Greek identity/community in east africa


In the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth century many people of different background and with different goals came to East-Africa, Kenya, German East-Africa, and later Tanganyika. These were not just Germans and English, who started their colonial enterprises, like shops, hotels, settler farms and plantations. There were also “others”, like Africans of different ethnic background, Indians (Khojas, Bohra and Goans), Arabs, Greek and Greek-Cypriot, Swiss, Dutch, Pools, Italians, Volga and Palestine Germans, and Boers, etc. who became part of the colonial society. They created a more complex, multi-cultural colonial and postcolonial society. According to Hofmeyr (2007), there is a need for understanding this more complex layered archive in which versions of modernity are negotiated in an ever-shifting set of idioms around ‘tradition’. The history of one of these groups of people who “choose” to forge their lives in the pioneering colonies of foreign nations will be highlighted in this paper; the Greek. Interesting is that in other parts of the world most Greeks in diaspora made their career in trade, and in the hotel and restaurant business. But in Tanzania a majority became railway constructors, and later plantation managers and plantations owners in the sisal sector in Tanga and Morogoro, started coffee plantations and mixed faming around Moshi and Arusha, or grew tobacco in Iringa. These Greeks claim their own position within the colonial society by exploiting the fluidity and ambiguity of colonial hierarchies, playing up different claims of being Europeans, being Greeks, or being people who are more able to understand and work together with Africans than Germans, Brits and Indians, because of their lack of racial discrimination and their understanding of extended family live.

This paper, which offers a historical survey on the developing Greek community in German East Africa, later Tanganyika, will focus on the question of how, in this multi-cultural setting of Eastern Africa, Greek immigrants’ identity and their ideas of Greekness and sense of community developed during the course of the 20th century. A central argument will be that a Modern, state connected Greek identity and a strong Greek community feeling among those immigrants emerged only from the 1930’s onwards, and developed into organised communities in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Construction of identity:

Modern Greeks have a very strong sense of identity. This Greekness is based on a notion of a common blood and related sentiments, a shared culture, religion and language, and a collective historical memory, all connected to national sentiments of the partrida or homeland. Modern Greeks see themselves as a common genos; one group of the same ethnic origin. This common identity is strongly bases on a passionate belief in the historical continuity and unity of the Greek people, supported by memories of their antiquate and Byzantine past, their language, their culture, and their religion. It is the construction of this “imagined” historical record that became an important element in the process of making Modern “Greeks”. This continuity thesis, initiated by Constantinos Paparrigopoulos in his History of the Greek Nation (1860-1877), has until the mid ‘70’s of the last century been the sole basis of the mainstream of Greek, Hellenocentric historiography. Most new impulses, like economic and social history, and the history of the Greek diaspora, came from (Greek) historians living outside Greece. Within Greece attention after 1974 became mostly focused on the political and social history of Greece in the Second World War, and later on the civil war period.

In the 1990’s young historians began, in a reaction to the strong nationalism within the Greek society, to examine the formation of national Greek identity. These works provoked strong debates and even attacks form writers in the daily press. Anastasia Karakasidou for instance was, after the publication of her study on the process of Hellenization in Greek Macedonia, in the Greek newspaper “Stohos” described a state-enemy. The turbulent history of the Greek state, form the war of independence, its origination as a independent kingdom in 1832, up to the, still for Greece very touchy Cypriote and Macedonian questions, make the way Greek people keep their “primordial” Greek (national) identity so close at heart very conceivable. But this past is much more complex, contradictory and ambiguous than we are led to believe. Identities and memories are, as Gillis (1996) stated, not things we, as ordinary people, think about, but things we think with. This, and the fact that historical memories can support political claims, makes deconstructions of “primordial”, and nation connected identities political sensitive exercises, as the “Karakasidou case” shows. Nonetheless, although people think with identities and historical memories, it is the job of social scientists to think about them.

Within social science there has been a shift from essentialism to social constructivism. For contemporary social scholars, who have to think about (ethnic) identities and (historical) memories, it is common place to see them no longer as primordial determined, but rather as being constructed in time; in interaction with “others”, partly based on invented traditions, in the course of changing circumstances. And, these processes never stop. Triandafyllidou (1998) for instance, shows the roll of the “Macedonian others” in the emergence of a new Greek nationalism in the late 20th century.

Identity construction is a quite natural thing of human behavior. It is a psychological force which gives individuals meaning to their existence; a necessary sense of belonging to a social entity, like family, gender, group, class, profession, community, clan, religion, culture and nation. Individual and collective identities of human beings are constantly (re-)shaped in socio-cultural spaces, in relation to “others”, like he/she and they, and in a discourse around “sameness” and “otherness”, indicated by symbols and representations. These “others” (xenos) are different but no strangers. The in- and out-groups “know” one and other and they “meet”, cross borders, in space and time, like the 1922 refugees from Asia Minor (the Mikrasiates) and the local Greek (Ellines), or Greeks in general and Turks, or Greeks and Macedoinans. In this process, in which individuals ascribe oneself, “their” group and “others”, and in which “others” ascribe them and “their” group, subjective and objective perspectives are combined. Especially the ascription of “other” identities are often exaggerating and stereotyping, like in recent popular Greek discourse around Albanian “criminals”.

