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March/April 2015

15

by German, Indian and Arab designs,

alongside a fledgling modern com-

mercial district. Once integral to the

“Swahili coast” commercial network

that stretched more than 1000 kilo-

meters from Mogadishu in central So-

malia to Kilwa in southern Tanzania,

it was also the link between the Afri-

can interior and the rest of the world

via the island of Zanzibar, just 40 ki-

lometers offshore.

To 34-year-old entrepreneur Felix

Nyakatale, whose restaurant Poa Poa

is a four-year-old success story, Bagamoyo

feels like “a ghost town on the verge of a major

wake-up call.” Born and raised in northwestern

Tanzania, land of Mt. Kilimanjaro, he came to

the coast with a pioneer’s spirit that saw oppor-

tunity in burgeoning tourist traffic hungry

for smoothies and pizzas as well as local fish,

savory stews and

ugali

(hot, doughy cornmeal).

Tall, lanky and handsome, Nyakatale speaks

softly and confidently about his decision to

open a restaurant. “There’s nothing else like

this here. People come to us looking for music,

for friends.”

Located on the first floor of a restored,

historic two-story Swahili house where

he conveniently lives on the airy top floor,

Poa Poa represents business savvy, risk and

social change. “Everybody’s coming here,”

Nyakatale says with pride. “We have

locals, regulars and expats too, tourists,

just visiting. It’s a good mix. We’re always

busy.” To him, the development plans bring

hope. “At the rate Bagamoyo is growing, Poa

Poa will thrive. We’ve even built a brand new

kitchen. Take a look.”

Bagamoyo is one of the oldest

towns on Tanzania’s map. Its origins predate

Periplus of the Eritrean Sea,

the guide to mari-

time travel among China, India, East Africa and

Arabia written by an anonymous Greek seafarer

in the first century

ce

. As far back as 600-800

ce

,

Bantu-speaking Zaramu, Zigua, Doe and Kwere

tribes lived here, having originated in the interior

of what was then referred to by explorers as Aza-

nia

.

Subsisting on fishing, hunting and gathering,

they and their lives were disrupted in 1250 by the

arrival of a cluster of families from Shiraz, Persia

(now Iran). Attracted by fertile land and ample

fishing, the “Shirazis” established a port and set-

tlement a few kilometers southeast of Bagamoyo

that is known to this day as Kaole.

Now ruins where flies buzz and crickets croak in murky man-

groves, Kaole evokes a critical historical moment, explains Ab-

dallah Ulimwengu, executive secretary of the Bagamoyo Tour

Guide Association. He ambles over to the crumbling arches of

a long-abandoned mosque, and with a distant gaze he distills

Bagamoyo’s complex and spotted history.

Although Islam’s presence in East Africa officially dates

back to seventh-century Ethiopia, he says, the Shirazis were

Built by Omani sultans based in Zanzibar, the old customs

house was later used by Germany, which made Bagamoyo

its headquarters in East Africa in 1884.

“We welcome development of every kind, as long

as there’s a clear plan,” says Abdallah Ulimwengu

of the Bagamoyo Tour Guide Association.