Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association

Bagamoyo Governance Baseline

Bagamoyo Governance Baseline

Once a center for the East African slave trade, Bagamoyo literally means, “lay your heart” (Bwaga = lay and Moyo = heart in Swahili). The name came from the despair felt by those who had been captured inland and transported to Bagamoyo where they waited to be shipped to Zanzibar and the Far East. Knowing that they would never see their homeland again, the saying goes that they left their hearts in the port-town, which therefore became known as Bagamoyo. During the Arab dominance, Muslim Arabs from Oman established several towns along the Tanzanian coastline and on nearby islands such as Pemba and Zanzibar. Coastal towns like Bagamoyo, developed into independent economic units owing varying degrees of allegiance to the sultan. There were two social classes in the towns, the ruling Arab class and the African laboring class — of which the majority were slaves. The Arab merchants conducted a profitable trade, exporting ivory, copper, gold, and slaves from the interior. During the over 1000-year Arab presence, they built mosques and other structures, still remaining in Bagamoyo today.

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