When I made a decision to visit Bagamoyo, the beach and tropical drinks were on my mind but the trip turned out to be a crash history course. Initially, my plan was to kick back, relax and sip beverages prescribed to holiday makers vacationing in exotic destinations but I ended up being a student soaking up a lot of information.
Bagamoyo is a small town with a population of approximately 30,000 people. It is located 75 kilometers north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city. Its coastline is an imposing exhibition of high-end hotels and cottages, most of which are owned by German immigrants. Elsewhere, depressing poverty is evident. Behind every posh beach hotel is a poverty-stricken neighbourhood.
Bagamoyo, as I found out, has much more to offer than beautiful sandy beaches and luxury hotels. There is a story behind every town but some stories simply stand out from the rest. Before this particular trip, I had never imagined one could learn so much in one day.
Bagamoyo was an administrative capital of German East Africa and an important trading port. Its history is influenced by traders, missionaries, explorers and colonialists. Towards the end of the 18th Century, traders from Oman settled in Bagamoyo. They began extorting taxes from the native population and extracting salt for export.
In the first half of the 19th Century, ivory and slaves attracted traders from Oman and Yemen. Bagamoyo was also an entry point for missionaries and explorers. In 1868, white catholic "Fathers of the Holy Ghost" acquired land and built their premises. They constructed their church, school and workshops. In addition, they embarked on extensive farming projects.
Many explorers entered Africa through Bagamoyo. These include Richard Burton, John Speke and Henry Stanley. David Livingstone’s body was temporarily buried in Bagamoyo before being shipped back home. A tower is erected at Livingstone’s transitory tomb.
Missionaries entered East and Central Africa via Bagamoyo. Our ancestors were shipped to the slave market via Bagamoyo. The oldest church in this part of the world was built in Bagamoyo and so was the oldest commercial district. The gospel came to us via Bagamoyo and we lost considerable human resources via Bagamoyo. Over the years, the impact of this two-way traffic has shaped the course of history more than you can imagine.
Slave hunters used to capture victims of their illegitimate trade from the interior of the continent and haul them to the Zanzibar-based market via Bagamoyo. This made it easy for international traders to acquire slaves from Africa. Seizing slaves in scattered inland settlements and transferring them to the dock for shipping was both complicated and time consuming.
The process of apprehending slaves and dragging them to the port was also dangerous. In most cases, slave hunters risked their own lives. You don’t expect to pick a strong man and lead him to the market like a goat without resistance. Troops of highly courageous and fearless predators travelled extensively across scattered communities seizing people and ferrying them to the market via Bagamoyo.
While traders were busy selling and buying human beings, missionaries were distributing bibles to Africans who could not read. They were preaching the word of God to the audience that did not understand their language. Did they have other motives other than conveying the message of salvation through Jesus Christ? Probably yes.
The 19th Century saw an influx of outsiders in desperate need of raw materials, slave labour and markets. The discovery of Africa by the outside world led to the scramble and partitioning of the continent, thus paving the way for colonialism. I am sure I had been taught this stuff in a classroom before but no lecture could ever have the same impact as this study tour.
At Kaole archaeological site, I was taken back to the 13th Century during the era of Shirazi settlements but I will save the story behind Kaole ruins for another day.