View over Mikindani
Mikindani – ‘the place of young palm trees’ in Kiswahili – is an old port town that was once the centre of trade in southern Tanzania. The original inhabitants, the Makonde people who are still noted for their expertise in wood carving, were joined around the 9th Century AD by Arab traders. A further influx of Arabs occurred in the 17th century under the reign of Sultan Seyyid Said – and graves and ruined mosques from this period can still be seen there.
The town is located on the gently sloping hills of the southern coast of Mikindani Harbour, a small roughly heart-shaped natural harbour off Mikindani Bay. With a narrow entrance to the ocean and a sheltered anchorage, it was a welcome respite from the perils of the unpredictable Indian Ocean for explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the protected lagoon has made a safe harbour and trading post for generations of fishermen and merchants.
Mikindani Harbour and Beach
It was from here that David Livingstone departed for his last voyage into the interior of Africa in 1866 – he praised Mikindani’s harbour as being perhaps the best anchorage on the whole of the East African coast. Trade Aid, the charitable trust responsible for The Old Boma hotel have recently renovated Livingstone House, a building where the explorer is reputed to have stayed, and are also involved in other conservation and environmental projects in the town.
Livingstone House from The Old Boma
In the late 19th century under German colonial rule trade grew in the area’s natural resources of rubber, sisal, coconuts and oil seed. The boma, a slave market, a prison and a dock were constructed. With the arrival of the British at the end of the First World War, Mikindani remained an important administrative post until 1947, when the British developed the port in neighbouring Mtwara as part of the infamous and unsuccessful Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme.
As the centre for trade and administration moved to Mtwara, Mikindani’s focus shifted back to fishing and agriculture, the town declined further and was left frozen in time for many decades. Due to its proximity to the Northern border of Mozambique the area was off-limits to tourists during the 1977-1994 Mozambican civil war, and this combined with poor infrastructure and communications ensured the area remained isolated and underdeveloped but unspoilt.
Today’s Mikindani is a fascinating and atmospheric old town, with a range of cultural influences from Africa, Arabia, India and Europe which reflect the East African coast’s unique Swahili culture. Its buildings demonstrate an interesting blend of local, colonial and Arabic-influenced architecture with tin-roofed terraces, carved doors and thick coral stone walls. Crumbling Arab buildings from the 17th century still stand in the town today, although most buildings were erected during the first half of the twentieth century.
Mtwara from the air
Mtwara, 6 miles south of Mikindani, the regional centre and the largest town in southern Tanzania has a recently expanded deep-water port that can accommodate ocean-going vessels. It is now linked by paved roads with Dar es Salaam and Lindi to the north and Masasi inland and by partially paved roads to Newala inland to the west. Beyond Masasi the road is newly paved for some 60 km towards Tunduru and the newly-built Unity Bridge which provides a crossing point to Mozambique.
Beyond Mtwara lies the idyllic peninsula of Msimbati which has a beautiful 15 km long sandy beach and is located within the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve. The protected coral reefs provide excellent snorkelling and diving, even for the novice, and some are very close to the shore. The beach shelves away gradually so swimming at low or high tide is good, and a trip to Msimbati makes a perfect day excursion from Mikindani
Msimbati was also home to colonial civil servant and noted eccentric Latham Leslie-Moore, alleged to be the illegitimate son of King Edward VII and illegitimate grandson of Queen Victoria. In 1959 Leslie-Moore declared Msimbati’s independence from colonial Tanganyika and declared himself Sultan of this small kingdom – but his sultanate did not last and Latham-Moore ended up living in Kenya, first in Shela village on Lamu island and then in Nanyuki where he died in 1980. The ruins of his house ‘Wind’s Whisper’ can be found among the cashew nut trees and coconut palms beside the beach.