It’s a sunny Sunday morning and as I enter the former Slave Market Site in Stone Town, I hear music being played in the Anglican Cathedral. Although nothing remains of the slave market today, it’s one of the physical reminders of Zanzibar’s dark history in the slave trade.
As I walk down to the underground chambers it is a sobering reminder of the not so distant past.The underground cellars were used as holding pens for the slaves, before they were brought up to be sold on the`market day’. They are dark, airless with low ceilings and have examples of chains bolted to concrete that had been used to tether the slaves.
I am told that it was the Portuguese who initially started the slave trade which grew when the Omani rulers took over Zanzibar. During the early 19th century, Zanzibar was the main slave trading port in East Africa. Slaves were captured on the African mainland and shipped to Zanzibar. They were resold at the Island’s slave market after which they were shipped to different countries. One of the reasons for the flourishing spice trade on the island was due to the slaves being put to work on the plantations.
The two people who were instrumental in abolishing slavery were the renowned explorer David Livingstone and Edward Steere an Anglican bishop who were in that period based in Zanzibar. In the late 1800s slavery was finally outlawed. To celebrate, the Anglican Bishop Steere built a Cathedral on what used to be the largest slave trade site in Zanzibar, positioning the altar over the exact location of the whipping post. Today, the Anglican cathedral stands on the site of the old slave market.
In the Cathedral compound there is a modern sculpture of five slaves with chains around their neck, standing in a pit, a poignant reminder of the past.