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likely the first Muslims to come to this south-central coast.

Here they constructed the region’s first mosques out of ragged

coral rock, which they inscribed with rough Arabic calligra-

phy. Arriving with porcelain from China, jewels and house-

wares, Kaole merchants went on to export ivory, rhino horns,

animal skins, tortoise shells, glass beads, daggers, bowls and

other treasures, often to the Swahili

city-state of Kilwa, 300 kilometers to

the south and at the southern limit of

the monsoon winds whose annual cy-

cles powered Indian Ocean maritime

trade. Minted copper coins from Kilwa,

in the name of Shirazi ruler Ali ibn

Al-Hassan, hint at the extent of trade

along these shores. The name Kaole it-

self, Ulimwengu points out with a smile,

comes from a Bantu expression


kalole mwaarabu vitandile

that means,

roughly, “Let’s go see what the Arabs

are doing.”

Kilwa thrived as a trade hub until the

early 1500s. En route to India, Portuguese

explorer Vasco de Gama arrived on the

Swahili coast in early 1498, and he was

followed by Francisco de Almeida, who

is said to have ransacked Kilwa in 1505. Soon afterward, the

Portuguese easily conquered Kaole and ushered in 150 years of

notoriously unrelenting rule.

In 1698, Omani Sultan Saif bin Sultan reclaimed the coast by

waging and winning the battle at Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya.

Soon afterward, Oman assumed power over much of the Swahili

coast, including the islands of Zanzibar. To secure Kaole, the sul-

tan commanded Persian Shomvi settlers from the northern Swa-

hili coast and hired nomadic Baluchi mercenaries from Pakistan.

Kaole stabilized, but not for long.

According to Ulimwengu, an “unruly mangrove invasion”

brought on Kaole’s gradual demise. Now in his 40s, he has

spent the last 15 years unraveling Bagamoyo’s past. Originally

from Kigoma, Tanzania, he came to Bagamoyo after living in

South Africa for many years, and he says he was immediately

drawn to the stories buried here.

“Others say the growth of nearby Dunde town overshadowed

Kaole as a central port, but I think it was the mangroves,” he

says, pointing to the swampy marshes nearby. “There’s no way

boats could pull up to a shore like this.” Over the next 200 years,

Omani sultans rose and fell from power as dynasties changed,

and Kaole faded out of use, forgotten.

By the early 1830s, Sultan Said bin Sultan had moved his

court from Muscat, Oman, to Zanzibar’s Stone Town. When he

died in 1856, his son Majid bin Sultan continued to rule Zanzi-

bar, and from there, Majid oversaw a slave-and-ivory trade that

relied on Bagamoyo as a gateway to and from the African inte-

rior. By mid-century and for some years beyond, an estimated

20,000 to 50,000 slaves (as well as great quantities of ivory,

much of it carried by captives) transited annually through Baga-

moyo. Although a few remained to serve Bagamoyo’s elite, the

vast majority were sent first to Zanzibar, where they worked on

clove or sugar plantations or served as domestics; many others

were sent farther, to the Middle East and Indian subcontinent.

In town, the old slave market has become

The Bagamoyo Art Market, supported by

the town’s artist community around the

Bagamoyo Institute of Arts and Culture,

which teaches Tanzanian painting,

sculpture, drama, dance and drumming.


The Swahili name Bagamoyo stems

from its trade links to the interior:


means both “to unburden” and

“to lay down”;


means “heart.”

For traders and porters, reaching

Bagamoyo after days or weeks was

a welcome unburdening from a long

journey’s worries; for captives who

would be sold as slaves, it was the

beginning of a heartbreaking, forced

departure. The ambiguity in the name

Bagamoyo (the w was dropped) allows

room for both perspectives.