History of Bagamoyo

Published on 4th September 2007

Bagamoyo is a small historical town lying approximately 70 Kms, north of Dar es Salaam – Tanzania along the splendid sandy beach of the Indian Ocean. With its population consisting fishermen and farmers, Bagamoyo was a small, rather insignificant trading center until the middle of the 18th century. Trade items were fish, salt and gum among other things.


The first immigrants to resettle in Bagamoyo were the Oman Arabs who wanted to attract more commerce to the place. A large number of Oman Arabs and Indian merchants settled in Bagamoyo establishing it as a trade center on Africa’s East Coast.


The Germans subsequently made their presence felt, establishing Bagamoyo as their commercial center and administrative capital of the German East Africa. In addition to the Arab and German trading center for ivory, copra, ebony and other natural resources.


For decades Bagamoyo was in 19th century the main terminus in the east African – Arab and Indian trade network. Its closeness as a mainland port close to Zanzibar led to its development as a center for caravan and an expansion of commerce in ivory and slaves. Bagamoyo’s importance changed drastically from the moment Arab slave traders decided to use Bagamoyo as the final destination for their slave caravans from the center of the country. Slaves were kept imprisoned in Bagamoyo. At night they were transported by ship to the slave-markets in Zanzibar.


There has been controversy over the etymology of the word Bagamoyo. One explorer claimed that the name signified “Coeur de l Afrique” hence suggesting that the town was the gate way to the interior of Africa. Others say its name is derived from the word “Bwagamoyo”, which means, “here I throw down my heart” reflecting the desperation and despair of the ‘broken hearted’ captives whose voyage into the unknown began here. However, 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.


The sight of slaves was shocking in Bagamoyo. The slaves were usually chained together from neck to neck and herded in pens. Most of them saw the Indian Ocean for the first time in their lives at Bagamoyo. On the other hand, Catholic missionaries ransomed as many slaves as possible and settled them for their protection in the “Christian Freedom Village” in Bagamoyo.


The decline of the town was initiated when the harbor was too shallow to accommodate modern ships. The German government in 1891 decided to move the new capital of their new crown colony from Bagamoyo to Dar es Salaam. The Arab and Indian traders left Bagamoyo and opened new business centers in Dar es Salaam


Today, Bagamoyo is a centre for dhow sailboat building. The Department of Antiquities in Tanzania is working to maintain the ruins of the colonial era in and around Bagamoyo and to revitalize the town.


Attractions of interest tell the story of Bagamoyo’s past. They include: the first church built in 1872 where the porters brought the body of Dr. Livingstone after a journey of 1500kms from Ujiji. The Boma which was the German Government colonial administration headquarters. It was the first capital town of German East Africa and the governor's residence. Kaole ruins that consist of the ruins of two mosques and a series of about 30 tombs set among palm trees. They were built in the 3rd and 4th centuries and it is thought to mark one of the earliest contacts of Islam with Africa. The old fort which is the oldest surviving building in Bagamoyo built in 1860. German hanging place is where people who were found guilty of misconduct used to be hanged during the colonial period. Others include Mwanamakuka cemetery, Liku house, Plaque in front of boma, Wissmann monument, Ruve delta, Sadani game reserve and Arab coffee house among others










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