Dar es Salaam the city of ancient oysters

A PEARL as it is seen from the shell of an oyster.


IN modern days the name Lulu stands for one of movie stars, but before and during colonial days it represented precious and unique stone in the world.

Among English speakers, the precious stone is called pearl and it is made up by calcium carbonate or a mixture of aragonite and calcite and other concentrates which made it to be smooth and perfectly round in a shape which attracts every onlooker from time in history.

Historians say from the medieval time, royal and rich people were attracted by the finest quality of natural pearls and made these objects to be highly valued as gemstones for beauty, aristocracy and authority.

Unfortunately oysters which produce these precious stones were not aware of what was going on across the world in 14th century when Europe, Arabian and Asian kings, queens and princes were wearing expensive clothes adorned by natural pearls from different parts of the world including the East African coast.

According to Ibn Battuta, in those ancient days the shores of Indian ocean along East Africa used to be safe haven for different species of oysters from all corners of this water body which covers more than 70,560,000 square kilometers.

In those old days from Mikindani, Kilwamasoko, Mafia, Bagamoyo, Pangani, Mzizima, Zanzibar and other trade centres along the coast the big population of oyster led to the rise of the word Lulu and attracted divers from Spain, Portugal, India, Persian gulf, China and Japan.

It is said in the 10th century between Pangani river and the delta of the mighty Rufiji river there was a big and live market called Rhapta which offered traders from India to bring different items from the subcontinent to east Africa.

These items were dominated by spice, ivory, tortoise shells and pieces of clothes which penetrated deep into the mainland under the brand name of Nguo za rafta but as the business grew bigger Indian asked local people to dive into the sea to search and bring Lulu or pearl which was used as medium of exchange.

Although the arrival of ‘Nguo za rafta’ led into the emerging of Khanga into East African coast in the 19th century meanwhile in the 19th century when pearl or Lulu were used as medium of exchange, from the deep floor of the Indian oyster in made these simple cotton garment into be available rich people only.

Furthermore history tells that in early days of the 19th century, people from fishing villages along the costal were trading with traders from different parts of the world who came for spice, honey, timber and precious metals such diamond, sapphire and pearl or lulu as it known among Swahili speaking people of East Africa.

This led a simple fishing village to grow into an active market where traders from China, India, Persian Gulf and Europe were engaged into a live batter trade which changed the quite neighborhood into a live trade center which roared and sent its waves into all parts of the Indian sea.

Because of laud noises from the market, the Swahili speakers of East Africa named the fishing Mzizima but in 1865 because of political, economical and geographical factors sultan Majid bin Said changed the name to Dar es Salaam.

As a remnant ancient trade, after going through a decline from 1870 to 1887 Dar es salaam thrived humbly through hands of two different colonial powers which left their marks by naming of one of this city Osterbay in honor of these marine animals.

The Swahili people of used the name Chaza for these ma rine animals but in zoology pearl oysters are not closely related to true oysters, they are members of a distinct family with a body which is covered by a strong inner shell layer that can grow bigger to the size of standard dinner plate.

The oyster’s shell is called nacre but some time people use mother of pearl because it is strong, resilient, and iridescent which protect the pearl oyster from different predators which sweep the sea floor for weaker prey.

Normally these animals dwell fifteen meters on the shallow rock which supports coral reefs, during pre colonial days when the underwater environment on the Indian sea shores were as good as new, pearl oyster were found massively from Mikindani to Pangani.

Some species prefer to stay away from the rest of the world by going at depths from the low tide to up to 75 meters on the sea floor where man as an apex predator is unable to get them without special equipments.

Zoologists say pearls are formed inside the shell of an oyster as a defense mechanism against a potentially threatening irritant such as a parasite inside the shell, or an attack from outside that injures the mantle tissue.

In the middle of this situation an oyster creates a pearl sac to seal off the irritation by do this lulu or pearls are manufactured as a product of the result of an immune response of these marine animals.

This is a long process which involves the mantle or protective membrane with deposits layers of calcium carbonate in the form of the of different minerals which are created from a mixture of aragonite and calcite under special chemical formula.

Pearl or lulu may be manu factured artificially but natural ones are nearly 100% calcium carbonate and other rare minerals, it is believed that natural pearls form under a set of accidental conditions when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters the shell of pearl oyster.

As we have seen, at this stage oyster, irritated by the intruder it forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes the calcium carbonate and other minerals to cover the irritant but produce a single lulu this secretion process is repeated many times.

This process is done without human intervention but zoologists say natural process of making lulu or pearls finish them perfectly in many shapes but the round once are rare and expensive.

From Paris, London, Munich, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo and New York fine quality natural pearls are treated as very rare jewels, their values are determined similarly to those of other precious gems, according to size, shape, color, quality of surface, orient and luster.

History show that before the end of the First World War the price pearls was very high and very few people managed to afford it, in late 1950s as the world was coming out of Second World War people in the USA turned their attention to lulu or pearls.

As a result demand for these rare gemstones skyrocketed and sent a big number of fishermen from different parts of the world to dive deep into sea floor to find oysters for pearl or lulu.

Zoologists says almost all oyster are capable of producing pearls but most of them are not very valuable, true and natural ones are produced by pearl oyster which are found in different seas including Indian ocean.

Pearls are extremely rare and hard objects produced within soft tissue of living of marine animal called oyster which today its name stands for a prosperous neighborhood with beautiful beach which attracted rich and influential people to settle in from colonial days.

Unsustainable fishing activities during colonial days pushed into extinction the last generation of pearl oysters in the coastal line of Tanzania and the rest East African countries but there is a great possibility of reintroducing them back to the shores of Indian ocean by starting oyster farms. 10

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