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Gurus Guru Nanak In Habash Wilayat Africa

Dalvinder Singh Grewal

Jan 3, 2010
Dr. Dalvinder Singh Grewal

Guru Nanak went further down towards Africa also known as Habash Wilayat as mentioned in Sikh chronicles. In Arabic, the elevated plateau on the east of the Nile, from which most of the waters of that river are derived, is called Habesh, and its people Habshi.[1] The Habasha people also known as Abyssinians, are a population group inhabiting the Horn of Africa. They include various related ethnic groups in the Eriterian Highlands and Ethiopian Highlands, [1][2] who speak languages belonging to the South Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Members' cultural, linguistic, and in certain cases, ancestral origins trace back to the Kingdom of AD’MT (usually vocalized Diʿamat) and the later Kingdom of Aksum.[3][4] The peoples referred to as "Habesha" today include the Amhara and Tigrayans of Christian background. Together, the Amhara and Tigray comprise around 41.5% of Ethiopia's population (c. 33.6 million Amhara; 5.5 million Tigray), while the Tigrinya make up (55%, respectively) of Eritrea's population (c. 5 of 5.9 million).[5]

The term "Habesha" was formerly thought by some scholars [5] to be of Arabic descent because the English name Abyssinia comes from the Arabic form. (Arabs used the word Ḥabaš, also the name of an Ottoman province, Habesh Elaylet (Habash Wilait as described in Sikh chronicles), comprising parts of modern-day Eritrea and Ethiopia). [6] Based on the inscriptions the Aksumites left behind, they did not regard themselves or their territory as Habesha. For them, Habeshas likely meant people who collected incense in South Arabia. It was not until long after Aksumite kingdom had ended that Gulf Arab travelers and geographers began to describe the Horn region as Al-Habash. [8]

Al-Masudi a tenth-century Gulf Arab traveler to the region, described Habesha country in his geographical work ‘The Meadows of Gold’. He wrote that "the chief town of the Habasha is called Kuʿbar, which is a large town and the residence of the Najashi (nagassi; king), whose empire extends to the coasts opposite Yemen, and possesses such towns as Zayla, Dahlak, and Nasi." [8] Al-Harrani, another Gulf Arab traveler, also asserted in 1295 CE that "one of the greatest and best-known towns is Kaʿbar, which is the royal town of the najashi . . . Zaylaʿ, a town on the coast of the Red Sea, is a very populous commercial center.... Opposite al-Yaman there is also a big town, which is the sea-port from which the Habasha crossed the sea to al-Yaman, and nearby is the island of ʿAql." [8]

By the end of the 8th century, most of the prominent Yemeni kingdoms ended and areas they once controlled were under foreign occupation. Yemen’s turbulence, coupled with its ecological volatility likely shifted the international trade of incense from South Arabia to the Horn region. With Habasha originally used to describe people who gathered incense, this term was also given to the region by early Gulf Arab merchants and travelers as a geographic expression that some of the inhabitants of the Horn adopted over time. [7]

When Portuguese missionaries arrived in the interior of what is present-day Ethiopia in the early 16th century CE, they took the altered word Abesha (without the letter “H” beginning) which is used by Amharic speakers and subsequently Latinized it to Abassia, Abassinos, Abyssinia and finally into Abyssinia. This Abyssinia term was widely used as a geographic expression for centuries, even though it was a term not used by the local inhabitants. [7][9]

Habash or Abyssinian civilization had its beginnings in the areas of present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. The first kingdom to arise was that of’D’MT in the 8th century BC. The Kingdom of Aksum, one of the powerful civilizations of the ancient world, was based there from about 150 BC to the mid of 12th century AD. Spreading far beyond the city of Aksum, it moulded one of the earliest cultures of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Throughout history, populations in the Horn of Africa had been interacting through migration, trade, warfare, and intermarriage. Most people in the region spoke Afro-Asiatic languages, with the family's Cushitic and Semitic branches predominant.[11] The ancient Egyptians' main objective in the Red Sea trade was to acquire myrrh. This was a commodity that the Horn region, which the ancient Egyptians referred to as the Land of Punt, had in abundance.

