Brushing off the “Weeping Walls” of the Historic Bagamoyo Ismaili Jamatkhana

…Now no one cares, no paint on the walls. Who can save this lovely heritage? So sad to see the weeping walls — Shariffa Keshavjee in a piece for Simerg

Bagamoyo Jamatkhana
A view of the Indian Ocean from the balcony of the Jamatkhana, overlooking the building’s rooftop. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.

Taking Example of Pakistan’s Baltit Fort, the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana Can be Converted to a Museum Chronicling Ismaili Settlement in Tanzania

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos)

In the wake of the partial collapse of the roof the historic Darkhana Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Tuesday September 3, 2019, we felt it important to highlight an incredible photo story that Shariffa Keshavjee of Nairobi contributed to Simerg some seven years ago. She had then lamented the sorry state of the historic Bagamoyo Jamatkhana through prose, pictures and thoughtful poetry in a highly acclaimed must read piece. Another very interesting piece on Bagamoyo was by Zahir Dhalla with photos of the Bagamoyo beach area where Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah set foot on East African soil for the first time in 1899 when he arrived in a yacht from Zanzibar. Zahir’s exterior photos of the Jamatkhana highlighted the building’s poor state.

A passage from the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana leading upto the sea front. Photo: © Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.
Bagamoyo Jamatkhana interior
The tejori (left) and the flag of the Ismaili Imamat resting against one of Bagamoyo Jamatkhana’s “weeping walls.” Photo: © Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.

The questions we would now ask of Ismaili residents of Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo or anyone who has visited Bagamoyo recently as well as our Tanzanian Jamati institutions are: How are the “weeping walls” of the Jamatkhana doing today? What about the passageway leading to the ocean? How about the tejori (chest) in the Jamatkhana, and what is the state of the Ismaili Flag and sadri (floor mats)? And, finally, how is the Jamatkhana being utilized today, and can the Ismaili community feel proud about its current state and usage?

We look forward to an update on the state of the Jamatkhana with the sincere hope that what was once an eyesore, both outside and inside, has been restored to its former glory. If that has not been done yet, which is what we suspect, and the building is simply languishing and not used as a Jamatkhana anymore, we humbly bring forward the idea to convert the historic building to a museum that will hold important relics as well as portray the history of early Ismaili settlement in Bagamoyo and other parts of Tanzania (then Tanganyika). Many little towns that I have visited during my drives across North America have small museums housed in heritage buildings that wonderfully tell stories about their origins and the people who first occupied them. Of course, the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana building has to be be properly restored for any such project to develop, and this should quickly become a work in progress.

As a Jamat, we have to be mindful of historical buildings and places of worship like the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana, and do everything possible to revive and revitalize our cultural and spiritual heritage before they are forgotten or lost forever due to neglect, lack of interest or apathy.

Ismaili Jamat Khana and Cemetery, as seen from the Bagamoyo beach. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

Time and Knowledge Nazrana: A Major Resource for Creative Projects

Institutions must lead and inspire the Jamat, and the Jamat must in turn respond with zeal and interest. It is a 2-way effort. Perhaps, there is an opportunity for hundreds of Ismaili architects, artists, planners and engineers who pledged their Time and Knowledge Nazrana (TKN) to Mawlana Hazar Imam to take a lead to improve the condition of our historic buildings that are in disarray for good and purposeful use.

Bagamoyo Jamatkhana
Ismaili Cemetery, at the Beach and the Indian Ocean, seen from the balacony of the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana.  Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

That can be properly and effectively facilitated by the TKN leadership team that is based in Toronto, in consultation with Ismaili institutions and local TKN bodies around the world. The transformation of the Baltit Fort in Pakistan that was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture is an example of what can be accomplished with the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana and other heritage buildings of historical importance. There is immense talent and creativity in the Jamat as well as material resources that can be utilized for well planned little museum projects that would not only enrich local history, but also help boost the tourism industry. After all Bagamoyo, with its world class historical sites, has been proposed as a World Heritage Site.

Date posted: September 5, 2019.

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3 thoughts on “Brushing off the “Weeping Walls” of the Historic Bagamoyo Ismaili Jamatkhana

  1. Malik thanks for bringing this to the jamat’s attention. It is like a breath of fresh air so to speak. A very good suggestion of restoring and putting to good use . A couple of years back I visited Mikindani Jamatkhana which is in the south east coast of Africa , and after restoration this has been given to the Muslim community residing there as a Madrasa.

    Good suggestion by Mr. Akberali Nagji, who I believe is originally from Mtwara region., and bravo for taking up the challenge!

  2. This is Akbarali Nagji from Phoenix, AZ, USA. I visited Bagamoyo with my wife Fatma and daughter Nevin and have the same question as to what our Jamati Institution or Leadership have in mind about restoring it for a better usage. I am sincerely willing to go and stay in Bagamoyo to help out to restore and bring life to this most important historical house of Imam. If our institutions and leadership officially authorises, I’ll also raise funding and all possible tools to get the restoration done. I have a credible experience in serving our Imam in several fields and am ready and whole heartedly willing to lead the Project. These comments are my message to our Leadersip to contact me.
    With Ya Ali Madad
    Akbarali Nagji.

  3. It is very sad to see the collapse of the roof of the beautiful Darkhana of Dar es Salaam. We the community of builders of hospitals, schools, universities etc. etc. are unable to maintain the old structures of the community. Carelessness nothing else.

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