Although individuals have to take up identities actively in relation to “others”, those identities are necessarily the product of the society and the time in which they live. The process of primary socialization into a society, during which fundamental social, cultural and religious orientations are passed from one generation to the next, limits the degree of control individuals can exert over their own identity. This psychological and cultural dimension of its (supposed) primordial aspect is part of the effective identity with which people think with in a more or less unconscious way. But, (ethnic) identity, based on its “invented” primordial roots is also used in a more conscious way by a group or members of a group (e.g. a political elite). In its instrumental sense (ethnic) identity is for instance consciously used to mobilize a group in order to protect claims (or those of the elite) in their interaction with “others”, like in the course of the nationalist projects in Greece and Turkey during second half of the nineteenth and in the twentieth century.

Greek identity:

“A Greek is a person who wants to be Greek, feels he is a Greek, and says he is a Greek” (Prime-Minister, Elefthérios Venizelos, 1919)

In terms of its language, culture, and religion, modern Greece today is – notwithstandig the immigrations since the fall of the Berlin Wall – still exceptionally homogeneous. But, it remains difficult to determine what a “Greek” is, particularly a Greek of the diaspora. Are they to be defined by their language, their ethnic origin, their religion, or their residence within the borders of the state? Many immigrants into East Africa since the end of the 19th century were coming from areas outside the borders of the Greek state. All being part of the Ottoman Empire, they experience the same political organization and shared the same fate, but they did not share in the same way a Modern Greek identity. We have to look shortly at the history of the Balkan Peninsula to lift up the veil for some understanding of the construction process of Modern Greek identity.

The Greek nineteenth century national state (kratos) had no historical predecessor. Before the independence of the Greek State, most of the area of the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, Crete, and the Aegean, Dodecanese and Ionian Islands, which we now call Greece, had been part of two large Empires; the Roman-Byzantine followed by the Ottoman Empire. It was the interplay of these two socio-cultural worlds in the post-Byzantine/Moslim Turkish era that formed the daily experience of the population of the Balkan Peninsula and islands, and parts of Asia Minor up to the early nineteenth century, and of which the result still can be traced in local Greek popular culture today.

The populations residing in the area that would eventually become the Modern Greek state, was, like the rest of the Ottoman Empire, characterised by a disparate ethnic, cultural and linguistic makeup. This had for a great part to do with continuity in the history of the Balkan Peninsula; the influx of different ethnic troops, bands, tribal or family group of transhumant pastoralists from the north. The mountainous landscape, which covers 75% of the land, and poor communications stimulated local orientation and cultural diversity even further. By the time the Balkan Peninsula was subject to Tourkokratie (Turkish rule”) the old Greek cultural diversity of Dorians, Ionians, Aeolians and Arcado-Cypriots, and their sub-diversities, was already cultural enriched by groups of Romaniotes Jews, Slavs, Cham Albanians, Roma, and Vlachs, who moved into the Peninsula (long) before and during the collapse of the Byzantine authority. “Others” were also Armenians, Arvanites, Turks, and Sephardic Jews, the later fleeing from Spain after 1492. Around 1800 only in Rumeli (or mainland Greece), and on some of the islands were (demonic) Greek speaking, Orthodox Christian people in a majority. But everywhere were large Turkish and Albanian minorities, and some smaller minorities of other linguistic-ethnic background, who had been settled there for hundreds of years. Many of these minorities were bilingual and among the Vlachs and Albanians, there were people who – during the Greek revolt – although speaking Greek only as a second language, and having their own costumes, thought of themselves as being Greek by religion and residence. Many of them played a role in the War of independence. Some Cham Albanian speaking Souliotes e.g. were even seen as Greek national heroes.

The way Ottoman rule was implemented resulted also in a deepening of a local cultural orientation. The Balkan Peninsula was divided into six different sanjaks or districts, which were ruled by a Sanjakbey. Other parts of the Balkan Peninsula and the islands stayed largely out of reach of (effective) Ottoman rule. In the mountain districts of the interior lived different ethnic groups outside the influence of any state rule. They resisted against any state interference, whether these be Turkish, Albanian, or Greek. An example is the Agrapha villages in the Pindus Mountains. Most of the people were still transhumant pastoralists with herds of sheep and a certain number of goats. Large flocks, accompanied by whole families, their horses, mules and possessions, moved up and down during the year from the Alpine pastures to the lower plains and valleys of central Greece. These “tent-dwellers, as the government of King Otho called them in 1836, were basically hostile to the towns, the lowland world and de state in general. Other areas enjoyed a high degree of self-government and virtual autonomy, amongst others the whole of the Peloponnese, were the primates (native noble landowners and tax farmers) ruled the roost. And, the Ionian Islands were only briefly ruled by the Ottomans. For most of the period they stayed in the hands of Venice, France (1797) and Great Britain (1815). They were a cannel for Western influences in an eastern, largely Orthodox world, otherwise more or less insulated from Western Europe. ‘

Next to “ethic”, local cultural diversity there were also religious differences. Most of the people on the Peninsula belonged to the Eastern Orthodox Church. This was true for the different Greek groups, as well as for (Hellenized) Arvanites, Chams, Vlachs and Slavs. The Ottomans introduced the millet system. This segregated the population of the Peninsula by religion. Next to the Muslims millet there were non-Muslim millets, like the Gregorian millet, the Catholic millet, and the Greek or Orthodox millet or millet-i Rum. Besides the strictly Hellenic element, this last mentioned millet, led by a Greek-speaking clergy, embraced also Serbs, Romaniotes, Bulgarians, Vlachs, and Albanians. These (and other) Christians had to pay special taxes, like the jizya (an Islamic poll-tax for every non-Muslim in the Empire) and the haradj (a tax levied on men in lieu of military service). There was also the janissary levy, obligating Christian families to deliver a certain proportion of their children. Those children would then be raised as Muslims and educated for the imperial service, civilian and military alike. Although nobody was required to become a Muslim, some former Eastern Orthodox did in order to avert this kind of hardship. This resulted in the development of different Muslim communities among linguistic-ethnic Slav, Albanians, Vlachs, Romans, and even Greeks. Mass conversion of Greek speaking people to Islam occurred e.g. in Crete. They came to be known as Tourkokritikoi. So, during the Ottoman era it was the shared experience of Turkish overlordship and religion rather then etnicity that gave the sence of belonging to a common ethnos; a term which refers – in the Greek setting – to some form of unity other than the strictly political. It was the Greek clergy, at least in the beginning, who objected to the ethnic parochialism of secular nationalism, because it threatened the ecumenicity of transcendental values which held Balkan society together.

