Fort Patiko, Bakers Fort
The fort which is built with stones and had headquarters for the officers, soldiers and the stores for food and ammunitions is standing o n top of a hill in Gulu. Originally established by the 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. 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. When Baker arrived in the area on 6th March 1872, he found that the slave hunter called Abu Saud had established his headquarters.
This was Baker’s 2nd visit to Patiko (Fatiko in his books) since 1864 when he came with his wife Florence (formerly Barbra) as a private explorer on his way to Bunyoro where he became the first European to see Albert Nyanza (Lake Albert). Bake arrived with him 212 soldiers, 400 porters, 1078 cattle and 194 sheep. He was again this time accompanied by his wife and his nephew Lieutenant Julian Baker of the royal navy.
Baker returned from Bunyoro where he was unsuccessful as he was rejected by Omukama Kabalega and found when the fort had been attacked by Abu Saud’s officers but Baker’s army fought them. On 28th August his men begun to dig a defensive ditch which was 8 feet deep and 8 feet wide and in front were the sharpened wooden stakes. This means that the 3 sides of the fort defended by the ditch measured in all 400m and the fourth or west side was formed by the guards.
The ammunition store on the rock was roofed with earth from the termite hills to make ti fire proof and consisted of an inner store and an outer room for the guards. The stores built for millet and sesame were probably roofed with grass although there is no record of the materials used for the buildings.
The area that enclosed by Baker’s defensive ditch is not the same as the area now enclosed because after some time possibly late 1874 under Gen Gordon, the ditch was extended to the north more doubling the defended area. It is still possible to see the line of the earlier demarcation which is the original northern limit of Baker’s defenses.
The enclosed area must have been very fully occupied with his several hundred soldiers and porters, and the numerous grindstones scattered around the enclosed area and Oceco hill remind one that there must have been many women there as well to grind the corn and do the cooking.
The Bakers themselves are said to have lived in two houses just at the base of the rocks, along the south side of the enclosure were huts for unmarried soldiers and the married quarters were on the west side close to the Baker’s private quarters. However it is believed that none of the rooms at the fort was Baker’s bedroom as it is said that he used to sleep under a big rock near the observation post.. The officers’ lines were along the east side and through the center of the camp was a road leading from the present entrance to the north gate. The various pits and mounds scattered about area are probably the remains of the huts and the pit latrines. Apparently inside the fort are two rooms of about 10 square meters 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.” It is believed that it was Baker put this plaque on the wall. He misspelt Patiko, writing Fatiko, instead.
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.
That level ground to the west is also believed that it was used as a parade ground and on Muslim feast days, it became an open-air mosque.
The ground immediately 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. This place used to be the cemetery and has been farmed for years but one may still find the fragments of the small pots which were according to the Acholi custom, placed on the graves.
To the south of the Oceco hill was the cattle enclosure and to the north, at a distance of about 100m was the southern extremity of Abu Saud’s camp.
The fort is surrounded by several hills — Ajulu, Ladwong, Akara, Abaka and Labworomor in the north and Kiju in the south.
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 8 feet wide and 8 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.
To the north of the fort are two rooms which were used by the slave traders as an armory. 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.
Baker apparently had no water supply within his fort. According to the local tradition, his people used a well which is about a kilometer north of the fort, just east of Ajulu hill. This well or waterhole is now disused although it is still brim full of water. The reason is that among the Acholi, it is not considered wise to continue to use the well which one’s ancestors have been in the habit of using. The people around the area now use another waterhole that is a few meters away from the old hole.
From the time of occupancy by the slave hunters, Acholi elders recall, the sites of the two prisons under the rocks, one for men and another for women and also the execution rock which is just behind Baker’s seat. There was also no burying of the dead as the bodies would be thrown down the steep cliff that could be cleared off by the hyenas.
Bakers left for Cairo in August and he had left Major Abdallah at Patiko and it seems the place was later deserted soon after the departure of Emin who was appointed by Governor Gordon in 1878.
Fort fact standings are that it is 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.
There are other forts including Dufile, Wadelia and Nimule in the West Nile region that were also built to extend the Anglo-Egyptian administration up the Nile River from Sudan.