It was a very chilly morning when I arose at 6am. I didn't need to be up early, but I was trying to advance my body clock in order to cope with a four hour time shift I would be acquiring overnight.
My luggage comprised a large travel rucksack, and a smaller backpack that contained odds-and-sods and items I remembered to throw in at the last minute, a move that could have cost me the trip.
My sister Ann, and her husband Dick, collected me at 1pm, and kindly drove me to the airport. The two hours plus drive is normally tedious, and was made even more so today under leaden skies with the odd flurry of snowflakes. But Dick and Ann are good company, and the miles soon flew by. Surprisingly, we made good time, and we even managed to squeeze a coffee stop in en route. While we sipped our rejuvenating beverages, I received a text message from Sally who was watching the sun set over Lake Victoria whilst celebrating her birthday.
We arrived at my destination, and after a quick shake of the hand and hug at the airport, my two travelling companions were gone. Dick wanted to get back home before dark, and more importantly he wanted to avoid the evening rush hour traffic. After a painless check-in, I headed through security to the departure lounge.
Now, when I was in Seattle at the start of my Rockies trip, I bought a "Swiss Army Knife" equivalent for my backwoods camping, basically to peel and chop vegetables, cut string etc. I took it around the southern hemisphere too for my New Zealand camping expedition. It could also come in useful for my safari camping too, or so I thought. In my last minute haste, I dropped it in my backpack, a bad move since I had unwittingly put a sharp object in my hand luggage. Normally I would pack it inside the hold luggage, but as a last minute addition I had foolishly dropped it in my hand luggage without really thinking.
Of course the x-ray machine picked it up straight away. Then followed a very uncomfortable process. "Did you pack this bag, sir?", "Did you know it is an offence to carry sharp objects in hand luggage?", "Can you come this way, sir, with this official?". Did I have an option? "Can I have your passport and boarding card, sir?" I just wanted to grovel and say fair cop, keep the knife "The police would like to talk to you, sir. Would you mind sitting over there?" Well, with no passport, where else was I going to go. There followed a long period of cold sweat. I could now spot other fools like me getting caught out for misdemeanours. Perhaps I was now regarded as a potential terrorist and the police wanted to ascertain my political leanings. After an age, the official turned up and explained that the police would not be able to see me until after 7pm. Great, by that time, with no passport and boarding card, I would probably miss my flight. The official then gave me the time of day. "Do you realise this is a lock-knife, sir?" No, to me it was just a glorified pocket knife. "Being a lock-knife, it can be used as a lethal weapon, sir. Did you know it is illegal to carry such a weapon on the streets in Britain, sir?" My jaw must have hit the floor. I now realised the enormity of the situation, and I blurted out my ignorance of knives, with a level of grovelling that would have been worthy of Uriah Heep's praise. "I can see you are full of remorse, sir, and I know you have a plane to catch," said the official. To cut a long story short, by me agreeing to have the knife confiscated, and the word "lock" being lost along the way, I could avoid being arrested by the police and just accept the ticking off by the official.
I thanked the chap profusely, and we parted. I was only too glad to put as much space as possible between me and my weapon that could commit mass murder, acts of terrorism, and bring about the downfall of civilisation.
The day wound up with a climax that would match Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" any day. As my plane with its cosmopolitan collection of travellers taxied to the runway, one toddler decided to air his lungs and produced a continuous scream that drowned out the aircraft engines. All other tots sat up and took notice, and, one by one, joined in the singsong. Soon we had a humdinger of a cat's chorus, which was overlaid with an announcement in Arabic at machine gun pace. Then the engines screamed in earnest as we hurtled down the runway; a bit different to the dulcet "Row, row, row your boat" my grandson sang me the evening before.
The plane climbed its way up into a cold, dark void, and soon the bright city lights were receding towards the invisible horizon behind. Now, as far as the world below us was concerned, me and my fellow passengers were just a blinking light silently traversing the heavens high above.
