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Connectivity Revisited: India, Kenya and the Indian Ocean

The High Commission of India, Nairobi in association with the Asian African Heritage Trust, Nairobi and the Institute for Social & Cultural Studies (ISCS), India, organized a seminar titled, "Connectivity Revisited: India, Kenya and the Indian Ocean" at the Louis Leakey Auditorium in the Nairobi National Museum on 28-29 March 2017. Below are a series of images from the event.

A selection of photographs from the event by James McCreadie.

Through Asian African Eyes


The Asian African Cameramen Heritage : 1895-2016



Co-Chair, Asian African Heritage Trust

Speech at the official launch of Sir Mohinder Dhillon’s books


at the Visa Oshwal Auditorium, Nairobi

on 2nd October 2016


Far from being static shopkeepers tied to dusty counters, the Asian Africans became wanderers in their new land, mobile and questing. They were itinerant traders selling small bundles of goods they had been given by relatives or had bought in infinitesimal quantities as stock, or had borrowed on a sell or return basis; they were guards, firemen and drivers on trains that never stopped moving by day and night; they were station masters at lonely points along the line, when stations were far from any road or settlement; they were gangers who looked after track, miles from any station ; they were civil servants, clerks and book-keepers at administrative posts in deserts or cool uplands. This was a community that was surprisingly on the move, and saw more of East Africa than was realized. Among them, one occupation brought what they saw, to all.

From the earliest days of the East Africa Protectorate (1895), and much earlier in Zanzibar, (by 1868), Indian photographers opened studios for individual and family portraits. They also travelled all over the land, and then published postcards of the territories.

The Protectorate had come too late for the famous painters and great print-makers of Empire. Thomas and William Daniell had been in India in the late 18th century, David Roberts in Egypt and the Holy Land and Henry Salt in Ethiopia in the middle of the 19th. Now, instead of lithography and art, photography and science became the instruments of recording the peoples and landscape of East Africa. As the century turned, postcards became a worldwide popular and financial phenomenon, bringing far-off places to the recipient, and saving a memory for the sender. The latest addition to the British Empire, the East African Protectorate, was soon a favourite subject. The early administration brought in civil servants, settlers, missionaries, their families and visitors, all fodder for postcard vendors.

Major postcard publishers established themselves in Zanzibar and Mombasa. Prominent among those in Zanzibar were A.C. Gomes, and A. R. Pereira de Lord. The firm of Gomes & Son was founded around 1868 by A.C. Gomes. The firm was continued by his son P.F. Gomes, who died in 1932, and then on till 1964.

In Mombasa, the Coutinho Bros., and D.V. Figueira, published prolifically. What new arrivals to Mombasa found as they landed can be seen from their postcards of that period. The Coutinhos and Figueira were followed by C. D. Patel in the 1920s and 1930s.

The tradition continued into the second half of the century. From 1950, carrying on the postcard tradition, M.M. Sapra of Sapra Studio recorded the region. But two changes were taking place: cameras were changing significantly. And thus their products were no longer restricted to postcards and private family portraits or landscapes. Now the exploding field was of newspaper headline images, portraits of decision makers, images of war and civil violence, movie newsreels and video news reports. And the fields using the new cameras were also changing. They were moving from postcards, contemplated at leisure, to the immediate images on nightly television screens of news that was hours old, rarely more than a day old. And with them, came new cameramen, a second tradition of cameramen: Jitendra Arya, stylish and accomplished portraitist, moving from political events at Kapenguria and Githunguri, to fashion plates in London and then hundreds of magazine covers in India; Priya Ramrakha, photographer of the Biafran War, published in LIFE magazine and LOOK, killed photographing a battle in Nigeria; Mohamed Amin, from local boy with a Brownie to international celebrity, winner of numerous awards, the subject of two books and the author of more than forty; Syed A. Azim, photographer for Associated Press (AP), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi; and Mohinder Dhillon, a household name, a leading figure in the international profession, covering war, famine, expulsions, regime change, for screens all over the world. All of them are Asian Africans of Kenya.