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Out of this mixture of “ethnic”, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity, further complicated by class differences between commoners on the one hand, and landowners and tax farmers, urban tradesmen, privileged clerical leaders and non-Ottoman bureaucrats under the Ottoman overlordship on the other, as well as strong traditions of local autonomy, a kind of unity was created during the war of independence and thereafter. This insurrection against Ottoman overlordship started first as an attempt to restore Byzantium under “Eastern Roman” leadership, without a clear picture of a future territorial state, and without a goal of creating one national identity. But, under influence of a small but cohesive group of young nationalistic modernists, this changed into a vision of a nation-state that was part of the west instead of the orient. During this shift the enterprise for nationalist political leaders to create a Greek national identity based on a set of shared memories, a sense of continuity, a state religion, and an idea of a common future became essential.

Greek cultural homogeneity and the idea of a common genos was a product of 19th century and 20th century modernity, the rise of a nation-state, and the development of a nationalist ideology connected to the Greek Orthodox (state) religion. Particularly important in this process were the central institutions of the state, like primary and secondary schools whose curricula were primarily designed to ensure linguistic and cultural uniformity, and the military, bringing together young men regardless of their language and cultural identity, and the process of urbanisation. So, it took 19th and 20th century Greek nationalism, supported by the Greek Orthodox Church, forced hellenization (the adoption of the Greek national language, Greek surnames, names and village names, and the Orthodox religion by “others”), universal education, conscription, wars, and modern mobility and urbanisation to complete the assimilation of the “remaining others” and the “returning self” of Asia Minor after the war of 1921-23 into the homogeneous Modern Greek nation-state we know today.

Form an historical point of view, this complex idea of Modern Greek belonging can be seen as a result of an historical process of social interaction, changing perceptions and political circumstances. This process shifted the essence of this imagined community in the course of the 19th and early 20th century, under the influence of Neohellenic Enlightenment and secularization, from a religious to a national-political one. The Greek language as a criterion of ethnos was not yet an important ethnic marker. But in the process of creating the Greek state and the embracement of ethnos by the state, the Greek language became just as important as the Greek Orthodox religion in the notion of Modern Greekness. Let us now turn to those Greeks outside the state, especially those how went to (east) Africa.

Migration around 1890-1916; the period of sojourners:

A first remark I would like to make is that in analyzing the experiences of Greek emigrants to East Africa, and the way their history and their African experiences influenced their sense of communal, ethnic identity, we can make use of several concepts connected to migration and immigrants, like push and pull, chain migrations, sojourners, diasporas, (ethnic and economic) minorities, transnational communities, etc. The point I would like to make is that not one concept or theory, but different concepts can by used to analyze specific phases and different aspects of the groups involved.

Migration and globalization are historical processes which make people enter, willingly (pull) or involuntarily (push), in new contexts of social relations. Migration from Greece in the nineteenth and twentieth century can be divided into several phases and periods. The early nineteenth century trend in the migration of the Greek can be described as sporadic. It was influenced by the aftermath of the eight-year war of independence (1821-1829). The countryside was impoverished by war, a first influx of people from Constantinople and Asia Minor, and imposed taxes to pay for the war, creating preconditions for emigration. The destination of this first Modern Greek migration flow was mainly the area with old Hellenic ties, like the Black sea area, the eastern Mediterranean area, and Egypt. Where Egypt is concerned, they settled in Alexandria and Cairo, where already small communities of Greek merchant families existed, and to a lesser degree in other places, like El Mansurah, Port Siad, Tanta, Zagazig and Minia. In 1907 ca. 63.000 Greek were living in Egypt. These communities developed their strong Greek identity during the process of nation building in metropolitan Greece in the course of the nineteenth century. From Egypt some Greek pushed their way further south, into parts of Sudan, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Eritrea. Because most of them were individuals no large Greek community was established in any single locale. Although small in numbers, they made an important contribution to Ethiopia by bringing in skills like that of silversmith, instructor in the use of firearms, mason, builder, merchant and trader.

These immigrants were not only pushed by economic and political circumstances in Europa; they were also pulled. The Wali of Egypt and Sudan, Mohammed Ali Pasha, and his successor, Khedive Ismael Pasha, saw the Greeks as important intermediaries through whom Egypt could by introduced to Western technology. They instituted dramatic reforms in the military, economic, and cultural spheres in which the Greek could play a role. In Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Eritrea Greeks also played a role, highly valued by indigenous rulers, as intermediates in the, still very modest process of nineteenth century modernization and globalization. They operated as traders and merchants in the still limited foreign trade, and they were involved in railroad building, organized by the Italians. A Greek named George Rigos made a fortune by supplying the Ethiopian army with Belgium guns, invested it in ships, but lost every thing during the Greek-Turkish war of 1921-22, and return to Ethiopia.

