In Patiko, located about 32kms north of Gulu town are ruins of a military fort built in 1872 by the British explorer Sir Samuel Baker. This historical site may take its name from the famed explorer, but before he set up base here, Patiko was the southernmost outpost of a vast territory where Egyptian and Turkish traders plundered slaves and ivory.
Fort Patiko, as the fort is commonly known in Uganda has a very dark past that began in the 1800’s when Arab traders stumbled upon Ocecu Hill and converted it into a sorting ground for slaves destined for North Africa and Turkey, and a trade hub for ivory. Baker first visited Patiko in 1864 on his quest to locate the River Nile, even meeting with Rwot Kikwiyakare, the chief of Patiko to discuss the slave trade menace that was plaguing Acholiland.
In 1872, on a mission to end slavery, which was commissioned by the ruler of Sudan and Egypt Khedive Ismail, Baker returned to Patiko expelled 250 Arabs and claimed the Fort. After Baker’s retirement in 1888, the fort served as the headquarters of Charles Gordon and Emin Pasha, the respective Governors of the Equatorial province of the British Protectorate.
Hiking –There is a lot to see and even more to learn on a guided hiking tour of Patiko. The fort is built on an imposing rocky hill, and despite its horrific past, it is a breathtakingly beautiful place with a landscape dotted with mountains and scenic hills surrounded by extensive vegetation.
The hike starts with a walk through towering wild grass and shrubs, along a 16ft-wide and 16ft-deep trench that completely encloses the fort. The trench that is 100m in diameter was built to make it impossible for slaves to escape, and the only access to the fort is through a small surviving gatehouse with a narrow doorway and rifle ports.
Still standing at the heart of the fort are three roofless double-roomed houses built over a low rocky hill that forms a natural floor. The houses that are built exclusively with cemented rocks were once grass-thatched, and were used as storage silos for foodstuffs, ivory and ammunition.
On an adjacent rock are two towering rocks whose bellies were carved out to create deep but very low caves that served as holding cells for slaves, and on another, and nestled between massive boulders, the execution chambers where weak or sick slaves were disposed of. A guided walk around the fort reveals several markings and inscriptions that tell the intricate tale of the Fort Patiko’s different residents.