2013, Baobabs and Bagamoyo

Hard to believe that 2013 has arrived – here’s hoping for a peaceful and kind year for the world – a hope in vain I know.

One of the things I am looking forward to this year is the publication of my next book, a sequel to The Butterfly Heart. This one is called The Sleeping Baobab Tree and in its honour here is (yet another) picture of this wondrous tree of life.

This picture is taken in Bagamoyo in Tanzania. The meaning of Bagamoyo in KiSwahili is ‘Lay Down your Heart’ and the reason it is called this is that it had become, by the late eighteenth Century, a major slave trading post. Arab slave traders would bring slaves in from the interior to Bagamoyo and from there they would be shipped to the slave markets and plantations of Zanzibar.  It was here that slaves would lay down their hearts to leave them behind as their bodies were transported away from home for the last time.

Slaves came from far and wide in the interior and it was calculated that for every one slave who reached Bagamoyo there were ten who died along the way.  For all of them who did reach the port this would have been their first view of the wide blue Indian Ocean – an ocean that would serve only to carry them in the holds of trading ships towards lives of brutality and hardship. Dr. Livingstone at the time said of the slave trade in East Africa (as it was then) that ‘to overdraw its evils is simply not possible’

This Baobab will have borne witness to that evil – it now looks out on a kinder place.

The Bagamoyo Baobab in full leaf

The Bagamoyo Baobab in full leaf

In 2009 on their album Bang the Drum, Mango Groove released a song that my brother had written  (with the help of my father who provided the Swahili) for use during a human rights campaign in South Africa. The song is called Bagamoyo and while unfortunately there is no video of it available, here are the lyrics.

BAGAMOYO  (Lay Down Your Heart)

Kurudi, Nyumbani
Nathulisa Umoyo

The day you left I was a stranger to you
The air was still the sky was grey
A pale moon led you through a starless night
A quiet sea took you away
Now time is not enough to do the healing
And words are not enough to heal your pain
But together maybe we can find a different space
A secret place where all our memories remain

So lay down your heart for me
Be strong and set me free
Walk away but still remain
Change it all but stay the same
And don’t forget a world within is a world apart
So lay down your heart

In dreams you’ll walk along a different path
The morning air will taste so sweet
You’ll lift your face towards blue African skies
You’ll feel her earth beneath your feet
As evening falls you’ll reach a different place
Where a warm December wind whispers your name
And as you look out from the shores of Bagamoyo
A million stars will know you came
Because like you they’ve come home again

So lay down your heart for me
Be strong and set me free
Walk away but still remain
Change it all but stay the same
And don’t forget a world within is a world apart
So lay down your heart

Kurudi, Nyumbani
Nathulisa Umoyo

7 responses to “2013, Baobabs and Bagamoyo

  1. Paula Thanks for that. I shared it on Facebook. Too few of us lay down our hearts and some learn too late. Happy New year to you all John

  2. Amazing, Paula! You have to remind me again how you came up with the story in your first book which led you to the Ng’ombe Illede, which led you to The Sleeping Baobab Tree, which has led you to Bagamoyo. Maybe the answer is in research and the dedication to your subject once you have found one.Everpresent also is the respect you have for your subject; not just writing to entertain but also to communicate an important theme. You connect scaered dots to come up with a coherent picture. Amazing.

    You story of Bagamoyo reminds me of a song which was always played by the Zambia Police Band on Africa Freedom Day during KK’s rule in Zambia. President Kaunda wanted to remind Zambians and the world about the suffering slaves endured during their forced, torturous, journey from freedom to slavery. He maintained, Zambia wasn’t free until every African, at home and in Diaspora was free. The song was always preceeded by observing a moment of silence in memory of the victims of slavery. I don’t have the full rylics of the song but I remember parts of the chorus:

    Anali ku tsautsidwa, di;
    Powatenga kwao.
    M’njila mo anali,
    Kufa njala, njota, ndi kutopa.

    Ambuye dalitsani, di;
    Dziko la Africa…….

    They (the slaves) suffered, indeed;
    As they were taken from their homes.
    On the journey,
    They died of hunger, thirst, and fatigue.

    Our Father, (God) Bless Africa…..

    NB: The song is likely on ZNBS archives.

    So, congratulations, more discoveries?


  3. Thank you both, John and Vukani – a Happy New Year to both of you, 2013 has a good ring to it I think! Will come back to you both in the morning.

  4. Wonderful! Trees hold so much memory. If only they could speak.

  5. True that Colleen ! Here’s wishing you a great writing and dancing (and singing) 2013.

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