German female prisoners doing forced labour with Askari guard
Female forced labourers with Askari guard 1890

This web-page gives some information  on the shift from classic slavery in East Africa by the Omani Arabs to a another form of slavery (forced labor) by the Germans (around 1890) and also contains information on slavery in Oman. Slavery occurs in many forms and we can still find it today around the world. Also few countries can claim they never played a role in slavery. For an overview of the Atlantic slave-trade see "The Slave-trade" by Walvin (2011 Thames and Hudson) For the East African slave-trade see e.g.   "Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost Afrika in de 19e eeuw"  (2003 publication by the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal)  with Dutch and German text. The East African slave trade was also enormous in size and equally horrible compared to the Atlantic slave trade. Less slaves perished during the sea transport in the Dhows as the transport lasted fewer days than on the Atlantic trade. However large numbers of slaves perished when walking (often carrying ivory tusks or other goods) from the interior to the East African harbours for transport.  During the 16th and 17th century the East African slave-trade was controlled by the Portuguese with African and Arab support. The Omani Arabs controlled the slave-trade during the 18th and 19th century with Zanzibar being the main slave-market. Smaller slave markets existed in places like Muscat and Mukalla.

Kilimanjaro tusks

The East African ivory trade was during the 19th century linked to slavery. Initially slaves were used to carry ivory tusks and other goods form the interior of East Africa to the coast, to be sold at Zanzibar.

Already during 1822 Sultan Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Oman & Zanzibar and a faithful ally of England, signed the Moresby treaty, which supposedly put an end to the export of slaves to "Christian" markets. Nevertheless during the early 19th century the slave-trade increased partly due to the need for workers in the new clove plantations on Zanzibar island and great demand from French! colonies. Between 1850 and 1873 at least 173000 slaves were sold via Zanzibar. According Wellsted around 4000 slaves were dispatched annually through the Muscat slave market in the 1830´s. It is estimated that well over 1.6 million slaves were traded from East Africa during the 19th century. The Arab slave trade was actively discouraged and contained by the British (see several of the treaties and the hunting for slave dhows by the British Navy) . With plentiful very cheap and flexible labourers (coolies) from India this also became economically possible for the British.  

Starting 1884 German traders lead by Carl Peters (and initially without support of the German government) negotiated directly with local chiefs for control of large parts of the East African mainland (previously controlled by Zanzibari Omani)  Later the Germans  rented for 50 years a coastal strip of East Africa opposite Zanzibar from Sultan Khalifa of Zanzibar. After the Germans started developing their activities in East Africa (with the DOAG company) the role of the Omani Arabs in the ivory / slave-trade greatly diminished and was replaced by German forced labor, with black "prisoners"  again chained by their necks. The local population was forced to work for the Germans in various ways e.g. via taxes and "delivering stones for food" . The Arabs in East Africa revolted against the invading German traders and  against their own Sultan of Zanzibar (because of his lack of support)  but were beaten by the Germans led by von Wissman once the German navy / army in 1889 came to their rescue.  (see next section in the index)

Chained prisoners on Zanzibar

Chained prisoners in Zanzibar, photo taken by J. Sturtz 1888-1890

By 1891 it had become clear that the DOAG (German East Africa Company) was unable to run  its dominions, it sold out to the German Government which began to run German East Africa directly as a colony, thus relegating the company some plantations and trade business.The founder of the DOAG Carl Peters saw the blacks more as animals than humans and treated them as such: When Peter´s black concubines fled back to their village he had the village burned down and  a concubine hanged. When the German parliament and the press found out about his cruelties he was taken to court and convicted in 1897. In the 1930´s Carl Peters was rehabilitated by the German Nazi´s.... For a balanced view on this topic see the different references e.g. the excellent book "Sklaverei und befreiung in Ostafrika im 19 jahr-hundert".

During the first world war 1914-1918 a small army led by the German Von Lettow of 3000 Germans and 11000 very disciplined local Ashkari soldiers kept a force of 100.000 British and Belgian soldiers very busy in East Africa, with their tactics of "asymmetric warfare",  and they only capitulated as late as November 25 1918! The German troops received a Heroes welcome in Germany on their return.

