It is almost impossible to touch on the history of Zanzibar without talking about the Arabs, Portuguese, the Persians , the people of Zanzibar, the architecture and culture of Zanzibar – and most important the infamous – “The Slave Trade” –
Historically, diverse people with very different backgrounds have always inhabited Zanzibar. These people have been proficient in fishing, trading and craftsmanship. Their backgrounds have included escaped convicts and children of marriages between the rulers of the island and resident or visiting traders.
The slave trade started in the 17th century and continued until latter part of 19th century where Zanzibar Town became a very important business cenbtre for cloves, ivory and slavery coivering most part of Gulf and Far East. Substantial changes emerged when the European Nations started to focus their missions in Zanzibar; hence further colonization, Germans, British, French and Americans established their Consulates in Zanzibar Stone Town. For the American, it was their first consulate in the region. In 1884, after the Berlin Conference, the British Empire was refferred to allocate their soveignty over Zanzibar. At the same time, the Omani Sultan became the constitutional Monarch and Legislative council established to oversee and create political parties for Independence, which took place in December 1963.
A collection of Sailors’ tales the “Kitab al-ajaib al Hind”, written by Buazurg (a sailor in the Persian Gulf during the 10th century) touches on the story of a slaving venture which takes an unusual turn. A party of Omanis sailors are driven by a storm to the eastern coast of Africa and welcomed by an unknown ruler who actually assisted in their trading activities.
Chou Chu-Fei wrote the ling-wai-taita in 1178 and mentions (perhaps referring to Zanzibar or Mozambique) that there is an island in the Indian Ocean, which there are many savages who are Black as lacquer with frizzled hair. They can be enticed with food and captured only to be sold later as Slaves to the Arabic countries, where they fetched a very high price.
By the time the Sultan of Oman (Seyyid Said bin Sultan) conquered the Portuguese and took over the islands, slavery was well developed in the region. Finding the trade very lucrative, he made Zanzibar (Zenj-Al-Baar), the centre of the slave trade. Originally the trade was carried out by the French and Portuguese who travelled to the interior of the African Continent (Tanganyika, Malawi, and the Congo) to bring the captured natives into Zanzibar. The Arabs, to the Middle East sold these slaves to Southern Africa by the Portuguese and to the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles by the French.
Some inhabitants of these islands can still trace their forebears back to the slave trade. Slaves also served as concubines to the Arabs rulers in their many Palaces, scattered around the island.
In those days of transport by sailing boat (dhows), the monsoon winds off the coast of East Africa could probably be considered to have promoted the trade in slaves.
By 1804 Zanzibar (as the party of the Omani kingdom) was the principal centre for the coastal slave trade. Slaves were captured in the interior and taken to Bagamoyo, the former capital of Tanganyika and then ferried in dhows to be sold at the slave markets of Zanzibar.
The decline of trading by the Portuguese and French can be attributed to the involvement of Arabs, because the Muslim Omanis were prohibited from selling slaves to white men.
General Attrocities like – whipping, dragging, rape, being held in chains, etc. were the order of the day and shown to every Englishman who visited the Slave Market. In 1873 the English abolished the market, but signs persisted until 1899 when Zanzibar became a British Protectorate. Slavery played a major role in handling of Ivory and the growing of Cloves that turned out to be the major forex earner for the islands, even todate.
The famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, visited several sites in 1867 and convinced Sir Lloyd Mathews – (the first Minister of Zanzibar Government) to put a stop to slavery. Dr. David Livingstone never saw the abolishment of slavery, which was eventually achieved the same year he died on his last expedition in Zambia.
In 1873, Lloyd Mathews forced the Sultan Barghash who was the 3rd Sultan, to sign the declaration abolishing the Slave Trade.
Two British vessels (HMS Lyra and HMS Gordon) were seconded to patrol the waters of Zanzibar for any illegal smuggling of slaves, but this action failed as most of the smuggling took place at night.
The declaration did not cover the slaves who had already been sold and were in transit.
The abolition of the slave trade led to the collapse of the Zanzibar economy, temporarily. The economy resumed when Zanzibar was declared a Freeport.
In 1874, Sir John Kirk succeeded Lloyd Mtahews and established and helped to create institution called UMCA – Universities Mission for Central Africa – to built hospitals, churches and schools in Zanzibar for the freed slaves. At times the Mission was forced to purchase the slaves from their captive’s in-order to free them.
Some of these social establishments which are in ruins, are still evident in Zanzibar. The Anglican Church at Mkunazini, Saint Mary Church at Mbweni and saint Joseph School, are in use and operational to this day.
Revolution followed a month later in April 1964 and dominated by the indegenous masses and the Sultan overthrown. Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to form the United Republic of Tanzania in April 1964. Under the agreed setup, Zanzibar remains an autonomous todate with its own President, Legislature and Judiciary system within the Union.