Bagamoyo is a small port town just north of Dar Es Salaam with a heart wrenching story. It began as a small farming and fishing village and later became the capital of German East Africa. In the 18th century it was inhabited by Muslim families who made their living by taxing the local population and by the 19th century, the town was a major trading post for ivory and slaves; and had also been reached by Christian missionaries.
With this mix of influences, the town is a wonderful mish-mash of architectural styles, but it retains the feel of a small fishing village. It is also home to a large community of artists whose work is on offer all around the town. We had the privilege of being shown around by our lovely taxi driver, Anderson, who regaled us with stories of his family and history as we sipped on sweet drinks in a local bar with him. Then we strolled around the town and port while he told us what he knew about the area.
As we arrived at the port, a shipment of oil was being pulled in to the shore; a yellow sea of plastic bottles floating on the surface of the water. A few meters away, a crowd was gathered around a lively auction of the day’s catch. And just up the hill, in clouds of hazy steam and smoke, buckets and buckets of different sized fish were being fried in big woks on open fires; or dried in their hundreds out in the sun.
After a quick appetizer from the fish market, we found a wonderful little restaurant and had a delicious meal of chapatis and Kilimanjaro beer. Then a quick visit to a cute little beach before heading back to Dar Es Salaam.
The name Bagamoyo comes from the Swahili, Bwaga-Moyo, “lay down your heart”. It’s uncertain whether this is a reference to the port’s slave market and the moment of loss of individual freedom, or its earlier history as a point of trade in general, a place where porters unburden themselves of their wears. Either way, the town is soon to undergo yet another change, as plans are afoot to develop a large commercial port in its bay. So be quick, because although its future is uncertain, you can be sure that right now, this little town will find a way of getting you to lay down your heart, even if just for a moment.