After the first world-war the Germans were kicked out of East Africa by the British. In 1906 the banker Bernard Dernburg became head of the colonial office. Albert Rechenberg became governor. Measures to treat the black population with more respect were introduced. However the main focus as to make the colony more economically viable.  The increasing arrival of German settlers resulted in conflicts regarding landownership. The Germans introduced major improvements in infrastructure including railway connections and also started education programs for the local children. After the first world-war the colony was taken over by the British. During the complete period of its existence the German colony had never been economically viable 


Askari soldier guarding chained  prisoners

German prisoners / forced labourers  guarded by an Ashkari soldier (around 1890)

 Of particular interest was the role of Tippu Tip: Just like an Omani Arab  guided in the 15th century Vasco da Gama to Asia it was Tippu Tip who guided Livingstone and others to the interior of East Africa. Tippu Tip was also the most important (and richest) slave and ivory trader of East Africa in the 19th century. Apart from the British also the Germans made keenly use of his influence and services.....  His fascinating memoirs were translated from Swahili into German and published  by the German Heinrich Brode. 

For a very  interesting Omani perspective on slavery read chapter XXV of "Memoirs of an Arabian princess" by Bibi Salme 1888 published by Ward & Downey. She also contrasts  Christian and Omani views on slavery.

Omani ship being searched for slaves or guns by British naval staff

Omani boom examined by the British navy for arms or slaves (around 1890-1900)

Osgood in Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar Muscat etc. published in Salem (USA)  1854  page 32: "Until a few years the dead bodies of slaves (in Zanzibar) were deemed not deserving a burial they were thrown upon the beach , to be removed piecemeal by the dogs that by night came from the jungles, or to be drifted away, or embedded by the waves in the sands of the beach. Through the influence of the British consul at Zanzibar , this disagreeable custom has been discontinued, and the dead bodies of slaves are now required to be buried by the seaside etc."

Regarding slavery in Oman. In 1900 in his book "Cradle of Islam" p 85 S.M Zwemer writes: "The town of Sur (in Oman) has always been a place of trade and enterprise and its buggalows visit India, Zanzibar and the Persian Gulf. The people are all bold sailors since many generations. But Sur also has the unenviable reputation of being now the centre of illicit slave-trading" During 1884 and 1902 the (large scale) traffic in slaves increased somewhat as many slaving ships operated under the French flag (!!), which was rather indiscriminately granted to various Arab and Indian Ocean captains......

Robert Landen in his book "Oman since 1856" published in 1967 writes on page 151: " In 1902 the large scale transport of slaves on the Indian Ocean ended when the Portuguese captured before Mozambique 11 ships with 114 Omani from the town of Sur carrying 725 slaves. The slavers were sentenced to 25 years in prison in Angola - news which converted Sur into a scene of wailing and lamentation. It was news which also marked the end of Sur´s importance as a slave port"

In 1902 Zwemer writes in his book "Topsy Turvy land, Arabia pictured for children" page 102 /103  that near Muscat a servant of the British Consul discovered a boat with slave children. The owner of the slave-dhow was sent to prison and the slave children freed and most went to the Missionary in Muscat (run by Zwemer). Zwemer worked as a missioner of the Dutch Reformed Church of America. This was the beginning of the "rescued-slave school" in Muttrah. Zwemer or more likely the publisher used an older photo (by Frenchman Hipolyte Arnoux) to illustrate the text:

Slave girl rescued on the coast before Muscat  


As late as the 1960's slavery still occurred in Saudi Arabia and Qatar:


Chained labourers in German East Africa 1890-1900


 An Ashkari soldier guards a group of forced labourers chained by their necks in  Germans East Africa . The second photo (see slide-show) shows a guard and a prisoner chained by his ankles. These photos have been produced from our original glass plates

German slavery East Africa

German Forced Labour East Africa

German Prisoner East Africa

Unknown prisoner

Glass plates / photo negatives

Photographic glass plates (negatives) preceded photographic film as a capture medium in photography. The light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts was coated on a glass plate, typically thinner than common window glass, instead of a clear plastic film. This form of photographic material largely faded from the consumer market in the early years of the 20th century, as more convenient and less fragile films were increasingly adopted.

The same Ashkari soldier is also possibly found in a newspaper photo of 1905 guarding chained prisoners in Kilwa (see slide-show)


Old caravan Routes and 1909 photo of Fort Jesus Mombassa

Caravan Routes and Coastal cities

Map of the caravan routes taking slaves, ivory and other goods to the coast of East Africa.  In the slide-show you find an early photo postcard  of Fort Jesus in Mombassa, one of the three main coastal destinations of the caravan routes in East Africa.