But in my mind, I was already transported to my final destination, a land where our common ancestors walked millions of years ago, a land often referred to as the "Cradle of Mankind". I mused for a while thinking what those early humans, making their first tentative steps across the Dark Continent, would have made of the concept of their descendants silently gliding across the heavens in blinking lights. My, oh my, how have we progressed since then into a civilisation, or have we? Humanity is now spawning a generation which seems to satisfy its communication needs through a mode of hand signals involving tapping and sliding fingers on handheld plastic objects. Perhaps I've already declined into fossil status. And civilisation, what is it, just a thin veneer that separates us from the apes that preceded our earliest ancestors? Our civilisation is the only "animal line" that possesses the ability to destroy, on a colossal scale, its own kind and everything else around it.
My final destination, the northern borders of Tanzania, is not strictly the "Cradle of Mankind". That distinction lies with Ethiopia, where hominid remains, dating back 4.4 million years, have been found. Ancients also lived out their lives in Tanzania. In the Olduvai Gorge, in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the mortal remains of Nutcracker Man (Australopithacus biosei) and Handy Man (Homohabilis), both about 1.8 million years old, have been found. In 1978, just south of Olduvai, at Laetoli, Mary Leaky found the footprints of three upright-standing hominids who had walked across the powdery compacted volcanic ash plains 3.7 million years ago.
Fast-forwarding to 10,000 years ago would bring us to a Tanzania believed to have been populated by hunter-gatherer communities, a people probably speaking Khoisan. Khoisan lies within Sally's realm of expertise since it is a general term which linguists use for the click language of southern Africa. Between four to seven thousand years later, these Khoisan peoples were gradually absorbed by Cushitic-speaking folk who joined then from the north. The Cushitic influence was beneficial, due to the incomers introducing the aboriginal inhabitants to basic techniques of agriculture, food production, and later, cattle farming.
Around the time Christ walked the earth, Bantu-speaking people began to arrive from western Africa in a series of migrations, entering from the regions between the western lakes. The Bantu were seeking better land, and with them they brought and developed ironworking skills and new ideas of social and political organization. They absorbed many of the Cushitic peoples who had preceded them, as well as most of the remaining Khoisan-speaking inhabitants. By 1300 they had spread into the areas of heavy rainfall, leaving the plains to the Nilo-Hamitic pastoralists who came down from the north and who continued to immigrate into the area through to the 18th century.
During this period of indigenous population movement, Tanzania also attracted overseas people who wanted to take advantage of trading opportunities and the fertile and relatively peaceful coastal strip. Trading contacts between Arabia and the East African coast existed by the 1st century AD, and there are indications of connections with India. Settlement of the "Land of Zinj" (Land of Blacks) began with Arab immigrants in about 800, who were joined 400 years later by Shirazis (originally from Persia). Arab and African cultures fused, and the intermarriage between these newcomers and local Africans produced the Swahili people, a distinct race, with its own language, feudal rulers, art forms and decorative traditions. They were named from the African word sahl, meaning coast. The Swahili soon established a rich and enterprising civilisation, and the resulting language, also known as Swahili, is now spoken throughout East Africa. About one-third of Swahili words is said to derive from Arabic.
By the 15th century commerce flourished between bickering "city states". The next development came through the Portuguese, when in 1498, the navigator Vasco da Gama arrived, stopping off from his remarkable passage to India. Da Gama, and compatriots who followed in his wake two years later, were not interested in colonising Zinj, nor did they care to explore the interior. The Portuguese who found themselves on the Swahili coast were guardians rather than settlers, maintaining bases from which ships could be provisioned and the safety of the shipping lanes between Portuguese territories in Muscat, Goa and Mozambique secured. However, they were well-armed and ruthless, and by 1509 the Swahili towns, already disunited, were subdued, with Kilwa sacked and Mombasa reduced to rubble. For the next two centuries, the Portuguese occupied the coast, but they were always insecure, threatened by Turkish pirates, and later, at the beginning of the 17th century, by the appearance of an increasing number of British ships - we always seem to get in on the act sooner or later.
