Standing on top of a hill in Gulu, the 136-year-old Fort Patiko is a legacy to the work of explorer and anti-slave trade campaigner, Sir Samuel Baker.
WALKING through a slave market in Vidin (now Bulgaria) the young merchant turned traveller was struck by a beautiful teenage girl, who was being auctioned. Later to become famous for his fight against the trade that had put her in this place, Sir Samuel Baker bought the young girl, Barbara Maria Szasz, and took her home with him. She eventually became his second wife (after his first, Henrietta, died in 1855), and his partner in his fight against slave trade. Fort Patiko, or Baker’s Fort, a stone structure in Gulu, is a legacy to Baker’s anti-slavery work in the area.
Sir Samuel Baker first arrived in Africa in March 1861, with Barbara, who he had renamed Florence, by his side. Initially he sought, in his own words, “to discover the sources of the Nile, with the hope of meeting the East African expedition under captains John Hanning Speke and James Grant somewhere about the Victoria Lake”. At Gondokoro, in the Sudan, Baker finally met Speke and Grant who, after discovering the source of the Nile, were following the river to Egypt.
They gave Baker vital information, which enabled him to discover Albert Nyanza (Lake Albert) on March 14, 1864. On his return home, in 1866, Baker was knighted in recognition of his well-chronicled achievements as an explorer. In 1869, at the request of Khedive Ismail, Baker returned to Africa to lead a military expedition to the equatorial regions of the Nile, to suppress slave trade and open up the way to commerce and civilisation.
Before he left Cairo with a force of 1,700 Egyptian troops — many of them discharged convicts — Baker was given the political title of Pasha and the military rank of Major General in the Ottoman army. As before, Barbara, now Lady Baker, accompanied him. The khedive appointed Baker Governor General of the new territory of Equatoria, with a salary of £10,000 a year.
As Governor General, Baker had to contend with several difficulties — sudds blocking the river, hostility from local leaders interested in the slave trade, armed opposition from local tribes — but he still succeeded in building a firm foundation on which his successors were able to set up a strong administrative structure. At the end of his four-year term, Baker returned to Cairo, leaving his work to be carried on by the new governor, Colonel Charles George Gordon.
He also left Fort Patiko as a reminder for generations to come of his anti-slavery work in the area.
Originally established by Arab slave traders, the fort is 30km north of Gulu town on Ocecu Hill in Patiko Sub-county, Aswa County in Gulu District. “This is where slaves and ivory collected from all over East Africa were kept and sometimes sold by the Arab slave traders,” explains Constant Oneka, the Kal Parish chief and the fort’s caretaker. Baker and his successors, Gordon and Emin Pasha, occupied the fort between 1872 and 1888 and effectively used it in their campaign to stamp out the trade in humans that was rampant in the area. “Baker’s anti-slavery campaign dealt a heavy blow to slave trade in Acholi in particular and East Africa in general,” Oneka says.
From the top of Ocecu Hill, about 200m away from the trunk road from Patiko Ajulu to Palaro, one has a clear view of the fort with its ancient rock walls. The fort is surrounded by several hills — Ajulu, Ladwong, Akara, Abaka and Labworomor in the north and Kiju in the south. To the east of the fort lies Patiko Ajulu internally displaced people’s camp, with a population of over 10,000 and the Patiko Sub-county headquarters.
Northeast of the fort is a UPDF detachment which used to protect the displaced people’s camp from rebel attacks. The main entry to the fort is in the east, past the main quarter guard. The fort is surrounded by a man-made trench about 16 feet wide and 15 feet deep. As you enter the fort through a narrow tunnel, a cool breeze welcomes you into the fort compound, which is dotted with exotic trees like the fig tree (for making bark cloth) plus some local trees like Jack fruit, odugu, cokoro, yago, kibur and kworo.
Inside the fort, are two rooms of about 10 square metres each. Residents say that was where the slave traders stored their food and ivory. On one wall there is a plaque inscribed with the words: “FATIKO 1872–88, founded by Sir Samuel Baker, occupied by Gordon and Emin.” Oneka explains: “Baker put this plaque on the wall. He misspelt Patiko, writing Fatiko, instead.”
To the north of the fort are two rooms which were used by the slave traders as an armoury. About 100m away stands a rock about 150m high. According to local folklore, the slave traders used the rock as an observation post to spot enemies coming to attack the fort. Under that huge rock, lives a huge tortoise.
According to local elders, the reptile started living there long before the slave traders settled in the area in the 1850s. Standing west of the fort, is a plain, flat rock where screening of the slaves used to take place. The healthy and docile would be retained, while the sick and the stubborn would be executed at a spot 200m southwest of the fort’s compound.At the execution ground, slaves would either be beheaded or face the firing squad depending on the nature of their crime. Dark spots, believed to be blood stains, can still be seen on the rock as well as marks made by axes as the slaves were beheaded. To the south of the fort are two big caves which were used as prison cells.
Apparently none of the rooms at the fort was Baker’s bedroom. It is said he used to sleep under a big rock near the observation post. Fort facts Standing on a 150 square mile piece of land, the fort is 136 years old. From colonial rule until the end of 1979, Baker’s Fort was under the Ministry of Community Development and Antiquities. At the peak of the insurgency in northern Uganda, the fort was abandoned, but in 2006, the Patiko local government re-opened the treasure.
Trespassers are damaging some of the buildings, rocks and trees in the fort. The fort receives 50 to 60 tourists (both local and international) monthly. Each visitor is charged a sh1,000 entry fee.
He left us courage
JULIAN Baker, the great grandson of Sir Samuel Baker, recently visited Uganda and this is was what he had to say about the great explorer: My great grandfather was a young man when he started travelling.
He used to build railways. He built a railway line between the Black Sea and Russia. During his time in Turkey, he was once passing through a slave market when he saw a very beautiful young girl. She was between 15 and 18 years old and she was on sale. He bought the beautiful young slave girl, kept her in his home and later made her his wife. Baker spent a lot of time planning how to end slavery. He later consulted the Khedive of Egypt and they formed the great army. They built four big ships and established a 1,000-strong army to fight the slave traders. Baker received a very warm welcome and support from the people of northern Uganda, but when he went to Masindi, Omukama Kabalega did not give him support. He only stayed with Kabalega for one month. Kabalega gave Baker’s soldiers spiked wine and later his men attacked Baker’s. So he returned to Patiko. My great grandfather is gone, but he left us with hope, courage and determination.
Baker's Life and times Born:
June 8, 1821.
Birthplace: London, England.
Died: December 30, 1893.
Educated partly in England and partly in Germany.
His father, a West India merchant, destined him for a commercial career, but a short experience of office work proved him to be entirely unsuited to such a life.
On August 3, 1843 he married Henrietta Biddulph Martin, daughter of the rector of Maisemore, Gloucestershire. She died in 1855 and he later married a former slave girl. In 1847, founded an agricultural settlement at Nuwara Eliya, a mountain health resort in Ceylon. Aided by his brother, he brought emigrants there from England, together with choice breeds of cattle.
In March 1861, he started upon his first tour of exploration in central Africa. 1864: Discovered Lake Albert. August 1866: Was knighted.
In 1869, he escorted the Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward VII, on a tour through Egypt. In the same year, at the request of Khedive Ismail, Baker undertook the command of a military expedition to the equatorial regions of the Nile, with the object of suppressing the slave trade there and opening the way to commerce and civilisation.
He returned to England with his wife in 1874, and in the following year purchased an estate in South Devon, where he made his home for the rest of his life.
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