The map with caravan routes was produced by the Afrika Museum Berg en Dal (see references) The postcard photo was taken by Countinho and Sons 1909 or earlier


Caravan routes East Africa

Fort Jesus Mombassa

 Old map zanzibar island


The ancient caravan routes took the slaves and products like ivory to the following coastal cities on the East African coast:

  1. Kilwa
  2. Bagamoyo
  3. Mombassa (see slide-show for photo of Fort Jesus)

Zanzibar island was during the 19th century the steppingstone and depot for this trade. Most caravans were organised, resourced and funded from Zanzibar. Slaves were shipped with dhows to Zanzibar where they were sold on the slave-market. From Zanzibar slaves and ivory were transported to many different places e.g. Muscat and Sur in Oman but also to French colonies. Around 1890 Bagamoyo became the capital of the German DOAG colonial company.

To control the East African trade Western powers took control of the coastal cities over from the Omani Arabs. Initially this was done by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Then during the 17th century the Omani claimed back the cities and later in the 19th century  the Germans and British took control. The Portuguese mention that in the 16th century they built the large Fort Jesus close to the Arab city (Mombassa). Later during the 17th century the Omani conquered the large fort and drove the Portuguese away.

Before the Portuguese arrived the coastal cities were probably controlled by the Kingdom of Hormuz that was run by Persians and Omani Arabs. According to Omani tradition it was the Al Harthi  tribe that founded Mombassa many centuries ago.


  1. Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost Afrika in de 19e eeuw by Afrika museum Berg en Dal 2003.

Slave trade treaty between Britain and the Chief of Sohar in Oman for the more effectual suppression of the slave trade 1853

Salve trade treaty between Syed Sijf bin Hamood the Chief of Sohar and the British


Act for carrying into effect the engagement between Her Majesty and Syed Sijf bin Hamood the Chief of Sohar in Arabia for the more effectual Suppression of the slave trade.

Published on behalf of the House of Parliament  by  George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode. The publication date on the treaty is 9 May 1853 (however in the text the treaty-date is 22 May 1849 and in fact in 1849 Saif was murdered on behalf of his father!


 Oman slavery

Background to the treaty with Sohar:

Objective of the treaty is to:

  • Prohibit the exportation of slaves from the coast of Africa in ships belonging to subjects of the Sheik of Sohar.
  • Ensure that British ships have the right to check ships from Sohar if there are any slaves on board.  
  • Ships carrying slaves will face severe penalties

Wendell Phillips in his Oman a History writes on page: 100:101:  "Sohar was severely damaged time and again by pirate raids from the beginning of the 19th century onwards. In 1819 a major naval battle took place between the British Navy and a pirate fleet off the coast of Sohar. This resulted in temporary peace but by 1829 the Sohar fort was scaled by ladders and seized by the ambitious Hamud bin Azzan, the son of Azzan bin Qais, the Imam Ahmed`s third son. In 1836 Sultan Said the Great blockaded the city by land and sea with indecisive results.  Before Sultan Said embarked for  Zanzibar, an English warship brought Hamud to Muscat where he was forcibly persuaded to hand over the rule of Sohar to his son Saif, along with his written and signed promise that he would not stir up strife against the Sultan or his children.  In 1849 Hamud renounced his recently adopted life of piety and asceticism long enough to hire his son´s confidential servant to murder his young master (Saif ) in bed.... Public mourning for his son´s dead was forbidden by his father. Hamud assumed power again only to be invited on a pleasure excursion by the Sultan´s son Saiyid Thuwainy, who in breach of faith  and hospitality rarely equalled  in the Arab history (in probable obedience to his father´s instructions) having stilled Hamud´s suspicions, faithlessly betrayed his guest and cousin on the shore near Shinas. Hamud was suddenly seized, bound and conveyed to the frigtate Faiz Allum for shipment to a dungeon in Jalali Fort in Muscat where he died"

From 1852 Sohar formed an integral part of Oman. In 1920 Sohar became again an independent Sultanate separate  from Oman:  The Sohar Sultanate lasted from 1920 until about 1932. In 1920, Sheik Ali Banu Bu Ali, a relative of Sultan Taimur bin Faisal, rebelled in the northern town of Sohar and proclaimed himself Sultan but was deposed by the British in 1932.