A hundred years ago, their images of Zanzibar, Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya travelled all over the world, and the world saw East Africa through the eyes of these Asian African photographers. Their pasteboard rectangles became the visual record of the changes wrought on the face of East Africa in its first fifty years in a colonial Empire.

The changes of the second fifty years of that turbulent century were recorded, this time not just in Kenya or East Africa, but now over our region, over our Continent, over the globe, wherever events were newsworthy. Again it was by a galaxy of Asian African talent.

Today, we gather to launch the story and achievements of one of the seniormost of this constellation, Sir Mohinder Dhillon. On a personal note, as many of you know, I come from a railway family. It may interest you that Mohinder too comes from a railway family. I am happy to report that Mohinder’s father, Sardar Tek Singh Dhillon, and Mohinder’s elder brother, Gurdev Singh Dhillon, were both in the railways. In today’s event we see the story not just in Mohinder’s images, but also in his words, in his autobiography, My Camera, My Life. By the wealth of his achievements and adventures, it has needed three volumes!

His achievements reflect not only his professional eminence, but also his personal values, Asian African values. Reflecting the huge respect in which his peers hold Sir Mohinder, David Smith, former ITN Foreign Correspondent, and former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, has said of him:

“Mo Dhillon has not just been an extraordinary cameraman, he’s a true humanitarian. How many times did Mo show us what was really happening in the middle of war, drought, famine and disease, not just because he has a fantastic eye for the image, but because behind the lens stood a giant of a spirit who cares deeply about his fellow man, woman and child.”

We agree.

Thank you.

National Museums of Kenya venue of Book launch – "Into That Heaven of Freedom" by Mohamed Keshavjee

Mohamed Keshavjee Speaking at the Book Launch

On Sunday July 17th 2016, The National Museums of Kenya was the venue of Mohamed Keshavjee’s recent book launch “Into that Heaven of Freedom”- a memoir that captures the over 100 year history of the Indian settlement in South Africa with particular reference to the early work of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi so aptly described as “South Africa’s greatest gift to India.” The Chief Guest at the launch was the Indian High Commissioner to Kenya, Mrs. Suchitra Durai who gave the opening speech. The book launch was hosted by the National Museums of Kenya, the Asian African Heritage Trust and the Asian Weekly. It was moderated by the Asian African Heritage Trust (AAHT) Chairman Pheroze Nowrojee, who is a leading counsel, social activist and author. The launch attracted leading civil society personalities as well as representatives from the judiciary and the corporate sector. The book was launched by the Director of Asian Weekly, Ms. Nisha Hirani. Following the Kenya launch, Mohamed travelled to South Africa where his book launch was co-hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in the presence of Mr. Kathrada who spent 26 years in prison with Mr Mandela as part of the freedom struggle.

Left: Indian High Commissioner to Kenya H.E. Mrs. Suchitra Durai speaks at the event. Right: The Asian Weekly's Director Nisha Hirani launches Mohamed Keshavjee’s book, "Into that Heaven of Freedom." Bottom: The Asian African Heritage Trust (AAHT) Chairman Pheroze Nowrojee interviews Mohamed Keshavjee. Photos courtesy of Aly Z. Ramji.

2015 Newsletter

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In Memoriam: Salim Yakub

Salim Yakub, 1924 - 27th February 2016

Credit and Copyright: Bela Bali-Sharma, Perceptions: Photographs of Kenya and the Asian African Community 1960s-1980s. Asian African Heritage Trust

Conserving the Intangible: The Asian African Identity in Kenya by Pheroze Nowrojee

A new publication by AAHT address the identity fo the Asian African community in Kenya, click here or on the image above to download a PDF version of the publication.

