Zanzibar – Hindu Crematorium – One Hundred Steps – Ngazi Mia
By Bipin M Suchak, London UK
I am following up on the informative and thought provoking article which appeared in the Contrary Magazine on 23 July 2011.The article has just come to my attention and I hope that it opens up awareness especially amongst the Zanzibar Hindu diaspora now settled all over the world on the pathetic state of the condition of the Crematorium
I have to declare an interest in this matter. The road leading to the Crematorium is named after my late father Manilal Mulji Suchak. The site on what was formerly Chukwani Road was always known by the Hindu Community as Bhanjibhai no Shambho (Bhajbhai’s Shambha).The land was donated to be used as cremation ground by Bhanijbhai’s family in 1900. There a plaque in the Shambha commemorating this. It is probably the oldest Hindu institution in East Africa in continuous use. To put the matter into perspective Nairobi did not even exist at that time.
There has until recently been a large Hindu community in Zanzibar. I understand that the current population is some 500 persons. The crematorium is on the beach just above the high tide mark and the Shambha is about 100 feet above the cliff. In the old days there were two ways to reach the Crematorium- one from the road down and down the steps and the other from the beach during low tide. It was difficult to take bodies down the hundred steps to the crematorium and during the late 1950s the Hindu community recognised the need to improve the facilities and and a road was built from the Shambha to the sea level. The whole Hindu community was involved in the the project and following the completion of the works it so happened that when my father died on 14 January 1961 he was the first to pass through the road. We were honoured and humbled that the Hindu Community named the road after my father
The Crematorium has now fallen into disrepair and mentioned in the article used by local people asa kind of gym/body building place. However the crematorium is still used for its primary purpose. In Hindu culture bodies are cremated and the ashes are spread over the holy river Ganges (Ganga) and the site in Zanzibar on the sea shore duly serves this purpose in that spreading the ashes in the sea means that the ashes eventually mingle with the holy waters as the Ganga herself drains into the sea.
The Crematoriums on the Varanasi Ghats referred to the article are holy places for Hindus and the Zanzibar Crematorium is equally holy and the use of this place as some kind of gym/body building place is sacrilegious. There is always outcry when graves in many countries are desecrated be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish and the Hindu community not only in Zanzibar but also elsewhere should take steps to ensure that this practice is stopped immediately.
The small Hindu community in Zanzibar does not appear to have the necessary resources or wherewithal and perhaps the Zanzibar Hindu diaspora may be able to make financial contribution. That said the local Hindu community in Zanzibar has the primary responsibility to deal with this matter and I do hope that your article stirs up some passion in them. “Say it with pride – we are Hindus” (Swami Vivakananda). It is essential the Hindu heritage in Zanzibar is preserved and recognised.