Friction grew between the Portuguese and Omanis, indeed the latter had raided Mombasa in 1660, and after the stronghold at Fort Jesus fell, the Portuguese sailed south to Mozambique, leaving little behind but bad feeling, rusting canon, and a host of introduced crops, such as cassava, pineapples, pawpaws and groundnuts. By 1729, with their Indian empire in disarray, the Portuguese were forced to flee Tanzania by the Omani Arabs.
Life never runs smoothly, and the Omani sultan, distracted by feuding and rivalries at home, had to leave his newly won East African possessions to various representatives. The Mazrui family, which had been given authority for Mombasa, took advantage of a change of leadership in Oman and declared an independent sheikdom, attacking other settlements. In response to pleas for help, the new sultan in Oman, Seyyid Said, sailed south, capturing Pemba in 1822. Said was a pleasant chap, who at the age of 15 succeeded to the Omani throne by plunging a knife into the stomach of his cousin, the regent. He was thwarted in his attempts to win back Mombasa, but he fell in love with Zanzibar, and in 1832 transferred the seat of his Imamate to the island. Said was the power behind Zanzibar's rise, establishing the clove industry that was to prove so profitable, and he was to hold considerable influence over events, both along the coastal strip and deep into the interior. He also boosted the turnover of that more sordid business, the trade in human lives.
In a similar pattern to that which I came across in New Zealand, explorers and missionaries made an early presence on this land. The first Europeans to show an interest in this slice of Africa in the 19th century were missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann, who in the late 1840s reached Kilimanjaro. It was a fellow missionary, Jakob Erhardt, who acquired information from the Arabs of a vast, shapeless, inland lake which helped stimulate the interest of the British explorers Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke. They travelled from Bagamoyo to Lake Tanganyika in 1857-58, and Speke also saw Lake Victoria. This expedition was followed by Speke's second journey, in 1860, in the company of J.A. Grant, to justify the former's claim that the Nile rose in Lake Victoria. These primarily geographic explorations were followed by the activities of David Livingstone, who in 1866 set out on his last journey for Lake Nyasa. Livingstone's objective was to expose the horrors of the slave trade and, by opening up legitimate trade with the interior, to destroy the slave trade at its roots. Livingstone's journey led to the later expeditions of H.M. Stanley and V.L. Cameron. Spurred on by Livingstone's work and example, a number of missionary societies began to take an interest in East Africa after 1860. Almost all these explorers and missionaries used Zanzibar as their initial springboard across to the interior.
Zanzibar is an important story in its own right, that will be covered in my trip to that island. Suffice to say that it continued to prosper under successive sultans, though their power dwindled as the British exerted diplomatic and military authority. Reluctantly, Sultan Barghash closed the slave market in Zanzibar in 1873. Soon afterwards, during the "Scramble for Africa", the British made various treaties with Germany. They effectively took control in Zanzibar and much of which is now Kenya and Uganda, while most of present day Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi became German East Africa.
The Germans were regarded as harsh rulers, but they did do more to develop the country than their gentler successors, the British. In 1914 World War I came to East Africa. German-led forces, under their canny commander Von Lettow-Vorbeck, fell back before the British in a strategic retreat. By the end of 1916, however, the British had established a provisional administration, and from 1922 the country, renamed Tanganyika, was governed by them under a League of Nations mandate. Zanzibar, Pemba and the coastal strip, however, remained in the possession of the Zanzibar sultanate. In 1961, Tanganyika gained its independence. Zanzibar's independence followed in 1963, which led to a bloody revolution on the island. A few months after the revolution, a marriage was convened between Zanzibar and Tanganyika, creating the United Republic of Tanzania.