  1. "Oman a History" by Wendell Phillips published by Longman group Ltd 1971; Bombay Government selections  No XXIV 1856 p 230.
  2. Vom Mittelmeer zum Perzischen Golf band II by Max von Oppenheim  page 327-328

Dhow chasing in Zanzibar waters to suppress the Slave Trade 1873

Dhow chasing in Zanzibar waters

Dhow chasing in Zanzibar waters and on the Eastern Coast of Africa. Narrative of Five Years' Experiences in the Suppression of the Slave Trade (treaty that resulted in the end of the slave market on Zanzibar)

Written by Capt Sulivan and published by  Sampson Low, Marston, Low Searle London 1873

Dhow chasing Zanzibar


Scarce book. Third edition (same year as the first) concerning the Omani slave-trade. Contents: Folding map, 12 plates & 4 illustrations in the text. 8vo. xii, 453 pages. London, 1873. One of the two main works on the suppression of the East African slave trade at sea; the author gives an account firstly of the services of HMS Castor, Pantaloon and Daphne from 1850. He follows this with a general review of the state of the slave trade in the Portuguese possessions and elsewhere in Arabia and Somalia. Republished in 1967.


References: No References

Tippu Tip the Zanzibari slave and ivory trader, explorer and diplomat around 1890

Tippu Tip Slavetrader explorer and diplomat

Original large 1890ish photo of the famous Tippu Tip / Tippu Tib (Muhammed el Murjebi also Hemed bin Mohammed) the Zanzibari slave and ivory trader, soldier, explorer, plantation owner, writer  and diplomat. The photo was taken by Coutinho brothers.  In the slide-show you also find two  postcards: Tippu Tib  by "Gomes and son" published  1929 (rare) Second postcard has the title "Well Known Arab Chief (Liwali)"  by P & P works (photographer  K. Pop)  Nairobi and Mombassa. around 1907 (Rare) For more information on Tippu Tip see below and in the slavery section of our website. Size 20 by 15 cm.

 Antiuque photo Tippu Tip Zanzibar

The influential life of Tippu Tip

Tippu Tip lived between 1837-1905. His close business partner was Tharia Topan. His real name is Hamad bin Muḥammad bin Jumah bin Rajab bin Muḥammad bin Sa‘īd al Merjebi . His mother, Bint Habib bin Bushir, was a Muscat Arab of the ruling class. His father and paternal grandfather were coastal Swahili who had taken part in the earliest trading expeditions to the interior. He was famously known by the natives of East Africa as Tippu Tib possibly after the sounds that his many guns made. However Tippu Tib is mostly  interpreted as "He who Blinks"

He was the biggest slave and ivory dealer in East Africa. Later he  became a plantation owner and governor, who worked for a succession of sultans of Zanzibar. He led many trading expeditions into Central Africa, involving the slave trade and ivory trade. He constructed profitable trading posts that reached deep into Central Africa. He Also made big contributions to the European expeditions of Livingstone and Stanley. He called The Belgian King Leopold II his new Sultan. He helped and guided several famous western explorers including Livingstone and Stanley into the interior of East Africa. He therefore features in the works of Livingstone and Stanley. Even the British and the German commander von Wismann made keenly use of his influence in East Africa. After 1884 he lived in Singitini (in the Arab part of Kinsingani) and was Gouvernor of Kisingani. Between 1884 and 1887, El Murgebi claimed the Eastern Congo for himself and for the Sultan of Zanzibar, Bargash bin Said el Busaidi. In spite of his position as protector of Zanzibar's interests in Congo, he managed to maintain good relations with the Europeans. When, in August 1886, fighting broke out between the Swahili and the representatives of King Leopold II of Belgium at Stanley Falls, El Murgebi went to the Belgian consul at Zanzibar to assure him of his "good intentions" Although he was still a force in Central African politics, he could see by 1886 that power in the region was shifting.

In early 1887, Stanley arrived in Zanzibar and proposed that Tippu Tip be made governor of the Stanley Falls District in the Congo Free State. Both Leopold and Sultan Barghash bin Said agreed and on February 24, 1887, Hamed bin Mohammed el Murgebi accepted. In 1890 he returned to Zanzibar because of a legal trial against him initiated by the explorer Stanley because of the failed Rescue Emin Pacha expedition. The court in Zanzibar completely cleared Tippu Tip from the accusations by Stanly (in fact the expedition failed due to organizational problems and and conflicts of (western) characters, another minor detail was that Emin Pacha did not want to be rescued....) Tippu Tip  had built himself a trading empire that he then translated into clove plantations on Zanzibar. Abdul Sheriff reported that when he left for his twelve years of "empire building" on the mainland, he had no plantations of his own. However, by 1895, he had acquired "seven plantations and 10,000 slaves and had become one of the riches Africans of his time.

