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The History of Bagamoyo

Copyright: Peter Harke
Bagamoyo - home of fishermen

Until the 18th century: A minor center of commerce

Until the middle of the 18th century, Bagamoyo was a small, rather insignificant trading center. Trade items were fish, salt and gum among other things. Most of the population consisted of fishermen and farmers.

19th century: The arrival of the Arabs. Bagamoyo became a central point for the East African slave trade

Slave traders

The importance of the place 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. Towards the end of the 18th century about 12 Muslim families settled in Bagamoyo, all of them relatives of Shamvi la Magimba from Oman. These families made their living not only by enforcing taxes (taxes were placed even on things like slaughtering goats or catching fish), but also by trading in salt, which was gathered from the Nunge, 3 km north of Bagamoyo.

Slaves were kept imprisoned in Bagamoyo. At night they were transported by ship to the slave-markets in Zanzibar. This explains the meaning of the word Bagamoyo ("Bwaga-Moyo") "Lay down your Heart". Those who had been deported from Bagamoyo never got another chance to see their home country again.

For further information on this, we recommend the very impressive story "Tears of Fear, Tears of Joy - the story of the slave girl Siwema", published by the catholic mission of Bagamoyo.

1868: The founding of the catholic mission

Copyright: Peter Harke
Catholic Mission

In 1868 Muslims presented the "Fathers of the Holy Ghost" with land to build a mission north of Bagamoyo - the first mission in East Africa. After the intervention of the French consul in Zanzibar, the resistance of the native Zaramo people against this "present" was put down by Sultan Majid and later, after 1870, by Sultan Barghash.

In 1892, the grounds of the mission were enlarged by a gift of land from the Muslim and philanthrope Sewa Haji, who originally came from what today is Pakistan. He was an incredibly rich man who owned several shops in Bagamoyo, supplied caravans and traded with cloth, copper, gunpowder, ivory and rhino horn. He gave the mission 20,000 ha of grounds and a three-storey school for multi-racial education (Africans and Asians) in the middle of the town of Bagamoyo. In addition, Sewa Haji also founded the hospital of Bagamoyo, which later was taken over by the Germans.

19th century: A starting point for the expeditions of Livingstone and others

Filmposter
Stanley started in Bagamoyo to meet Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika

But Bagamoyo wasn't just a trade center for slaves and trade goods (ivory or copra, which was won from coconuts and was used for the production of soap) or a center for boat building, but also the starting point for the first European "discoverers". They moved out from Bagamoyo to find the source of the River Nile or to explore the inner lakes, which were still shrouded in mystery in those times. Among those who started their journeys from Bagamoyo were: Livingstone, Burton, Speke (who went together with Grant to solve the mystery of the Nile springs), Grant and Stanley (who broke up in 1871 with a crew of 192 and 6 tons of equipment to find the missing Livingston; and later again in 1889 when he retuned from a 3-year expedition with a crew that had been reduced from 708 to 196).

1874: The body of Livingstone is laid-in-state in Bagamoyo

Bagamoyo also became famous through the return of Livingstone: After a march of 9 months from Zambia, Livingston's Zanzibar helpers Abdullah Susi and James Chuma brought his dead body, dried out from the sun (and missing the heart that had already been buried in Zambia) to Bagamoyo on February 15th, 1874 ("Mwili wa Daudi" - "the Body of David"). 700 slaves took their leave of him before he was taken to England where he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

1880: Bagamoyo is a multi-cultural town with about 1,000 inhabitants

In 1880 Bagamoyo probably had a permanent population of 1,000. But by the year of 1889, when the slave trade was already heavily disputed, more than 1,305 caravans with 41,144 people still passed through Bagamoyo on their way into the center of the country.

At that time, the population of the town consisted mainly of members of the native people of Zaramo and Doe, Shomvi Muslims from Oman, Hindus from India (who worked in administration, or on the coconut plantations and in the boat yards), as well as other Muslims, among them the Ismailites who had settled there in 1840 and whose numbers had grown to 137 by 1870, Sunnites from Zanzibar (shop-owners mostly) and Persian traders. A small group of Catholics mainly worked as tailors.

