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Main Street Pettah & Moor Merchants of old

No. 7 Main Street

Haji Ismail Effendi bin Sahib Doray commenced his business at No.7 Main Street, Colombo 12 with gems, jewellery and curios. He decided to perform the piligrimage of Hajj and also visit some other Muslim countries. Several of his friends decided to join him in this adventure cum piligrimage. They were Yousoof Lebbe Sinne Lebbe Marikar Hajiar (later Haji, Effendi & grandfather of MHM Yousoof Haji), Muhammad Lebbe Marikar Hajiar Zainudeen (later Haji, Effendi MMC and paternal grandfathe of Mrs. MMI Kariappar), Ahmed Lebbe Marikar Shamsy Lebbe Marikar (later Haji, Effendi and father of Al-Haj SLM Abdul Rahman and paternal grandfathe of Rasool Ahmed Rahman), his Arabic student Sinne Lebbe Marikar Mahmood (later Haji, Effendi, Alim and JP, father of MHM Yousoof Haji) and a cook named Rawuthen Hajiar. Family #20

SL Naina Marikar Hajiar & Company No. 42 Main Street 1859-1930

John Capper in his "Old Ceylon – sketches of life in the olden time" pp154-161 dealing with Ceylon Moor shopkeepers in main Street, Pettah, in the year 1848 describes Sulaiman Lebbe Naina Marikar as "Number 42" based on the address of his business located at No 42, Main Street, Pettah. Many of the Moor businessmen were thus called by the assessment number of their respective businesses in the Pettah as their names were too complex to be remembered and pronounced by the Colonial rulers (British). Capper describes Sulaiman Lebbe as follows:-

"The most flourishing of these gentry is certainly Number Forty Two, a portly oily-skinned, well conducted Moorman with a remarkably well shaved head surmounted on its very apex by a ridiculously little colored cap like an infantive bee-hive. His bazaar is admitted on all hands, especially amongst the fair sex to be "fi……chop". Yet a stranger would imagine that the fiscal had possession of the place and was on the point of selling off by auction the entire contents; so confused and motley an appearance do they wear.

The doorway, narrow and low, is jealously guarded by a pile of grindstones, surmounted by a brace of soup-tureens on the one side and by tools and weapons of offence on the other" 

Number Forty Two directs your attention, in the most winning manner, to a choice and very dusty collection of hanging lamps of the most grotesque fashion. Hos fowling pieces are pointed out to you as perfect marvels.

If you require any blacking brushes or padlocks or Windsor soap or smoking caps or tea kettles, he possesses them in every possible variety, just out by the very latest ship.

Family #93

No. 47 Main Street

John Capper describes No. 47 as follows:- "For instance there is Number 47, a remarkably well conducted man, very steady, very civil and exceedingly punctual in settling his accounts with his merchants who esteem him accordingly. This worthy Moorman transacts his business much on the principles as his neighbors, but unlike Forty Two and one or two other active numbers, he is given to indulge in certain siestas during the heat of the day, which no influx of customers can debar him from enjoying. As the hour of high noon approaches he spreads his variegated mat upon the little, dirty rickety, queer looking couch under the banana tree at the back courtyard by the side of the well, and there, under the pleasant leafy shade, he dozes off, fawned by such truant breezes as have to venture within such a cooped-up, shut-in of a yard, dreaming of customers, accounts, and promissory notes. During this slumber it is in vain for anyone to attempt to coax a yard of muslin, or a fish-kettle out of the inexorable Forty Seven. The somniferous spell has descended upon his dwarfy deputy, who rather than wake his master, would forfeit his chance of Paradise, and he no less drowsy himself opens one eye and his mouth only to asure you that the article you require is not to be found in the shop. You insist that it is. You know where to lay your hand upon it. The deputy Forty Seven shakes his drowsy head in somniferous unbelief. You seek it out from its dusty murky hiding place and produce it before his unwilling face. He opens another eye, smiles and nods to you and is away again far into the seventh heaven. There is no help for it but to appropriate the article and pay for it on your next visit."