Tippu Tip wrote his memoirs in Swahili. These memoirs were translated and published by the German Heinrich Brode: first in a scientific magazine (parallel Swahili German) later it was published in German as a book.

In 1905 the newspaper Times mentioned the death of the notorious slaver Tippu Tip, but no mention was made of the huge contribution Tippu Tip made to the expeditions of Livingstone and Stanley. Nor his extremely important diplomatic contributions....

Another image of this  photo is illustrated on page 130 of reference 19 that describes the Winterton Africana collection (Album 62 item 1) The Coutinho brothers established one of the first commercial photographic enterprises on the island of Zanzibar, some time in the 1870s. Probably of Portugese origin, little is known of their lives. On the back a blue stamp "Coutinho Brothers Photographers Zanzibar" and in pencil written Tippu Tip.

Book Tippu Tip Brode

First German edition of Tippu Tip's autobiography

 translated form Swahili into German by Heinrich Brode

References : Tippu Tip´s life  is described and referenced in an endless list of books reflecting his importance to the history of Eastern Africa:
  1. Tippu Tip H. Brode , Maisha  ya Hamed bin Muhammed El Murjebi, in Mitteilungen des Seminars für orientalische Sprachen  Abteilung III, Jahrgang V: p 175-277 und VI p1-55 1902/1903
  2. Tippu Tip Lebensbild eines zentralafrikanischen Despoten - Nach seinen eigenen Angaben dargestellt" translated by  Dr. Heinrich Brode from Swahili into German and published by Wilhelm Baensch Berlin 1905
  3. Brode, Heinrich. Tippoo Tib: The Story of His Career in Zanzibar & Central Africa. Translated by H. Havelock with preface by Sir Charles Elliot. London: Arnold, 1907
  4. Leda Ferrant, Tippu Tip and the East African Slave Trade , St Martin´s press New York  1975
  5. Heinrich Brode, Tippu Tip: The Story of his career in Zanzibar and Central Africa, The Gallery Publications, Zanzibar 2000
  6. David Livingstone, Missionary Travels and Researches , 1857
  7. David Livingstone The Last Journals 1874
  8. Stanley How I found Livingstone
  9. Stanley through the dark continent 1879
  10. Stanley The Congo and the founding of the free state
  11. Stanley In darkest Afrika
  12. Stanley My Kalulu, Prince, King and Slave
  13. W.H. Ingrams Zanzibar Its History and People
  14. F.B. Pearce Zanzibar, The Island metropolis of Eastern Africa 
  15. Christiane Bird, The Sultan´s Shadow One family´s Rule at the crossroads of East and West, Random House New York 2010
  16. Bennett, Norman Robert. Arab vs. European: Diplomacy and war in Nineteenth-Century Est Central Africa. New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1986.
  17. Sheriff, Abdul. Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770-1873. London, Nairobi, Tanzania, Athens,OH: James Currey, Heinemann Kenya, Tanzania Publishing House, Ohio University Press, 1987
  18. Wikipedia Tippu Tip
  19. Abyssinia to zanzibar 1850S -1950S Catalogue of the photographic archive of the Winterton Africanan Collection published by Allsworth rare books London Item 62 no1.

Illustration with the vessels used in the Zanzibar slave trade 1873 Arab slave ships.

Dhow variant of Brook´s slave ship

Full page illustration of the different types of Arab vessels used in the Zanzibar slave-trade. Published is the London Illustrated News March 1873. Of particular interest is the Dhow variant of "Brooke´s slave ship" see photo on the left.


Salve Ships

Types of ships used in the slave-trade in East Afrika

 Brooke's slaveship

Dhow version of brooke's slave-ship



Common print. Illustrated London News (March 1, 1873) copied from the book by capt. Sullivan. Contains sketches of five different types of vessels on a single sheet with text. 15 x 10 inches. The large dhow picture with many slaves stowed is particularly interesting. This is a "dhow variant" of the European slave-ship stowed with many slaves depicted by Brooke. That  illustration became iconic of the Atlantic slave trade and is known as "Brookes slave-ship" published by the Quaker publisher James Philips in 1789. Even more remarkable is that that print was not a realistic representation of a slave-ship but more a symbolic representation that proved to be of enormous iconic power in the fight against slavery.