In Sudan most of them were mechants, importing luxury goods, mostly for British colonials. There were also some Greeks, working as civil servants, clerks or storekeepers, in the forts along the White Nile; established during the Egyptian expansion into the Sudan. These small number of individual Greeks living in Sudan, Abyssinia and Eritrea felt themselves more closely associated to other Europeans in the area than to Africans; the British in Sudan and the Italians in Eritrea and Abyssinia.

A second, lager wave of emigrations took place after the formation of a Greek state. This was spurred by the international economic depression of the late nineteenth century (1873-1897). In the advent of this crisis some developments in the country side took place which made the Greek agricultural economy more vulnerable to international demand and price fluctuations.

Up to the First World War there was a deep-rooted belief among policy makers that Greece should rely on its primary resources and develop its trade relations. This resulted in a retarded industrialization. The main economic activity was and stayed agriculture, a sector involving the largest portion of the Greek population. The land distribution of 1871 consolidated small family property and strengthened the system of extensive agriculture of cereals, olives, and grapes. On these family controlled estates, who were largely oriented to subsistence agriculture, farming methods and tools remained more or less out of date. Wooden ploughs for instance where still more numerous, according to the census of 1929, than iron ones, and around 1900/1913 only 0,1 kilo of fertilizers was used per hectare arable land. To compare, in the Netherlands this was 164 kilo per hectare. This resulted in relative low production and productivity levels. In the second half of the nineteenth century an increasing part of the agriculture became dedicated to cash crops, like olives, silk cocoons, and especially currants. Between 1886 and 1890 currants made up almost 55% of the value of all Greek exports. During the 1880’s and 1890’s people in countryside suffered from crop failure, unstable prices, overproduction of currants and uncertain markets. France imposed a high tariff on Greek currants in 1892, resulting in the lost of one of Greece largest markets for currants. At the same time California started to be a larger player on the international raisin markets. In the meanwhile heavy military spending to finance the effort to redeem Ottoman areas with Hellenic majorities pressed hard on the population. Large deficits forced the government to impose heavy taxes. In the 1890’s Greece experienced a sever depression in which even a national bankruptcy had to be declared (1893). And in 1897 Greece also experienced a crushing defeat in the “Thirty Day War” against the Ottomans. These circumstances contributed to a massive emigration. Between 1880 and 1914 more than 15% of the Greek population emigrated, mostly to the United States and Egypt, were males between the ages of 15 and 45. Some went beyond Egypt, further into the African continent.

Greeks in East Africa; 1890’s-1916

“Regarding the commerce and industry of this country (German East Africa), I must for fairness’sake say a few words about the Greeks; for without them I do not know what would have become of the country.” (Gillman, in his diary, early 1916)

Like those in Abyssinia, Eritrea and Sudan, the Greeks who went during the 1890-1914 period to other parts of Africa can be typified by the term “sojourners” (temporary migration). This term is not a common concept used in migration studies. It embodied in the Chinese term qiaoju meaning longer visits and even extended periods of stay, practiced by venturesome and entrepreneurial individuals in a wide variety of historical contexts, and can be seen, according to Wang Gungwa, as a prelude to eventual migration. The same can be said of the Greek immigrants in East Africa from the 1890’s up tot the early 1920’s. An example of such adventurers is the story of seven young Greeks, locally known as the “Gang of Seven”, who arrived completely penniless in Moshi in 1907 after a long journey from Egypt to Morocco, down to South Africa and north again to German East Africa, trying to make a living along the road. Most of these early sojourners did not have a strong sense of Modern Greek Identity yet. First of all they had to adjust to the local circumstances, in which a strong expression of their ethnic identity had no place. Secondly, most of them had little or no formal education. And, thirdly, many of them came from areas outside the borders of the Greek state, like Asia Minor, Albania, Macedonia, the islands of Tenedos, Imbros and Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea and Abyssinia.

Before and in the very early days of the colonisation of East Africa some Greeks were already making a living in this part of Africa. Livestock trading and ivory trade were such early activities. Notwithstanding the inevitable losses, the herds could be sold at a handsome profit in places like Nairobi, Mombasa, Tanga, Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. Ivory, cattle, and also horses was brought from the west and the south to the coast by small number of Greeks and other European “jacks-of-all-trades”, as well as by Maasai and Swahili on a behalf of Europeans. In Somalia and Ethiopia livestock was cheap and of a good quality. Large herds of long-horned cattle were brought south to British and German East Africa through the arid terrain of northern Kenya, endangered by drought, disease, theft and lions. Mbale, near the slopes of Mount Elgon, developed in those days into an important centre for the route which Greek and other traders were taking to the ivory and cattle areas farther north. Hunter-cattle traders, like Emmanuel Mathaiakis (from Crete), bought around 1900 cattle in Sukuma land for Merikani (cotton cloth). He brought the herds to Bagamoyo for shipment to Zanzibar. A Greek trader in Mombasa, Theodoros Tsakiris, would also use the journey back north to transport goods which arrived by dhow in the harbour in exchange for livestock and ivory. Trading over long distances, these Greek had become quite capable to deal with the land and its inhabitants. Some used these skills later in service by organizing and accompanying European pioneer settles into the hinterlands and in recruiting labourers for the railroad construction. When Emmanuel Mathaiakis e.g. started to work as a contractor for the Central railway he was able to hire large work gangs of Sukuma and Nyamwezi to do the heavy manual work of the railroad construction.

