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Vlahakis: The Greek Tribe of Africa

Feature Lifestyle Vlahakis: The Greek Tribe of Africa

The name Vlahakis is widespread in Zambia, thanks to a brave Greek man from the island of Crete called Nikolaos Vlahakis who arrived in southern Africa at the end of the 19th century.

His descendants, who are members of the “Vlahakis tribe” and proudly bear the surname, total about 3,500 people, scattered not only across Africa but around the world.

*The story of Vlahakis in Zambia could be made into a Hollywood movie*

Vlahakis was born in the town of Malia on the island of Crete. As he grew up in the 1890s, he became known for his revolutionary action against the Ottomans.

He fled to Asia Minor from where he managed to travel over 11,500 kilometers until he reached Mozambique in south-east Africa.

After walking in the jungle for more than 2,000 kilometers, Vlahakis finally settled in the town of Chirundu in what was then called Northern Rhodesia on the border of Zimbabwe.

Upon settling in his new homeland in the jungle, Vlahakis started hunting wild animals, worked in mines, and engaged in livestock raising to survive. Such was his physical prowess that he is said to have killed crocodiles with a bat and saved many natives from animal attacks.

Rumors of his exploits swept the jungle, making him famous among local tribes which then informally appointed him as their “leader.” Vlahakis, however, felt lonely without his own people by his side and so returned to Crete in the early 1900s to fetch his younger brother, Dimitris.

Vlahakis brothers founded an “independent Greek state”

Metropolitan Ioannis of Zambia told Greek Reporter that upon their return, the Vlahakis brothers settled on a small island called Kanima in the vast Zambezi River, where they founded an “independent Greek state,” and raised a Greek flag.

Metropolitan Ioannis said that the two brothers had a great reputation and that the founder of the territory of Rhodesia, Cecil John Rhodes, gave them a large enough area of land to cultivate.

The two brothers started their farm, named Demetra, and engaged in the cultivation of tobacco. They simultaneously continued to hunt with great success, which thus contributed to their local fame.

The two brothers started their own families, marrying local women and living happily and in harmony with local tribes until April 13, 1913, when Nikolaos passed away after an encounter with a lion in the forest.

Local tribes mourned his death and buried him at the top of a hill, overlooking the “independent Greek state” he had founded years earlier, with honors reserved for a leader, Metropolitan Ioannis said.

His brother continued living on the farm, adhering to the Orthodox faith and traditions and ensuring that his children led an Orthodox way of life and attained a proper education and upbringing.

First descendants all bore Greek names

Metropolitan Ioannis with the descendants of the Vlahakis tribe at the missionary center in Chirundu. Credit: Facebook-Metropolis of Zambia
Metropolitan Ioannis with the descendants of the Vlahakis tribe at the missionary center in Chirundu. Credit: Facebook-Metropolis of Zambia

Nikolaos’ 32 descendants—one of whom was a daughter—all bore Greek names, such as Nikolaos, Stefanos, Athena, Xenophon, Thekla, Cleopatra, Kalliopi, Konstantinos, and Anna among others. Likewise, this applied to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, most of whom bore the names of the first two brothers.

With Dimitris’ death on September 17, 1939, the era of the two pioneer Cretans ended, but their legacy remains.

Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, who is considered the father of all independence movements on the African continent, awarded the Vlahakis family the honorary title of the 64th tribe of Zambia during a public speech.

Descendant writes book on the story

A descendant of the Vlahakis tribe wrote a book on the astonishing story of the two Vlahakis brothers.

Jane Vlahakis Nash’s “Born and Bred in the Zambezi Valley” is a gold mine for members of the extensive Vlahakis family, but it’s also a valuable resource for lovers of Africa, students of sociology, and anyone who is aware of what it means to be ‘colored’ in a predominantly Bantu society ruled in those days by white settlers.

At the heart of this flowering family tree is Demetra Farm and the happy times spent there learning bush lore, swimming in the Zambezi, playing games by moonlight, and going off to school at Fatima, the ‘home away from home’ for many Vlahakis children.

