The Cutchi-Speaking Asians of Kenya

Religion: Islam or Hindu

Population: 10,000

Status: 0.06% Christian

In 1468 Vasco de Gama met a Cutchi-speaking Muslim ship captain in Malindi who showed him the way to India. Another record tells of a Cutchi seafarer in East Africa in 1705. Today, the largest number of Cutchi speakers in Kenya are either those known as Cutchi Sunnis, or Memons or the Patels. The first Memons were reported in Mombasa in 1850. In 1880 Memon merchants and Cutchi Sunni artisans built a mosque in Mombasa.

The Cutchi Sunnis are involved mostly in the trades. They represent about twenty different groups and are said to have adapted to their Swahili environment on the coast better than any other group of Asians. Other Asians tend to look down on them as poor and uneducated, but the Cutchi Sunnis are proud to be called Africans. The different groups among them are divided according to their occupation or sometimes by their ancestral clans. For example those named Dhobi are usually washermen, the Badalas are fishermen and sailors, the Manjothi are masons and Sonaras are goldsmiths.

The Memons are descendants of Lohana Hindus of the Sindh (in Pakistan) who were converted to Islam in the mid 1400s. A few moved to Cutch (a region of Northeast India on the coast at the Pakistan border) in the 17th century. Some of these then came to the Kenya coast in the 1850’s as textile merchants. It was not until after Kenya’s independence that a few Memon families moved to Nairobi.

A large number of the Patels are Cutchis, and of these, most are Hindus who are known as the Cutchi Leva Patels. They are almost all followers of the Swaminarayan sect known as BAPS. Many of the construction companies in Kenya are owned by these Patels, who live in Nairobi or Mombasa.

Some members of the Shia Muslim communities in Kenya, the Ismaili, Ithnashari and Bohra are Cutchi speakers. They came to Kenya in the late 19th century. A Bohra man began Kenya’s first newspaper, The Standard.

Christianity among the Cutchi-Speaking Asians

In 1958 a Christian mission group was invited to Kenya to minister full-time to all Asian communities. Club for teaching crafts and Bible were held for both adults and youth. Camps during school holidays were conducted for the young people. In 1980 Fellowship Bible Church of Nairobi was established and later Fellowship Bible Church in Kisumu. There was an informal fellowship in Mombasa which later became a church under another mission. Many have since emigrated to other countries. Meanwhile, the ministry in Kenya continues with just a few local churches also taking a specific interest in Asians

By David Schaad

International Missions, Inc.

August 1994

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