Bagamoyo — Throw down your heart
A short personal history of Bagamoyo
Throw down your heart is the literal meaning of Bagamoyo in Swahili. Moyo means heart and baga is something like throw it down. Bagamoyo is located on the shores of the Indian Ocean about 70km north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and famous for its rich history, beachside atmosphere and contemporary arts college.
Legend has it, that this was the last glimpse of the African soil slaves would get before being abducted and shipped across the Indian ocean to the Americas, Egypt or some other shores by Swahili slave traders in the 19th century. The name is reflecting the desperation and despair of the ‘broken hearted’ captives. The other side of the slave trade, the Caravan porters, praised the town as “Bwagamoyo”-“to throw off melancholy”, with the feeling that they had reached the end of their long arduous journey from the interior.
Bagamoyo was also the starting point for many of the first European “discoverers”, Livingstone, Burton, Stanley and Speke passed here in their quest to solve the mystery of the Nile or other adventures. They departed from the Old Port Kaole, which is advertised today as beautiful ruins where Subsaharan Africa and Islam were meeting. Intrigued by this story I set off on a sunny morning to encounter the ruins. A two hour walk along the beach ended in the thicket of a mangrove forrest. The entire undertaking peaked in a little signboard stating “Kaole Old Port — This ancient port there is no stairs or even a building like what you see in modern descent ports, but for natural vegetation of Mangroves.” — no kidding. Despite initial disappointment, I can understand what the old explorers must have felt looking for something and rarely reaching their goal. Their journey also didn’t always end as intended.
The most famous of all — Livingstone — has a special relationship with Bagamoyo. His dead body was returned dried out from the sun and missing the heart that had already been buried in Zambia on February 15th, 1874. Rumour has it, that the piece of wood, that carried his remains is now the door of the local museum.
Back in the 19th century the lucrative business opportunities in this coastal town follwing the slave boom attracted Arab and Indian merchants, who settled and with them Bagamoyo became a bustling economic outpost and trading center for ivory, copra, ebony and other natural resources. This in turn attracted the German Kolonialgesellschaft, that made the town their commercial center and administrative capital of German East Africa. This ‘glory’ lasted for about 10 years, until the Germans decided to move the capital to Dar es Salaam as Bagamoyo’s shallow waters were not practical for the incoming large ships.
Bagamoyo also had its share of tumult and conflict. In 1889 it witnessed the Bushiri-Rebellion, which was instigated when the German introduced registration of land and property. Never before had such a registration been demanded from the natives and they feared the Germans wanted to take their land away.
A deep sea port, an oil pipeline and large scale agricultural plantations in the name of development promise to bring prosperity and other joys of modernity to this region. I’ve been watching this for the past 8 years and thus far Bagamoyo is still withstanding those capitalist dreams and clings to its tranquillity.