Stone Town is a beautiful city with winding alleyways and ancient buildings. Despite its status as a tourist haven today, in the 18th and 19th centuries many who came here did not do so by choice.
One of the nastier sides of Zanzibar’s history is its role as a centre for the slave trade in East Africa. We took a walking tour of Stone Town to learn first-hand how the trade in humans was carried out.
Slaves were kidnapped and brought to Zanzibar from all over central and eastern Africa. It was not uncommon for slaves to be forced on long treks from their villages that lasted weeks before reaching the market at Stone Town.
Chained together at the neck, they were often killed by wild animals or drowned during river crossings. Many simply died from a lack of food or water.
Conditions fared no better once reaching Stone Town. Slaves were housed in two chambers separating the sexes that were overcrowded and inhumane.
If you think the room below looks small, it is. My eight-year-old couldn’t stand up straight. Up to 75 women and children were housed here for three days at a time waiting to be sold.
Slaves were given almost no food or water, the two openings at the end of the room was the only means of fresh air, and the trench in the middle served as a toilet. When the tide came in the trench filled with water; the only mechanism for cleaning it.
As Zanzibar lies off the east coast of Africa, slaves were not sent to North America. They went to the Middle East and India to be forced into servitude in those regions.
The voyage across the Indian Ocean was horrific. Slaves were forced to lie flat on wood bunks several feet high with only inches of space between bunks. Many didn’t survive the crossing as once again they were not given the necessities of life.
When he came to Zanzibar, the horrors of the slave trade were not lost on the famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone. His role is well known as an advocate for abolition, convincing academics in both Cambridge and Oxford of the trade’s evils. His awareness campaign led to the British Parliament outlawing the slave trade in 1807.
Today the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral lies on top of the old market. The church altar rests on the very spot used as the whipping post for slaves.
Our girls had watched The Book of Negroes CBC mini-series about slavery, so they already had good knowledge about the trade. But absolutely nothing replaces being able to see and touch a part of history.