The Kingdom of Aksum was situated in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea with its capital city in Northern Ethiopia. Axum remained its capital until the 7th century. The kingdom was favorably located near the Blue Nile basin and the Afar depression. The former is rich in gold and the latter in salt: both materials having a highly important use to the Aksumites. Aksum was accessible to the port of Adulis, Eriteria on the coast of the Red Sea. The kingdom traded with Egypt, India, Arabia and the Byzantine Empire. Aksum’s "fertile" and "well-watered" location produced enough food for its population. Wild animals included elephants and rhinoceros. [10]

From its capital, Aksum commanded the trade of ivory. It also dominated the trade route in the red sea leading to the Gulf of Aden. Its success depended on resourceful techniques, production of coins, steady migrations of Greco-Roman merchants, and ships landing at Adulis. In exchange for Aksum’s goods, traders bid many kinds of cloth, jewelry, metals and steel for weapons.


At its peak, Aksum controlled territories as far as southern Egypt, east to the Gulf of Aden, south to the Omo River, and west to the Nubian Kingdom of Meroe. The South Arabian kingdom of the Himyarites and also a portion of western Saudi Arabia were also under the power of Aksum. Their descendants include the present-day ethnic groups known as the Amhara, Tigray and Gurage peoples.

After the fall of Aksum due to declining sea trade from fierce competition by Muslims and changing climate, the powerbase of the kingdom migrated south and shifted its capital to Kumar. After the Garn wars in the 16th century, the centre of the kingdom moved to around Lake Tina in the Amhara Region. Following Gragn invasions the southern part of the Empire was lost to Ethiopia and scattered Semitic speaking people like the Gurage people were cut off from the rest of Abyssinia. Sometimes in the Middle Ages, the Amharic and Tigrinya Languages began to evolve from, possibly Ge’ez, which eventually became extinct outside of religious liturgical use. Habesha people speak Ethiopian Semitic languages, including the classical language Ge'ez. The kingdom of DʿMT wrote proto-Ge'ez in Epigraphic South Arabian as early as the 9th century BCE; later, an independent script replaced it as early as the 5th century BCE. [12] An Ethiopian suit is the traditional formal wear of Habesha men. It consists of a long sleeve, knee-length shirt, and matching pants. Most shirts are made with a Mandarin, band, or Nehru collar. The suit is made of chiffon, which is a sheer silk or rayon cloth. The netela shawl or a kuta is wrapped around the suit.

Giani Gian Singh (1880), Lal Singh Sangrur (1914), Dr. Surinder Singh Kohli (1979) and Harpal Singh Kasoor (who did extensive research on Guru Nanak’ travels), Guru Nanak visited Africa after landing in Yemen. Guru Nanak reached Aden port in early 1519 on his way to Africa. The Guru stayed near the fort on a hillside. This Golden-Pinnacled Sikh Gurdwara is erected and the same can be seen by the passengers on arriving ship.

From Aden, he entered Djibouti on his way to Addis-Ababa (Ethiopia). The Sikh chronicles called it Abyssinia. He stayed at Addis-Ababa a couple of days and then left for Mogadishu (Somalia) by horse cart. He entered Kenya on his way to Nairobi. The Guru held a congregation at Mogadishu. From Nairobi, he reached Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania). From Dar-es-Salaam, he reached the village Tabora and stayed there for one night. About 12 miles from Tabora Station, there is a memorial in honour of the visited the hilly forest [14]

Guru Nanak and Mardana reached Kakola from Tabora in Tanzania in 1519. The Namwezi Chief was ruling Tabora. There was a shortage of water. On public demand, Guru Nanak initiated a spring from the ground. This spring in Kakola is on "Utalanta" hill. "Utalanta" means a street of spring. The sweet water of this Holy Spring is supplied to various other hills through water tanks. The water of the Holy Spring is mixed with milk and is found very tasty and powerful. Those who drank it found it very tasty. The people of Tabora are given one-day water-supply in every week. The residents of this beautiful town, store the water in polythene water-tanks. The passage leading to the village Kakola is an unmetalled road.

