We knew several Wahindi in Dodoma, but the suburb we’re living in in Dar is chockers full of Wahindi. So, who are they? Here’s some of what we’re learning.
Most simply, the Wahindi are Indian background Tanzanians. Many of them were born in Tanzania and their families have been here for 3 or 4 generations, but they refer to themselves as expats. They operate very naturally in several languages: Swahili with Tanzanians, English with us, Hindi with one another, as well as often two regional Indian languages.
They are their own community and largely operate within it. They’re involved in everything from investment banking to real estate to mechanics to education, so their needs are covered within the community. Their income appears to be similar to ours, so lower than your average expat but well above your average Tanzanian.
Their relationship to Tanzanians is quite different to white people. They don’t have the same impulse to ‘help’ or ‘improve’ Africa, because they’ve been business people not colonisers. They also don’t have some of our hang ups. For example, they refer quite freely to having Tanzanian ‘maids’ rather than the euphemistic ‘house help’.
They tend to be pretty racist about Tanzanians (and that’s how they refer to them as well – ‘the Tanzanians’), who they say can’t be trusted and won’t improve their lives. Mind you, the racism goes back the other way as well – a Tanzanian lady who runs a cleaning company told us that the Wahindi don’t keep their homes clean!
Despite their strong local ties in Tanzania, they return to India for major health care needs, and many send their kids to Canada for schooling or university. They have family all over the world.
They are Ismaili Muslim, Sunni Muslim, or Hindu. Even within those categories there’s variety. For example, one type of Ismaili is the Bohras, easily identified by the women’s bonnet/cape combo. With Sunnis you have to be careful about male to female handshakes, but Ismailis are very progressive with women encouraged to work outside the home and sharing leadership positions in the mosque. At the pizza place a Hindu Wahindi family runs down the road from us, only chicken or vegetarian pizzas appear on the menu.
We’re looking forward to learning more and deeper as we get to know the people in our community!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.