No. 48 Main Street

John Capper describes No. 48 as follows:- "Number Forty Eight is a small bustling variety of Moorman making vast show of doing a large stroke of business. But as far as I could perceive, doing next to nothing, he bought largely, paid as regularly as most of the other numbers, was constantly opening huge packing cases and crates and sorting out their contents into heaps, but I never remembered to have seen a single customer within his shop. How the man lived was, was for a long time, a perfect mystery to me; But I learnt at length that he disposed of his purchases entirely by means of itinerant hawkers who armed with a yard measure and a pair of scales, and followed by a pack of loaded coolies groaning under huge tin cases and buffalo-skin trucks, perambulated from town to village, from house to hut, and by the dint of wheedling, puffing, and flattering, succeeded in returning with a bag full of coins."

No. 62 Main Street

John Capper describes No. 62 as follows:- "For Number Sixty Two, I entertained a more than ordinary respect. Unlike his Moorish brethren he possessed a remarkably rational name - Saybo Dora. Originally a hawker, he had by his steady conduct won the confidence of the merchants who supplied him with goods wherewith to open a store, of a time when such places did not exist in the town. From small beginnings he rose to great transactions; and now beside a flourishing trade in the bazaar, carried on pretty extensive operations in many smaller towns throughout the country.

It was by no means an unusual thing for this simply-clad mean looking trader to purchase, in one day from one merchant, muslins to the value of a thousand pounds, crockery for half that amount, and perhaps glassware for as much more. For these he would pay down one fourth in hard cash and so great was the confidence reposed in him that his bags of rupees, labelled and endowed with his name and the amount of their contents, were received and placed in the strong-room of the Englishman without being counted - Saybo Dora's name on the packages gave them currency."

W.M. Hassims No. 77 Main Street

Wapu Marikar Hassim, affectionately known as W.M. Hassim, son of Sheikh Marikar, was born on January 26, 1880. His birth was registered by C.L.M. Abdul Majeed (son of Shekadi Marikar Cassim Lebbe Marikar), who was his mother’s sister’s husband. Hassim attended Wesley College, Colombo, and was preparing to appear for the Notary’s examination when his elders recommended that he take up to trade and business. His eldest brother, W.M.Abdul Jabbar, was, at this time, the Manager of his uncle’s (I.L.M. Noordeen Hajiar) hardware business. Another brother W.M. Thaha was also involved in the same establishment. Abdul Jabbar assisted his younger brothers, Thaha and Hassim to start a separate business, in 1906, at No. 77, Main Street, Pettah. Being an netreprising young man, Hassim’s buisness flourished. Thaha left Ceylon in search of greener pastures in the Far East. Family #40

Zitan Stores No. 228 Main Street

During the early years of their life, Y.M. Naina-Marikar and his brother, Yousoof, lost their father and came under the care and guidance of of a close relative named Minna Marikar Lebbe Marikar who had no issue. They were absorbed into the business of Minna Marikar who traded in laces and embroidery of local make. When Minna Marikar became ill and decrepit the two brothers became the custodian of the small business and after his death they ventured out into a business of their own which later became one of the most famous of Moor businesses titled Zitan Stores. It was established at No. 228, Main Street, Pettah.

YM was a very philanthrophic and kind gentleman who spared no pains in alleviating the hardship and suffering of his community. He was the only Muslim to be marked out for recognition on the occasion of the Coronation of King George VI, for his philanthropy and public spiritedness, as a Justice of Peace, Western Province.

He built a palatial home at No. 76, Rosmead Place, Colombo 7, using only imported Burmese Teak wood for the entire woodwork. He lived there with his wife, Muhsina until their death. Family #16

ILM Noordeen Hajiar & Company No. 236 Main Street 1848

Commenced business in 1848. Importers of iron, steel, metal, hardware, small arms, ammunition & electrical goods.

Hameedia Buildings Main Street

Muhammad Lebbe Marikar Zainudeen, MMC, was the son of Idroos Lebbe Muhammad Lebbe Marikar, a leading merchant in the Pettah. He resided in a house in Grandpass and received his English education at Wesley College, Colombo. He, together with his brother Ismail, joined their father’s business of Commission Agency and General Merchants. They had their showrooms at Hameediah Buildings, Main Street, Pettah, in the year 1880.

In 1883, Zainudeen, under the leadership of Sahib Doray Ismail Lebbe Marikar Alim, later known as Haji Ismail Effendi, together with a few other Muslims, visited several Muslim countries. It is said that they carried a petition to the Khedive (Viceroy) of Egypt from the Egyptian exiles in Ceylon, namely Arabi Pasha and his colleagues. Family #13