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Bagamoyo: Putting history into perspective

Bagamoyo: Putting history into perspective

The distance between the northern outskirts of Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo is dwindling fast. The biggest city in Tanzania is expanding rapidly, threatening to swallow one of my favorite resort towns along the coastline of East Africa.

When I made a decision to visit Bagamoyo, the beach and tropical drinks were on my mind. However, the tour turned out to be a crash history course. Initially, my plan was to spend a whole day relaxing on a chaise lounge while enjoying the Indian Ocean’s breeze. This didn’t happen because I changed my mind upon arrival.

Quenching my thirst for knowledge was a better plan than spending a whole day drinking coconut juice at the beach. After all, Bagamoyo has much more to offer than white sand and splashy waves. There is a story behind every town but some stories simply stand out from the crowd.

To trace the genesis of Bagamoyo, we need to go back to the era of Shirazi settlements, in the 13th Century, when the small fishing village was known as Kaole. However, it was until the 18th Century when the village was transformed into a popular trading center. During the German colonial rule, Bagamoyo became the capital of German East Africa.

The earliest immigrants were traders from Oman. After settling down in Bagamoyo, they started extorting taxes from the local population. They also made a fortune exporting ivory and salt.

Moreover, Bagamoyo was a port of entry for explorers and missionaries whose adventures in Africa paved the way for colonialism. Richard Burton, John Speke and Henry Stanley entered Africa through Bagamoyo. After the untimely death of David Livingstone in 1873, his body was temporarily buried in Bagamoyo before the final journey back to Britain. A cross is erected on Dr. Livingstone’s transitory tomb.

The 19th Century saw an influx of outsiders in pursuit of raw materials, slaves and markets. The discovery of Africa led to the scramble and partitioning of the continent.

Bagamoyo derived its name from a Swahili phrase Bwaga Moyo which means lay down your heart. Many believe Bwaga Moyo was an expression of lost hope for slaves whose fate was sealed by the sight of the ocean. Others claim Bwaga Moyo had to do with porters who made it to the port after carrying heavy goods from the interior of the continent. Subscribers of the second school of thought connect the laying down part to the acts of offloading and resting after a long, strenuous trek.

In 1868, the white Fathers of the Holy Ghost acquired land in Bagamoyo and built their church, schools and workshops. They also launched an extensive farming project and never looked back.

The oldest commercial district in East Africa became home to the oldest church in the region. The gospel came to East and Central Africa through Bagamoyo. The same dock opened the door for those responsible for the manipulation of the local power structures and the establiment of colonialism.

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