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Most other individual Greeks remained traders, merchants, shopkeepers and hoteliers in little less adventurous conditions. In British East Africa in 1892 a little North of Ngong in Kikuyu area there was the Smith Mackenzie trading post, which was run by a Greek named Trefusis, supplying the small European community there. And, in Mombassa, the place were “Kenyan settlers to be” arrived by boat form Europe, were two Rumanian and two Greek hotel-keepers, the Albanian-Greek brothers Philip and Michalis Fillios, who owned the Hotel Cecil. Next to these Greek hoteliers there were also four Greek contractors.

In the long run, most of the Greek would not settle in British, but in German East Africa. In the late 19th century some Greek immigrants established maduka (Kisw. plu. small shops) and hotels in German East Africa. The first European hotel in Bagamoyo, nicknamed the Grand Hotel, was Greek owned. And in Tanga, the Afrika Hotel (later, the notorious Planters Hotel) was run by another Greek, Evangelos Matsounis. Hotels run by Greek in cities like Tanga, Dar es Salaam, Iringa, Morogoro, Kilosa, Moshi and Arusha would become very important in the process of local Greek community building, especially in the period before the establishment of official Greek clubs, Greek churches and Greek schools.

Within circles of the colonial movement Germans were convinced that the German state could only have a lasting grip on their East Africa territories if a relative large white element could be created in the colony. To stimulate emigration the colonial movement started a propaganda offensive. In addition to so-called Reichsdeutscher (Germans from Imperial Germany), they also focused their recruitment projects towards “ethnic Germans” living outside the German state. In 1903 initiatives were taken to recruit Afrikaner Boers who were seen by the Germans as Niederdeutser. Those of them who wanted to leave South Africa after the Boer-war (1899-1902) were invited to settle in German East Africa. The Boers in German East Africa, who settled in the pastoral areas around Arusha numbered 352 in 1913. In 1906 the German East African Settlement committee gave August Leue the assignment to recruit Germans living in Russia. These so-called Volga-Germans were Mennonites who were invited by Catherina II and had settled around 1780 as small-scale subsistence famers in the Volga-area and the Caucasus. Some two hundred of these Volga-German families were settled between Ngongare and Makumira at Mount Meru. In 1910 another 60 German peasant settled in the area. These descents of members of a sect called Templars had left Germany in the 1850´s to settle in Jaffa in Palestine, and now wanted to leave because of Ottoman misrule.

Despite such recruitment efforts European settlement in East Africa in general developed very slowly. In 1907 some ninety families of European descent had settled down in the areas of Arusha, Meru, Morogoro and West-Usambara. Very few of these settlers had come directly from Germany with the intension to settle as farmers. And most of the people who did settle as farmers lacked a suitable agricultural background. Even the Volga-German, small-scale subsistence farmers had problems to adjust. Form the 225 independent settlers in 1908 126 were classified as German. In addition to the Germans, Boers and other “ethnic Germans” there were a fair number of Greeks, some Italians, and odd representatives of a variety of other European nationalities, like Dutch and Swiss. In 1913 there were 208 Greek in the German colony.

Most of the Greek settlers had come into the country at first instance for some other purpose and later decided to settle. For them it was the start of the construction of railways that brought them to German East Africa. During the building in British East Africa of the Uganda railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria the British were able to call upon a vast labour resource of manual and semi skilled Indian coolies. Around 30,000 of them formed the backbone of the workforce. Germany had no such labour resource. In acquiring the needed unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour three groups of Greek came to be involved with the railway construction in German East Africa. These were the Greek sojourners in East Africa who were familiar with contracting local labourers, Greeks from the North and the Horn of Africa who were familiar with railroad construction in that part of Africa, and Greeks from Asia Minor, who had worked on the Baghdad railway.

In the early nineties of the 19th century the Germans decided to build a first railway from Tanga harbour to open up the projected core areas of German colonial development, the Usambara Mountains and the Kilimanjaro area. The Railway Company for German East Africa “Usambara Linie”, started the construction of this so-called Usambara railway in 1893. When after 5 years funds gave out, only 40 km of the projected track was finished. After a stoppage of more than three years, construction was resumed. This time small contractors took up the construction of the railway track form Muheza to Korogwe. But, because of labour shortage at the end of 1900, which was caused a long period of famine in which approximately 25% of the people in this northern area died, and a following severe rainy season in 1901, the opening of the track to Korogwe was delayed until early 1902. In September 1903 a reputable firm for railway contraction at Berlin, Lenz and Company, took over the responsibility for the railway construction and after a stop of twenty months work was resumed once more.

Around this period Greeks (and Italians ) from North Africa and the Horn of Africa became involved with the railway construction. They had been working form 1887 as railway workers for an Italian company in Eritrean on the railway form Massawa to Asmara, like the in Rhodes born Stamatis Emmanuel, who had been working on this line before coming to Tanga in German East Africa to work on the Northern railway. In Ethiopia Greeks were worked for the Imperial Railway Company of Ethiopia, often referred to by its French name, Compagnie Impériale des Chemins de Fer Éthiopiens (CFE). This was a semi-private company, based on France and English capital. It was founded in 1894 for the construction and operation of a railway across eastern Ethiopia from Addis Ababa to the port of Djibouti in what was at the time French Somaliland. The top management and engineers were France and Italian expats, but there were also Europeans hired on the spot, collectively revered to in the records of the CFE as “Greeks”. Many of them were Greek speaking and Orthodox, like the grandfather of the in 1932 in Pire Dawa in Abbyssinia born Evan Spyropoulos. The depot of Pire Dawa for instance was entirely Greek. But there were, probably also Greek speaking Armenians and Levantine Christians among them. Most of these “Greeks” had no formal education, nor skills nor money. They came to Ethiopia because they had heard that the streets of Addis Ababa were “paved in gold”. This idea had maybe to do with some Greeks living in Shoa in the first halve of the 19th century, who were working, as we have seen, as silversmiths, masons, builders, armourers, traders and instructors in the use of firearms for the Negus at the Shoan court, and became rather wealthy. In reality the Greeks who came at the end of the 19th century had to work hard, making a living by building the railway, and suffering form malaria. Below these “European” Cadres were daily wage-earning workers, recruited form Yemen and Egypt, and very low paid unskilled, work gangs from the Ethiopian region, recruited among Somali, Afar and Oromo people.

