By: Abdul kadir Noor Mohamed,
Kenya, East Africa
The Baluchis of East Africa We came in armoured dhows; three hundred years ago as soldiers of fortune, sent to the east coast of Africa to build an empire for the Sultan of Oman, perhaps without quite realizing the impact that fateful journey down the Indian Ocean would have on our future, or how lasting its effects would be. The first Baluchis to set foot in East Africa were the mercenaries who were deployed in the Sultan’s army to first, flush out the Portuguese from the east coast of Africa and consolidate the Sultan’s control of the region, and later to quash the Mazrui uprising against the Busaidi Sultan. The loyalty these Baluchi soldiers had for the Busaidi royal family at a time when there was much anarchy amongst the tribes of Oman, each eyeing the royal seat, earned them lasting trust with the Sultan who deployed them to guard all his palaces and interests in the region. (Interests, if I dare say, that included the grabbing of land and an inhuman slave trade.) There is no existing record of the exact numbers of these early soldiers. All there is, is the remarkable story of how these brave men from the Makran coast laid siege on the Fort Jesus in Mombasa, and how they wrested the Fort from the Portuguese and drove them out of East Africa for good. That is the legend. The truth of course is that the Portuguese sources of food and water was depleted by the siege, and they died slowly, from hunger and disease.
Settlements Makadara, the Old Town area of Mombasa historically with the largest Baluch population, though this fact has lately been changing. This is a picture from the 1920s. The first settlers were the soldiers, who until the formal establishment of the Sultanate in the 1840s, maintained army posts in the major centers of Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar and Pemba. These men inter-married with the local Arabs and Waswahili and were quickly assimilated into their society. They were later followed by whole families who left Baluchistan in the hope of finding a better life in East Africa, which was at the time the hub of international maritime trade with Asia. Most of the emigrants came from Nikshahr and Kaserkand in Southern Iran, although their brothers and sisters later followed them in from Sarbaz, Lur and Muscat (Muttrah, actually).
The life and times of these Baluchis in East Africa around the 1800s is obscure, as there is little documentation of it. It seems however that at all times, Mombasa was the major Baluchi settlement of the time, followed by Dar-es-Salaam. As the population grew, the younger Baluchis ventured the African hinterland in their pursuit to satisfy the Baluchi wanderlust. The stories of the people of those times differ, and they are as varied as they are interesting.
It is believed that the first non-African to go into Maasailand was a Baluchi, so too was the first non-African to be welcomed into the royal court of the Kabaka of Buganda. As they moved inland, the Baluchis founded cluster communities in Djugu and Bunia in the Congo; Soroti, Arua and Kampala in Uganda; and Iringa, Tabora, Bagamoyo, Mbeya and Rujewa in Tanzania. In time there was probably a Baluchi family in almost every major East African town.
The Mombasa Baluchis developed a more cosmopolitan lifestyle, preferring to engage in small real estate ventures, professions, and trade, or keeping employment with the Omanis and later in the 1900s, the British. Those who settled in the fertile hills of Uganda and Tanzania flourished in the farming and trading industries. The mercantile skills and business acumen of these Baluchis earned them high regard amongst the various communities they settled in. The Baluchis in Dar-es-Salaam, very much like their counterparts in Mombasa, adopted an urban lifestyle. This can also be said of the small but vibrant Nairobi families