Lindi

This compact, somewhat decrepit port on the western bank of the Lukuledi Estuary is the most substantial coastal town between Dar es Salaam and Mtwara, with a population of around 30,000. It is also the administrative capital of the vast but thinly populated Lindi region, which at 66,000km2 is about the same size as the Republic of Ireland. For all that, Lindi comes across as something of a backwater: a pleasant enough place to hang out, but also a vivid reminder of what much of Tanzania was like in the economically deprived 1980s.

The one part of town to escape the general air of torpor is the busy bus station [553 B4], which rings late into the night with stuttering bongo flava (Swahili hip-hop) and bass-heavy reggae. Here the town’s unemployed youth and orphaned children hang around all day, breaking into unselfconscious dances, while vendors scrape a living selling fried chicken, dried fish, melting sweets and single cigarettes to passing bus passengers.

From Lindi’s central jetty, regular motorised ferries cross the Lukuledi Estuary, taking about five minutes in either direction. The ferries land at Kitunda, a small village where the people spend their time drinking local beer and farming their shambas. There is little to do in Kitunda, but there is a fantastic view if you walk a little way up the hill. A 90-minute walk, starting by heading uphill from Kitunda, takes you to a quiet, thickly vegetated and very beautiful beach. The Lukuledi Estuary can be explored more thoroughly by hiring a local boat at a negotiable price – crocodiles can reportedly be seen 10–12km upstream. It is also possible to hire a boat in the bay, to do some snorkelling or to visit the large colony of fruit bats resident on Kisiwa Cha Popo (Island of Bats).

A number of excellent beaches are scattered around Lindi Bay. The largest, on the northern edge of town, is white and sandy with hardly any rocks; a few small wooden fishing boats lie on the shore and children play football throughout the day. On the western side of the bay are several more secluded beaches – including Ras Bora, Mitema (the biggest and best) and Mitwero.

Further afield, Lindi is also a base for visiting the inland Rondo Forest Reserve and  Lakes around Rutamba.

HISTORY It seems more than probable that Lukuledi Estuary has long been the site of a fishing village, but Lindi in its present incarnation most probably started life as an Omani port in the late 18th century, though oral traditions suggest it may have existed for a century or so before that (scroll down to the comment ‘The Ancient History of Lindi” below). Lindi was part of the Sultanate of Zanzibar throughout the 19th century, serving as a stop on the slave caravan route from Lake Nyasa. It was never as well known or prosperous as Kilwa Kivinje further north, though Captain Foot, who explored the south coast extensively in 1881, implied that he regarded Lindi, among ports ‘south of Bagamoyo’ to be second only to Kilwa. Either way, Lindi today has a modern layout of interlocking gridiron streets, and boasts few if any Omani relics.

There is every indication that Lindi prospered in the colonial era. With one eye closed, you can imagine that the main beach served as a resort of sorts, possibly used by farmers living upcountry. Today, however, the beachfront benches are all broken, and they probably go months at a stretch without being perched on by a tourist. In the town centre, numerous posh colonial-era buildings are ruined or heading that way, while the derelict German Boma (marked on a 1970 map as the Area Commissioner’s Residence) houses nothing but trees. A cyclone that hit the town in the 1950s may go some way to explaining this general state of disrepair, but the deeper cause of Lindi’s decline has been the development of Mtwara as the main port and city for this part of Tanzania.

GETTING THERE AND AWAY Lindi lies 470km south of Dar es Salaam along a road that is mostly in good condition, and the drive should take around seven to eight hours. Several buses run between Dar es Salaam and Lindi, mostly leaving in the early morning, so try to book your seat a day ahead. The 110km surfaced road south to Mtwara via Mikindani and 165km road to Masasi are also in good condition, and covered by a steady stream of public transport throughout the day.

WHERE TO STAY

Upmarket

A Lindi Oceanic Hotel [553 D4] (14 rooms)  Ø 023 220 2880. Opened in May 2008, this slick beachfront hotel (built on the site of the old Lindi Club) greatly ups the stakes so far as accommodation in Lindi is concerned. The blandly smart grounds boast a great estuary view & an inviting swimming pool, & the large makuti dining area serves decent but uninspired meals in the Tsh8,000–10,000 range. The spacious rooms have 4-poster Zanzibari beds with frame netting, satellite TV, fridge, large en-suite bathroom with tub, & private balcony. US$35/50 sgl dbl B&B.

Moderate

A Kadagoo Inn [553 A5] (6 rooms) Ø 023 220 2507. This smart new place has small but spotless rooms with AC, TV, net & en-suite shower & flushing squat toilet. It’s fine but possibly overpriced. Around US$25 dbl.

A Adela Hotel [553 B7] (15 rooms) Ø 023 220 2310. This friendly lodge has 2 types of room, both en-suite with AC, fan, net & chair. Indoor sgls are cramped, with three-quarter beds, while newer rooms are airier & have dbl or twin beds & a sitting room with fridge, table & chairs. US$10/20/30 sgl/dbl/twin.

 

Budget

A Malaika Hotel [553 B4] (8 rooms)m 0713 263335.The favourite option with budget-conscious travellers, the venerable Malaika Hotel on Market St, a couple of blocks from the bus station, has good en-suite rooms with nets, fans & TV. The attached restaurant is also one of the best in town, with meals for around Tsh2,500 & fresh fruit juice. US$8-10 dbl, depending on room size.

A Cas Tunu Beach Hotel [553 A3] (10 rooms)  Ø 023 220 2553. This small hotel lies on a rocky beach a few hundred metres from the Dar es Salaam Rd in the suburb of Kariakoo. The rooms are in little chalets & have a net, fan, & en-suite toilet. A relaxed outdoor bar & restaurant is attached. US$7 for a room with ¾ beds.

