Sep 27, 2012

Bead Bai: Bandhani and Emankeeki details


This historical novel is drawn from domestic and community life of Sakina evolving around two objects of women’s art. Both are of considerable social and artistic values among two culturally unalike people living side by side as separate yet in some ways inter-reliant societies on the savannah. One art object is the bandhani shawl of the Khoja Ismailis, a trading settler Asian African community adhering austerely to a distinct faith tradition rooted in Sufism and Vedic beliefs that absorbs Sakina’s spiritual life. The other is the emankeeki, a beaded neck to chest ornament of the Maasai, a pastoralist African people to whom the savannah is the ancestral home and source of their art, spirituality and well-being that Sakina yearns for during moments of torments in her life.

  Celebration of Bandhanis
Mombasa Jamat Khana Imamat Day 1963

                                                      photo courtesy Ameer Bhai Janmohamed.

Sparkle of 31 bandhanis. This picture was one among several, a collection composed by Ameer Bhai Janmohamed in memoriam of beloved Malek Chachi (Malek Bai Somji) sitting in the front row, first from the left. 

Back Row Left to Right Malek Bai Rajabali Kassam Suleman Damji, Guli Bai Jivan, Dolu Bai Jaffer Haji Mitha

2nd Row Khati Bai (Mira Bai?) Kassam Suleman Damji,  Khatun Bai Rashid, Rehmat Bai Jivraj, Leila Bai Merali Mussa 

3rd row Shahsultan Bai Mohamedali Dhala, Mrs Merali Ramji, Gulshan Badru Musa, Mrs Haji Mitha 

4th row Shirin Bai Akbar A Janmohamed, Nurbanu Bai Nasser Alibhai, Fatma Bai Ramzan Dossa 

5th row Khatun Bai Kassamali Paroo, Dolu Bai Badrudin Alibhai Kanji, Roshan Bai Fatehali Dhala, Zainub Bai Akbar Moloo Alarakhia

6th row Mrs Hami, Gulzar Bai Mansur Satchu, Nabat Bai Lalani, Nurbanu Bai Satchu. 

7th row Gulbanu Bai Husein Jivan Kanji, Muhkiani Zeinub Bai Mohamedali Rashid, Kamadiani Zeenat Bai Ameer Janmohamed, Fatma Bai Abdulrasul Gulmani           

Front Row Malek Bai Umedali Somji (Malek Chachi), Mrs Jamal Habib Kara, Dolutkhanu Bai Ebrahim Tarmohamed, Nurbanu Bai Sultan Fazal Bhanji.

(Looking for first names of those marked in blue. If you can recognize the ladies, please let me know. Also if anyone is misidentified or her name spelt incorrectly please notify me at This list of names is created with the assistance of Ameer Bhai Janmohamed and Shariffa Khesavjee and continues to be updated with your help. Thank you all for your participation, ss).


photo courtesy Karim Ajania

An example of a classic bandhani and seven diamond nose siri, the two ritual objects of
Satpanth Khoja marriage. Shirin Bai Gwadery, Nairobi late 1930s.

photo courtesy Nizar Ramji

Rehema Bai Ramji wearing her wedding bandhani. Dar-es-salaam 1930s.

 Bandhani in historical consciousness of 
the Ithna Asheri Khoja jamat

  "In this account of Bead Bai, several aspects of cultural commonality are also portrayed that continued to be practiced for long by the Ismalili, Sunni and Ithna-Asheri Khoja. In fact some of the practices are common to all Cutchi and Gujarati communities, Hindu and Muslim alike. One such example illustrated is the use of ‘Bandhani’ a richly embroidered silk shawl that provides for as head covering for the bride and retained as a family treasure to be  eventually draped on the coffin of the lady. This has been common practice among both Khoja Ismaili and Ithna-Asheri for long.The Ithna-Asheri Khoja went a step further as they adorned the Alam  (banner) of Hazart Abbas during the months of Muharram with a Bandhani.  It was in such high esteem that the  Bandhani  was held in Khoja culture. This custom continued until 1974 when the Ithna-Asheri community in Mombasa convened an open forum to review rites, rituals and traditions in vogue. Among the changes brought about as a result, the use of  Bandhani for the  Alam and draping over the coffin were then discontinued. Such Open Forums had no less hilarious moments as the hard-core traditionalists, especially among the ladies, found it sacrilegious to let go of the long practiced traditions."

Extract from the review of Bead Bai by historian Hassan A. M. Jaffer.
Haasan A.M. Jaffer is the renowned author of The Endangered Species (2013), a book about how the Khoja Ithna Asheri jamat started to separate from the Khoja Ismaili Satpanth jamat from late 19th century onwards. 

Below emankeeki is the widest ring of necklaces
photo Sultan Somjee

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