January 30, 2011

We ‘laid down our hearts’ at Bagamoyo…

We spent the weekend in a small town about an hour north of Dar es Salaam called Bagamoyo.  Loosely translated it means “where I lay my heart down.”  There are many reasons to visit Bagamoyo, and we tried to take advantage of all of them: we enjoyed the beach, visited several interesting historical sites, and visited the Bagamoyo College of the Arts.  We left from town early Saturday morning and just returned this evening.  Here are a few more details.

The beach: Bagamoyo is currently a village in which most residents make livelihoods from fishing.  Immediately in front of our lodge (Traveller’s Lodge) we could watch the local fishermen mend their nets, ready their dhow boats, and set sail during high tide to reap their harvest.  Several hundred yards down the beach we visited the fishmarket, where all manner of fish were cleaned, smoked, and/or fried for numerous local vendors who then sold the fish in town.  There was time for swimming, beach-walking, and a few naps!

The history: Bagamoyo is famous for many historical reasons.  It is the oldest town in Tanzania and was the main port before Dar es Salaam’s heyday.  It was also the site of the first mosque in East Africa currently known as Kaole Ruins.  We toured the remnants of the mosque and tombs which date to the 7th century.  Bagamoyo served as the port through which most trade passed between the continental interior and maritime travelers. It also served as the point at which slaves were brought from the interior to be shipped to the island of Zanzibar. The name Bagamoyo is said to have derived from the caravan porters’ eagerness to arrive to the coast after their long and arduous journey through the continent.  Bagamoyo is where they chose to lay their hearts down. Later it served as both the German and British colonial headquarters before independence.

In addition to the Islamic history, Bagamoyo is home to one of the first churches in East Africa, the Catholic Mission of the Holy Ghost Fathers established in 1868.  This mission served as a stopping point for many world travelers, including Speke and Grant.  Even Livingstone passed through Bagamoyo; his body rested in the Mission’s church for one night before being shipped to Zanzibar on its way to Westminster Abbey.

The arts: Bagamoyo is currently famous for its emphasis on the arts.  It is home to the Bagamoyo College of Arts, in addition to housing multiple private craftspeople and artisans, some of whom graduated from the college.  We paid to have a private performance of drumming and dance at the college in order to learn a bit more about African dance and music The Bagamoyo Dancers.  See the attached video for a rare look at Goshen students testing their dance skills – The Goshen Dance!  Students also enjoyed interacting with the many artists who “found” us walking the streets.

Before leaving we even had time to stop at a local crocodile farm where crocs are raised for meat and their skins.  As the last picture attests, we came home filled with good information, lasting memories, and were noticeably worn out!  Bagamoyo indeed is a place where we laid our hearts down for a few days; an amazing mix of old and new, speaking to both the dark side of humanity and the creative.

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