This time around I found myself back in Tanga for my grandmother’s funeral. Since the traditions around funerals have evolved these days, we don’t have a long mourning period and people are free to go about their duties during the day which presented an opportunity for me to go to the beach to see what adventure I would conjure; I miss it in Moshi where the pool is all the largest water body that I get to swim in.
The grave attraction
I have been researching Toten Island since I became aware of it. The word means ‘dead’ or ‘dead bodies’ in German, no wonder that the first attraction that is mentioned when one asks about Toten island are the German graves and mosque ruins. I don’t know when and why graves became a touristic attraction; could it be that the relatives of those buried in this land usually come to visit their ancestors and the locals interpreted it as one of tourist’s interests? One guy told me that many German tourists like to tour the graves but he had no idea why they did it. My primary goal of visiting the island is of course not the graves rather to explore what the island has and to learn what I can from observation of what it contains- for the sake of knowing.
The Toten graves would not be the first German graves I have come across in Tanga, my colleague’s mother was buried at Bombo cemetery which also prides itself as the home to world war (I?) German soldiers; these graves are also in some of the itinerary of Tanga town tours. I did find some of the graves attractive with heavy marble tops, shiny black granite tombstones, well engraved and some with human sized sculptures. The names, ranks, ages and epitaphs on the tombstones of those who died at war also had my attention. Looking at those rich graves and comparing them to our simple graves, I wondered about the importance that some cultures have put on the dead. In Islamic traditions graves are unnamed, without tombstones, unplastered, without sculptures; a simple ditch where the dead is laid, filled in with sand and then leveled off to be remembered always in our prayers. It also sparked an interest of finding out about the people that are laid in these graves, why are there just a few of them, who were they? I even tried to do an online search on some of the names that I could read out but found no information, perhaps they are forgotten, unimportant or a big secret.
Not much is spoken of the Mosque ruins at Toten island but there is speculation that perhaps the island was the first settlement of the Muslim traders before they moved into mainland Tanga. There is evidence of human settlement up to 1884, but no record on who the settler’s were exactly and why they moved from the island. This island has one of the least documented histories of all the attractions that I have researched. I wonder why the Tanzanian government doesn’t preserve such historical information for the benefit of future generations and whether the German government has any information?
The last time I was in Tanga, my tour guide informed me that it would cost me 80,000Tshs for a boat ride to Toten. Now, the one thing that I try to do is travel on less than 100 USD budget (more precisely 100,000Tshs). Even though I didn’t plan to visit the island when I left Moshi,an opportunity had presented itself and so I went out determined to look for a way to make it happen.
Down to the costs:
A Raskazone swimming club guard introduced me to a club-member who was also a part-time tour guide. It would take us about 30 minutes of paddling on a surf board to the island, about 1 hour tour and another 30 minutes back. And the cost of the trip would be a total of 10,000Tsh that’s 1/8 of the first estimate 🙂
Surf boad renting: 3000 Tshs
Life vest renting: 2000 Tshs
Guide: 5000 Tshs per person
Keep in mind that the guides may have varying prices depending on the season and how big a group is; for foreign tourists the cost may be somewhat higher.
Without a camera to visually document our journey, my sisters and I, along with three guides started off. It took us more than 30 minutes but less than an hour to get to Toten island on 2 persons hand paddled (I don’t have a name for what we did) surf board. Due to the fast growing rain cloud and quickly encroaching darkness we unfortunately could not complete the tour. we did have however a mixed reaction; the unexpected stony beach that we had to painfully walk on barefooted was a surprise we could do without but none the less I was excited to learn about some of the creatures that we came across (I have no idea what their names are in English and can’t remember the names in Swahili). In the end we had a race back to the mainland which was pretty fun. And the company was an interesting bunch.
It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to doing again when I have more time and when I’m better prepared. Next time I will carry a water proof camera, put on some rubber shoes and get a wooden paddle:-)
- The island is slowly sinking away and is heavily polluted by plastics, lost worn out shoes, dresses and various other none biodegradable items.
- Without proper documentation of it’s history, the island is as good as it’s graves and ruins.
Have you been to Toten island?