The letter was prepared by Daudi Shaban Chimbagu (ward tribunal), Kakola Village and translated into English by Josef M. Siriwa kind courtesy S. Harpal Singh Gill. This confirms that Guru Nanak with Mardana visited some countries of Northern and Eastern Africa and spent almost 10 months in Africa as peer Weebly.

He passed through Burundi and ultimately reached Rwanda. From Rwanda, he reached Kampala in Uganda. At a distance of about 24 miles from Kampala, there is a village named Baba Nanika after the name of the Guru where a spring commemorates his visit as a result of his blessings. No other spring is stated to be in the vast area. The people mostly use river or lake water. There is a big lake named Victoria near Kampala. From Kampala, Guru Nanak along with Mardana went to Lira, Gulu, and Atiak before they entered Sudan.

According to recent research, Guru Nanak Dev Ji is shown to have traveled a small settlement, a hundred miles from Kampala, Uganda, is named Bamu Nanika which the locals revere for its spiritual powers. They say that a holy man, not one of their own, sat on a certain spot there and meditated. They say that the spot is covered in a bark-like material and not shown to anyone. Prayers are done in their traditional way. It is also said that all of Ugandans Kabakas (traditional kings) visited the shrine to receive blessings upon their advent of the rule. It is here that their history says that the Holy men, not of their own, blessings brought forth a spring; they report there had been no water source in the vast area.[13]

In his book ‘Travels of Guru Nanak’, Dr Surinder Singh Kohli mentions of Guru Nanak visiting to Uganda: “At a distance of about 24 miles from Kampala, there is a village named Bab Nanka after the name of Guru Nanak where a spring originated as a result of his blessings, commemorates the visit of Guru Nanak. There is no other spring in the vast area and the people use river or lake water. The spring reminds the visit of Guru Nanak who is held in great esteem. (p.150) [14]

Since Uganda is close to Aden than any other place connected with Guru Nanak’s visit, it is most likely that Guru Nanak visited the place from Aden before going to Mecca. The Guru then seems to have proceeded further on the banks of White Nile and entered Uganda through Ethiopia. The Uganda Protectorate is surrounded by Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Tanganyika territory, the Belgian Congo, and Kenya. It is partly governed by native chiefs and under the supervision of British supervision. Kampala is its chief town and a commercial centre. It is understood that at a distance from Tabora station, there is a memorial in honour of the visit of Guru Nanak in the hilly terrain.

‘Guru Nanak Dev Ji visits Uganda’: reveals Buganda Mother Queen, Mrs. Sarah Natole:

The area is arid with no fresh water for miles. But only a few hundred meters away is a small spring of fresh water which the locals do not allow anyone to drink or use for hand washing. The water is somehow used like giving Amrit to devotees who are all Africans. When asked about whom they revere the place for, a local said: “He is not the one from amongst ours but there is some great spiritual power here”.

Guru Nanak and Mardana reached Kampala via Kenya, Tanzania, Congo from Somalia and Ethiopia (Previously known as Abyssinia. They reached Abyssinia via Aden. [14]

Bamu Nanika is about 38 km from the city of Kampala situated near Sudan Road. Woblenzi is 30 K. M. on Sudan Road and Bamu Nanika is another 8 km from Woblenzi. In Lweero district, Bamu Nanika is a sub-county of the said district. The old name of Bamu Nanika was “Bamoli.[15] Kabaka Jamba was the king of Uganda from 1510-1530. There was famine in Bamu Nanika during his reign. [The grandmother of the present Kabaka (King), Mrs. Sarah Natole in her letter dated December 16, 2009, confirmed that King Jemba received a bracelet (Kara) from an Indian Saint in 1519. Nishan [17], also mentions that the king at that time received a bracelet from Guru Nanak Sahib. After the divan in Kampala in 1519, Guru Nanak and Mardana reached Bamu Nanika by horse-cart and stayed in the fields of Divan Sawan Mal.

