January 12, was Zanzibar Revolution day – a day to remember for a story of a country’s freedom and also the story of a forgotten genocide. A thread on Zanzibar Revolution, Parsees of Gujarat and a flamboyant rockstar we’ve all heard about.
For centuries, Zanzibar – a Tanzanian archipelago – was ruled by Muslim Sultanate and a hot destination for Indian traders. Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, had their families established within a flourishing community until one dark day arrived.
On this day back in 1964 a violent coup by African allied parties, fueled by ethnic pride & anger over slavery in the past, not only ended 200 years of Muslim rule but also murdered and expelled thousands of Arabs and Indian civilians in broad daylight.
The Indians, who were settled there, were mostly wealthy merchants and traders from Northwestern India. One of them was Bomi Bulsara, a Persian cashier from Western India.
Bomi was originally a Parsi from the Gujarat region of the Bombay Presidency in Colonial India. His family name was derived from the Bulsar or Valsad – a town in Gujarat from where they were originated.
There is a very interesting legend about how the Zoroastrians fled from their Persian homeland to Gujarat to escape religious prosecution. As per the epic poem Qissa-i Sanjan when they arrived in Gujarat, they met Jadi Rana, the local King.
The King sent a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to the newly arrived Persis signifying his kingdom is already full and couldn’t accept refugees.
In response, they returned the vessel adding a pinch of sugar indicating Persis would only make their life sweeter.
When Bomi moved to Zanzibar as a cashier at a British Colonial Court he was fairly young. He was said to work at ‘House of Wonders’ – a landmark building in famous Stone Town. It was so named as it was the 1st building in Zanzibar with electricity.
A few years later Bomi married another Persian girl Jer from India and a few years later their son Farrokh Bulsara was born on 5th September 1946 in Zanzibar Government Hospital.
Farrokh was sent for schooling in India and when he came back in 1963, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution was impending. On the fated day, over 20,000 Arabs had been murdered, along with thousands of Indians. Rest fled the country.
This is possibly the only genocide that was entirely filmed live and made as a documentary. ( refer ‘Africa Addio’) There is apparently no memorial for the victims even today.
Among the Indians who were fortunate enough to escape Zanzibar before the revolution started were Bomi and Jer Bulsara, and their children, Farrokh and Kashmira.
Bomi was able to escape the situation in time and flee to England before the genocide began. Today we know Farrokh as Freddie Mercury – the iconic lead vocalist of the rock band Queen.
If the Bulsara family had failed to flee to England escaping the genocide, the world would have probably never known Freddie Mercury and you would possibly never heard of Bohemian Rhapsody!

Courtesy : Jehangir Bisney


  • Thanks for the Info
    Can we get the Book on Revolution

  • Can you tell me how Bomi and Jer Bulsara, and their children, Farrokh and Kashmira left Zanzibar? Did they leave by ship or plane? Did they take a ferry to Dar es Salaam and then fly to the UK? Do you know what date they left. I think Bomi worked at the law court with my great uncle who was on annual leave in January 1964.

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