Thursday, January 20, 2011


This weekend I set off to the historical city of Bagamoyo with Samuel and the other girls from Fairfield. I knew Bagamoyo used to be an important port city for trading with many countries to the east. I also knew that there was a major uprising that began in this region. I had no idea that Bagamoyo was one of the most significant cities in all of East Africa. For many years, it served as the capital. The Germans played a major role in the architectural style of this town, with other influences from Indian and Arabic designs. Bagamoyo is home to a smaller version of Stonetown.

Once again, the doors contain ornate carvings that give the buildings all a special character. They were used to depict the wealth and status of a household.

I learned the significance behind some of the carvings. Arabic design denotes a pineapple at the base of the frame. In the Indian design, the pineapple shape is translated into a swirly looking fish. Both symbolize fertility and bounty. There is a chain-link design that typically surrounds the door as a symbol of protection. A lotus flower represents the traditional farming lifestyle and value of the land. Several pointy knobs might be found sticking out from the door, covered in copper or another precious metal. These were originally used in India to protect the home from charging elephants, but later became a means of showing the wealth of the household. It was really interesting to walk through the town and point out the different characteristics of each household based on the door carvings.

The name Bagamoyo has a direct Swahili translation, meaning “Lay down your heart.” One interpretation is that Bagamoyo is the final port city after a long journey from inland Tanga, so when people finally reached this city they could relax and rest. Another interpretation is that it was a major site for slave trade, so the slaves would perceive Bagamoyo as the place to give up all hope before they were sent off into slavery.

We walked to the grave site of many prominent leaders throughout the history of Bagamoyo. 

There was one story in particular which the locals enjoy... though I'm not entirely sure why. Apparently a revered general was away at war for long periods of time, fighting to continue the slave trade in Tanzania. He came home to find that his wife had an ongoing affair with a slave! He was so ashamed that he killed himself, and now lies in this grave in Bagamoyo. It seems like a tragedy to me, but the locals enjoy the story as a comedy. Cultural differences, I suppose.

“Karibu” means welcome, but these carvings dressed like people were a little too creepy for me.

Every time I meet someone new, the first thing they say is “karibu,” and they'll say it at least twice more before the conversation is over. I'm really happy people are so polite and friendly here because they truly make an effort to make me feel like I belong.

As we walked closer to the shore, we started to smell something that practically made my eyes tear. Maybe the rest of the group didn't have such a strong reaction to the fish market, but my poor senses couldn't handle it. Still, I asked to walk closer to see what was going on. From far away, it just looks like a bunch of people huddled together on the beach, possibly waiting for a ferry. 

When you get closer, you can see all the men with buckets full of their latest catch—small fish, barracuda, squid, blue crabs. 

Some men are sitting in the sand with a pile of tiny fish, scaling them and then throwing them underneath a mound of sand. And all the women scope out the best catch to make dinner for their families.

This used to be the site of slave auctions. Now it is used as a market to sell local crafts.
Our next stop was the remains of a 13th century mosque called the Kaole ruins. 

This site is thought to be one of the earliest known connections between Islam and East Africa.

The Arabs settled here because it was an excellent port for trade. They had a direct view of the beach from the location of the mosque. Over time, mangrove trees grew so rampantly through this area that the port became inaccessible.

This large cross by the water marks the location of the first Catholic missionaries to East Africa.

A bit further down the road, we came across the spot where these first missionaries settled. There was an excellent museum with a great history of events that happened in Bagamoyo including early Arab influences, the ending of slavery, German rule being overrun by the British, and the steady decline of this previously prosperous city. The intention of the mission was to provide a safe haven for children who were released from slavery. Ultimately it expanded into a large church, school, and an active site for community projects.

The mission played a major role in the local end to slavery and recovery of former slaves. Here, money would be raised to free the slaves, who were then taught a useful trade. This enabled them to maintain paying jobs so they could care for themselves and their families. 

There is a giant Baobob tree behind the church which was planted in 1868, when this mission was founded. Apparently one of the sisters who worked at a clinic just behind the tree would tie her donkey to it everyday. After about five years, the tree grew so large that it began to swallow the chain that the donkey was tied to everyday. Now the tree has grown immensely, and you can still see the end of the chain coming out from the tree. In the year 2000, the tree measured 12.5 meters in circumference. They expect it to live for about 1000 years.

This is how we got around the town—the back of a rickety old pick-up truck! It was a little bumpy in the back, but we enjoyed the ride.

Especially when it took us to our next stop—Mamba! (Crocodiles)

There were so many crocodiles in this place. Most of them were enjoying the shady areas, but when we stepped up to the wall, a few came out looking hungry.

This was such an awesome experience. I've never been so close to so many crocodiles before! Or any vicious animal, for that matter. I was convinced that the 4 foot wall wasn't going to keep the crocs in... which is why I really enjoyed the babies.

ok, maybe I shouldn't have enjoyed them that much. But it was so cool!  


  1. Only you would kiss a baby croc! I love all the pictures and the stories! Keep up the awesome blog :-)

  2. Can this be the same person who one month ago was screaming in horror that a bug was walking up her wall? WOW, you are a trooper. Keep the blogs coming, they are AWESOME!

    We all miss you here at work,


  3. Yes, John. You might believe it if you see how I react around the cockroaches in my kitchen and bathrooms. They sneak up on me in the shower. I can't tell you how many times I've screamed and completely frozen after seeing a massive one. They're horrible!! And I don't have Pam around to take them away!