Knud Henrik's diary 8 July 2006: Kilwa Masoko, Kilwa Kisiwani, Dar es Salaam and Bagamoyo

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Last updated 2007.11.21

Monday 3 July we went the 200 km north to Kilwa Masoko, a small town on the coast. The road goes through a surprisingly deserted area.

Kilwa Masoko is a small town on the mainland on shore from a small island, where the village Kilwa Kisiwani is found. "Masoko" means "of the markets", whereas "Kisiwani" means "on the island". A third village is called Kilwa Kivinje, where "Kivinje" means "with the casuarina trees".

Kilwa Kisiwani has inscribed itself in the history of the African east coast as an important trade centre and the residence of the sultan of Kilwa, who for centuries controlled the trade in this part of the world, i.e. the East African coast, the Middle East, India and China. All through the history gold, ivory and slaves have been the most important commodities, but also Chinese ceramics, spices and cloth have been among the goods. Kilwa Kisiwani is believed to have been inhabited by Shirazi Arabs from as early as the 7th century. In the 11th century a mosque was build and as this trade centre became the most important on the east coast of Africa the sultan took residence here. About 1315-30 Sultan al-Hasan bin Sulaiman built a huge palace. In 1498 the Portuguese explorer and conqueror Vasco da Gama landed here and claimed the area as Portuguese property. The Arabs paid tribute to the king of Portugal for a single year but refused to continue. A few years later the Portuguese landed a contingent of 150 soldiers and conquered the city and built a fort to defend the place. In the 18th century the Portuguese lost interest in the area and the Arabs once again gained power. Today, the remains of three different palaces, several mosques and a number of other buildings is visible. Especially, I found the palace of Sultan al-Hasan bin Sulaiman interesting, and in particular his swimming pool overlooking the sea.

The trip from Kilwa Masoko to the island with Kilwa Kisiwani was an experience by itself. We crossed the sound by dhow, a traditional wooden sailboat. As the wind was more or less against the trip to the island took just over an hour, whereas the return was only 18 minutes.

5 July we went on again, destination Dar es Salaam. The road was anticipated to be in good condition, though some road works were expected, as indicated by ongoing work on the road from Mtwara to Kilwa Masoko. In fact, the road was good - mostly. However, one stretch of some 50 km was really terrible, those 50 km took more than two hours.

In Dar es Salaam we installed ourselves on a hotel, the first with air-conditioned rooms (which doubled the price), but that was all what was left. 7 July is an important holiday here, "Worker's Day" (called "sabasaba" which simply means "seventh of seventh"), and a lot of people from all over the country has gathered to celebrate and to participate in a big trade fair.

Dar es Salaam is by far the biggest city in Tanzania and the most important one. However, it is not the capital, as the residence of the parliament was moved inland, to a more central location at Dodoma, in 1973. Culturally, Dar es Salaam is a melting pot, with input from Africans, Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Americans and Europeans. And as in any major city lots of traffic. The temperature here is warm, but not too hot, some 25 C in the morning and about 28 C in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the humidity is rather high, which makes the afternoon less pleasant.

We spent the first day here strolling the streets (some of them), passing the fish market, the botanical garden and visiting the National Museum. The latter was very interesting, especially the section about the origin of man. Also, the sections about the slave trade and about the "King of Kilwa" were very informative.

Yesterday, we escaped the chaos and went to a town called Bagamoyo, 66 km north of Dar es Salaam. Bagamoyo is reckoned for no less than three things: As the most important slave trade port on the East African coast, as the place of the first catholic mission in Tanzania and as the place to where the body of David Livingstone was brought and from where it was shipped to his last place of rest in London. Also, Bagamoyo is famous for it's many beautifully carved doors. The name "Bagamoyo" has an interesting story by itself. The caravan porters bringing gold and ivory from up-country named the terminus "Bagamoyo" meaning "Throw off your melancholy". Later when the slave trade gained impetus, the slaves named the terminus "Bwagamoyo" meaning "Crush your heart".

On the way back from Bagamoyo we passed Mwenge, an area of Dar es Salaam hosting a huge congestion of wood carvers and curio booths. We bought a few things to bring home as presents.

Today, we have been a little around the upper class area with all the fancy villas, ambassador residences and expensive hotels. And we have had yet another swim in the Indian Ocean.

Tomorrow, we'll head for Zanzibar. Stay tuned.

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