There is some debate over the origins of the name Mikindani. Some say that the town was named after a man from the Makonde tribe who killed the sister of the first immigrants from the Makonde Plateau. An alternative, and more plausible, story is that Mikindani was named for the young palm trees (mikinda) that grow around the town.
The protected lagoon has made a superb harbor for generations of fishermen and traders. Traders from the Arabian Peninsula settled in Mikindani in the 9th and 18th centuries. By the second half of the 15th century, trade from Mikindani was also going as far as Malawi, Zambia, Angola and Zaire. The products exported included ivory, animal hides, tortoise shells and copper, while manufactured products such as clothes, household utensils and weaponry were imported. Portuguese expansion along the East African coast disrupted trade links in the 16th century.
However, From the mid-18th century, large numbers of slaves were exported from Mikindani to present-day Reunion, the Seychelles and Comores. This trade continued well into the 19th century, until the British government, under pressure from notables such as Dr. Livingstone, banned slave trading and encouraged other countries to do the same. Dr. Livingstone set out from Mikindani on his final expedition In 1884, a conference was held in Berlin during which Africa was divided between various interested European powers. Tanzania was allocated to Germany as part of what became German East Africa. By the late 1880s, the Germans had established an administrative presence in Mikindani and started to exploit the natural resources of the area including rubber, sisal, coconuts and oil seed. Oyster pearl fishing took place in the outer Mikindani Bay. Trade also prospered with an influx of commercially minded families from the Indian sub-continent. In 1895, the Boma was built as a fort and Southern HQ.
After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, Britain took control of Tanganyika. Mikindani remained an important administrative post until 1947 when the British administration started the development of the port in neighboring Mtwara to be the export point for the peanuts grown on the infamous Groundnut Scheme. Business and administration subsequently shifted to Mtwara and the fortunes of Mikindani declined until it was little more than a large fishing village. Fishermen still make their living fishing from dugout canoes and dhows in the deep outer bay.
SETTLEMENT AND ARCHITECTURE
Mikindani is a fascinating old town with winding streets and an interesting blend of thatched mud houses and coral houses influenced by Arabic architecture.
The first settlers to the area were members of the Makonde tribe who settled in the north west of the lagoon. They were joined, in the 9th century, by Arab immigrants from the Arabian Peninsula who settled on the south east edge of the bay. A further influx of Arabs settled in Mikindani in the late 17th century, during the reign of Seyyid Said, Sultan of Oman. Early signs of Arab inhabitation still exist in Mikindani; Arab graves and mosques can been seen. In Mikindani, it was customary to mark the grave of a Sultan with a baobab tree planted at each end of the grave. These would eventually grow together, as seen near the mosque at Mitengo.
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 Bismarck Hill. These include the old fort, the Governor’s House and a commemorative “Slave Market”. This period was also characterized by the construction of fine coral rag houses. These often had delicate balconies on the upper floor. Flat roofs and finely carved ornate doorways are evidence of Arab architectural influence. Prosperous Asian business families also built houses with balconies, under which would be the ground floor shop front.