One of the things that you should definitely visit while in Zanzibar, is the slave market. There is this old unique massive church in the centre of Stone Town and it is the spot where the slave market used to be. Actually Zanzibar had the last legally operating slave market in the world!
We were lucky to have Amir explaining to us about the history of slavery on the island, a very interesting subject which we will definitely include in our documentary..
Slavery in Zanzibar started in the 15th century by the Portuguese. The Arabs took over in the 17th century until 1873 when the market was closed by the English. The slaves were coming from East and Central Africa. They were coming from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Congo, Tanganika, Zimbabwe and Zambia. And after being auctioned, they were shipped to the Arabic countries, India, Madagascar, Mauritius, Persia, Oman, Yemen, etc.
And there is a small number of the slaves in this island that they were used for the spice plantations. These slaves were shipped to America, West Indies, Caribbean, Brazil and Europe. Most of these slaves were coming from the West Africa.
But how they “slave dealers” were getting the slaves? Sometimes the Arabs used to conquer the villages, sometimes the African chiefs were just betraying their people and selling them as slaves to the Arabs. The people that would be conquered between tribal wars, would be sold to the Arabs as slaves as well.
It was the 6th of June 1873, when the Sultan Barghash of Zanzibar agreed to abolish the barbaric trade, the English Missionaries bought the site of the slave market and built the church. Why the English built the church at the same place where the slave market used to be? To remove the evil things that happened in this place. Actually they built the Anglican Christ Church in the exact location where the whipping post was is now the center of the altar!
The rooms that the slaves were used to be put for 2-3 days before they had been taken to the market for auction used to be under a whole in the ground on top of which used to be a shack. Today only 2 of the 15 slave chambers remain. A larger one for women and children and a smaller one for the men. The large one would hold 75 women and children, the small one 50 men.Today the chambers have 3 windows, when slaves were kept, it only had 1 window which was about 60 cm high and 10 cm wide.
Food and water were very limited, because it was believed that if the slaves managed to survive under these circumstances they were strong enough. So, if they didn’t survive, the Arabs didn’t care, because they were getting slaves very easily. Inside the rom there were channels that were used as bathrooms and the chambers were connected to the ocean by a small tunnel.
At high tide the water would rise to about 30 cm inside the channels and clear most of the excrement away. Sometimes the tide would not rise enough so they were stuck in there for 3 days. When this happened countless people suffocated, predominantly children. Because of the sea water, it was very difficult for the slaves to escape.
But before the church had been built, where the high altar is, there used to be a tree, where they would tie up the slaves and a slave master would whip them. If the slave cried or screamed, he would be sold for less. A “strong slave’ was still in decent shape after the 3 day chamber and would NOT yell or scream when whipped.
These slaves sold for much more cash as in theory could be worked that much harder. If you bought 5 strong slaves, they would throw in 2 children for free. If they were not strong enough, they would go back to the slave chambers and wait for the next auction. The auctions were happening twice a week.
We can all applaud Dr. Livingston for his tireless work in abolishing the legal trafficking of slaves from this part of the world. The sad part is, slavery and human trafficking is NOT over. Instead of importing Africans to work in coffee, cotton and tobacco plantations it’s now occurring for even more sinister uses and mainly women and children.
The monument with the slaves in the pit was done by a Swedish lady in 1998. The only original part are the chains which are from the late 1800′s and were actually used on slaves.
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