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Mikindani, a forgotten historical town

With over 50 ancient ruins dating back to pre-colonial times, Mikindani possesses the characteristics of an old historical Swahili town with a layout of narrow roads with small double storied houses and carved Zanzibari looking like doors. Located along the coast and on the gentle sloping hills, Mikindani lies 10 kilometres from Mtwara town, the regional capital.

The town lines the shores of Mikindani Bay, a safe and secluded harbour to the north of the sprawling Mtwara town. The southern arm of the bay mouth contains a small collection of houses. On the far side of the mouth is a small village called Pemba. There are salt pans located just past the mouth of the bay, right next to the ocean.

Mikindani - or Mikandani - is a Kiswahili word which means young palm trees. Mikindani is one of the oldest towns in the country. The others include Kilwa, Bagamoyo, Pangani, Lindi and Mafia. TTB is taking advantage of the immense tourism potential of Mikindani town and has started publicising the town abroad. TTB’s Principal Public Relations Officer, Mr Geoffrey Tengeneza, says, “We’ve started to publicise Mikindani in particular and Mtwara region in general through various tourist journals including Selling Tanzania, Tantravel and Dar Guide.

“We’ve highlighted the old German Boma (fort) and other tourist attractions at Mikindani and Mtwara region as a whole.” Attractions in the southern circuit include Kilwa Town, Selous Game Reserve, Kitulo National Park, Udzungwa Mountains National Park and now the historical Mikindani town. Mikindani is an interesting town to explore but many people are not aware of its existence and beauty.

“It’s a fascinating old town with winding streets and an interesting blend of thatched mud-houses and coral houses, an indication of Arabic architecture,” remarked Mr Patrick Ndolela a resident of Mtwara. The first settlers to the area were the Makonde who lived in the north west of the lagoon.

They were joined by Arab immigrants in the 9th century who came from the Arabian Peninsula. More Arabs settled at Mikindani in the late 17th century, during the reign of Seyyid Said, the Sultan of Oman. Early signs of Arab inhabitation are seen at Mikindani through the graves and old mosques are found there.

In 1884 Africa was partitioned amongst European powers. Tanganyika was allocated to Germany as part of what became German East Africa. By the late 1880s, the Germans had established an administrative presence at Mikindani and exploited the natural resources of the area including rubber, sisal, coconuts and oil seeds. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Mikindani expanded and the residential links between the earlier settled areas were consolidated.

The German colonial authorities constructed administrative and residential buildings around the Mnaida area, underneath the Bismarck Hill. These included the Old Boma, the Governor’s house and a slave market. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War (1914- 1918), Britain colonised Tanganyika. Mikindani remained an important administrative post until 1947 when the British administration developed a port in Mtwara to be the export point for groundnuts.

The local government administration then moved to Mtwara and Mikindani became a backwater. Currently, the town has a large market and several small shops and restaurants. The historical Old Boma was converted into a hotel in the late 1990s. Mikindani is home to Livingstone House, the dwelling place where the British explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone, set out from on his final expedition.

Visiting the historical site recently, James Mbatia, chairman of NCCR-Mageuzi, said he was fascinated by the area’s tourism potential and called for more publicity. There are several places of interest worth visiting while in the town. Activities one can undertake in Mikindani include snorkelling and fishing trips to Msimbati in the Mnazi Bay Marine Park whose beaches and underwater reefs are largely unexploited.

Excursions to the Rondo Plateau and Lukwika Lumesula Game Reserve are encouraged. Located on the main Mtwara- Lindi Road, the town can easily be reached from Mtwara via commuter bus services. By air, Mikindani is connected to Dar es Salaam through the Mtwara airport, only 15 kilometres from Mtwara town centre.

The road from Dar es Salaam to Mtwara via Mikindani has been upgraded to tarmac and there are several flights from the city to Mtwara, says Mr Tengeneza. Investors in the hospitality industry are highly encouraged into considering Mtwara as the new popular tourist destination.

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Author: AUGUSTINE SANGI

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