Gomes, the father of Uganda’s gomesi

CM Gomes (L) in Canada around 1980. The gomesi was named after him. Norman Godinho School (R), now Buganda Road Primary School, donated to the community by Mr Norman Godinho.

What you need to know:

Vali Jamal writes about business enterprises, clothing, especially the gomesi, and schools that emerged following monetary and intellectual investments of notable Asians.


Mr Norman Godinho came to Uganda in 1906. A man of great vision and enterprise, he rose to be one of the biggest landlords of Kampala.
His many buildings included the landmark Speke Hotel and the Norman Cinema, the first in Uganda to screen Cinemascope films. Both Indian and English films were shown there. He was a major player in the Goan community, a financial contributor to the Goan Institute and a past President. He was virtually the father of Goan education in Uganda, donating the Norman Godinho School to the community.

He was a keen sportsman and supporter of Goan sports. In the year of his presidency SP Dias won the Uganda Open Tennis Championship and billiards became entrenched as a regular game when the electricity line was extended to the club premises. Badminton too got a lift by the erection of a wind-shield around the court. It is recorded that he kept two cars at the disposal of sports teams so they could travel freely to participate in matches all over Uganda. A library was installed in a newly constructed terrace.

A de Figueiredo
Mr Figueiredo came to Uganda as early as 1897. After working for five years in a firm, he went into business of his own at Entebbe in 1902. He opened a branch in Kampala in 1905 and another in Jinja in 1906. He left Uganda in 1928 to resettle in Goa. He was a major donor and influence in the affairs of the Goan Institute.

Eugene A Pinto
Mr Pinto came to Uganda in 1904 and founded the firm of Kampala Oriental Company in 1909. It was at his shop that the decision to found the Goan Club was taken and it was mainly through his efforts that the site for the building was acquired.
He was a President of the Institute and excelled at cricket, tennis and billiards. He was the only surviving Founder during the Golden Jubilee Year of the Institute (1960).

Marshall de Souza
Mr de Souza came to Uganda in 1910. He was a donor and President of the Institute. He was captain of Goan Cricket XI for a long time. It was during his presidency in 1935 (Silver Jubilee Year) that the Institute won both the Lowis Cup at cricket and the Entebbe Goan Institute Cup at hockey. He was a President of the Goan Central Council and for many years its secretary.

Peter I Pereira MBE
On coming to East Africa, Mr Pereira worked with the Kenyan government and moved to work with the Uganda government, briefly in the Attorney-General’s office and then in the Audit Department. He rose to the post of Director of Audit in 1968. Always keen to improve himself, he studied economics and accountancy as an external student of the University of London and in 1958 attended a course for audit officers at Overseas Audit in London. Altogether, he put in over 35 years in government service.

The cause of the civil service was close to his mind and Mr Pereira devoted a considerable portion of his non-office time in the services of the Asian Civil Service Association as its secretary for over ten years. He was a member of the Local Civil Service and Promotions Boards, a member of the Uganda Civil Service Consultative Council, and Chairman of the Entebbe Asian Housing Committee. With all that, he still found time to teach accountancy at an evening college.

Within the Goan community, Mr Pereira was in succession, a Secretary, President and Trustee of the Entebbe Goan Institute, president of the Kampala Goan Institute (during the Golden Jubilee Year 1960), Chairman of Uganda Goan Sports Association, and Governor of Norman Godinho Goan School. He held similar positions at Shimoni Training College and Kololo Secondary School.

He was one of the most respected and popular members of the Goan community, always sought out for his counsel. He was an eloquent public speaker and had the honour of making welcome addresses at Goan functions for the Judge of the High Court of Uganda and for Minister YK Lule. His various articles and speeches have been published in a booklet and are kept by his son Cecil B Pereira in London.

In 1963, he was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Mr Peter I Pereira passed away peacefully at Kampala on March 12 1969. He is remembered with reverence by the Goan community for the sacrifices he made on their behalf, and by his children Cecil, Trevor and Elizabeth for his devotion in their upbringing.

Gomes brothers and descendants
Anton Gloria Gomes came to Uganda in 1905 and started a tailoring business in the corner of a store in Mengo. In 1908, his brother Caetano Milagres joined him and the two brothers opened a shop under the sign-board AG Gomes & Brother. During World War II, the Gomes brothers stitched uniforms for the British army. In 1918, the store was moved to Kampala Road opposite the Uganda Herald office and then opposite the Kampala Goan Institute. Both AG Gomes and his wife died in 1928, leaving the business and their three children in the care of CM. The business closed down in the late 1960s after two robberies.

CM Gomes had sailed on a dhow from Goa to Mombasa. From there, he took the train to Kisumu, a canoe to Port Bell, and a rickshaw to Kampala. In his backpack, he carried a large clock as a memento from the old country. It hung in his shop for decades.

CM had five children, among whom was Roger, best known from his exploits in hockey for the illustrious Sikh Union (later Simba Union). He represented Uganda between 1954 and 1971 and was a sports anchor on UTV (now UBC TV).

As national executive secretary and professional trainer at Kyambogo Teachers Training College (now Kyambogo University) it fell on Roger to organise the training camp in preparation for the 1972 Olympics. He was the team trainer until RS Gentle took over. CM’s daughter Ella represented Uganda in women’s hockey.

Following the expulsion, CM Gomes and his children Marcella and Matthew (now deceased) and Roger and Ella (and later his son John) moved to Toronto to join his daughter Julie who had married John D’Sa and settled there a few years earlier.

CM’s wife Anna had died in Kampala in 1955 while CM died in Toronto in 1981. Besides his six children, he had six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Canada. AG Gomes and his wife Felecidade had three children - Joseph, Placido and Antoinette, all of whom have passed away. He has nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren who live in United Kingdom, Kenya and USA. The Gomes family members were very proud and honoured at hearing that a postage stamp had been issued in Uganda in December 2007 to celebrate the Gomesi.

The Gomesi (also busuuti, bodingi) is the de-facto national dress of women in Uganda. All that was known of its origin was that it was created between 1905 and 1915 by a man called Gomes. When Ella and John Gomes asked me to write an article about the Gomesi and the part played by their father, Caetano Milagres Gomes (CM), in its creation, I thought that it was going to be something quite straightforward. Instead, it turned out to be a detective story.

The story starts at the birth of Gayaza High School in 1905. The Headmistress, Miss Alfreda Allen, asked Mr AG Gomes to design a uniform for her girls. Gayaza had first used a suuka made of bark-cloth as the school dress. Ms Allen asked AG to make a suuka of cotton as it would be more durable. However, the suuka unraveled during manual work, so AG added a yoke. That was the prototype gomesi. Around 1914, the Kabaka’s future wife, Irene Drusilla Namaganda, came to AG Gomes & Brother Company to stitch her wedding dress. Miss Namaganda would have known the Gomes brothers as a former student of Gayaza. CM handled the order. He added a sash around the waist.

Explaining the Busuuti
Kabaka Chwa’s coronation took place in 1914 and hence it is this year that should be marked as the birth-year of the modern gomesi. It incorporates aspects of Victorian/Edwardian dresses (the puffed sleeves) and the sari from Gomes’ homeland, Goa.

The name gomesi is obviously associated with the name of its designer. Earlier, it used to be called Teitei Gomesi – the Gomes dress, “teitei” being the Swahili word for dress. “Busuuti” comes from “suit.” “Bodingi” has also been used, a name that probably harks back to Gayaza as a boarding school.