Thursday, May 2, 2013

Life in Zanzibar before and after the Revolution from the Kanga Family

The Zanzibar Revolution:

On 10th December 1963 Zanzibar island gained independence form Great Britain. A month later, on the night of January 12th 1964, a band of some 300 people, violently seized the island of Zanzibar (Unguja) and overthrew  the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab Government. In this bloody Zanzibar Revolution hundreds and thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed in genocide and thousands more expelled.

On the morning of the revolution the square in front of our house was surrounded by revolutionaries with guns and Machetes (broad heavy knives) but because of the British locality none of the houses were stormed (attacked), although observed day and night. None of us would dare go out for several days in fear of being attacked and killed.  We eventually ventured out to get to work, shopping etc., at first by car and then walking to work.

Most of the killings occurred outside the town in rural areas although few were killed in town caught unawares outside and others attending the church service. The Zanzibaris were caught unawares, as none of us, visualize that this would happen, as in Zanzibar all the citizens lived together in harmony regardless of class or creed.
Hoshie and Bepsy's parents in Zanzibar: wedding day

Kanga Family: from Hoshie Eddie Kanga

Hoshie & Bepsy's father on 'protection' duty during the visit of Princess Margaret to Zanzibar in 1956

I was born on the spice island of Zanzibar on Armistice Day, 11th November 1941. My parents are of Zoroastrian faith. My father was Eddie Fredoonji Kanga and he worked in the British Colonial Government.
My upbringing was a happy one. After graduating with GCE “O” levels from Aga Khan High school in 1960, I started temporary work for six months at the Municipal Elections, and later joined the Zanzibar Colonial Government service in the department of H M Customs and Excise.

After the Revolution, in January 1964, I with other Asian officers was sacked on the spot without prior notice. On the day of the sacking all the staff was called to assemble outside the corridor and was told “When your names are called out, Step forward”. 
I was amongst the ones whose names were called and were then told that we were all sacked. I had completed two and a half years of service. No compensation was paid.  This sacking was in a way, blessing in disguise, which gave me opportunity to go to London and I took it.  

Beginning of May 1964 without notifying anyone outside the family, I set out to go first to the mainland Dar es Salaam, stayed for a fortnight and then got a passage on French ship to go to London via Suez Canal.  Ports of call:  Dar es Salaam – Mombasa – Djibouti – Port Said – Port Suez – Alexandria – Marseilles – Paris - and finally arrived at Dover, Kent (UK) on 31 May 1964 – then by Train to  London, Victoria.

My sister, Bepsy, was also in Zanzibar during and after the Revolution. The people in power after the revolution were planning to forcibly marry with young Persian and Indian girls. My parents, requested me to call my sister to the United Kingdom. I, therefore, arranged to enroll Bepsy for a secretarial course at a college in Dublin, Southern Ireland.  Bepsy also quietly left Zanzibar for Dar-es-Salaam to avoid suspicion (after revolution one could travel to the mainland); then after a fortnight stay travelled in  August 1967 to Dublin, Southern Ireland, via London. I also flew from London to greet her on arrival at Dublin airport. Bepsy was 17 years old at the time.

My Brother, Dhanjishaw, escaped the turmoil of Zanzibar Revolution as he was already living and working in Dar es Salaam since i962.

My Father was born in Navsari, Gujarat state, India in 1908; after his secondary school education, at the age of 18 years, immigrated to Zanzibar and started working at first in the Shipping Company, African Mercantile, and then joined the British Colonial Service, worked in various government departments and finally In Attorney General’s office. 

After retiring from the Government Service in Attorney General’s office, my Father worked as a part time Priest (while in India, my Father also did our Zoroastrian Religious studies and was ordained to become a priest) at our Parsee Fire Temple (Agiari), which was situated on the outskirts of town, near the Zanzibar Prisons. The Fire Temple at night was isolated and after the Revolution was not safe so we pleaded with my parents to consider leaving Zanzibar. In the beginning they were reluctant to do so as both loved the island so much, besides lived in a beautiful house in town in Shangani area which was a nice location. Our house was opposite then Cable and Wireless which was later converted into now Serena Hotel.

My sister and I persuaded our parents to leave Zanzibar to go India.  Finally, in 1983 our parents left Zanzibar secretly to Dar-es-Salaam, the mainland and stayed couple of months with my brother before travelling to Mumbai (Bombay) India. Had to keep the travel plans secret; although, soon after the revolution, many people were expelled, later the government were reluctant to let them leave.

As a result of people leaving Zanzibar, especially businessmen, the thriving economy of the island suffered; and the once well known trade, in Cloves and copra (dried coconuts), coconut oil and clove oil also deteriorated.

The Bulsara Family
Another Zoroastrian (Parsi) family, Bomi & Jer Bulsara, whose son Freddie Mercury born Farrokh Bulsara, the front man of Rock Band “Queen” and charismatic solo performer became famous in the United Kingdom and all over the world. “We will Rock You” the Queen’s musical in London, one of the best.
Freddie was born in Zanzibar on 05th September 1946 and went to an English style boarding school in India when he was eight. Freddie always loved to sing and set up a school band when he was 12. He later joined his parents in the United Kingdom. Freddie lived first in a flat and then a big mansion, also in Kensington, London.

In 1964 as a result of the Zanzibar Revolution the family including Freddie’s younger sister Kashmira, now 60 fled to the United Kingdom and settled in Feltham, Middlesex. Jer Bulsara (Freddie’s Mum) who is 90 is still living in Nottingham, England. Her husband Bomi, a former cashier in the British Colonial office, died nine years ago, aged 95.

