Autobiographies of Mr & Mrs Gulamali Jina Madhavji

Gulamali Jina Madhavji: Dukawalla of Tanga

Autobiographies of Mr & Mrs Gulamali Jina Madhavji

Source: Khoja Wiki. Translated by: Zahir K. Dhalla, Toronto, ON


Gulamali Jina. Late 1970s.
Gulamali Jina. Late 1970s.

The narrative in this and the next chapter are based on recordings made by Gulamali’s grandsons Altaf and Alkarim in 1991 in Calgary, Alberta. It is not a transcript of those recordings but a write-up based on notes made by the author in English from the Gujarati. It is a story of much hardship and yet no words are found anywhere in the recordings expressing any bitterness. It was apparently just taken in stride. Gulamali’s sense of humour comes through in the opening test words for setting the proper volume level:

Instead of the usual Testing-one-two-three he says “Thumri (which is same as tungi, earthen water pot) ma khali kankra” (literally, the water pot has only pebbles in it, being a technique ordinarily used to make what little water there is in it to rise). The metaphor is translated as “I have nothing left to tell you!”

Gulamali Jina Madhavji 1910-93, Autobiography

1910-14 Lamu, Kenya: Birth, early years, family

Translator’s note: Lamu is a historic island, almost attached to the mainland, between Mombasa and the Somalia border. Trading dhows from Arabia, Persia and India that sailed up and down the East African coast would always stop at Lamu. Their Islamic background made it a town of almost exclusively Muslims. It now is a tourist destination because of its history and being on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

I was born in Paja (most likely Faza, the “P” and “j” being common Gujarati substitutions for “F” and “z”), Lamu na bhar ma (in the outskirts), about 10-15 miles from Lamu (most likely Pate Island where Faza is located). It’s like Muheza is from Tanga. I was born in 1910 [father Jina having come from Gavidar, India by vaan (dhow) to Zanzibar in 1905, where he was helped by Jiwan Lalji to settle on the coast]. Father had a small dukan (shop) in Paja. We were three children – two elder brothers had died, but we don’t talk of those gone, only those alive: my elder sisters, Kursum (actually Kulsum, “r” being another common Gujarati substitution for “l”), married in Kigoma, and Leila, and myself. Relatives looked after the two girls. An African lady looked after me: I was doing maja (rejoicing) with the milk bottles she gave me. In 1910, there had been a chori (robbery) in the shop and father moved to Lamu.

Maa died in 1910 when I was only 10 days old. In those last 10 days, they really believed she would become okay but unfortunately that didn’t happen. She was buried in Lamu. She had told father to look after the two girls as there was no hope for the boy, referring to me: “Chhokra ni asha nathi”. Get the girls married then remarry yourself, maa told him on her death bed. In 1921, Leila was married to Ismail Keshavjee, our Tanga flats neighbour Babu Damji Keshavjee’s brother. By then we had a step mother.

…read the full stories at, and


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Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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