Arab Slavers of Zanzibar
Nearly forgotten is the African slave trade conducted by African tribes who captured and sold their own people into slavery, and also that British power protected an African slave trade they publicly denounced. Like New England traders who had made fortunes trading Yankee notions and rum for slaves, Arab traders made fortunes in the ivory, clove and slave trade.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Arab Slavers of Zanzibar
“During the eighteenth century, Kilwa had become East Africa’s principal port for the export of slaves, drawn initially from southeastern Tanganyika and then increasingly from the region of Lake Nyasa. The Omanis on the coast were based at Zanzibar and, after taking control of Kilwa in the mod-1870s, diverted to that island the bulk of the trade in slaves and ivory.
By 1834, exports of slaves drawn from the mainland had reached and annual figure of 6,500. By the 1840s, the annual numbers had risen to between thirteen thousand and fifteen thousand. Some of these slaves were destined for markets in the Middle East. Most, however, were designated for Zanzibar, where the labor-intensive cultivation of cloves had begun soon after 1810 and was expanding rapidly in response to the growing world demand for cloves.
By the 1850s, the island’s population might have included no fewer than sixty thousand slaves.
The ruler of Oman, Sayyid Said ibn Sultan, transferred his court to Zanzibar in 1840. The island had become, as a result of his policies, the most rewarding part of his realm: the paramount port on the western side of the Indian Ocean, the source of virtually the entire world supply of cloves as well as the main sales outlet for ivory, and the largest slave markets.
Bagamoyo, in particular, flourished. Its rich agricultural hinterland, its open beaches suitable for the arrival of dhows, and its proximity to Zanzibar made it the predominant mainland outlet for the slave trade. Most of these [slave caravans to the coast] ventures were financed by local Asians from India, a majority of them Muslims, who had settled in the coastal town but mainly in Zanzibar and who provided trade goods on credit at high rates of return.
Those conducting the trade included Arabs; it was to the so-called norther Arabs, or Omanis, that the more ferocious aspects of slaving in the region came to be ascribed. In fact, perhaps most of the leading slavers were Afro-Arabs, or the progeny of inter-ethnic unions, and the trade itself became increasingly Zanzibari rather than an Omani one. Certainly, many of the main slavers, along with many of the regional slave dealers, were as black as their victims.
In the last resort, Said relied on British power to protect him against Arab contenders for his rich realm, (indeed, it was British power which had forced the retreat of Egyptian armies in 1839) and the threat that other European imperial powers, principally the French, might seek to devour it. He was not inclined, however, to surrender the enormous tax revenues accruing to him from the slave trade. The British government too, despite its commitment against the [slave] trade, was reluctant to antagonize an ally or so imperil that ally’s position that it found itself having to deal with someone worse.”
(Islam’s Black Slaves, the Other Black Diaspora, Ronald Segal, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001, pp. 146-147)