The origin of the name Kalasinga

Courtesy of Sikh Heritage UK

For the longest time, Sikhs in East Africa, particularly Kenya have been referred to as ‘Kalasingas’.  The origin of this name lies in the inspiring tale of a noble, adventurous man who arrived in Kenya in 1896.

The origins of the Sikh community in EA can be traced back to the late 1890’s when they were commissioned by the British to work on the railway. Among the first members of the community to arrive in the country was a young, adventurous 16 year old  known as Kala Singh and it is by his name that the entire Sikh community have come to be known until this day.

Kala Singh arrived in Kenya in 1896 from Patiala in Punjab, history books and records describe him as  a sturdy, adventurous, outgoing but most of all kind hearted man and it is this trait for which he is best remembered .

A few years after his arrival, along with his close friend Munishram they established a company  known as  ’  Munshiram Kalasingh & Co‘  on River Road.  They mainly dealt in selling steel bars and hardware. Their business was probably one of the very first to be started in Nairobi which by then only comprised of railway offices and quarters.

Khala Singh

Mr S. Kala Singh image courtesy

With the establishment of their new business, Kala Singh became engaged in  wide -spread business activities which would require him to venture deep into the interior parts of the country which were then largely unexplored.

He travelled through forests, barren lands and mountains, in a time where they were no roads or any proper means of transport.

His adventures brought him in touch with various communities particularly the Masai whose territory many had feared to venture into. His interactions with the different communities opened up trade and also provided a way for other traders to better understand the communities of Kenya.

Perhaps one of the most important things he is remembered for is his selfless nature. He is said to always have carried life saving drugs with him whenever he went out on an excursion. The drugs which were used to fight malaria and other tropical diseases would be distributed freely to the affected folks who had no access to medical facilities.

 That is why he was so respected. His noble and generous gestures went on to represent the values of the entire Sikh community. Through his influence and his distinctive head turban, Africans begun to refer to Sikhs  as “Kalasingas”.

Munshiram Kalasingh & Co grew steadily over the years and soon they were able to establish a second  construction / hardware shop in Eldoret. Years later Kala Singh parted company with Munshiram and  the business name was changed to Munshiram & Co. ; eventually he went back to India and he died there.

It is evident from this story that to be nothing but yourself in a world that offers more pain than it does joy, is enough to go a long way. As in the case of Mr.Singh his name went on to define generations and generations of people and will continue to do so for more years to come. Because while a good deed can go a long way, a good heart  lives on forever.


A toast to to Mr. Sardar Kala Singh! 

Image and Story Courtesy of Sikh Heritage UK

  • Interesting story, However another article Iread this year traced the origin of the term to Khalsa Singh but yours seems more plausible. Good piece

    • Chao

      thanks for reading Gitts .Interesting to know… could be there was a slight variation in the name. Most sources list the name as Kala Singh, but you never know, history has a way of sometimes changing things as the years go by. Appreciate it.

    • Khalsa-Lakhvir Singh

      the correct spelling of the name is Kala Singh. we know the family and we can attest to the correct spelling of the name. Of course, ‘Khala’ Singh still sounds the same, but spellings need to be correct in historical context.

      • TheAgora

        Hellow Khalsa , thank you for the correction will be sure to make it .

        • Khalsa-Lakhvir Singh

          check out more history on Kala Singh and other KalaSinghas on

          • TheAgora

            Thank you for sharing Khalsa , very interesting and informative resource

  • Sam Wanjere

    Thank you for this piece of Kenyan history. We have awesome stories like these but poor documentation. Please keep me posted about more pieces of this nature.

    • Chao

      Thank you very much Sam for the appreciation, always makes me happy to find people who appreciate such stories and history as much as I do.

      will definitely keep you posted when I post more.


    • Chao

      Thank you very much Kiran, glad to have shared it

  • django

    Very interesting …

    • TheAgora

      Thank you for reading , glad you enjoyed

  • Dedan Kimathi

    It should now become an official Kiswahili word. Thank you Tabibu.

    • TheAgora

      Hi Tabibu thanks for reading, I agree with you 100% on that. It definitely should .

  • Tom Aruwa

    Very interesting, I thoungt it had something to do with Kalsa High School in Nairobi.

  • Þorgils Gunnarsson

    I work in a hotel in Akureyri in the north of Iceland and since the movie Dilwali came out with the song Gerua completely shot here in Iceland a lot of Indians have been coming over here and I have many conversations with them at the hotel, especially about my time growing up in Kenya and it always surprised me that they never knew what I was talking about when I mentioned Kalasinghas, after reading this article now I understand, thank you for sharing.