It is highly unlikely to speak about slave trade without reopening the old wound to the victims of slavery, particularly to the lives of Zanzibar. It is highly understood, the Portuguese came to Zanzibar at the beginning of the 16th century. They traded in species and ivory, but also slaves. Zanzibar was a part of the Portuguese empire for almost two century.
Slaves in chains
In the 17th century, the Oman Arabs expelled the Portuguese and established control over many settlements, including Zanzibar. The ruling sultan of Oman, Said bin Sultan Al-Said, relocated his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar. The late 18th centuries was a period of rapid expansion of the slave trade, together with ivory, clove and spice trade. The slave trade was very important for the economy. Zanzibar had a central role in trade routes into the interior of Africa. And the new city on Swahili coast was born, Zanzibar city of Stone Town.
The 19th century was a period of the most rapid expansion of the slave trade it was a very lucrative business conducted by Europeans, Arabs, Indians, coastal people and ethnic leaders in the mainland, the streets in Zanzibar were full of slaves, accounting for more than two-thirds of the population. People were taken from vast areas, extending south of Lake Nyasa (now Malawi), west of Lake Tanganyika ( now DR Congo) and north of the lake Victoria ( now Uganda), to the Stone Town open slave market. Of course the captives were from different cultures and language groups, and usually, the whole families were taken to slavery some of them were skilled craftsmen and women, musicians, ironworkers, and farmers, they lived in settled communities and engaged in hunting, fishing, and gathering firewood.
The journey from homes to the slave market
Travelling in caravans was very a popular way of travelling through the centuries. So it was a better way than travelling alone, many of them had armed guards. And the slave traders travelled with their captives in caravans, using the existing East Africa trade routes to the coast. But it was a horrible journey. They travel for days at times for weeks with the minimum food and water, some people died from exhaustion and disease. The captives were in chains to be prevented from running away and whoever attempted to escape was shot to death. On a long journey, sometimes the slaves were sold to new owners on the way, then the slave was brought to Zanzibar in dhows, wooden boats, where many as possible were packed in with no regard for their comfort or safety. Simply to put many of them did not survive the journey to Zanzibar Island.
Zanzibar slave market
In the 19th century, except Zanzibar, there were two other important slave trade centres, such as Kilwa in Tanzania Mainland and Quelimane in Mozambique. But in the middle of the 19th century, Stone Town in Zanzibar became the major slave trade centre for the whole region of East Africa.
The buyers and sellers were Zanzibar’s merchants, a leading citizen, and businessmen the Arabs, Somalis, merchants from India and Mauritius. One of the most slave traders was Tippu Tip, who worked successively under sultans. He was Swahili-Zanzibar’s slave trader, ivory trader, plantation owner, governor and he led many trading expeditions into central Africa.
Every year, about 40,000-50,000 slaves were taken to Zanzibar; about a third went to work on clove and coconut plantation in Zanzibar and Pemba. The rest were exported to Persia, Arabia, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Ottoman Empire and Egypt, almost 30% of the male slaves died, every year because of horrible conditions on the plantations, the young women were sold for helping in the houses.
Slave Market at Mkunazini, in Stone Town
After captives arrived in Zanzibar, the slave traders imprisoned them in underground chambers, it was tested, if they lived for more than three days, and they would be sold on the market at Mkunazini, in Stone Town. Slaves were stripped completely naked and cleaned, they were forced to walk nude, in the line up in rows, according to age or gender. The potential buyers checked their health conditions, from mouth to teeth to their feet, and every part of the body, including intrusive examinations on women. So if the price was agreed, the naked slaves would be delivered to their future masters, slaves were tied to a tree and whipped with stinging branches. It was a demonstration of their strengths. Those who didn’t cry or scream during the whipping got a higher price at the market.
The slave chambers
Today in this place you can see only 2 of the 15 slave chambers. According to the story, a large chamber was for 75 persons, women and children. The second is smaller and intended for 50 men. The chambers were used to keep slaves before taking them to the market for an auction. The conditions of the chambers were terrible. The chambers had small windows and no fresh air, food and water were very limited. In the centre of the chambers, there were channels used as a toilet. With these chambers were connected with the ocean, so during the high tide, the water would rise about 30 cm inside and clear most of the excrement away. But when the tide was low, can you image the smell in the tiny chamber, so many people died, especial children, because of starvation and suffocation.
Abolitions of slavery
The British government in London sent the warships to the Indians ocean, to prevent the slave trade. Thousands of East African slaves were freed by the British navy from dhows. In 1861 Zanzibar was separated from Oman and became an independent sultanate. But 5th of June 1873, the sultan Barghash of Zanzibar was forced under the threat of a British naval bombardment to prohibit the slave market. It was the Anglo-Zanzibar war, as its result, all public slave market was closed.
But slaves were not automatically freed; they had to apply for manumission through colonial officials, according to the abolition decrees in 1897 and 1909. And the concubines had to wait 12 years more to free, but they could still take care of their children. Many freed slaves in Zanzibar left the plantations; they moved to rural lands, planted the trees and build their new houses. Thousand of former slaves crossed the creek in stone Town, seeking new works and opportunities for a new life. And in 1890, the British proclaimed a protectorate over Zanzibar, which lasted for more than 70 years.