Earlier Bamu Nanika was in Belmezi country. Bamoli was the Dynastic rule of King Jemba. Guru Nanak defined God as the sole Creator, Developer, and the destroyer and every one must believe and worship His Name. After a Divan in Kampala in 1519, Guru Nanak with Mardana reached Bamu Nanika by horse-cart and stayed in the fields of Divan Sawan Mal. Guru recited ‘Sawan je wasey———– (SGGS, p.1279), in Buganda.” It was possible that he was addressing Sawan Mal and his son Bohru Mal and others.

Recently, a number of Sikhs from India visited the shrine to research the discovery. The locals had no knowledge of Sikhs before this visit. Further research, however, is essential to confirm the places visited by Guru Nanak. [18] In Sikh History Makhan Shah Lubana is a prominent name who had his own ship fleet and was the chief source to locate the Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur by giving the call of ‘Guru ladho re’ (The Guru has been found’.) ‘A Glossary of The Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and Frontier Province’, (1911) [19] mentions that the last name of Makhan Shah was Pilla, but Lubana was his nickname, because his forefather, Divan Sawan Mal was Married to Mrs. Nambi of Lohana Community of Gujarat. Makhan Shah’s family tree states, Makhan Shah s/o Dasa, s/o Banna s/o Artha, s/o Bohru Mal s/o Ulad Sawne Ki.

H.A. Rose and others in the Glossary (volume 1, 2, 3) (1911) [19] have clarified that Sawna is Divan Sawan Mal elder of Lubanas. Divan Sawan Mal was stated to be the Divan of Riyasat-e- Kashmir who later settled in Bamu Nanika (Uganda, Africa). He was a trader by profession and was married to Mrs. Nambi [3]. Mr. Bohru and Sawan Mal used to do the trade from the Indian Ocean via Lamu (Kenya), Mombasa, Tanzania, Rwanda, (previously in Congo) and Kampala through Lake Victoria and horse-driven carts. Lake Victoria is spread in three countries- Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. They did trade with Sudan via Nile River and bullock-carts. Guru Nanak Dev and Mardana reached stated to reach Kampala via Kenya, Tanzania, Congo from Somalia and Ethiopia (Previously known as Abyssinia). They reached Abyssinia via Aden. [14]

The Queen Mother, Grandmother of the Present King (Kabaka), Mrs. Sarah Notole, confirmed to a visiting Sikh delegation that a bracelet (Kara) was offered to her elders by an Indian Saint in 1519. She was born in 1927 and got married to the grandfather of the present King (Kabaka) of Buganda in1947, which is a fertile Province and the biggest Province of Uganda. [1] Satvinder Singh Dadhiana who visited the place in 2015 confirmed the statement that “When the Huru and his bodyguard visited here, the guru left a bangle. This has been and still handed over to the new King when the title is transferred.

Giani Gurbachan Singh Verifying Satguru's visit To Bamu Nanika, from Local People (By courtesy of Dr. Junoko, who served as a translator from Luanda Language To English).

From Bamu Nanika Guru Nanak and Mardana went to the village Bugungu in former district of Acholi, which is divided into Gullu and Kuchkuma. The District Headquarters of Acholi district ("Acholi" is the name of the clan and also the language of that area), was at Gullu.

Guru Nanak in the Town Bugungu, Gulu District, Uganda.

