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Article for Swahili Coast: 'A Day Trip to Bagamoyo'

Article for Swahili Coast: 'A Day Trip to Bagamoyo'

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Article about Bagamoyo
Article about Bagamoyo

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Published by: Pernille Bærendtsen on Jan 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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bagamoyo s not just a town of dffrnt cu-turs; t s a mcrocosm of east Afrcan hstory:Aras and indans stashd th trad. ThAfrcan popuatons wr thr shppd off as savs or thy workd at th pantatons, nth sat mns or as fshrmn. Th europanxporrs wnt through on thr way to andfrom th Afrcan contnnt. latr cam th ms-sonars, th Grman coonzrs, and todayth toursts.
Few other places in Africa offer such a high con-centration of history in only one place.Bagamoyo is indisputably of great historicalimportance: in fact, it has recently been designat-ed as a world heritage site. Regrettably, this doesnot soothe the fact that a lot of the historicalbuildings are deteriorating due to lack of mainte-
A dAytRiP to BAgAmoyo
A lectuRe in eAst AfRicAn histoRy 
 By Pernille Bærendtsen
nance. Still, Bagamoyo is an excellent destinationfor a daytrip out of Dar es Salaam if you have aninterest in Swahili history and culture.Bagamoyo is one of the oldest towns in Tanzania, situated about 70 kilometres north of Dar es Salaam on the coast of the Indian Ocean.You can easily establish an overview of the town,check out the historical sights at your own pace,watch the local artists while they work, or simplytake in the sea breeze while dipping your feetin the Indian Ocean. Today the town has about30,000 inhabitants who make up the living prod-ucts of its unique history. You do walk straight intohistory and you might even occasionally think thatmoments must have been frozen.Bagamoyo was founded at the end of the 18thcentury by Muslim families from Oman who estab-
lished a trading centre, and in the first half of the19th century Bagamoyo became a busy port forivory and slaves. From the 1850s the Europeanexplorers set off from Bagamoyo, and in 1886the Germans turned it into the capital of GermanEast Africa. The name “Bagamoyo” reflects thisnuanced past:Historians are uncertain whether this refers to theslaves, as in “give up hope,” or to the porters whorested in Bagamoyo after off-loading the goodsas in “put it down and rest.” Sources indicate thatthe latter seems more likely due to the fact thatthe town of Kilwa, further south on the Tanzaniancoast, had a greater share of the slave trade, andbecause the number of porters increased at theend of the 19th century.A good starting point for a walk aroundBagamoyo is where the road to Dar es Salaam joins town. Start by walking towards the beach inthe direction of the German Boma. It used to bea two-storey building, constructed in a U-shapein 1897 by the Germans as the colonial admin-istration headquarters. The building collapsed100 years later due to heavy rains and has not yetbeen restored. Near the German Boma you’ll finda plaque marking the first expedition done by theBritish explorers Richard Burton and John Speke,who set off from Bagamoyo on June 27, 1857.Close by you will find another landmark of theGerman past – a cemetery with 20 graves datingfrom 1889. Going over the names carved in stonetells of people who left Europe at a time in historywhere they were unlikely to return. If you walk back towards the town along the beach, you will passthe monument of the “German Hanging Place”for the Africans who were hanged during colonialtimes. You will then end up at the Customs House,built in 1895, also by the Germans.It’s a very lively spot, marking the line betweenthe sea and the market. During the morning,dhows line up at the shore where the low tideallows sailors to on or off-load cargo: just like ithas been done for hundreds of years, though thecargo has changed significantly. Now the dhowscarry secondhand clothes, charcoal and othersupplies for Zanzibar. This might also be the veryspot the explorers landed when they arrived bydhow from Zanzibar. Livingstone supposedly setoff from Bagamoyo in 1866 to look for the sourceof the Nile, and Stanley went off in 1871 to look for Livingstone. The only sure fact of Livingstonehaving been in Bagamoyo is that his dead bodystayed at the Catholic mission before being sentto England for burial in 1874. One year after theslave trade in East Africa was officially prohibited.From the Customs House you will notice the
energetic fish market, scattered between the seaand the old stone town. Walk through it, uphill,and you will reach the old stone town. Not muchcomforting can be said about the state of theseold buildings, mainly of Arab and Indian influence,which make up the oldest part of Bagamoyo. Overthe years the buildings have lost the majority of their impressive carved doors and windows –most of them stolen and sold.Wood carvings are nevertheless still being donein Bagamoyo, though the style has changed. Look out for the art students from Bagamoyo Collegeof Arts (Chuo cha Sanaa) which is teaching tradi-tional Tanzanian arts – resulting in a great varietyof young artists working on different sites fromwhere the craft is also sold. Worth knowing is alsothat every year in October Bagamoyo hosts an ArtWeek/Festival organised by the art college.Other historical sites of interest are the RomanCatholic Mission and the Kaole Ruins. In 1868 landfor a mission was given to the “Fathers of the HolyGhost,” who accommodated children rescuedfrom slavery. The mission became the first in EastAfrica, growing into a church, a school, and otherprojects. Both the museums at the Kaole Ruins andthe mission offer a historical and cultural overview. The Kaole Ruins date back to the thirteenth cen-tury, comprising remnants of two mosques andseveral tombs built with coral stones – and wortha visit in terms of Bagamoyo’s earlier history.Lots of people from different cultures havegone through Bagamoyo for centuries, creatingthe foundation for the town. Now the majority of strangers are tourists. Bagamoyo declined whenthe Germans built a railway into the interior andbecause the harbour could not accommodatemodern ships. In 1891 the Germans decided toestablish the capital in Dar es Salaam, and the Araband Indian traders followed track. It might notseem as an advantageous position for Bagamoyoto have been this close to Dar, but for tourists theshort distance and the dense history makes it areal good option for a day trip. The tourists arenow a source of income for Bagamoyo, and onecan only hope that the prospect of becoming the8th Tanzanian world heritage site would boost theconservation in order for future visitors to Tanzaniastill having a chance of learning about its history.

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