Object on the Spotlight .. The Indian Rupee








The Indian Rupee

  • Before the use of any form of currency, and before traders from other countries made their way to East Africa, local communities would trade goods for goods, otherwise known as barter trade.
  • This then gave way to the advent of the Indian Ocean Trade, with the Maria Theresa Thaler being the first recognized currency, between 1800 and 1850. This was followed briefly by the Pice, which never took root.
  • The Indian Rupee was the first currency to penetrate into the Kenyan interior and move as far up as British Ugandan territory.
  • When the building of the railway begun in 1896, the Indian rupee was used as legal tender to pay railway workers.
  • As a result of various trading activities between railway workers and the African population, the rupee gained rapid popularity in the interior.
  • Although an influx of Asian labour accompanied the construction of the railway, it was mainly as traders and business owners that the Asian community established themselves in the region.
  • This gave rise to popular terms such as duka and dukawallah, used to refer to shops and shop keepers respectively.
  • The Indian Rupee was replaced by the East African Rupee.

Interesting Facts

  • The word ‘Rupee’ is Sanskrit, meaning beautiful.
  • The Rupee was made the official currency of Kenya and Uganda in 1905.
  • Indian labourers received approximately 30 rupees a month while a Swahili porter received 10 rupees a month with rations of flour, rice, a little meat and some oil.
  • The rupee acquired different local names such as zirupia or chirupa in Luhya, rupia in Luo, iropiyani in Maasai, rubia in Kikuyu and ropyen or robia in Kalenjin.
  • The coins often had a hole in the center so that they could be strung together for ease of carrying in the days before wallets and purses

For more interesting facts about the history of money as well as its evolution in Kenya, visit the Numismatic Gallery, Nairobi National Museum.