The Tabora region is the traditional centre of the Nyamwezi Tribe, and for this reason was originally referred to as ‘Unyamwezi’, and in its hey-day during the early 1800s, the town of Tabora was called Unyanyembe. Chief Fundikira of Unyanyembe worked to capitalise on the tradition reputation of the Nyamwezi people as long-distance traders of great renowned during the early nineteenth century boom in the Arab slave and ivory trade, but still also continued to trade traditional good such as ivory, beeswax, copper and salt. The name ‘Nyamwezi’ seems to translate in Swahili as ‘People of the Moon’, and it is thought that this was earned in response to their startling emergence from an apparently stark and bleak region of the interior.
The first Arab caravan arrived in around 1800, and just thirty years later the town had become a central staging post. Connections with the coast grew very close; a likely strategic marriage even took place between the daughter of Fundikira and the father of the most renowned of all the Afro-Arab traders, Tippu Tip. A subsequent chief of the Nyamwezi was Chief Mirambo, perhaps one of the greatest of all the clan chiefs, and one who came closest to uniting the miasma of different tribes of the interior before his death in 1884.
The Nyamwezi chief Isike defended Tabora against the onslaught of German Colonial rule in 1891, but when his defeat seemed inevitable he blew himself up inside their tribal arms house, with the aim of taking some Germans with him on the way.
Today, the Nyamwezi cash crops such as cotton and tobacco, and keep livestock. The regional honey is still greatly sought after, and still follows the same trading route to the coast as of yore, although now it is transported along the central railway line, designed to follow the old caravan tracks, between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma. Tabora town is now mainly focused around the station, perhaps the only tangible, reliable connection with life beyond the town, as it is extremely laborious to reach by road, even at the height of the dry season.