As we prepare to leave Uganda, I can’t help but think of the day we spent at Fort Patiko.
One slower day when Laura and I were waiting to hear from villages with decisions about some of our projects, I suggested that Ivan drive us to visit Fort Patiko. Ivan fueled up his van and we set off on the bumpy dirt roads that lead to this somewhat hidden monument. I wish I could adequately describe to you in words the funny looks we got, two mzungu women rolling strong with dreadlocked Ivan in the Rasta Mobile. They were priceless.
Fort Patiko, also known as Baker’s Fort, is 30 kilometers beyond Gulu on the same road that leads to Pawel. Fort Patiko isn’t an easy place to visit, both because it’s off the beaten path and because it tells the grisly history of East African slave trade.
It is place you won’t forget and a place you’ll wish had never existed. It’s a stunningly beautiful natural rock formation that Trip Advisor shamefully calls “a romantic picnic destination.” I assure you, there is nothing romantic about what happened at Fort Patiko.
For nineteen years East Africans were abducted and taken to Fort Patiko where they were kept in caves, stacked upon one another day and night, until they were “sorted.”
Men were sorted into two groups: healthy and strong and healthy and weak. The healthy and strong men were shackled around their necks and marched for weeks until they reached Egypt where they were sold as slaves.
Those deemed unhealthy or weak were sent to Execution Rock where they were laid down and beheaded with machetes. The places where the machetes struck the rocks can still be seen today. Execution Rock slopes down into a ravine so that the dead bodies and heads were easily rolled into the ravine where lions were kept expressly for the purpose of devouring the bodies.
If you were a captured woman, you’d be sorted into two categories: beautiful, healthy, and strong or ugly and/or weak. If you were beautiful, healthy, and strong you’d be shackled around the neck and march for weeks until you reached Egypt where you’d then be sold into slavery. Both the men and the women were only shackled around the necks, not the ankles, so that if you fell sick or weak along the journey or if you tried to escape, one slice of the machete would behead you, instantly separating and then releasing your body and your head from the chains so that the rest of the line could keep marching.
If you were deemed a weak, ugly, or unhealthy woman, you’d be taken to Execution Rock, beheaded, and then fed to the lions.
Anyone who tried to escape from Fort Patiko faced a firing squad on the edge of the ravine so that when you were shot, your body fell to the lions and was devoured likely before you were even dead.
Samuel Baker, or Sir Samuel Baker as he later became known, was an unlikely abolitionist. He was a mapmaker, a writer, a big game hunter, and an explorer. His goal in Central Africa was to discover and map the source of the Nile. He discovered Lake Albert and discovered that the source of the Nile had ALREADY been discovered. His wife, Lady Florence Baker, travelled with him and in their explorations, they happened upon Fort Patiko and the bloody East African Slave Trade.
Upon discovering the human holding tank and execution ground that was Fort Patiko, the Bakers returned home to England to ask for ships and army personnel to overtake the fort. This was no easy request because Samuel Baker wasn’t looked upon well. He was a widower at the age of 34 and his second wife, Florence, had once been a slave. Samuel Baker had fallen in love with Florence and then escaped with her from a Hungarian slave market. Florence travelled with him everywhere as his wife, but because they’d not had an officially recognized wedding ceremony in England, Queen Victoria refused to even meet Sir Samuel Baker or the woman who would later be given the title Lady.
Sir Samuel Baker was eventually granted ships and man power to return to Uganda and overtake Fort Patiko,with Florence at his side every step of the way. I imagine this was a personal cause for her, having experienced the inhumanity of being bought and sold herself.
It took 2-3 years to defeat the Arabs, set the captive East Africans free, and claim Fort Patiko as a military base for England. The overtaking of Fort Patiko was one of the key factors in ending the East African Slave Trade.
Sir Samuel Baker and Lady Florence Baker continued to live at Fort Patiko for some time after its liberation. Florence was loved by the Luo tribe living in Patiko and was given the Luo name Anyadwe, meaning daughter of the moon for her pale skin and blonde hair. Though she was looked down upon by British royalty, she was known for her charm. She spoke three languages. She rode horses, mules, and camels, and she was handy with a pistol. She was the fierce counterpart to her explorer husband.
Sir Samuel Baker continued his work as a mapmaker, explorer, hunter, writer, and abolitionist. He would go on to be knighted and awarded the gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society.
I’ve visited Fort Patiko twice in my travels to Uganda. Both times have left me horrified and inspired. Horrified by the brutal treatment of humans and inspired by the explorer and his wife, who, when faced with the inhumanity of it all, decided to do something about it.
When you visit Fort Patiko, you can see the marks made by the machetes in Execution Rock, but if you climb high onto a different rock, you can see another mark, a cross, painstakingly carved in stone by Lady Florence Baker.
There are so many lessons to be taken to heart from Fort Patiko and from the Bakers, but it always leaves me thinking about how I want to live my life. I know which kind of mark I hope to leave in the world.