The demands and threats of the French and English governments led the Ethiopian Emperor, Menelek, in 1902 to forbid the expansion of the railway line to Harar. This left Ethiopian-Greek railway workers jobless, and some of them came to Tanga to find employment in the railroad construction that was tanking place there at that time. These now experienced, semi-skilled, European railroad workers, who were used to live and work in rather primitive conditions, and who were also used to work with African work gangs, were more then welcome. The track between Korogwe and Mombo was finished in August 1904. In the beginning of the following year the “Deutsche Koloniaal Eisenbahn Bau- und Betriens Gesellschaft” was founded in Berlin, dominated by Lenz and Company. For the first time a proper construction contract was drawn up between German fiskus and the lessee of the line, after the pattern of the contracts by which the Mittelland Bahn (Central railway) was then being built, and in October 1911 the track all the way to Moshi was opened for traffic.

The contract for the construction of the central railway from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma habour at Lake Tanganyika was given to Phillip Holzman & Company. The construction began in February 1905, reached Tabora in 1912 and Kigoma in 1914. Like the Lenz Company, Holzman & Co. was German based company with all kinds of international projects in their portfolio. Between 1888 and 1904, for instance, it was involved in the construction of the Anatolian-Bagdad railway in Asia Minor. This area at that time still had a large Greek presence. When the company came to German East Africa in 1905, it brought with it a staff of sub-contractors (surveyors and engineers), most of whom were (Anatolian) Greeks. The Anatolian-Greek Scurati and Kapetsakos are mentioned in this context. Kapetsakos was a German-trained civil engineer. He was in charge of surveying the planned track. Alexander Scutari was also a German-trained civil engineer. He sub-contracted many of the works to Greeks.

Others just heard that there was a construction going on. So they came, as sub-contractors, to the central railroad building, amongst others, those Greeks (and Italians) who were working on the Northern railway. They did so because the construction of this Northern line had stopped in 1905, only to be continued in October 1907. Others came to the railway construction directly form Greece, were, as we have seen, economic conditions were harsh and were, with every generation, the land was divide into ever smaller plots. According to the Kolnische Volkszeiting of 1907, Europeans employed by the Construction Company were mainly Greeks. Familiar Greek family-names in East Africa, like Ghikas, Yannikos, Kazamias, Horn, and Manthaiakis, can all be deduced to Greeks working at the German central railway construction.

Greeks-subcontractors, involved in many aspects of railroad construction, were constantly criticised in the German Press and their few German competitors. Of course, for the most part the Greek staff was from peasant origin, with no or limited formal education. They were more or less semi-skilled workers. But, as we have seen, some, like Scutari and Kapetsakos, were skilled and many others did have experience in railway construction.

Greek sub-contractors got on well with African labourers. This had to do with several facts. First, they were used to live and work in comparable primitive conditions and did not fear the tropical sun. Second, those coming from Northern Africa already had some experience in working with African labourers. And third, Greeks – as many explain in the interviews – were used to the social circumstances of extended family live. Because of this, they were able to understand Africans must better than their fellow Europeans; the Germans and later the English. For this reason Greeks were especially important in maintaining the labour force of 15 to 20 thousand African workers, mainly Wanyamwezi, Wasukuma, and some Wasagara.

With the money they earned, Greeks railroad workers were able invest in business. In Kigoma and other places along the track, and in places as far from one as Ujiji and Usumbura in the west and Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam in the east, one good find before the first World War not only Greek hotels, but also typical Greek stores (along with the Indian maduka). Others invested in land along the railway track. The earlier mentioned Alexander Scutari acquired for instance 25.000 hectares of land at Kimamba and started to plant Ceara rubber trees. Because of the prevalence of malaria, tsetse and black water fever, the low-lying plains of Morogoro and Kilosa were actually not that suited for settlement in the accepted sense of the terms of those days. But they were fertile and connected to the coast by the Central railway. In the years prior to the First World War a group of around seventy Europeans, mostly Germans and Greeks, had taken up land and large areas were put under Ceara rubber. But, world wide overproduction led to a crisis in the German East African rubber industry which ended by the middle of 1914 more or less into a complete failure. This, and the defeat of Germany would lead to important changes in the way the Greek community of East Africa would develop from the 1920’s onward.

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Building the railway was a spur to Greek settlement, but Greek railroad workers were not the first and the only Greek to start a living as agricultural settlers in German East Africa. The slopes of the Mounts Kilimajaro and Meru in the North-east of the German colony were an important area of first settlement. Arusha district, on the eastern edge of the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley and Kilimanjaro district around the slopes of Mount Kilimajaro are volcanic, highland areas. Because of this, they have a relatively cool and healthy (malaria free) climate, and very fertile soils, highly saturated with bases like phosphate and potassium. In 1893 Arabica coffee was introduced in the northern area by the Roman Catholic Mission of the Holy Ghost in Moshi. The crop soon established itself as a commercial proposition. In Arusha and Kilimanjaro area thriving Greek communities of mild-coffee growers developed after the First World War. But, it all started much earlier with a few pioneers.