Freddie Mercury died tragically of Aids related pneumonia in November 1991. He was 45. Mrs. Bulsara is particularly keen on a lavish new book which is about to be published, twenty years after the death of Rock’s most famous singers. The new book “Freddie Mercury, The Great Pretender: A Life in Pictures", is full of wonderful photographs including several never-before seen images, that span the rock star's life.

Although Freddie’s house in Shangani was close to ours, I have never met Freddie, either in Zanzibar, or in the United Kingdom.  However, we used to visit his parents frequently in Zanzibar and have also met his parents and sister Kashmira on numerous occasions in London.

Other Parsi Families
Another well known, Jasavala family, used to live in a beautiful big house which is now converted into Hotel “Tembo” ran a thriving business, Liquor and General store, established by Coswjee Dinshaw of India. After the Revolution, the property was confiscated by the Revolutionary Government.  Eventually the house was converted into the present hotel “Tembo”, so named because originally, in the house courtyard stood a big statue of an Elephant (Tembo in Kiswahili). There is now a swimming pool.

Gradually, one by one, most of the Zoroastrians (Parsi) family left the shores of Zanzibar, first to the mainland, Dar es Salaam, and then to India, United Kingdom, U. S. A. and Canada. Also the Indians as well as other nationalities had to flee leaving their thriving businesses behind.

At the present time, there is only one Zoroastrian family, father and daughter, remaining in Zanzibar, they are also planning to go to Canada to be reunited with another daughter who has settled there.
My Brother, Dhanjishaw, goes to Zanzibar regularly three to four times in a year for holidays and relaxation.

Final Reflection:
2002 Hoshie Kanga MBE at Buckingham Palace

Since settling in London in May of 1964, I have visited Zanzibar many times; in the beginning, I was refused permission to visit my parents, as I was declared Prohibited Immigrant but gradually situation improved in Zanzibar and then I could visit regularly.

All the visits to Zanzibar, since the Revolution has been peaceful and brought all the beautiful memories flooding back of my growing up in Paradise, on the spice island of Zanzibar. At present, Zanzibar is in the limelight; as we noticed many tourists are now visiting Zanzibar and staying in Stone town, as well as different beautiful beaches all over the island. Let’s all wish that Zanzibar remains peaceful.

I have often wondered, what I would have been doing, if the Zanzibar revolution did not take place. However, I have no regrets; have enjoyed life to the full.

I arrived in London on 31st May 1964; after three days of my arrival, I was fortunate to find a temporary job in a cigarette manufacturing company, worked there for eleven months; was unemployed for one month (received Social Security benefit); then joined the British Civil Service in May 1965.

I Retired from the Civil Service; H.M. Treasury, on 10th November 2001 after a service of over 18 years. In the New Years Honours  list of 2001 I was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) from Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II for my services to HM Treasury. I received the MBE at the Investiture Ceremony and it was presented by His Royal Highness Prince of Wales, Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace on 17th April 2002.


Zoroastrians are the followers of great Iranian prophet, Spitaman. Zarathushtra (known to the Greeks as Zoroaster). Zarathushtra lived and preached somewhere around the Aral sea, about three and thousand years ago, circa 1500 BCE.

The History:
For over a thousand years circa 549 BCE to 652 CE the religion taught by Zarathushtra flourished as the state religion of three mighty Iranian empires, that of Achaemenians (549-330 BCE) , the Parthians (28 BCE – 224 CE) and the Sasanians (224-652 CE). Amongst the many subjects of the Achaemenian empire were the Jews who adopted some of the prophet’s main teachings, and transmitted them in due course to Christianity and later to Islam.

In the 7th century CE, the Arabs conquered Iran and many of them settled there and gradually imposed their own religion of Islam. In the early 10th century, a small group of Zoroastrians seeking freedom of worship and economic redress, left Iran and sailed towards the warm shores of Western India. They eventually arrived along the Gujarat coastline in 936 CE at a place they named Sanjan, 180 kms north of Mumbai (Bombay). There they flourished and came to be known as Parsis (Persians). Over the millennium, a small band of faithful Zoroastrians have continued to live in Iran, and have tried to preserve their culture and religious traditions as best as possible.

Today, the Zoroastrian community, consisting of about 130,000 individuals, live in India, Iran and various parts of the English speaking world.   
by Hoshie & Bepsy Kanga


  1. Ardesar Fredoonji Kanga: “Mr KANGA was also an ardent Theosophist and worked closely with my father Vallabhadas Hirji Kapadia who was for one session the President of the East African Theosophical Society.

    I remember ‘Kanga Master’, as we used to call him, reciting the Parsi prayers at the All Faith Prayer [Sarva dharmani prarthana] meetings the local Krishna Lodge used to hold at the back of Dwarkadas Morarji's shop and residence. Kanga Master always had a smile on his face and was always dressed immaculately in a white suit like a Mzungu!!

    This is what my brother Chandrakant who was his student had to say: Mr ARDESAR Fredoonji KANGA died in Dar. He was a thorough gentleman. He, with his wife and friend, regularly went to see a movie on a Sunday at the Majestic Cinema. Their seats were reserved in the 'box'.

    Bhadra VADGAMA

  2. Bepsy,as I read the whole pic runs before my eyes. I remember that at times Nena ,mahrookh.myself and you used to hang out near your house as you all lived close by. Those were the the days my friend

  3. Interesting. We used to live in the Serena hotel building. My grandfather worked in the Post and Telecom company.