Bagamoyo Represent!

above: sculptor Omari and me at the Seaview Sculpture Arts Center

Bagamoyo: lay down my heart
Aside from the eau-de-poo water, Bagamoyo is a pretty darn cool place. It’s a crying shame that I had to work from about 8 am to 8 pm (or sometimes later if folks decided to talk about work over dinner and after…), thus preventing me from really exploring the town. I was released from work duties on Friday afternoon and spent the rest of Friday and Saturday wandering around this ancient seaport, slave trade and coastal center.

The Swahili name of Bagamoyo has multiple interpretations, ranging from “lay down my heart” as a place of rest for weary travelers from inland and ocean routes – to “crush my heart,” spoken by people taken as slaves when they arrived to the port of Bagamoyo, because it meant that they were certainly going to Zanzibar to be traded and sold as slaves. There are remnants of the old Swahili culture, including the 13th century ruins of Kaole, which mainly consists of surviving coral-rock tombstones of inhabitants. The inscriptions, in Arabic, are still present on a number of tombstones. Tanzanian political candidates, particularly presidential hopefuls, make it a point to visit “Sharifa’s grave” – the burial site of a four-year-old girl who apparently performed miracles when she was alive and continues to grant wishes. Perhaps we should send Obama to Sharifa’s grave.

In town there are reminders of Bagamoyo’s past as a key transit point in the East African slave trade: the customs house and Old Arab Fort, a holding cell for slaves while they wait for their boat to Zanzibar. A few abandoned sites of German colonial rule remain (though quite run down), including the old Boma and Liku House, the headquarters for German East Africa. Since there is no money put into the preservation or the destruction of these old buildings, it’s similar to observing the natural history of untouched abandoned buildings.

At the Seaview Sculpture Centre, Royce and I met sculpture artists Shibani and Omari. We each bought pieces by them. I quite enjoyed Omari’s work. He takes wooden poles and carves the faces of the moon spirit into them.

The Bagamoyo College of the Arts (Chua cha Sanaa) hosts a showcase of student performance every Friday night. I went with Trinidad (an artist from Spain whom I met on the British Air flight from London to Dar) and Philipa (from Portugal), who are both volunteer teachers at the Seaview Sculpture Centre. A bunch of their students were drumming and dancing as part of the Friday evening show. See the previous post for a video and description.