  1. 1873 Dhow chasing in Zanzibar waters and on the Eastern coast of Africa. Narrative of five years experiences in the suppression of the slave-trade (illustration bound after page 114.

June 1873 Slave trade treaty between Sultan Zanzibar and Britain

1873 Slave trade treaty Sultan Zanzibar and Britian

Treaty between Her majesty and the Sultan of Zanzibar for the suppression of the slave-trade signed at Zanzibar June 5 1873.

Colophon : Presented to both the houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty Published in 1874.  Published on behalf of the House of Parliament  by  Harrison and sons.

Contents: 6 pages: Title; 2 pages text with articles; Blank page; page with colophon. Image size: 33 by 23 cm.


Slave Trade Treaty 

Details of the slave treaty and link to the Nyangwe massacre

The treaty is signed by:

  • Bargash bin Said (Sultan of Zanzibar)
  • Nasir bin Said bin Abdallah
  • John Kirk (political agent Zanzibar)

The key points of the treaty are:

  • Closure of all public slave-markets in the dominions of the Sultan
  • Stop to the export / traffic of slaves
  • People with an Indian or British passport were not allowed to possess slaves and would be severely punished.
  • The treaty did however not forbid the holding of slaves by Omani / Zanzibari. There was a nearly universal belief among Omani that slavery was approved by the scriptures of their Muslim faith. The book of the Omani princess Bibi Salme Memoirs of an Arabian Princess 1886 / 1888 contains an interesting but controversial chapter specifically on slavery were she explains how she (and Omani in general) looked upon slavery.


One of the triggers for this treaty was Livingstone's account of the horror seen in the African village of Nyangwe which galvanized British authorities to shut the slave market in Zanzibar, a critical hub for East Africa's human traffickers. Adrian Wisnicki of Indiana university claimed in 2011, based on the original manuscript journal of Livingstone, that Livingstone´s own men may have been involved in the massacre. Scans and transcripts of the manuscript diary have been posted in 2011 to the website of the University of California, Los Angeles.


The book Bevrijding in Oost Afrika (ref 5 page 88) published in Dutch and German,  discusses the treaty in detail  and also mentions  how devastated Sultan Barghash was when the treaty was first presented to him by the consul John Kirk. The English threatened with a complete naval blockade if the Sultan did not accept the treaty. Also a large group of Arabs beleaguered  the palace to ensure the Sultan would not sign the treaty. In the end the Sultan had no choice but to accept the treaty.

  1. Rahir 2668;
  2. Willems 1938;
  3. Oman since 1856 by Robert Landen 1967 page 151;
  4. Memoirs of an Arabian princess by Bibi Salme (Emily Ruete) published in English in 1888 by Ward and Downey in London (German edition two years earlier)
  5. Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost-Afrika in de 19e eeuw, Afrika Museum Berg en Dal, 2003 pages 88-89
  6. Osgood in Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar Muscat etc. published in Salem (USA)  1854  page 49: "Prior to the ratification of the last named treaty (1847) not less than  twenty thousand 'images of God cut in ebony" were annually brought to island of Zanzibar for traffic and service, and at the present time the importations will fall but very short of that number. They are brought in small dows or garbs of fifteen or twenty tons burden, in each of which a drove of hundred or more are usually stowed one upon the other, men, children and women in one promiscuous bulk. It often happens that several days are required to effect a passage to the island. Meanwhile, all nourishment being cruelly denied them, many perish before arrival. But shame ! burning shame on the race of uncivilized and untutored man!

           What cares the merchant for that crowded hold!

           The voyage pays if half the slaves are sold

            What boots it in that dungeon of despair

            How many beings gasp and pant for air!

            How many creatures draw infected breath,

            And drag out life, aye, in the midst of death?"

Upon unloading the vessel the bodies of the dead are thrown overboard, to drift about the harbour and on to the beach etc.


Slave-market at Zanzibar

Slave-market at Zanzibar


Lithograph illustrating the slave-market in Zanzibar.