FOF Games Opening Ceremony

AAHT Chairman Pheroze Nowrojee offered the following remarks of the opening of the Festival of Friendship Games Opening Ceremony on Friday, September 25th.



One hundred and eighty years ago, on 2 November 1838, a sailing vessel from Calcutta (Kolkota) docked at Port Louis in Mauritius. On it were the first indentured labourers from the Sub-Continent, going abroad as workers.

This was the commencement of the modern diaspora from the Sub-Continent, of which we here are a part. Between 1838 and 1917, when the system of indentured labour was abolished, over 1.2 million persons went abroad as contracted workers. They went to Mauritius, Reunion, Fiji, the South Pacific, South Africa, Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St.Vincent, St.Lucia, Guyana, Dutch Guyana (Surinam), French Guyana, and Kenya.

The place where they landed in Port Louis, Mauritius is now called the Aapravasi Ghat. This place has been declared by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. The UNESCO citation records as follows:

"The buildings of Aapravasi Ghat, the remains of an immigration depot of 1849, are among the earliest explicit manifestations of what was to become a global economic system based on their labour, and one of the greatest migrations in history.

This sole surviving example of this unique modern diaspora represents not only the development of the modern system of contractual labour, but also the memories, traditions and values that these men, women and children carried with them when they left their countries of origin to work in foreign lands and subsequently bequeathed to their millions of descendants for whom the site holds great symbolic meaning."

This World Heritage Site, though situated in Mauritius, honours the diaspora all over the world, comprising today, 25 million people in 150 countries. It is these memories, traditions and values which are in you, nearly two hundred years later, and which you embody in this Festival of Friendship.

But there is more in you. We have been settled in East Africa for 200 years. Now, with the passing of those centuries, individuals and homes have become filled with a new social identity, not wholly African, not wholly Asian, simultaneously Asian and African - in fact Asian African.

Our national identity is Kenyan, our social identity within it, is Asian African. We are part of Kenya’s history. This is what Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai said of Pio Gama Pinto: "He is a part of our history, part of what we are. We see in his work the love this man had for his country. We must honour those on whose shoulders we stand." We have made Kenyan history. As Kenyans, we must continue making more of it.

The Asian African history in Kenya is a remarkable history, made by a remarkable people. There are two lines of settlement that combines in us.

As traders, people from Western India, particularly Gujarat, have been coming to East Africa for over two thousand years. They came in dhows, on the Monsoon winds, on the North East Monsoon. They stayed till the winds changed months later and blew in the reverse direction from April to October, as the S.W. Monsoon when they departed, till the next year. When Vasco da Gama arrived at Malindi in April 1498, he found Oshwal traders already residing there, practicing Jains whose respect for all forms of life surprised the new arrivals. Their historian, Joao de Barros recorded in his book Decados da Asia:

"[Da Gama] received also the visit of some Moors from the kingdom of Cambaye, who were passing through Malindi on board their ships. Among them were some of the men called banians and who were gentlemen of this Kingdom of Cambaye [in Gujarat], men so religious that they do not even kill the vermin that they have on their bodies, nor do they eat any living thing."

Thus 500 and many more years ago, these Shah traders were seasonal settlers for extended periods. It is the same N.E. Monsoon that brought sailors and merchants from Arabia, the Gulf, Persia, Oman, Yemen, (and through the Red Sea from Egypt, Rome and Greece), seasonal settlers in like fashion. East Africa’s history did not start in 1498.

These seasonal settlers did not go upcountry, they were seasonal settlers only at the coast, century after century. The second line of settlement went upcountry. It was from the indentured labour which came to Kenya from 1896 to 1901. This arose from the building of the Uganda Railway by the British colonial Administration, from Mombasa to Kisumu. The railway was built mainly by Punjabis and Sikhs.

As can be seen, both geography and history have brought about Kenya’s Asian African heritage.

