Goan Institute Nairobi, 1905

An excerpt from the book 'Goan Pioneers of East Africa' by Selma Carvalho, which sheds light on the role played by the Goan Institute within the wider context of early Nairobi society. Book available for purchase at Broadways Goa, and online here. 

Now the Goans had a ‘splendid hall within which are contained a billiard room, a library, kitchen, bar and servants’ quarters’, where in the evening, members 'do congregate, glance at leading European and colonial papers and generally enjoy the advantage of a first-class club’. The high joining membership fee of Rs 50 per person almost the equivalent of half a month’s pay ensured the exclusion of the ‘masses’, a policy borrowed straight from the constitutions of English clubs. In the Mombasa (English) club, for instance, the marginalisation of subordinate staff was so extreme that no man beyond a certain rank could become a member; the acid test being the salary earned.

In other ways too, the Goan Institute sought to mirror the English clubs. It became a beacon of high culture: orchestral music flowed from its hall, ballroom dancing, afternoon tea parties and intellectually stimulating talks were held frequently; the women dressed in flowing gowns, their children in laced-up boots and the men in finely tailored coats. The institute formed, almost immediately, the Goan Institute Dramatic Club much in keeping with the Nairobi Amateur Dramatic Club, and a month after its opening put up a play for a mixed audience of Europeans and Goans. It was not at all unusual to find Europeans at the club, in the evenings, dancing and enjoying a drink.

Another early coup, if somewhat politically contentious, was being chosen as the venue for the Colonists’ Association meeting held on 23 January, 1907. Among those present was the rambunctious Lord Delamere and Ewart Grogan who championed the rights of European settlers in Kenya. It was at this meeting that Grogan took over as president of the association promising that his watchword would be ‘politics and not personalities’.

The racially motivated Colonists’ Association in a shameful land-grab led the most offensive campaign against Indian settlers. Grogan’s accusation of Indians being ‘land-Jews’ and ‘rack-renters’ played its part in severely curtailing their right to land ownership.

The Colonists’ Association was a mutinous lot at loggerheads with Crown officials who found it almost impossible to govern them.  Less than two months after the election meeting at the Goan Institute, on 14 March, Grogan bound and marched three Kikuyu men in broad daylight to the Court House, where he and two other settlers publically flogged them for the offence of ‘insulting European ladies’. The 100 odd settlers gathered around for the spectacle refused to allow the police to intervene. Even those disturbed by the sheer savagery of the incident reasoned that, ‘blood heats and in a tropical climate the Caucasian is apt to be intemperate’.

Such barbarity barely made a dent in the Goan consciousness. Never did a protest or condemnation ensue from them on such matters. The fear of reprisals against the businesses they operated for their European clientele and their jobs in the civil administration would have muted any dissenting opinions but more at stake was their reputation as ‘peaceful and law-abiding’. Having chosen to lead politically neutral lives, Goans became mere spectators to these events and often they made common cause with Europeans. What they did not tolerate, however, was criticism of the Goan community. The slightest rebuke would be met with immediate protest letters. And an apology would promptly be rendered to the Goans, for they were essential as traders, clerks and major philanthropists of early Nairobi.

As much as their apoliticism insulated them, making them the model community of British East Africa, it also isolated them. They turned inwards, politicking amongst themselves. Campos and the Nazareth brothers become firm allies seconding each other’s motions and creating block votes to direct institute politics. In contrast, Sequeira’s principal loyalty remained with the institute and he frequently played peace-maker to discordant factions. A man of letters, he believed in Francis Bacon’s philosophy of collective good rather than individual pursuit of glory, and quoted the writer: ‘it is a poor centre of a man’s action; himself’. Under his watch as president in 1912, the institute initiated The Progress, a journal to ‘influence in matters Goan’. The factionalization of Goans played heavily on Sequeira’s mind. He urged Goans to be ‘sons of the same soil and fight their battles under the banner of the [Goan] Institute’.

In 1920 as a fitting tribute to John Ainsworth, the institute hosted a sumptuous reception in honour of his departure from Africa. The old stalwarts, Campos and Ribeiro, were in attendance. Presenting Ainsworth with a silver casket, the president of the Goan Institute, Joseph de Souza, thanked him for his assistance in founding the institute. Ainsworth, in all humility, put it down to having done what he could in his official capacity. He had known the Goan community for thirty years, he said, and he would take with him memories of that long association which he would ‘treasure’.