A Coast Guesthouse [553 B1] (17 rooms)m 0754 628150. This revamped stalwart has a wonderful location on the palm-lined beach immediately north of the town centre, a 10–15min walk from the bus station. The en-suite rooms are now very pleasant, with tiled floors, king-size beds with netting, TV & fan, & there are also a few cheaper sgls with common showers. US$4/8 sgl/dbl.

 

Shoestring

A South Honour Guesthouse [553 B5] Around the corner from the bus station, this is one of the best of several cheap guesthouses in this part of town (others are shown on the map). US$3/4 sgl/dbl with net, fan & common bucket shower.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK The restaurant at the Lindi Oceanic Hotel [553 D4] stands out for quality and ambience, but it’s about four times the price of the Malaika Hotel [553 B4], which serves decent local food for Tsh2,500 per portion. Mbinga Hill [553 A3] is another decent local eatery serving mishkaki, fish, chicken with chips and various other staples for around Tsh2,000 per plate. Himo One [553 A4] serves barbecued chicken tikka and mishkaki for a similar price, and has indoor or outdoor seating.Large prawns and other fresh seafood can be bought at the fish market [553 D7] south of the main boat jetty, ideally in the afternoon before 16.30. The quality is excellent, the price is good, and it shouldn’t be a problem to arrange for somebody to cook for you. For a beachfront beer, the Santorino Beach Club [553 C2] and Agape Beach Resort [553 C3] are both recommended, and they also serve nyama choma and snacks.

OTHER PRACTICALITIES The football stadium [553 C3] is sporadic host to large crowds, as Lindi’s football team – somewhat improbably – regularly battles it out in Tanzania’s First Division. The Gulf Video Show [553 C5] opposite the South Honour Guesthouse is the best place to watch live transmissions of English Premiership and international football matches. The National Bank of Commerce [553 D7] has foreign exchange facilities and both it and the CRDB Bank [553 A3] have ATMs where local currency can be drawn with a Visa card.Internet access is available at Lindi Favourite Business [553 A4] and China Nyiche Internet [553 A4], both on Jamhuri Street (Tsh1,000 per 30 minutes).

(c) Philip Briggs 2012

Comments
  1. philipbriggs says:

    The Ancient History of Lindi

    This is the title of an intriguing but somewhat effusive history of Lindi transcribed from local oral sources in the 1890s by a German scholar named Velton. Lindi, according to this document, was established by a Makonde leader called Kitenga, and its name refers to a large pit latrine on the town’s outskirts. The date of foundation is not specified, but subsequent events related by the document, which can be dated in conjunction with references to three different sultans of Zanzibar, indicate that it must surely have been before 1750.

    After some years in power, Kitenga agreed to ‘sell’ his town to a Makua leader called Mtukura. In exchange, Kitenga was given all of Mtukura’s worldly goods: ‘a female slave, a powder mortar for grinding snuff a cubit long, lengths of American cloth, and the head and liver of a wild pig’! Mtukura evidently assumed the title of Sultan and founded a dynasty that appears to have ruled for three or four generations, all the time producing copious numbers of children. Many of the children were apparently married into wealthy Arabic families, a common brand of upward mobility along the coast, where a Shirazi or Omani pedigree stood one in high social and commercial stead. Unfortunately, it was such a liaison – the marriage of two of the sultan’s daughters to a pair of prominent merchant brothers from Zanzibar in 1830 or thereabouts – that led directly to Lindi being co-opted into the Omani Sultanate of Zanzibar.

    The newlywed brothers evidently went behind the back of their father-in-law to usurp control of Lindi. They sailed to Zanzibar to make Sultan Seyyid Said an offer no acquisitive megalomaniac could refuse: ‘We have built a fort at Lindi: now give us your authority to judge the [local people], and all taxes we collect will be for you.’ So it was that Nasoro bin Isa, the elder brother, became ipso facto Sultan of Lindi, instituting a regime characterised by the oral traditions as ‘evil’. Nasoro and his brother Muhammad ‘killed their relatives and sold them into slavery’, whilst Sultan Said ‘knew nothing of how for five years his subjects suffered oppression’. The situation deteriorated when ‘the Almighty God sent … a very great famine that lasted seven years … caused by locusts [that] did not leave a single [crop] living, but ate everything’.

    Nasoro, who did not survive the famine, was succeeded first by his brother Muhammad ‘who remained in power for a long time’, and then by his son Hemedi bin Nasoro. After the death of Sultan Said of Zanzibar in 1854 (at around the same time Hemedi assumed power), his successor Majid sent a military expedition to Lindi to capture the fort and install direct Zanzibari rule. This event precipitated decades of hostility and sporadic wars between the coastal people of Lindi, who accepted the new order, and their upcountry neighbours and kin, who did not. This tradition is largely substantiated by references in Vice Consul Elton’s 1874 report on visiting Mikindani. The squabbling factions ‘never agreed until the Germans came’, one reason perhaps why Lindi never acquired the political or commercial status of Kilwa Kivinje.

    A report from the Deputy Commissioner of German East Africa, dated September 1890, states that ‘In Lindi also, lately, caravan trade has considerably increased. A caravan that arrived not long ago counted 1,200 heads and brought 340 tusks; the entire arrival of the last six weeks is estimated to be at least 700 tusks.’ The so-called Ancient History, too, suggests that the arrival of the Germans fostered renewed trade activity and harmony in Lindi. This is probably because the withdrawal of Zanzibar allowed Rashid bin Shabawa, the leading light of the popular dynasty that had been displaced in the 1830s, to regain his rightful position as Sultan of Lindi – albeit within the constraints of colonial rule.

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