One the Greek pioneers who settle directly as a coffee farmer in Kilimanjaro area was Constantine Meimaridis. This 25 year old merchant from Tenedos Island acquired land in Uru near nowadays Moshi and started at the end of the 19th century to grow his first coffee seedlings. He was soon followed by Philip Fillios, who had left the responsibility of Hotel Cecil in Mombasa in the hands of his brother Michalis Fillios, so he could seek further fortune in the cultivation of coffee. An early Greek settler in Arusha area was Michel Michalakis (Michaelidis, from Cyprus??), who settle in Duruma-Arusha, where he built his own house.

A first Greek chain migration developed by the invitation of relatives and friends to come over and by marriage of women form the home area in Europe. This is way Moshi/Kilimajoro developed a strong Tennedos connection and Arusha a Cyprus one. Examples of those early followers to the Kilimanjaro area are Adonis Zannetos and Gregory Emmanuel, both form Tennedos. Zannetos started his coffee estate in Machame/Kilimanjaro, married in Tenedos and returned with his Greek wife. Gregory Emmanuel was working as an engineer for the Suez Canal Company. In Alexanderia in the early 1900s he met his friend from Tenedos, Meimaridis, who was there to buy a steam traction engine. Both friends sailed from Alexandria to Mombasa and started a transport business between Voi and Moshi be using the engine as a road locomotive to transport bulky and heavy loads which could not be transported by ox-wagen.

The Tinga-Tinga, as the road locomotive was called, crossing a river between Voi and Moshi (photo in the personal archive of Costas Emmanuel)

After this not so prosperous adventure was stopped Gregory Emmanuel became a contractor at the Central railroad, and would – after First World War – settle as a maize and coffee grower in Kibosho and Uru.

As we have seen, Greeks were not the only to settle in the area. Before the fist War there were also many Germans, around 350 Boers, a few Italians and some other Europeans. Most of these Europeans on the Kilimanjaro settled within the fertile vihamba belt, where the Chagga had their homes and banana groves. This situation created some tensions between settlers and local Africans and the area was close for further settlement. In 1907 the area was reopened and it was flooded by settlers. New Greeks arrived to settle, and after them increasingly Germans. A few settled in the vihamba zone, but most of them were allocated land in the lower shamba area which the Chagga had used for grain growing. By 1911 colonist farms extended over nearly the whole slope bordering the Chagga banana groves, leaving hardly any room for new settlement.

Another early settlement took place in Iringa district, in the South of German East Africa and Tanga district in the North-east. From around 1900 a handful of Greek pioneers made their way to the remote Iringa. Here they started to experiment with tobacco planting. Quite a number of Greek-owned cigarette-factories had sprung up in the two decades before the first WW. They used mostly unfermented, native and Greek grown tobacco, and made it into kali- (Kisw. sharp) cigarettes. According to Gillman, products like sugar, butter, cheese and candles were also exclusively produced by Greeks.

Most of the early Greeks in coastal cities of Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo and Tanga had come by Arab and Greek cargo ships. They started to participate in trading, had maduka and hotels. One of the few who pick up agriculture in the German agricultural centre of the North-eastern districts was the Cretan, George Tsambourakis. He was ably to get a large estate at Mgambo (East-Usambara/Tanga). He was the forerunner of three major Cretan families in Tanga, the Tsambourakis, the Kroussaniotakis, and the Rodossakis. Another Greek, Moraitis, was since 1905 the owner of the Magunga estate (Wilhelmstal/West-Usambara). Especially in the Tanga-Usambara region the end of the German colonial era would offer opportunities for Greeks to invest in the plantation economy.

Becoming a Greek Middle class minority.

Plantation settlement and Chain migration; 1916 -1940.

Middleman minorities = relations within the receiving country.

Diaspora minorities = relations of community in the receiving county with their homeland.

Family reunion.

Networked (eilanden)


  • Diaspora

Diaspora is also a concept which can give some insight in expat minorities groups, like the Greek communities in (East) Africa. According t, the notion of diaspora necessarily implies the connection between dispersed populations and a real or imaginary center.

Diaspora, people who move and embark on projects of cultural memory and constructing homelands (hofmeyer, 180


While the Middleman minority theory is more focused on the specific position these minorities groups have in the land of destiny, the diaspora concept highlights also the relation these minorities have with their homeland.

Safran (1991) indentifies some basic characteristics of diaspora in their relation to their homeland. They, according to Safran, a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland- its physical location, history, and achievements; they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would (or should) eventually return – when conditions are appropriate; they believe that they should, collectively, be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their homeland and to its safety and prosperity; and they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethno-communal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship. This emotional ethno-communal consciousness and solidarity is often buried deep in language, religion, custom of folklore.

These concepts of middleman and diaspora minorities highlight especially the unity and solidarity of the communities. The feeling of belonging and solidarity, based on a common homeland and ethnic identity, can be real in a emotional sense or partly a well protected myth among its members, in realty divisions and differences within the communities, like class, gender and economic competition, exist as well. Ethnic and economic conflicts can also be part of the relationship between middleman and diaspora minorities and (groups within) the host society. Next to these inter-group and intra-group divisions, there can also exit transethnic solidarities, e.g. against forms of suppression and class solidarity. (Anthias, 1998b: 577)

Both the status within the country, and their relation with their home country => imagined community and collective identity; shift over time.

