Jamaica‘s Emancipation Day (August 1) is not far away. With our fiftieth anniversary of Independence we are looking forward – but we have also looked back at our history, and the history we share with other nations. One of those experiences, which can never be forgotten, is slavery. In Jamaica, we associate West Africa with the slave trade; but it was flourishing for centuries in East Africa, also. The slave market in Zanzibar was closed in 1873, when Sultan Bargash signed an edict making slavery illegal. Some fifty years earlier, the Omani Arabs (who had controlled Zanzibar since 1698) signed a similar document, but the practice continued, with slaves being transported by Arab traders from Zanzibar to mainland Africa, where they were used to transport ivory.
They landed at a place called Bagamoyo, on the coast of modern-day Tanzania and the country’s oldest town. The name Bagamoyo means “Lay Down Your Heart” in Swahili. The town has beautiful white beaches, thirteenth-century Arab ruins and fishing in Arab dhows, and is also home to an Institute of Art & Culture which stages an annual arts festival. Bagamoyo was recently designated as Tanzania’s seventh World Heritage Site.
I came across this short but haunting piece in “The East African” online, and thought I would share it with you. The author is Edgar R. Batte.
Ironically, a church stands side by side with the slave chambers. In I go and I am greeted by an appalling sight — a ditch in which four slaves stand in solid cement, clasped by neck collars and an iron rod riveted at both ends across the throat.
I learn from my guide that this is how slaves were sold to potential buyers, at this spot which retains the name of the old slave market. When a slave fitted the specifications of what a buyer was looking for, they would buy and own them.
This monument of chained slaves was constructed in 1998 using the original 19th century chains.
Through the church you will be led to the two slave chambers, which were classified according to gender, the large one for women and children and the smaller one for men.
The larger one, according to my guide, would take in up to 80 slaves while the smaller one took in about 50.
There are three windows that let in light, two having been built for tourists, but originally there was only one window serving the slave chambers.
My guide tells me that slave masters whipped slaves to find out who could stand pain. If a slave wept, he would attract a lower price because of exhibiting cowardice.
Men and boys had their skins oiled while women were dressed in nice clothes, sometimes even adorned with necklaces and bracelets.
A large tree was used as a whipping post to display the strength of the slaves. Those who did not cry fetched a higher price. Some of these trees still stand in the middle of the compound.
The entrance fee to the old slave market is $3. Just adjacent to this historical site stands St Monica’s guesthouse.
- London 2012 Olympics: Michael Johnson on why descendants of slaves will take the medals in sprint finals (dailymail.co.uk)
- Be a ‘Slave for a Day’: Controversial black history event held by National Park (thegrio.com)
- http://zanzibar.net/history/the_slave_trade (Zanzibar.net)
- http://lydiahartsell.com/2009/09/20/zanzibars-slave-trade/ (Zanzibar’s Slave Trade: lydiahartsell.com)
- Islam’s Role in Slavery (takimag.com)
- http://bagamoyocountryclub.com/ (Bagamoyo Country Club beach resort)
- Slavery and the Spawning of the Age of Piracy (aleksandreia.com)