The most accurate representation of the slave market is a vague stereographic photo from around 1860 by James August Grant see e.g. website Geographic Society and the Winterton collection. 



Slavemarket Zanzibar


Details about the slave market in Zanzibar 

The slaves were partly used on Zanzibar itself (clove plantations) and mostly exported to Muscat, India, Persia, Arab counties, but also to Portuguese and French colonies.

The former Slave Market is located on the eastern side of Zanzibar Stone Town, within short walking distance of the main market. Today, the Anglican Cathedral stands on the location of this historical site. Following the closure of the Slave Market by Sultan Barghash in 1873, missionaries bought the site and built the Anglican Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Christ) on this location and freed slaves helped with its construction under the guidance of Bishop Edward Steere (who also designed it) The church is made of coral stone. The altar of the cathedral supposedly stands on the spot of the whipping tree. A window is dedicated to Dr. Livingstone, an important initiator of the abolition of (East African) slavery. The church's crucifix is made from the wood of a tree in Zambia, under which the heart of Livingstone is buried. Despite the abolishment of slave trade in 1873, slaves continued to be kept for many years. Even the slave trade continued on a small scale for many years.

Anglican church in Zanzibar (on the location of the old slave market)

Photo taken by J. Sturtz (1888-1890)

ReferencesOsgood in Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar Muscat etc. published in Salem (USA)  1854  page 50: "When in saleable condition of body the slaves are besmeared with oil, decorated with gold and silver trinkets, and taken to the slave bazaar, an open square about three fourths of a mile from town-centre, where they are offered for sale by auction, in lots or singly. At this human cattle-show, these dull pictures of despair are lashed and goaded into a transient show of life and animation, and made to walk and run and prove their strength as chattels for the service of their fellow men etc..

Page 51: If slaves are sold, their ornaments are removed before they are delivered to their purchasers. Some more fortunate than others of their fellow sufferers, are purchased by Arabs who are remarked for the kind treatment of their slaves, and who, owning generally more slaves than they areable to keep constantly employed, require but small service and allow them a moiety of all wages they may earn etc. Some of the most intelligent of the male slaves are adopted into the families of their Arab masters, educated well, employed as clerks, and often raised to high offices of trust. It by no means unfrequently happens that a lapse of a few years finds him who was entered a poor emaciated slave at the custom house, paying at the same place the required duties on the haggard subjects of his own cruel traffic"

British marine staff searching an Omani ship for Slavery Arms trade

British marine staff searching Omani ship Slavery arms trade


Original photo of British marine staff searching an Omani ship Boom / Dhow for illegal arms or slaves taken 1890-1905.  The photographer is unknown.


 Oman slavery ship



High resolution photo of British marine staff searching an Omani ship for slaves or weapons. The photo is taken from a British War-ship before the Omani coast.Very rare photo.  Size 10 by 15 cm. Very high resolution photo. Rare photo of such an ocean going dhow (named boom) being searched by the British Navy. In fact all photos of ocean going dhows in the 19th century are rare.

  1.  "Gun Running and the North West Frontier" p 50 etc. published in 1911 (Omani smuggling guns through Baluchistan to rebels)
  2. "Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar waters" published in 1873 (British Navy searching for slaves being smuggled by the Arabs from the 1870´s onwards in the seas before Oman and Zanzibar)
  3.  "vom Mittelmeer zum Persischen Golf " by Max Oppenheim in Berlin 1900 (p320 below) mentions: "Unlangst wurde die aus gewehren bestehende aus England stammende Ladung eines grosses Englischen schiff s in den gewassern von Maskat konfisziert nachdem England, Persien und Indien im jahre 1898 einen vertrag wegen unterdruckung der ausfuhr von waffen und munition von Maskat nach den indsichen und perzischen hafen abgeschlossen haben"
  4. On Omani ship types used in the slave trade and smuggling see The London illustrated news item below and Tribute to Oman 1994 (Year of heritage) p 42-55 The end of the Boom years" which discusses "dhow building at Sur" and the types of "Dhows" used in Oman in the past. and the next item in our website.