Greek Identity: 1920-1940

  • Ethnicity (ras en mate van civilisatie in koloniale setting)
  • Koloniale Apartheid.

In de period before the Second World War Greece and Greek were considered not “European” but “Balkan”, an appellation that carried with it more than mere geographic baggage. (Oriental) (Legg & Roberts, 1993, pp. 3-4)

  • Ethnic-Class-identity; Middleman minorities (Indiërs en Grieken); anders dan koloniaal bestuur, lokale bevolking, en Duitsers en Britten. (apartheid)

Re The Greek minorities in Africa can be seen as Middleman minorities. The colonial context, in which they arrived in Africa, did not put them in a low-status position like the Africans. But, on the other side they did not had the same status as other colonial Europeans, like the Germans and the English. Greek where, especially before the Second World War seen as a kind of semi-Europeans, slightly higher valued by the hegemonic German and later British colonial community the Asian (Indian and Arab) minorities. (segregated society; kind of apartheid) (cf. Hubert Blalock; Eda Bonacich, 1973)

Bonacich (1973) describes some characteristics of middleman minorities. Middleman minorities tend to begin as sojourners. Because these minorities, like the early Greek migrants, came to try there luck and to make their fortune abroad, they didn’t plan to settle permanently. This is why these minorities maintain a “myth of return”. Internal solidarity plays a very important role. This is why ethnic and regional associations can be very strong among these groups. Mutual assistance is prevalent, and trust retained among members from the same general area. Middleman minorities also show typical traits, like resistance to out-marriage residential self-segregation, the establishment of schools for their own children, and the maintenance of specific cultural traits. Members of these communities also have a tendency to avoid involvement in local politics, except for affairs that directly affect their own group. They form well organized, local communities which tend to resist (complete) assimilation.

migration (pull en Push)

Greeks in East Africa during the war II (Polen etc.)-50’s

Transnationality (Afrikaanse, Grieks – en de kinderen in een ander land)

Greeks 60’s-80’s

Uhuru, Ujamaa-nationalizations, econonic crisis.

Social identity is most important the moment is seems threatened.

Greeks 1990-

Multiculturalism, shaped by processes of migration and globalization, is an important feature of modern societies.

Transnationality (remigration; study)

Depending on the changing context over time in “host” and “home” land, and international developments during the past century, some overseas communities consolidated their Greek identity more then others, e.g. in language, in orthodox Christian religion, and in cultural traditions. Next to traditional linkages with the Greek homeland, transnational linkages and a cosmopolitan identity play an increasing role in East African life practices of the remaining Greek, now that the many of the third generation studied abroad and stayed after finishing their studies.

Transnationalism is connected to the process of globalization. It can be defined as the growing ability of migrants to develop and maintain multiple relations simultaneously across borders (mostly between “home land” and “host society”). These relations can result in flows across borders of people, goods, money, messages, ideas and practices; increasingly supported by low-cost transportation, telephone and mobile phone, e-mail, internet sites and ICT-programs like skype. (Guarnizo and Smith, 1998; Webner, 2004: 896)

Today, concepts such as “composite culture”, “cosmopolitanism”, “transnational culture” and ‘flexible citizenship’ are in vogue in a globalizing world. But, since migration and globalization are historical processes, and migration as an element of globalization has long served as a context for the remaking of identity, citizenship and polity, these kinds of concepts can also be used to describe comparable historical developments. N.b. Anthony Appiah even describes the entire history of the human species in term of globalization and migration.

Blending of identities (mix-marriages)

Blending of identities: (cosmopolitan) composite culture (nation-state; rain bow) pluralism, (food, and behaviour); intermarriages.

  • Isolated community during the war (intermarriage with Italians, Pools and local.
  • After nationalization, remigrations, small communities; Studies abroad; intermarriage with dutch, etc.=> Blending identities

Only a small group of Greek are still living in Tanzania today. Most of the Greeks of Tanganyika (Tanzania) are now dispersed al over the world. They went to America, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and a few to Kenya. Many also went back to Greece.

Mark, Peter. The Evolution of ‘Portuguese’ Identity: Luso-Africans on the Upper Guinea Coast from the Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century, The Journal of African History 40, no. 2 (1999): 173-91.

Ariel de Vidas, Anath.

What Makes a Place Ethnic?: The Formal and Symbolic Spatial Manifestations of Teenek Identity (Mexico) Anthropological Quarterly – Volume 81, Number 1, Winter 2008, pp. 161-205 – Article

The Archaeology of Ethnicity (Book Review)

Joffe, Alexander H. / In: Journal of Near Eastern studies; vol. 60 (2001), afl. 3 (01 07), pag. 211 (4) / 2001

2. The Archaeology of Ethnicity

Jones, Sian; Hills, Mils / In: Anthropos; vol. 94 (1999), afl. 4-6, pag. 609 / 1999.

The archaeology of ethnicity: constructing identities in the past and present / Siân Jones

Auteur: Siân Jones (1968-)

Jaar: 1997

Uitgever: London [etc.] : Routledge

Rodanthi Tzanelli, The Greek Diaspora in the Twentieth Century: (Book review), European History Quarterly, vol. 31 (2001), 4: 625-628.


The status within the country immigration and the (imagined) relation which emigrants have with their homeland, and their collective identities shift over time.

As a social scientist on can deconstruct the Modern Greek identity of religion and blood, a combination of cultural and primordial factors. But people feel Greek, one cannot deconstruct a feeling an a way of thinking of belonging to an imagined community (internet)

(zie review; Rodanthi Tzanelli)

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