Above:The century-old Orion Tabora Hotel Copyright Rupi Mangat
The half-way town from Arusha to Kigoma
Published Nation media Saturday magazine 4 November 2017
650 kilometers west of Arusha, we’re in Tabora
It has long intrigued me. David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, the hard-wired calculating American (but British-born) journalist spent five months in 1872 at Kazeh near Tabora after the epic meeting in Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika – with Stanley’s famous quote ‘Dr Livingstone, l presume’.
It’s midnight. Despite the hour, we’re warmly welcomed at Orion Tabora Hotel – a stately abode of yesteryears.
Built somewhere between 1900 and 1914 – including other buildings in town – by the German colonialists, the hotel was called the ‘Kaiserhof’. It was to be the guest house for the kaiser (king) and barons when they came to visit Tabora. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of WWI, the king never came to Tanganyika.
Meanwhile, the Belgium army in next door Congo marched into Tabora and the earliest image of the hotel so far, was taken in 1916 when the army entered town.
After WWI, Tanganyika became a British Colony and the building continued as a hotel, now named Tabora Hotel. The Princess Margaret wing was built around 1956 to coincide with her East African tour, during which she visited Tabora on 22nd October 1956 and attended a tribal gathering or ‘baraza”.
After independence in 1961, the hotel came under the Tanzania Railway Company and renamed Tabora Railway Hotel. In 2003 the hotel was renamed Orion Tabora Hotel. Two wings were added – Mirambo after a chief of Tabora – and Nyamwezi -after the tribe of Tabora.
Leaving the hotel, we ask for direction to Livingstone’s house and drive along roads lined with humongous mango trees that grew along the slave routes. Parts of Tabora are single-storeyed mabati quarters with swaying palms reminiscent of old Arab neighbourhoods.
The Tabora of the 1920s to 1960s has a rich Indian presence with double-storeyed family homes complete with year and name on the facades and the Sikh Temple dated 1927. They became property of the state during Nyerere’s socialist regime.
There’s no sign leading to Livingstone’s house –and few know of it. 15 kilometers out of town, a woman points to the direction. “Livingstone came to do some work like spread the name of God,” narrates Amina in Kiswahili. Beyond that, she knows nothing else – just that he was an important mzungu.
The village is Kazeh. The sandy path on a small hill along rural homesteads and ubiquitous mango trees doesn’t see many vehicles. Two women play bao by their hut. It’s dry everywhere except for the mango trees. Twenty minutes later, following an old man on a bicycle who introduces himself as the guide, we stop by a clutch of towering mango trees that were there when the explorers – Burton and Speke in 1857 on their way to Lake Tanganyika reaching Ujiji on the lakeshore in February, 1858 and becoming the first to document it – and later Livingstone and Stanley in 1871/72 – spent months here.
It was here in June 1871 that Stanley rested and regrouped his porters before marching on to Ujiji where reports of another white man came. Stanley had been sent out by the fiery editor of The New York Herald to bring back news of the most famous explorer at the time – Livingstone who no one had heard of in five years.
At the now renovated abode of Livingstone – a collection of rooms built around a courtyard with a towering mango tree tells the story of the explorers and the slave trade – Livingstone’s letters, Stanley’s published articles in the New York Herald, a lock of Livingstone’s hair, a piece of the mango tree where he died, the yolks that held the slaves captive and more.
Looking at the slave route in the house, Tabora was the half way town between Zanzibar (643km east of Tabora) and Ujiji (563km west of Tabora). At the time, the richest Arabs in Tabora lived in mansions surrounded by gardens.
After finding Livingstone in Ujiji both men explored Lake Tanganyika a little and marched back to Tabora. Stanley returned in 1876 to chart it and confirm if it was the source of the Nile.
Stanley urged Livingstone to return to London – he was weak but Livingstone refused intent on proving the Nile’s source and ending the slave trade. On 14 March 1872 both men parted. On August 25 1872 Livingstone left the house to travel deeper into Congo never to return. And Stanley with his scoop of the century became a celebrated journalist.
Tarmac from Arusha, past Tarangire and through the Great Rift Valley. Stop at Babati and Singida – the city of rocks and little fresh and salt water lakes. Tabora is 330 kilometers away.
Ujiji and Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika are 410km west of Tabora. Carry your passport, Yellow Fever card and make sure your car meets Tanzanian requirements.
Inexpensive good hotels up to Ksh 5,000 for a room en route.