A few unfortunate circumstances overshadow the lives of the Vlahakis family, including untimely deaths, warfare, and the specter of AIDS, but these are counterbalanced by contacts made abroad, rediscovery of Greek ‘roots,’ and an idyllic life under a hot sun in the warm embrace of a big-hearted family.

Missionary center to honor Vlahakis tribe

Children of Chirundu at the missionary center. Credit: Facebook-Metropolis of Zambia
Children of Chirundu at the missionary center. Credit: Facebook-Metropolis of Zambia

Metropolitan Ioannis is currently establishing a missionary center in Chirundu where the two Vlahakis brothers first settled which will include a church, spiritual center, clinic, school and trade school.

In 2020, Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria laid the foundation for the project; Metropolitan Ioannis has now embarked on a mission to find funding.

“It will be a contribution of historical importance for the place and its people, not only for the descendants of the Vlahakis brothers, but also for every person who wants to get to know Christ,” the metropolitan said while appealing to all those who are financially able to help in the completion of the mission.

Greek Reporter

15 COMMENTS

  1. I have friends from this family in zambia but let us be honest. In other words this was an imperialist who fled Europe for better exploiting opportunities. So could we say this family assumed wealth off the back of indigenous resources? And who commissioned this self praise article? I end here and submit

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  2. Great account of your family. But perhaps let’s correct two impressions;

    Independent Greek State and Authority from Cecil Rhodes.
    With due respect, your father was a runaway settler in Northern Rhodesia. He founded nothing because northern rhodesia was already inhabited by descent people who gave your father asylum. Be grateful for the gesture and pls don’t insult locals in your references. Pay back to them.
    Cecil Rhodes did not own anything in Northern Rhodesia. He was as much a settler as your cretins period.
    And just in case you misunderstand me, flip your story on its head and take an outcast African into Crete/Greece today or a thousand years back. Do you think he will have space to about his life in Greece?

    Scholar of Greek philosophy….let’s chat

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  3. The story would hv been even more interesting with a picture of the grave where the pioneer Vlahakis is buried. I hv read ” Born and Bred in the Zambezi Valley” and hv even met the author with her British husband. I hv also met many members of the Vlahakis family.

  4. ‘Cecil John Rhodes, gave them a large enough area of land to cultivate.’
    Yenze land ya a nyina wake Rhodes?

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  5. Dismus you have data just like me. I like reading from enlightened indigenous Africans like you. One love

  6. I went to Munali with one guy called Shattish don’t know where he is then met another Vlahakis who was in Mkushi sold his farm and settled near Charlie Sexss place in Mapepe.

  7. History that’s all it is. Thqt was the way of the world. No need to add unnecessary insults. FYI to correct this article land was bought and not given.

  8. Why can’t all Zambians support each other instead of using unhealthy criticism.God ,unity ,love ,understanding and peace should be at the centre of everything say about each other.We should be proud of each other as Zambians no matter what tribe or colour we are or ancestry.Let us stop this malice,bitterness and Jealousy towards each other.Let us be creative and build each other up as citizens with positive words and actions in this God fearing beautiful, beloved,peace loving and sovereign nation that we call our home ZAMBIA!!!!?Let us work towards promoting each other because that is the key to true success. This is the season to do it. Peace,love and unity.

  9. Kaiza Zulu you are racist and dont know the true meaning of what it is to be human so you mean to tell me that you blame the whole vlahakis family for how they ancestors settled mxxxm masipa. ..you should keep your illiteracy to yourself,you just embarrassed yourself, I end here,ps I’m not a vlahakis or colored by the way just have a love and respect for all humanity.

  10. I am proud to be a Vlahakis! Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. We don’t get to pick who births us. God does that… Well done to Janey for having the courage to write a book about our family. And well done to Theodore 11 for the project to honor our Vlahakis tribe.
    RIP Grandpa Dimitris, Rip dad. (ALEXANDER)

    Anita Vlahakis-Baines

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