Compared with Tongoni, Kaole and other settlements along the East African coast, Pangani is a relatively modern addition. It rose to prominence during the mid-19th century, when it was a linchpin between the Zanzibar sultanate and the inland caravan routes, and it was during this era that the riverfront depot for the trafficking of enslaved people was built. Pangani’s oldest building is the old boma, which dates to 1810 and was originally the private residence of a wealthy Omani trader. More recent is the customs house, built a decade later. Probably several centuries older is the settlement at Bweni, diagonally opposite Pangani on the southern bank of the river, where a 15th-century grave has been found.
In September 1888, Pangani was the first town to rebel against the German colonial administration during the Abushiri Revolt.
The Abushiri Revolt
Although the Abushiri Revolt, one of East Africa’s major colonial rebellions, is usually associated with Bagamoyo, Pangani was its birthplace. The catalyst came in 1884, when German Carl Peters founded the German East Africa Company (Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft or DOAG). Over the next few years, in an effort to tap into the lucrative inland caravan trade, Peters managed to extract agreement from the Sultan of Zanzibar that the DOAG could take over the administration of customs duties in the sultan’s mainland domains. However, neither the sultan’s representative in Pangani nor the majority of the local people were amenable to the idea. When the DOAG raised its flag next to that of the sultan, simmering tensions exploded. Under the leadership of an Afro-Arab trader named Abushiri bin Salim al-Harth, a loosely organized army, including many of the sultan’s own guards, ousted the Germans, igniting a series of fierce power struggles that continued in other port towns along the coast. The revolt lasted more than a year, only ending after the arrival of German reinforcements, the imposition of a naval blockade and the hanging of Abushiri. In the wake of the revolt, the DOAG went bankrupt and the colonial capital was moved from Bagamoyo to Dar es Salaam.