Why the Name: Dodoma ?

Tanzania_Dodoma city center
Dodoma city center (Source: The East African)

I always loved the sound of the name Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania: the way it rolls off your tongue like a dearly beloved, like something or someone so sweet and precious… DO-DO-MA, almost like musical notes! So what do you think Dodoma means?

Well, the name Dodoma is derived from Idodomya, a word in the Chigogo (Gogo) language, which means, “it has sunk.” Tradition says that, an elephant once came to drink at a nearby creek, and got stuck in the mud, and gradually sank. It was then that the villagers exclaimed in amazement, “idodomya!” And from that moment, the place was known as Idodomya, the place where the elephant “has sunk.” It later became Dodoma in 1907 when the Germans colonists, who were probably struggling to pronounce Idodomya, came for the construction of the Tanzanian central railway. The layout followed the typical colonial planning of the time with a European quarter segregated from a native village (European-Only Neighborhoods in African Cities before Independence).

Tanzania_Dodoma 1912
Dodoma in 1912 (Source: Museum of World Cultures)

In 1967, following independence, the Tanzanian government made plans to reorganize its then capital Dar es Salaam, which was undergoing rapid urbanization and population growth. In 1974, after a nationwide party referendum, the capital was moved from Dar es Salaam to a more central location to create significant social and economic improvements for the central region and to centralize the capital within the country. With an already-established town at a major crossroads, the Dodoma region had an agreeable climate, room for development and was located in the geographic centre of the nation. Its location in a rural environment was seen as the ujamaa (family-hood) heartland. The ujamaa concept was a concept championed by the first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere as part of his social and economic development policies: it was to serve as the basis for an African model of development, or African socialism.

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Julius Nyerere Square in Dodoma

However, over the past 40 years, much of the initial design, and intents never came to fruition, and to this day many government offices and embassies have remained in Dar es Salaam, which remains the economic and the de facto capital of Tanzania.

The story of Dodoma and Dar es Salaam is similar to that of Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria, of Brasília and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and even Washington, D.C. and New York City in the United States, to name just a few. In many of these cities, there is always an economic capital which is the lung of the country, which dwarfs the political capital in size and energy. Nonetheless these political capitals are still special and unique.

Well, if you ever visit Dodoma, remember that elephant who sank there, try and visit them in all the national parks of the country, but most importantly remember to take with you the ujamaa spirit!

Why the name Zanzibar?

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Map of Tanzania including Zanzibar (Wikipedia)

Zanzibar is one of the main archipelago of Tanzania, and actually the name Tanzania comes from combining the names Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It is situated on the Swahili Coast, adjacent to Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania). Located in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic center, Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site. So why the name Zanzibar?

The name Zanzibar comes from the Arabic Zanjibār (زنجبار), which in turn comes from the Persian Zang-bār (زنگبار), a compound of Zang (زنگ, “Black“) + bār (بار, “coast, land, country“), name given by Persian navigators when they visited the area in the middle ages. So, in essence, Zanzibar means the “land of the Blacks” or “the land of the Black people,” or “the coast where Black people live.”

Cloves1
Cloves

Traders from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf region of modern-day Iran (especially Shiraz), and west India probably visited Zanzibar as early as the 1st century. Zanzibar was used as a base for voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa. In the olden days, the archipelago was known as Spice islands, and was world famous for its cloves (see the article I wrote So much for that clove in your food!) and other spices.

Vasco da Gama‘s visit in 1498 marked the beginning of European influence. In 1503 or 1504, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire. Zanzibar remained a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries. In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. In 1832, or 1840, Said bin Sultan moved his capital from Muscat, Oman to Stone Town in Zanzibar City.

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Zanzibar slave market

Malindi in Zanzibar City was the Swahili Coast’s main port for the slave trade with the Middle East. In the mid-19th century, as many as 50,000 slaves passed annually through the port. Many became rich through the slave trade, such as the notorious Arab slave trader and ivory merchant, Tippu Tib. Today, there are still vestiges of old slave forts in Stone Town.

Until around 1890, the sultans of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the Swahili Coast, known as Zanj, which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. Beginning in 1886, Great Britain and Germany plotted to obtain parts of the Zanzibar sultanate for their own empires. Over the next few years, however, almost all of these mainland possessions were lost to European imperial powers.

