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This introduction provides the setting of the book and the conceptual framework used to rethink how we understand identity on the Swahili coast. It provides historiography and the organization of the book.
Bagamoyo holds a central place in the history of the 1888 Coastal Rebellion as the site of the most violent and prolonged struggle of the entire episode. Examining events there, I consider two approaches which support spatial identity as an influential force: the organization of the uprising, in which the spatial attachments of the hinterland (Zaramo, Doe, and Kwere) and upcountry (Nyamwezi) peoples to the town play a role in influencing their solidarity with the townspeople; and how a framework that emphasizes the spatial origins of each group of rebels involved in the Bagamoyo uprising distinguishes between the different communities obfuscated by the broader category of Swahili society. Despite the far reaching presence of Swahili culture along the coastline, the Swahili were not simply interchangeable from one town to the next. I also investigate the level of violence used by the Germans along the coast to show how this was contingent on the local particularities of each place. Together these points highlight the need for considering the importance of place for explaining local behavior in the context of a widespread rebellion.
This chapter focuses on how diverse societies came to attach themselves to Bagamoyo and, thus, became “owners of the town” in their own unique ways. It argues that, even though various peoples settled at different times, each was just as significant to the town’s growth as the others; to think in dichotomous terms of insiders and outsiders, core and peripheral, civilized and heathen, frustrates a more informed understanding of how Bagamoyo evolved from a fishing village to a trading entrepôt. Although the Shomvi did think in these dichotomous terms to maintain their elite status and protect their privileges, their actual interactions and ties with Bagamoyo’s other communities belied a greater level of tolerance than their posturing might otherwise have indicated. The acceptance of groups of people from different cultural backgrounds could prove economically – and even politically – beneficial for the Shomvi, so long as the newcomers did not threaten their influence.
This chapter examines the process of how diverse societies, each who made Bagamoyo “their own,” came to recognize one another as members of a shared space. It examines the social links, networks, and exchanges which knit together a local identity based on familiarity of place and the inhabitants who dwelled there. Using a variety of cultural categories, such as religion, sports, dance, and town gossip, this chapter explores social phenomena which became part of the community lore that reinforced one’s sense of being Wabagamoyo. While Africans, Asians, and Europeans might be divided by cultural backgrounds, they could all identify themselves as Wabagamoyo through their familiarity with common local references, such as people, places, or events – the town’s shared vocabulary. Such social networks both divided town loyalties and mutually reinforced a sense of local identity. Rivalries in Bagamoyo’s history provided the bread and butter of local gossip, legend, and lore. To be a Bagamoyo “insider” was to know the local personalities and appreciate the history behind the rivalries.
The period of nationalism – 1955–1965 – provides a fitting denouement to bring home the persistence – and relevance – of local urban identity. Having already studied the Wabagamoyo’s behavior in the face of three rounds of imperialism, how did they perceive nationalism and the push for self-rule? This was not a question that was articulated much in Bagamoyo until 1955, the year after Julius K. Nyerere assumed leadership over the Tanganyika African Association and transformed it into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), a national political party. TANU activists had difficulty whipping up support in Bagamoyo because “many inhabitants did not believe that this country was theirs but that of the English.” The statement reflects the longstanding local orientation of a community which was incorporated into a “state-nation” system of administration that was imposed upon them by foreigners. In other words, Tanganyika was a colonial creation into which Bagamoyo became incorporated. The town may have been made up of peoples who came from diverse parts of the former German colony, but there did not exist a strong sense of nationalism among the Bagamoyo populace.
This chapter continues to assess the impact of colonial rule on the townspeople, and the ways in which it revealed their attachments to the town and their ties to one another, but it emphasizes an economic theme. I begin with an investigation of the German imperial government’s plot to undermine the Wabagamoyo. Uncertain of how to wrest trade in the port away from local hands, the Germans’ plan was to develop the less economically significant town of Dar es Salaam, located about 70 km south of Bagamoyo, and divert the central caravan routes there, where the Germans had greater control over the economy. Yet building a new city did not mean that it was guaranteed to usurp Bagamoyo as the preeminent trading entrepôt of the colony. During the British period, many of the townspeople plotted ways to get around rationing restrictions imposed upon them by the British during WWII. This chapter concludes with a detailed examination of smuggling networks, revealing yet again the ties among the various social groups which bound them together as Wabagamoyo
This chapter builds upon the previous one by examining how the town’s residents reacted to the arrival of newcomers who behaved more aggressively and could resort to their own means of military support: first the representatives of the Zanzibari sultanate, who arrived in the 1840s to oversee the caravan trade, and then the French Catholics, who established their first mainland mission in Bagamoyo in 1868. Both case studies reveal struggles which demarcated the social boundary between insiders and outsiders, wenyeji and watu wa kuja. While people could develop their own sense of attachment to a place regardless of how earlier settlers might view them, it did not mean that the newcomers could behave in ways antagonistic to established convention. Power in Bagamoyo rested in local hands; to succeed in the town, one had to respect the interests and institutions of the community. Thus, newcomers to Bagamoyo had to become localized, meaning they had to adapt to local customs and become accepted by the local inhabitants. As we saw in Chapter 1, the Indians and upcountry Africans respected established customs, even as they introduced ones of their own. For those who flouted local interests, the repercussions were often violent