Tanga Town Introduction

Tanga in 1898


 Burton, the explorer, described Tanga in 1857 as a “patch of thatched pent roofed huts, built upon a bank overlooking the sea”. He estimated the population to be 4000 – 5000 which included fifteen Baluchis and twenty Indian merchants. The town was under the rule of the Sultan of Zanzibar1.

 Tanga was a trading post, dealing mainly in ivory. The annual trade in ivory was about 70,000 Ibs2. Tanga was a small outlying settlement compared to its more prosperous neighbour, Pangani.

 Tanga got a shot in the arm with the coming of the Germans to East Africa in the last quarter of 19th Century. Tanga settlement probably offered least resistance to the Germans compared to, for example, Pangani, which put up stiff resistance. The Germans took control of the coastal area from the Sultan of Zanzibar in April 1891. In the same year, Tanga was designated a township.

 From then onwards, large scale developments, pushed by private German commercial interests in the area, took place. A wharf with a railway line to the interior was developed. Construction of the Railway line started in1896. The line reached Korogwe in 1902; Mombo in 1904 and Moshi in 1912. Tanga School was built in 1895 and the Cliff Block (hospital) was built during the same period. The Usambara Mountains were “opened up” as reliable roads and bridges were built. These are still in use today. Railline was also planned to go to Lushoto and beyond. A short line was built at Shume, parts of the which are still existing today. The Tanga town centre was also properly planned and developed. Most of the commercial cum residential buildings in use today are from that German period.

 In 1914, during World War One, an historic battle between the Germans and the invading British forces was fought in Tanga. The battle is vividly described in the book “Ice Cream War” by William Boyd. Another book by a Canadian author, Ann Sanders-Crighton, on the same subject is under preparation. The British forces suffered a serious defeat. However, two years later, the British finally pushed the Germans out. There are three grave sites in town exclusively dedicated to the fallen soldiers from those battles.

 The British ruled Tanga (and Tanganyika) till independence in 1961. The sisal industry reached its peak during this period exporting 200,0003 tons in 1958. Tanga became the largest producer and exporter of sisal in the world. Sisal was then called the ‘white gold of Tanganyika’. Sisal  was first introduced by the Germans in 1893. In 1913, Tanga exported 20,8004 tons of sisal fibre from its port.                                                  

 The rise of the sisal industry in Tanga brought in migrant labourers from throughout the country and the neighbouring countries. Many of these labourers have stayed on. This has given Tanga a truly African cosmopolitan population, with almost all tribes of Tanzania having a considerable presence in Tanga. The indigenous tribe living around the town are the Digo. They are mainly Moslems, who live on or near the coast. Fishing and subsistence agriculture is the main socio-economic activity.

 Tanga is renowned for its powerful presence in the Kiswahili literature scene. It has produced some literary giants and is in the forefront of pushing the language to new heights. For instance, the legendary Shaaban Robert, an author and poet of many authoritative works, was a Tanga resident and is buried a short distance from the town

 1 & 2: Mturi, A.A. “A Guide to Tongoni Ruins”, Division of Antiquities, Dar es Salaam. 3 & 4.  Lock, G.W., “Sisal in East Africa”

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