The East African Slave Trade
In East Africa a slave trade was well established
before the Europeans arrived on the scene. It was driven by the sultanates
of the Middle East. African slaves ended up as sailors in Persia, pearl
divers in the Gulf, soldiers in the Omani army and workers on the salt
pans of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Many people were domestic slaves, working
in rich households. Women were taken as sex slaves.
Arab traders began to settle among the Africans of the coast, resulting
in the emergence of a people and culture known as Swahili.
In the second half of the 18th century, the slave trade expanded and became
more organised. There was also a huge demand for ivory, and slaves were
used as porters to carry it.
Listen to a BBC dramatisation of Sultan Seyyid Said's daughter, Princess
Salme, talking about her life in Zanzibar
There were three main reasons why more slaves were required:
1. The clove plantations on Zanzibar and Pemba set up by Sultan Seyyid
Said, needed labour.
2. Brazilian traders were finding it difficult to operate in West Africa
because the British navy was intercepting slave ships. The Brazilians
made the journey round the Cape of Good Hope, taking slaves from the Zambezi
valley and Mozambique.
3. The French had started up sugar and coffee plantations in Mauritius
A number of different people -Arabs and Africans - were involved in supplying
slaves from the interior, as well as transporting ivory. They included:
· the prazeros, descendants of Portuguese and Africans, operating
along the Zambezi,
· the Yao working North East of the Zambezi
· the Makua operating East of the Yao, closer to the coast
· the Nyamwezi (or Yeke) operating further north around Lake Tanganyika
under the leadership of Msiri and Mirambo, who established a trading and
raiding state in the 1850's which linked up with the Ovimbundu in what
is now modern Angola
The most famous trader of all was Tippu Tip,
(Hamed bin Mohammed) a Swahili Arab son of a trader, and grandson of an
African slave. He was born in Zanzibar of African Arab parentage and went
on to establish a base West of Lake Tanganyika, linking up with Msiri.
He and his men operated in an area stretching over a thousand miles from
inland to the coast.
Listen to historian Abdul Sheriff introducing Tippu Tip's autobiography,
followed by a BBC dramatisation of the slave trader's own writing