DEVJIBHAI VISHRAM TANNA        RATANBEN D. TANNA

 

Devjibhai was born in Khambhalia of Saurashtra, India in 1875 and after his basic education joined his elder brother Bhimjibhai in their retail business. Bhimjibhai and Devjibhai both were entrepreneurs. Having heard about the business opportunities in the Persian Gulf, they set sail together for Muscat in a dhow from Salaya, a small port near Khambhalia and started a trade in dates. While in Muscat he heard stories about Africa and they decided to venture into this new land. By this time a few people from Jamnagar and Porbandar District had already settled in East African countries. Devjibhai came in contact with some of these and learned about the business opportunities over there. It is through this that he came to know about the Railway to be built in Kenya.

Devjibhai married in 1901, but unfortunately his first wife died in 1908 leaving him two young sons, Lalji and Rugnath.

In 1906 as a young entrepreneur he set sail from Porbandar in a Dhow. After one month's hazardous and stormy sea journey, Devjibhai reached Mombassa. Continuing by land from here, he passed through the Great Rift Valley and its dense forest in extremely adverse climate finally to Port Florence, a small township on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya.

Devjibhai with a meagre capital started a petty shop serving the basic needs of African inhabitants in an area known as 'Old Kisumu' (Gambhu). In 1914 during the First World War, Devjibhai returned to India and married Ratanben, daughter of Ravji Chandarana and great grand-daughter of Bhagat Hariram Bapa of Lamba Bunder- the holy place in Saurashtra situated between Porbandar and Dwarka.

At the end of the war Devjibhai came back to Kenya with his wife Ratanben and settled in Old Kisumu. In early twenties most of the DUKANS/SHOPS were moved to Kisumu proper and in the hinterlands of Nayanza Province, trading centers such as Luanda, Yala, Kakamega, Mumias, Kisii, Homa bay, Butere etc. came into existence. Devjibhai moved to Kakamega, a District-Headquarters and started a retail shop (Dukan) bringing goods from Kisumu on donkeys crossing the Nandi Hills. There were nights when he had to take to shelter overnight under a tree, struggling to survive. Ratanben helped her husband in sewing clothes and buttonholes and looked after the household and young children.

 

Being an energetic entrepreneur he sold his retail business and bought a small farm with water-powered flourmill, a pioneering industry in those days, at Kaimosi, employing about 30 people. Devjibhai left Kaimosi after the tragic death of one of his daughters who drowned in the Kaimosi River. Devjibhai went to settle in Luahnda with his eldest daughter in around 1927.

Coming to Luanda, Devjibhai entered into the money lending and property business. He bought several properties in Luandha and Kisumu. In 1929 he permanently came and lived in Kisumu for the education of his children and lived rest of his life happily in retirement until his death in 1939. Devjibhai participated in building Lohana Mahajanwadi in Kisumu and was on its management in early thirties. He helped survive many businesses financially during great recession of thirties. After the death of Devjibhai, the burden of family came on Ratanben who being a pious lady cultured her children and settled them in life. Ratanben died in 1945 at Kisumu. Their eldest son Chhaganlal was a Councillor in Kisumu Municipality, while Dhanjibhai, M.B.E. is in London and Maganlal the youngest is still in Kisumu preserving the family tradition. The Boardroom in RCT is dedicated to the memory of Devjibhai and Ratanben from a generous donation by Tanna Family.