The World Heritage Site refers to the memories, traditions and values of those who established the Diaspora. What the Festival of Friendship nurtures, and furthers into the future, are the traditional community values that came with them centuries ago. You are keeping them strong. These values embody EDUCATION, SOCIAL SERVICE, TOLERANCE, PHILANTHROPY, CARING, both in the community context and in the national context.

The Asian African Heritage Trust is delighted – and humbled - to partner with Festival of Friendship in this week’s programme. Have a most enjoyable and successful week.

Thank you.

Photos: One of the participating teams - The Shree Cutchi Leva Patel Samaj Team - pose for a Photo, Pheroze Nowrojee after receiving the Lighting Torch, One of the participating teams - The Shree Cutchi Leva Patel Samaj Team - pose for a Photo, Members of the community who attended the opening ceremony, Music performance at the event, Shehzana Anwar and Aman Bhasin ready for the opening ceremony. A special thanks to The Asian Weekly who kindly provided the photos.

Video: Makhan Singh Book Launch

Highlights from the speeches launching Makhan Singh’s Book.

Video: The Railway Builders

A short video by K24 highlighting the building of the railway and the nation.

Full video of Mungu Comrade – Makhan Singh

Play written and recited by Atamjit on May 18, 2014 at Oshwal Auditorium hosted by the Asian African Heritage Trust and the Makhan Singh family.

September 2014 Newsletter

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Highlights from the Newsletter

Rays of Light

Heritage Mosques in Kenya

Film Screening

The Asian African Heritage Trust was proud to support and co-host the screening of the film My Kenya@50…our Sporting & Cultural Heritage during the “Festival of Friendship” on May 11th, 2014 at the Oshwal auditorium. The film highlighted the sporting and cultural history, heritage and legacy of the Asian Africans in Kenya.

The video below is a short summary highlighting the launch of the DVD: My Kenya @50...our Sporting and Cultural Heritage at the Festival of Friendship on May 11, 2014.

New Publication

The Asian African Heritage Trust has recently published From the land of Pashtuns to the land of Maa by Muzzafar Juma Khan. "Set in the plains of Loita in Maasailand, amidst the mountains and the vast savannah land, and the windy slopes of Kijabe, this beautifully recorded accounts of the lives and the longings and memories of one of the scions of a man who left behind his land of birth in India in search of a home in a new land.” (Tariq Malik) "A compelling and unpretentious account of a young Pashtun who ventured into Maasailand in the 1930’s; The ups and downs of the institutions and the events his family come into contact with in their daily lives provide not only a perceptive study of the complexities of life, but a moving insight into the often contradictory decisions post-independence leaders made.” (Henry Ole Kulet) The book is available in print at bookstores throughout Kenya.


The play Mungu Comrade written and recited by Atamjit was performed at the Visa Oshwal Auditorium in Nairobi on May 18, 2014. Described by Ranjodh Singh the play shares a story, “that moves Mt. Kenya, the volcanic mountain now covered under snow, but even this mountain cannot remain mum on the issue of exploitation. Molten lava flows from the pen of the writer as he narrates the tale of an unsung Sikh hero, S. Makhan Singh who fought for the independence of Kenya in the era of 1940’s…It is not a one man’s story, rather it is the story of every man in every age who has stood for a noble cause.”

New Publication

The Asian African Heritage Trust has recently published Glimpses of Kenya’s Nationalist Struggle by Pio Gama Pinto which was originally published in 1963 in celebration of Kenya’s independence. It has now been brought back to life in this reprint with the permission and support of the Gama Pinto family.The book is available in print and as a free digital download. Find more information and the download links in our Further Resources page.

New Publication

The Asian African Heritage Trust has recently published A Select Bibliography Of Asian African Writing by Villoo Nowrojee which offers an extensive and detailed listing of publications by Asian African writers since 1893. The book is available in print and as a free digital download. Find more information and the download links in our Further Resources page.

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December 2013 Newsletter

July 2012 Newsletter

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