Grandma Mariam consoled her, embraced her, and assured her that nothing would go wrong. After this incident, they became good friends.It was because of this friendship that Haji Tamachi donated the lion to Lady Jackson’s Field Force Fund (see attached letter, 1916). In fact, the Lion was shipped to Europe and presented to the Red Cross for display to curious Europeans – the travelling show raised an enormous amount of money for the Red Cross.Because of the friendship, the first automobile that was owned by Governor was sold to Haji Tamachi, the first Asian to own a car in Jinja.
*Inauguration of Jinja Railway Station
The Governor had planned the inauguration ceremony of Jinja Railway Station to be performed by Haji Tamachi, but Haji Tamachi purposely came late as he did not want to be the centre of attention. The Governor did the ceremony.
*Inauguration of the Owen Falls Dam
In honour and memory of Haji Tamachi’s achievements and services to the British Government, local municipality and communities, his son Haji Osman Haji Tamachi was invited to be present among the dignitaries at this historic event.
*“Haji Tamachi Place” in Magwa, Jinja
For his contributions, the Municipal Council of Jinja named a road “Haji Tamachi Place” in Magwa, Jinja, in his honour.