Monday, July 21, 2008
Zanzibar tena (again)
This was my second trip to Unguja Island, Zanzibar. Stone Town was as beautiful and captivating and haunting as usual.
You may recall my stories from March 08 about the East African slave trade as it relates to the rise and fall of Zanzibar. This time Young Whan and I visited the old slave market in Stone Town, which still has the horrifying traces of the whipping post and the holding cells (75 people in a cell about 10 feet by 6 feet and only three small air holes). The Anglican Church built over it – an interesting relationship between colonial missionaries and the slavery emancipation movement. A couple of the missionaries became leaders in that movement. Many of the freed slaves converted to Christianity afterwards. Hmm.
While the East African slave trade was fueled by the Omani sultans (and thus the slaves were taken from various East African regions to the Middle East, Indian sub-continent, and Southeast Asia), they only started after they got the idea from Portuguese colonialists, who were stealing people from Mozambique as slaves to Brasil and Europe. Still the trade was just as brutal, and slaves were whipped with the tails of stingrays (with the poison and spurs intact) to test their “strength” and tolerability to pain.
After slaves gained their “freedom” in the late 1800s, many stayed in Zanzibar despite being far from home and created a new mixed African community. The Omanis still retained a great deal of power with the spice trade. In the 1960s there was a massive uprise among the black African Zanzibaris, and thousands of non-black people in Zanzibar were massacred. The Zanzibar Revolutionary government set up shop, and were said to govern with socialist and communist principles, redistributing land and homes to poor black Zanzibaris – but without as much planning, organization, long-term support, and (probably) financial resources as in Cuba. It’s really interesting to see the crumbling blocks of Stone Town Arabic style mansions next to the Soviet-style blocks of housing projects.