Historical drawings: How Bagamoyo missionary Fr Alexandre Le Roy saw Bagamoyo between 1881 and 1892 

1888: Bagamoyo becomes the capital of German-East Africa

Copyright: Peter Harke
The Boma - former colonial German Headquarter

In 1888 the German East Africa Company signed a treaty with the Sultan of Zanzibar, Seyyid Khalifa, which allowed the company access to the coastal regions. Directly after the treaty was signed, the flagpole of the Sultan in Bagamoyo was cut down - against the heavy resistance of his local representative, who had refused to bring down the Sultan's flag. When in the course of a conflict between the German Company and inhabitants of the town the Usagara warehouse, built at the beach of Bagamoyo, was occupied, the SS Möwe put about 200 Marines on shore to deal with the revolt. More than 100 inhabitants (about 10% of the total population) died.

In the late 19th century Bagamoyo was the most important place on the coast. In 1888 the German colonial forces declared Bagamoyo the capital of the new colony and built the Boma, the German colonial headquarters. But the shallow waters in front of Bagamoyo were the reason that a few years later Dar es Salaam, with its deep-water harbour, became the new German capital city.

1889: Bagamoyo burns in the Bushiri-Rebellion

Copyright: Rudolf Blauth
The historic German Customs House

The conflict between the town's people and the German colonial lords escalated when the Germans 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 away land from the native population.

That was why the Arab Bomboma organised a rebellion in Bagamoyo with the help of the legendary Bushiri bin Salim al-Harthi, who had once lead Arab troops against the Germans in Tabora. Initially, Bushiri was very successful. Large parts of Bagamoyo were burned down, and Bushiri gathered his troops in front of the city for a general attack.

Former German "Wissman-Monument" near the boma

The German government felt forced to support the German East Africa Company and ordered Hermann von Wissmann to put down Bushiri with his infantry which had been supplemented by Sudanese and Zulus from South Africa. To win time until the arrival of the German troops, the German Admiral Denhardt started negotiations with Bushiri, who demanded the post of governor of the coastal region, monthly payments and the right of to keep his own army.

In May 1889 Wissmann had gathered his troops and had built several fortifications. After several battles the rebellion was put down, in July 1889 the city of Pangani (north of Bagamoyo) was conquered and Bushiri was executed. The leader Bomboma and others met the same fate.

In October 1890 the Germans were granted official land rights for 4 million Mark from the Sultan of Zanzibar, and in the spring of 1891 German East Africa formally became a colony.

1891: Bagamoyo loses its status as capital city

Colonial German heraldic figure

Yet, because of the shallow waters in front of Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam with its deep-water harbour became the new capital city of German East Africa already in April 1891.

From now on the Boma of Bagamoyo served as an administrative center. Many new stone houses were built, as well as a new guard house. Caravan trade stagnated, instead the influence of Indian traders grew. The first Greeks arrived and founded a European hotel in Bagamoyo. The trade company Oswald from Hamburg settled in Bagamoyo, also the company Hansing with their vanilla plantations in Kitomeni and Hurgira. A large Koran school was opened.

1914: Again a town of fishermen and farmers

With the departure of the Germans from East Africa the role of Bagamoyo as a trade center ended, and for almost 100 years Bagamoyo again became a sleepy town of fishermen and farmers, with slowly rotting colonial buildings, whose (lived-in) ruins remind of the glamorous times of Bagamoyo as the most important coastal town of the region.

1961: After independence Bagamoyo becomes district capital

Copyright: Peter Harke
Beach of Bagamoyo

Today Bagamoyo has about 35,000 inhabitants and is the capital of the very large District of Bagamoyo.

2005: Bagamoyo to become UNESCO World Heritage

Copyright: Peter Harke
Bagamoyo: Beach at night

There are efforts to declare Bagamoyo part of the new UNESCO World Heritage "East African Slaveroute / Bagamoyo"

2006: President Jakaya Kikwete comes from Bagamoyo

Jakaya Kikwete

President Jakaya Kikwete, former minister for foreign affairs, comes from Bagamoyo.