There is no doubt that Indian cuisine has had a major impact on Swahili cuisine, which is increasing with the new introduction of north Indian tandoori – but a Mswahili woman may object very strenuously if someone were to suggest that chapatti was not a Swahili bread. But to say that all our dishes are of Indian origin is to go way over the top – we also know of bokoboko, shorba, and mseto even if the last resembles the Indian kichdi; there are more than 20 varieties of breads in Zanzibar, including mkate wa mofa from the Yemen, wa ajemu from Iran, while muhogo wa nazi, samaki wa kupaka, and ndizi mbichi are Swahili specialities even if they are spiced with Indian herbs, etc. Coffee and tea drinkers are well aware that it is the blend that brings out the best in all these beverages.
Identity, not only of the people but also of things associated with them, is therefore indeed a journey, and there is in any journey a departure and an arrival. However, in the title if not necessarily in the whole documentary, there is an emphasis of Asian memories, of what we remember where some came from, as opposed to what we have all become in Africa.
And here, there may be a difference between the Swahili coast which has been in contact across the Indian Ocean for several millennia, where there may have been more complete fusion to create a Swahili culture in which to bear an Omani surname creates no confusion that the late Ahmed Sheikh Nabahani was one of the foremost Swahili poets.
On the other hand, in the interior where some of the people who came to build the railway during the colonial period dropped their anchors, especially in settler-dominated Kenya where racial segregation was the norm, educating them in racially segregated schools, such integration and assimilation was hindered, forcing them to live in racial ghettos, confining some to duka & jiko (shop & kitchen) or setla Kiswahili.
It is particularly in this context that this effort by the Asian-African Heritage Trust has to be commended by making an effort to cut across the colonial racial divides and build bridges to bring together people across the spectrum by making such a documentary that was directed by Njenga Karugia and Khamis Ramadhani, and which brought in people who were of Swahili, Arab, Indian origin, without having to declare their separate identities, sharing a common experience of a pan-oceanic civilisation in their different ways. It is an experience that I can share.