- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

BAGAMOYO, Tanzania — The rusting iron posts at the caravanserai, the last stop for captives brought from the African interior to the Indian Ocean coast, are a stark reminder of the trade in human beings that supplied the harems and armies of the Middle East and the plantations of Reunion and Mauritius.

“There was a lot of wailing and crying as the slaves were branded with numbers on their bottoms while chained by the neck to the posts,” says Manguti Iddi Muriso, a respected community elder who puts his age at more than 100 and says he saw the slaves when he was a young boy herding cattle.

Although not nearly as well-known as the West African slave port on Senegal’s Goree Island or the 16th-century slave castles on Ghana’s Atlantic coast, the sleepy, decrepit port of Bagamoyo has been crisscrossed by Arabs, Asians, Germans and Britons since the 13th century.

Lying 37 miles due west of the island of Zanzibar — site of the main African slave market for the Indian Ocean region — Bagamoyo by 1888 had become the most important port on Africa’s east coast because of the trade in captives and elephant ivory plundered in the interior and shipped out from its wharves in wooden sailing vessels known as dhows.

Although the slave trade in Zanzibar was officially suppressed by a British-influenced treaty signed by Sultan Barghash in 1873, the traffic in human beings persisted in eastern Africa even after the arrival of German colonial administrators who made Bagamoyo their capital from 1887 to 1891.

A marble cross marks the site of the first Roman Catholic mission established in eastern Africa, in 1868. French missionaries from the sprawling compound would buy captives before they were shipped to Zanzibar, then free them. Some settled in what became known as “Freedom Village.”

The slave trade “was a normal business, just as we are now selling our land to foreigners; who will the next generations blame?” Mr. Muriso says in the doorway of his mud house near the 1895 Customs House where the slaves were loaded into dhows for the voyage to Zanzibar.

The name Bagamoyo comes from the Kiswahili expression bwagamoyo, which could mean either “cast off heartache” to the exhausted porters coming to the end of an arduous journey or “abandon all hope” to the captives.

Islam entered what is modern-day Tanzania in the 12th century through Bagamoyo via traders from the Arabian peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.

A black plaque on the door of a small Anglican chapel inside the Catholic mission compound says Dr. David Livingstone, the 19th-century Scottish missionary-explorer and anti-slavery activist, passed through it. “It is a bit tricky; Dr. Livingstone never passed through here when alive,” says the Rev. Gullus Marandu, a mission priest. He says the door had been carried to Bagamoyo from Mikindani in southern Tanzania, where Livingstone stayed for several weeks before setting out on his final journey.

Livingstone died in May 1873 in what is now Chitambo, Zambia, and his body rested briefly in the Bagamoyo mission en route to Zanzibar for a funeral in London’s Westminister Abbey in April 1874.

The mission compound also has a small museum on the history of the slave trade and the development of Christianity in the area.

At the southern end of town in the courtyard of the Badeco Beach Hotel stands a white pillar bearing the inscription, “This is the place where the Germans used to hang revolutionary Africans who opposed their rule.”

From the 1890s until 1907, a revolt spread throughout the southern part of the German colony of Tanganyika by Africans dragooned into working on cotton plantations. Many of the rebels believed German bullets would not hurt them but would turn to water, or maji in Kiswahili, hence the “Maji-Maji rebellion.”

Bagamoyo’s designation last year by UNESCO as Tanzania’s seventh World Heritage Site has raised hopes that investors will appreciate the historic port’s tourism potential.

“We used to have only one tourist hotel before 1992; now we have more than five,” says William Lucas Kadelya, a conservation technician in the government’s Department of Antiquities.

The hotels are located on an enticing stretch of white sand beach, but the old town itself seems to be falling apart. The roads are not paved, and there are no streetlights.

Mr. Kadelya says the European Union has provided funds to shore up some of the decaying buildings.

In the late 1880s, the shallow port of Bagamoyo, infested with mangrove forests, was eclipsed by the port of Dar es Salaam 47 miles to the southeast.

Outside town, the remains of a mosque and some tombs lie amid the ruins of Kaole, a 13th-century settlement of immigrants from the ancient Persian city of Shiraz who established towns up and down the coast.

Some consider the ruins a shrine and pray there. A small museum is under construction.

“Some architects come here to marvel at the ruins that have withstood all these years,” says Siyawezi Hungo, the government official in charge. “For tourists here to relax, this might not interest them; but for those who want to learn, this is the place to be.”

On the Internet: go2africa.com: www.go2africa.com/tanzania/zanzibar-spice-coast/bagamoyo


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