Waves of Immigrants
I was born in Mahajanga, on the north of the coast. I am the last member of a big family of 7 siblings.
My great-grandparents arrived in Madagascar, many years ago maybe in 1895.
There was an extraordinary sea route: dhows departed from the Kutch Mandvi Delta (India) to reach the eastern coast of Africa, Zanzibar, Comoros, and Madagascar.
These dhows carried passengers, immigrants of that time, to their new destinies and also goods.
There was virtually no customs control or strict immigration during this period.
This allowed my ancestors to settle in a lot of countries. These dhows were driven by extraordinary class gujarati sailors.
These sailors were known as malaams were outstanding sailors. They had very few navigational instruments, often a sea compass but an extraordinary knowledge of the seas.
These trips lasted about 6 months, our grandmother said.
Our grandparents only had 2 teak wood trunks with them to make this long journey. My grandmother often said how difficult their journey was. They were true pioneers. After 1913 the French colonial power blocked immigration from India.
The ancients sailed with the stars. They had a perfect knowledge of the stars, the currents, the direction of the waves, etc.
That’s how my ancestor Karimjy Mamodbay arrived around 1900.
He arrived in the town of Nosy-Be, passing through Lamu (Tanzania) and then to Soalala, which at that time was reputed to be an important Arab trading post.
In Soalala, he learned that there was a big city called Majunga (a name that was at the time. Now the government has changed it to Mahajanga.
The large waves of immigrants were from 1880 to almost 1913. We often asked our grandmother why they left Kutch Mandvi to go to Madagascar?
She said some family members told them they could have a better life and that life on those unknown coasts could be great. And in Kutch, there was a lot of poverty and diseases too.
My grandfather, Karimjy Mamodbay, created a society that still exists and he called it: ETS. KARIMJY MAMODBAY. This company is now over 100 years old and still exists, actually.
One day, my grandfather, with his driver, on his way to collect his money from the sellers in the bush, was involved a car accident and died. It was my father who, at 15, took the reins of the family. He was so young and was scared by this big responsibility.
In 1890, the French government was giving lands for free; everyone who wanted to build could get a plot of land, and that’s how my father got the land to build the Karimjy house.
He built a very big house; he set up a very big shop for Export-Import of stationary stuff, which is still actually very well known all over Madagascar.
The constructions, at that time, were built in stone, without iron in the foundation.
The beams came from India and were made of very hard wood that did not rot or get damaged.
This is actually our family business.