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Sultan Sayyid Abd Allah ibn Khalifa

In 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain. This status meant it continued to be under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were in charge; they were supervised by advisors appointed by the Colonial Office. However, in 1913 a switch was made to a system of direct rule through British governors. The death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, whom the British did not approve of, led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War, known as the shortest war in history lasting 38 minutes.

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The Harem and tower harbor of Zanzibar ca 1890

On 10 December 1963, the Protectorate that had existed over Zanzibar since 1890 was terminated by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom did not grant Zanzibar independence, as such, because the UK had never had sovereignty over Zanzibar. Rather, by the Zanzibar Act 1963 of the United Kingdom, the UK ended the Protectorate and made provision for full self-government in Zanzibar as an independent country within the Commonwealth. Upon the Protectorate being abolished, Zanzibar became a constitutional monarchy under the Sultan. However, just a month later, on 12 January 1964 Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah was deposed during the Zanzibar Revolution. The Sultan fled into exile, and the Sultanate was replaced by the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.

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Beach of Zanzibar (Zanzibar.net)

Today, Zanzibar is world-renowned for its great tourism, with Stone town showing remnants of the ancient Swahili kingdom, and the melting pot of cultures (Persian, Arabic, Bantus, European), and its cloves. Enjoy the video below, and whenever you visit Zanzibar, remember that it is the Land of the Black people!

Mirambo: the Black Napoleon

Mirambo, towards the end of his life
Mirambo, towards the end of his life

Today, I will talk about Mirambo, the man the explorer Henry Morton Stanley first referred to as a bandit, and later on as the Napoleon of Africa for his military prowess.  Who was Mirambo?

Map of Tanzania
Map of Tanzania

Born Mbula Mtelya, Mirambo is the man who revolutionized nineteenth century Tanzania, and made it hard for the Germans to conquer the region: he united the numerous Nyamwezi tribes, and gained control over Swahili-Arab trade routes.  Mirambo was the leader of the Nyamwezi people on a 200,000 km2 territory south of Lake Nyanza (Lake Victoria), and east of Lake Tanganyika.  He was not a vulgar chief of brigands as the Arab traders made Stanley believe in 1871, but his links to different families of Ntemi (kings) were a little bit blurred as many historians had mixed up dynastic and genealogical lineages, different in a matrilineal system such as that of the Nyamwezis.  In 1858, Mirambo managed to inherit the chiefdom of Uyowa from his father, Kasanda, who was a renowned warrior; he was only 18 years old.  In 1860, he joined two chiefdoms located 100 km west of Tabora, in the kingdom of Unyanyembe.  He learned the Ngoni language (Ngoni people trace their origin to the Zulu people of KwaZulu Natal), as well as their military techniques.  Later in 1860, he conquered the neighboring territory of Ulyankuru.

Map of Mirambo's kingdom
Map of Mirambo’s kingdom

He then moved his capital to Iseramagazi where he built a Boma, a fortified residence, with walls made up of dry bricks, retrenchments and hedges of euphorbia flowers.  From his father and mother, he was a descendent of Mshimba (lion), the last ruler of the legendary kingdom of Usagali, and Mirambo was thus recreating the old empire.  Thus in 1860, he created a new Nyamwezi state, the Urambo, from the name he had adopted for himself, ‘corpses‘ in kinyamwezi, Mirambo.  From 1860 to 1870, he strengthened his authority along the banks of the river Gombe, i.e. on the road to Ujiji, thereby threatening to block the Arab commerce in the area.  In 1871, he defeated the Arab traders at Tabora.  The Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said, retaliated by sending 3000 soldiers (2000 Swahili, and 1000 Balutchi).  Mirambo’s resistance was one of the most fierce: Nyamwezi’s fighters would go as far as melting their copper bracelets to make bullets for their guns.  A compromise was made to keep commerce flowing with the coast: caravans could pass after paying a tax (hongo) to Mirambo.

