For the longest time, Sikhs in East Africa, particularly Kenya have been referred to as ‘Kalasingas’. The origin of this name lies in the inspiring tale of a noble, adventurous man who arrived in Kenya in 1896.
The origins of the Sikh community in EA can be traced back to the late 1890’s when they were commissioned by the British to work on the railway. Among the first members of the community to arrive in the country was a young, adventurous 16 year old known as Kala Singh and it is by his name that the entire Sikh community have come to be known until this day.
Kala Singh arrived in Kenya in 1896 from Patiala in Punjab, history books and records describe him as a sturdy, adventurous, outgoing but most of all kind hearted man and it is this trait for which he is best remembered .
A few years after his arrival, along with his close friend Munishram they established a company known as ’ Munshiram Kalasingh & Co‘ on River Road. They mainly dealt in selling steel bars and hardware. Their business was probably one of the very first to be started in Nairobi which by then only comprised of railway offices and quarters.
Mr S. Kala Singh image courtesy http://www.sikh-heritage.co.uk/
With the establishment of their new business, Kala Singh became engaged in wide -spread business activities which would require him to venture deep into the interior parts of the country which were then largely unexplored.
He travelled through forests, barren lands and mountains, in a time where they were no roads or any proper means of transport.
His adventures brought him in touch with various communities particularly the Masai whose territory many had feared to venture into. His interactions with the different communities opened up trade and also provided a way for other traders to better understand the communities of Kenya.
Perhaps one of the most important things he is remembered for is his selfless nature. He is said to always have carried life saving drugs with him whenever he went out on an excursion. The drugs which were used to fight malaria and other tropical diseases would be distributed freely to the affected folks who had no access to medical facilities.
That is why he was so respected. His noble and generous gestures went on to represent the values of the entire Sikh community. Through his influence and his distinctive head turban, Africans begun to refer to Sikhs as “Kalasingas”.
Munshiram Kalasingh & Co grew steadily over the years and soon they were able to establish a second construction / hardware shop in Eldoret. Years later Kala Singh parted company with Munshiram and the business name was changed to Munshiram & Co. ; eventually he went back to India and he died there.
It is evident from this story that to be nothing but yourself in a world that offers more pain than it does joy, is enough to go a long way. As in the case of Mr.Singh his name went on to define generations and generations of people and will continue to do so for more years to come. Because while a good deed can go a long way, a good heart lives on forever.
[I]A toast to to Mr. Sardar Kala Singh!