Tag Archives: Slavery

It’s all in a name

When we first arrived in Mwanza we would find that we were called Mzungu*. The word means “white person” or more accurately European  (though we know North Americans who are called Mzungu too) , but nowadays it is not meant to be insulting, just a way of saying hello. However, it has a much darker history (see below) unknown to most modern Tanzanians.

We still get called Mzungu (or it’s plural Wazungu) but as we (in particular Anita) have begun to know more and more Tanzanians the name has changed.

Nowadays we are called by a more familiar name. In Kiswahili or at least in Tanzania parents are named for their children. So I am called Baba Matayo or possibly Baba Lebeka. Anita similarly Mama Matayo or Mama Lebeka.

The naming is obvious and means Father (or Mother) of our children.

Unlike names in Europe where people were named for their fathers i.e. Jacobson, Johnson, Richardson. In Icelandic they even use – dotir to indicate the daughter of someone.

Baba Matayo is much better than Mzungu!

* The term Mzungu is actually derived from the word Mzunguko meaning circle. It has a dark history as it refers to the way White European slavers captured slaves by setting a ring of fire around an African Village, leaving one small gap through which hapless villagers could escape the flames for a life in captivity.

Prison Island & Giant Tortoises

This morning’s trip was out across the sea from the main Island of Zanzibar (Unguja) where we have been staying (wrongly called Zanzibar) to one of the many smaller Islands called Changuu.
This island was used as a prison, by the slave traders up until 1905 (after the official abolition in the 19th Century) when Zanzibar (the archipelago) became a British Protectorate. The new governor wanted to make the island into a zeros on for criminals, but a widespread outbreak of Small Pox meant it was converted into a quarantine instead. By the end of this time it became a Governor’s residence, finally on independence fell into disrepair until investors bought the island and built a hotel.

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When under British Protection the Governor of Zanzibar was friendly with the Governor of the Seychelles. As part of a gift exchange Zanzibar was given four Aldabra Giant Tortoises in 1919. These bred quickly and soon numbered over 200, but theft saw numbers reduce to only 7 by 1996. Finally with the help of World Animal Protection a program was put in place to build an enclosure and return tortoises, some found in Dar Es Salaam. Now numbers are are approximately 170. The oldest of these is 191 and there are several over 100 years old. Anita and I were both able to find tortoises who were our age (mere youngsters by comparison.

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Slave Trade

This afternoon we took a wander through the streets of Stone Town looking for the former Slave Market, which now sits beneath the Anglican Cathedral.
Zanzibar was the centre of the Slave Trade in East African, first under the Portuguese then under Oman. Both nations exploited the Island as a staging post to ship out African slaves from as far as South Africa, Mozambique, Malaŵi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. These slaves were usually obtained by subterfuge with traders travelling to villages and persuading villagers to come to get better jobs. Many volunteered willingly and often village chiefs were paid well for allowing this. Obviously this was lies and people were sold into slavery in India, Oman, Persia (Iran) where they were not treated well (some men being castrated). In 1873 Livingston (British explorer and missionary) arrived on the island and was shocked to see slavery (having seen it abolished in the UK). He returned to the UK and petitioned (via Oxford and Cambridge Universities) parliament who sent seven warships to the island to back up missionaries who forced the sultan under duress to abolish slavery. Although it continued underground until the 20th Century it was very much weakened.
We were able to visit the two remaining slave rooms (preserved as a record) where up to 60 slaves were held for several days. Our guide showed us the monument to slavery in the church yard and then inside the church. The church was built after slavery was abolished (many former slaves had become Christian) and in spite of the astronomical price the Sultan wanted for the land.

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