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
roughly, “Let’s go see what the Arabs
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.
B AG AMOYO
The Swahili name Bagamoyo stems
from its trade links to the interior:
means both “to unburden” and
“to lay down”;
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.