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The history of the Sikhs of East Africa begins in about 1890's with the Railway - though detachments of Sikh Regiments had seen service in certain parts of East Africa in previous years.
The Sikhs who were brought over from India to build the old Uganda Railways were skilled workmen - carpenters, blacksmiths and masons. They were quick to adept themselves to the specialised requirements of the Railways and many became fitters and turners and boiler-makers.
The story of the construction of the Uganda Railway is well known in history with many books written about it -'Man Eaters of Tsavo' is one of the books which narrates the genuine fear of the labourers, who gave their lives in the jungles of Kenya while building the Railways. The early settlers had to face these marauding lions that were a constant threat to their lives. It is only necessary to mention that these famous man-eating lions seem to have had a great partiality for Sikhs as their staple diet. Anyway, these stout sons of the Punjab continued to push the twin lines of steel forward, lions and leopards notwithstanding.
These early Sikhs were soon joined by their educated brothers. There was no department of the pioneering Railway without its Sikhs. A number of policemen, ranging from inspectors to constables, were also sent from India to become the vital instrument of maintaining law and order. They remained in the country for several years.
Many, but not all, of the original Sikh arrivals returned to India to be replaced and augmented by others who came of their own volition. Their skills and industry were always in great demand.
The Sikhs penetrated into every nook and corner of East Africa to erect the buildings and to build the roads; to undertake general maintenance work on the farms; to serve in the offices and to assume charge of the hospitals.
The manner in which the Sikhs increased their usefulness to Kenya is a saga of resource and initiative and perseverance.
They undertook with confidence any type of work, which required skill and industry. They became highly successful farmers. They responded magnificently to the growing needs of the country by improving and diversifying their capabilities. They became contractors and furniture makers.