Guru Nanak accepted a horse-cart from King Jemba (1510-1530). [20] After a travel of 170 km from Bamu Nanika, the Guru and Mardana were dropped in the town of Bugungu. Thereafter Bohru Mal and the horse-cart driver returned to the Village Bamu Nanika. In the town of Bugungu, the traders from India and the people of Acholi clan welcomed Guruji and Mardana. Bugungu village is located on Lake Albert and Victoria Nile and is inhabited by Bantu tribes. There is a gate named "Bumungu Gate" on the North-West of the village Bumun then located in Gulu District in the 16th century. Now it is in Misindi District. [7]There were Indian traders at that time. Guru Nanak uttered this hymn: "Asa Mahalla-I: {censored} sarwarhey bhai le niwasa pani pawak tineh kia-----", SGGS p.12.

In that pool, people have made their homes, but the water there is as hot as fire! In the swamp of emotional attachment, their feet cannot move. I have seen them drowning there. In your mind, you do not remember the One Lord—you fool! You have forgotten the Lord; your virtues shall wither away. I am not celibate, nor truthful, nor scholarly. I was born foolish and ignorant into this world. Prays Nanak, I seek the Sanctuary of those who have not forgotten You, O Lord!

Referring to Lake Albert, Guruji defined Worldly Ocean (bhavjal) he sang: “Human being like me (Guru Nanak) is residing on a small lake, but He has made all the waters and the fire. There is a big worldly ocean before me, and my feet are in the mud of attachment of this world. I have seen with my own eyes the drowning of many persons in this ocean’s my foolish mind! why don't you remember the One Almighty God? By forgetting the Almighty God, you are just wasting your good qualities. I am not that qualified to cross this terrible ocean of the world. I am spending this precious life foolishly. I wish to merge with those persons, whom the Name the Almighty has never been forgotten”.

On the North-West shore of Lake Albert is situated the town of Bugungu. The gate “Bugungu Gate" is on the North-East of the town. [21]

Seeing the seasons and weather changing so frequently from one terrain to another Guru Nanak concluded: "Suraj eko rut anek----"(SGGS p. 12-13). The Sun for this earth is one, but the seasons are different.

There are six schools of philosophy, six teachers, and six sets of teachings. But the Teacher of teachers is the One, who appears in so many forms. That system in which the Praises of the Creator are sung—follow that system dear Old man; in it rests true greatness. The seconds, minutes and hours, days, weeks and months, and the various seasons originate from the one sun; O Nanak, in just the same way, the many forms originate from the Creator. (p.13)

Next, the Guru visited Habash Wilayat or Habash Desha that is Sudan and other black countries. In Sudan, they both passed through Nimule, Bor, and Kusti before they reached Khartoum. They spent a couple of days there and then left for Dongola by horse cart. They also visited Wadi Halfa and entered Egypt through it. Guru Nanak and Mardana visited Isna, Sohag, and Asyut before he reached Cairo. They stayed there for at least four days and visited Alexandria wherefrom they returned to Cairo again. From Cairo, they reached Beni, Ras Gharib, and Luxor. Finally, they reached Berenice before they entered the coastal area of Sudan again. Ultimately, they reached Port of Sudan and stayed there for a couple of days. They took the ship from there and reached Jeddah. From Jeddah, they arrived at Mecca. From the Port of Sudan, they wore Haji dress. From Mecca to Madina they reached on foot with other Hajjis in several days. [22][23][24]

(1) Letter dated December 16, 2009, by queen mother of the present King (Kabaka), Mrs. Sarah Natole

(2) Letter T-59 dated December 23, 2009, of Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, signed by on behalf of a commissioner for land Registration, Sarah koala.

(3) A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province volume (1,2,3) by H.A. Rose and others published by Aziz publishers, Urdu Bazaar Lahore ( Pakistan ) 1978 its first edition appeared in 1911.