Illustration of the Ntemi of Urambo, Mirambo (from James William Buels Heroes of the Dark Continent (1890))
Illustration of the Ntemi of Urambo, Mirambo (from James William Buels Heroes of the Dark Continent (1890))

Every year, during the dry season, Mirambo would dispatch his ruga-ruga in all directions to continue the expansion of his territory.  From 1876 to 1878, the territory was expanded to the north, up to the southern banks of Lake Victoria.  From 1879 to 1881, expansion to the west toward Uvinza, for the control of Lake Tanganyika.  The Muhambwe of King Ruhaga fell under Nyamwezi domination, and the Ruguru of King Ntare had to seek protection from Mirambo and agree to the presence of a ruga-ruga post on the eastern border of his kingdom.  In 1879, there was also the expansion towards Burundi.  His alliance with the Ngoni fell apart in the early 1880sHe was greatly hated by the Arabs who used to dominate the commerce in the region, and other neighboring kings who feared him, and the Europeans who saw in him as a powerful adversary.  After 1881, the Arabs managed to convince the International African Association (AIA – Association Internationale Africaine), a European power created under King Leopold II’s initiative to inflict an embargo on arms and munitions on Mirambo (yup… European unions already inflicted embargo on arms back then).  The goal of the AIA was to “open up central Africa to civilization.”  At first Mirambo’s army succeeded in entering Burundi by surprise using a feud between the local king and his brother, but in 1884, his army was defeated by Burundi warriors (aided by Ngoni warriors).  After his defeat in Burundi, and another defeat against the alliance of the Arabs and the Ntemi of Bukune, Mirambo’s troops were led by Mpandashalo as he was increasingly sick.  Mirambo died on 2 December 1884.

Flag of Tanzania
Flag of Tanzania

Mirambo was a strong and ambitious leader.  He expanded his authority and influence over a number of Nyamwezi chiefs.  One of his challenges was to devise a political system that would allow him to consolidate his power, while ever expanding his territory.  For that, he made sure not to change the structure of the Nyamwezi’s society: once in power, he would usually choose a successor from the same family.  As long as the new chiefs pledged allegiance to him, they would be left to go about their political duties.  The conquered chiefs had to provide troops at all times.  His greatest strength was military.  He used surprise as a tactical ployHis capital was both a military and economic center.  He had two residences: Iseramagazi from 1879, and Ikonongo from 1881.

Mirambo was actually a simple man, deeply rooted in his culture and traditions, but also very curious of the world.  He was a man of order and progress, who will set the price of commodities in the capital’s markets, and regulated the consumption of alcohol in his kingdoms (he thought that alcohol weakened societies – just like Gungunyane), and meditated on the decadence of Africa in the 19th centuryHe was nostalgic of the magnificent ancient African capitals, and kingdomsIn essence, Mirambo had 4 faces: the traditional king, the warrior leader, the state builder, and the modernizer. To learn more, go to: ThinkAfricaPress.com, BlackPast.org, and Les Africains, Vol. 6, editions J.A, C.-A. Julien, P. 127-157, (1977).

Why the name: Dar es Salaam?

Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam

I always thought that the name of the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam had something to do with peace, since it made me think of the Arabic greeting As-salamu alaykum which means peace be upon you .  Great was my joy when I found out that it was indeed true.  Dar es Salaam means ‘the abode of peace‘ or ‘the house of peace.’

Flag of Tanzania
Flag of Tanzania

Formerly Mzizima or ‘the healthy town‘ in Kiswahili, Dar es Salaam is Tanzania‘s largest and richest city today.  It is a regional important economic center.  In the 19th century, it was a coastal fishing village on the periphery of the Indian ocean trade routes.  In 1865, Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar began building a city near Mzizima, and named it Dar es Salaam or harbor/haven of peace with Dar in Arabic meaning house, and es salaam meaning peace.  Dar es Salaam fell into decline after Sultan Majid’s death in 1870, but was revived in 1887 when the German East Africa Company established a station there.  The town’s growth was facilitated by its role as the administrative and commercial centre of German East Africa and industrial expansion resulting from the construction of the Central Railway Line in the early 1900s.

Map of Tanzania
Map of Tanzania

As Germany lost  World War I, German East Africa was captured by the British and from then on was referred to as Tanganyika.  Dar es Salaam was retained as the territory’s administrative and commercial centre.  Under British indirect rule, separate European (e.g., Oyster Bay) and African (e.g., Kariakoo and Ilala) areas developed at a distance from the city center. The town’s population also included a large number of south Asians.  After World War II, Dar es Salaam experienced a period of rapid growth  including political development with the formation of the Tanganyika African National Union or TANU which will lead Tanganyika to independence from British rule in 1961.

Dar es Salaam, once the capital of Tanzania, lost its status of capital city to Dodoma in 1974. Please enjoy the singer Momba who sings Dar es Salaam, and feel at peace in this haven.