Preface: The trajectory of this story is loosely based on the life of an immigrant who chose to remain anonymous. The exhibit focuses on the communities the immigrant belongs to and mirrors his settlement and migration path, while providing the historical context that helped to shape his community and its movement throughout history.

Made from Migration: The Impact of Migration on the Indian-Kenyan Community

Image 1.1 Scenes on Uganda Railway. Phelps Publishing Co. © 1910.

The Indian-Kenyan community was forged from migration patterns influenced by colonialism and the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1834. Although the treaty officially ended slavery, the oppression did not and colonial attitudes continued to resonate and shape how these communities were treated. The British Empire needed cheap labourers to build colonial infrastructure such as roads and railways. Male workers from India migrated to East Africa as indentured workers to earn money to send home.

Image 1.2 Famine in India. Wood engraving. Illustrated London News © 1874

A Community Forged Through Migration

In the 19th century, migration by Indians was rare. Only harsh economic, political and social conditions pushed people to volunteer for work overseas for years at a time. Factors such as The Great Famine, the political unrest of The Indian Rebellion in 1857, and deception about the type of work they were to complete by British Indentured recruiters pushed people to leave their homes to work in the West Indies and British Colonial Africa.

Image 1.3  Map of Kenya.

The Role of Community – Settling in Kenya

Between 1895 and 1902, 32,000 Indian indentured workers traveled to Kenya to build the Uganda Railway. Though most returned home after completing their work, 6,724 decided to stay. In the beginning, the Indian migrant workers were divided by religion, caste, and class.

Moving to a new country was challenging, but Indians found that their shared struggles and experiences brought them closer together. The difficulties of adapting to a new country and way of life were eased with the comfort of community.  The solace of a shared common culture allowed them to form a more cohesive community. A diaspora, the community became known in Kenya as Indian-Kenyans. In only 60 years, the Indian-Kenyan community grew to over 100,000, and most were descendants of the railway workers.


At a time of oppression, what role can community play in helping people to survive?

How has migration affected your cultural community?

An unjust contract between the worker and the ruling, colonial government that allowed workers to pay off their debt (i.e. cost of travel, housing, food) to work in the colonies with hope of saving money through years of service. They were usually promised land at the end of their contract. Often the debts increased, thereby trapping the labourer in a different form of slavery.

To learn more about the indentured labour and British Indentured recruiters Click Here.

Drought and grain shortages caused a massive famine throughout India. Inn Madras and Mysore alone, 3 million people died of starvation. Famine lead to riots and civil unrest as grain continued to be exported out of the country to meet trade quotas, sold in foreign markets overseas.

As Britain took control of India there was growing unrest over British control of the Hindu princely states. This unrest escalated when a mutiny broke out in the Bengal Army. A member of the Bengal Army named Mangal Pandey attacked British officers. Pandey’s execution encouraged the army to rebel, eventually taking over Delhi where they restored the Mughal emperor Bahādur Shah II. The British retaliated, eventually killing hundreds of Indian soldiers.

Also known as the Mombasa-Kisumu Railway or the Lunatic Line (nicknamed this after a series of fatal crashes in the 1990s), the Uganda Railway was built starting in 1895. The railway runs across the southern half of Kenya through the capital of Nairobi and is still in use today.

 Part 1

 Part 5

 Part 2

 Part 6

 Part 3

 Part 7

 Part 4