(4) Nishaan, Published by Ramgharia Sikh Society old Kampala and printed by Oscar Industries 2004 Issue 1

(5) Guru Kian Sakhian (1790) by Sarup Singh Kaushish published by Singh Brothers, Amritsar 2003.\

(6) A History of Buganda From the Foundation of the Kingdom to 1900 by M.S.M. Semakula Kiwanuka, Ph.D. of Makerere University Kampala, Published by Africana Publishing Corporation, New York, 1972.

(7) The Legendary Kingdom by Nicholas K. S. Sewanyana Published by R and K Solutions Kampala.

(8) Prachin Panth Prakash by Rattan Singh Bhangu (1988) published by Bhai Veer Singh Sahit Sadan, New Delhi.

(9)The Struggle for Land in Buganda 1888 to 2005 by Prof. Samwiri Lwanga- Lunyiigo, Presidential Adviser, published by Wavah books limited, Kampala 2007.

(10) Amannya Amaaganda N'ennono Zaago by M,B Nsimbi Published by Longman Uganda LTD 1990.

(11) A Concise Luganda - English Dictionary A.M Bugunywa, and others, Published by Fountains Publishers, Kampala 2009.

(12) Janamsakhi Meharban, published by Khalsa College, Amritsar, 1962.

(13) Sri Guru Granth Sahib Translated by Manmohan Singh and published by SGPC, Sri Amritsar.

(14) Sahib Singh, Darpan M/S Raj Publishers, Jalandhar.


[1] ‘Guru Nanak Dev Ji visit to Uganda’ reveals Bugunda Mother Queen, Mrs Sarah Natole!

[2] Surinder Singh Kohli Dr., 1969, Travels of Guru Nanak, Punjab University, Chandigarh, p.150.

[3] Sohan Lal Chauhan, 2012, ‘Sach(u) Purana hovai nahin’, Chauthi Udasi Satiguru Nanak, Guru Nanak Shabad Preet Academy, Chandigarh, pp. 25-27

[4] Briggs, Phillip. Somaliland, Bradt Travel Guides. Retrieved 25 April 2016.

[5] Erik, Haggai (2007),"The Cambridge History of Africa: From c. 1050 to c. 1600". Basic Reference (USA: Lynne Rienner) 28: 36.doi:10.1017/S0020743800063145. Retrieved2012-04-27.

[6] "The African Studies Journal". Lisbon University (1-3): 80. 2001. Retrieved 27 June 2016.

[7] Idris, Ferhan, "Kings and Queens of Harar", Memphis Harari, Retrieved 21 January 2016.

[8] Uigh, Sieghbery, Encyclopedia Aethiopica. lsd.

[9] Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 25. Americana Corporation. 1965. p. 255.

[10] Lewis, I.M. (1955). Peoples of the Horn of Africa: Somali, Afar and Saho, International African Institute. p. 140. Houtsma, M. Th (1987), E.J. Brill' First Encyclopedia of Islam, 1913–1936. BRILL. pp. 125–126. ISBN9004082654.

[12] Button, Richard, First Footsteps in East Africa, Tyston and Edwards, p. 12. Retrieved 21 January 2016.

[13] Giani Gian Singh, Twareekh Guru Khalsa, Guru 1, Part 1, p.264

[14] Surinder Singh Kohli Dr., 1969, Travels of Guru Nanak), Prof. Sahib Singh, Darpan Raj Publishers, Jalandhar, p.150.

[15] Simakula Kiwanuka M. S. M., Ph. D., A History of Buganda, Makrere University, Kampala, pp. 93-96

[16] Nicholas K. Ssewanana, The Legendary Kingdom, R.K. Solutions, Kampala.

[17] Nishaan, p. 20-21, Ramgarhia Sikh Society, Old Kampala, Kampala 2004

[18] Rose H.A. and others, A Glossary of The Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and Frontier Province’, (1911) Volume-III, page 3

[19 Satguru Nanak Sahib in Bamunanika(Uganda)



[22] www.SikhiWiki


[24] Satguru Nanak Sahib in Gulu District

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