The Kilimanjaro Tusks in front of an antique Omani / Zanzibar door, photo taken by A.C. Gomes & Co in Zanzibar 1898

World's largest elephant Tusks in front of an Omani / Zanzibar door


Stamped A.C. Gomes & Co. (Partnership Gomes & Countinho)  .  A. C. Gomes established a photo studio in Zanzibar perhaps as early as 1868. He had a brief partnership with J. B. Coutinho in the 1890s. His son P. F. Gomes continued the family business in Zanzibar for many years, he died in 1932. Over those years both have left us with some marvellous images




Kilimanjaro Tusks Zanzibar

 Original photo of the giant tusks

Postcard based on the above photo

The East African slave and ivory trade during the 19th century were linked. Initially slaves and later other carriers were used to transport ivory in caravans from the interior of East Africa to the coast.  This antique photo in our collection shows the giant elephant tusks known as the Kilimonjaro Tusks in front of an antique Omani / Zanzibar door. The Kilimanjaro Tusks remain the largest tusks ever recorded and decorated the entrance to the American compound in Zanzibar known as the "Ivory House" or Nyumba Pembi in 1898. The Kilimanjaro Tusks weighed 237 and 225 lbs, and were bought by E.D. Moore early in the 20th century, and eventually found their way into the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.

These Tusks are said to have belonged to an Elephant bull captured on the slopes of the Kilimonjaro by an Omani  hunter who had trailed it for weeks. They were sold in Zanzibar in 1898, when this photo was taken by the photographer A.C. Gomes & Co

 WMD 'karamojo' Bell's 1923 book 'The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter' he mentions a tusk in the 'South Kensington Museum':  "On our arrival at Mani-Mani we were met by one Shundi--a remarkable man. Karirono by birth he had been captured early in life, taken to the coast and sold as a slave. Being a man of great force of character he had soon freed himself by turning Mohammedan. Thence onward fortune had smiled upon him until at last he was, the recognised Tajir (rich man) of all the traders. Having naturally the intelligence to recognise the value of bluff and from his primitive ancestors the nerve to carry it off, he was at this time the greatest of all traders. Just as he had been a leader while slave-raiding was the order of the day, so now he led when ivory had given place to slaves as a commodity. One other thing that makes him conspicuous, at any rate, in my mind, and that he had owned the slave who who had laid low the elephant which bore the enormous tusks, one of which now reposes in the south Kensington museum. these tusks are still, as far as I know, the record. The one we have in London scales 234 lb. or thereabouts. According to Shuundi his slave killed it with a muzzle-loader on the slopes of Kilimanjaro"

A reduced and coloured copy of this photo was used as a postcard by Gomes during the 1905-1907 period.

Richard Burton (ref 3 page 86)  writes regarding Omani / Zanzibar doors: "Koranic sentences on slips of paper fastened to the entrances and an inscription cut into the wooden lintel, secure the house from witchcraft, like the crocodile in Egypt. Whilst a yard of ship's cable drives away thieves. The higher the tenement, the bigger the gateway, the heavier the padlock, and the huger the metal studs, which nail the door of heavy timber, the greater is the owner's dignity. All seems ready for a state of siege. Even the little square holes pierced high up in the walls, and doing duty as ventilators are closely barred. "


  1. W.D.M. Bell The wanderings of an Elephant hunter 1923 London Offices of Country Life Ltd First Edition 1923  Bell was a Scottish adventurer, big game hunter in East Africa
  2. Uwe Rau; Mwalim A. Mwalim. Doors of Zanzibar,  HSP Publications 1998. The door of the above antique photo was not listed in this beautiful book with many masterpieces of Omani / Zanzibari woodcarving.
  3. Richard Burton, Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast, Tinsley Brothers, London. two volumes.

Heavily chained women in German East Africa

Chained forced laborers with Ashkari soldiers


Stereo photo with a group of chained women forced to carry heavy cans on their heads in German East Africa.

This photo was published by Keystone View Company Copyrighted Underwood & Underwood  / Meadville USA 1890-1900.


Chained women zanzibar

German Forced labour  East Africa


Description: . The laborers are chained with a steel collar by their necks and are guarded by black Ashkari soldiers trained by and working for the German occupants. The Germans replaced Omani slavery of the black population by German forced labor. From the black populations perspective there was not much improvement. Each photo is approx 8 by 8 cm. The card measures 18 by 8,5 cm. The photo is number 38 of a series, not sure which series yet.


  1. Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost-Afrika in de 19e eeuw, Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal 2003

Chained convicts unloading a ship in Zanzibar in 1904 or earlier

Chained Convicts unloading ship in Zanzibar?


Photo postcard by Pereira de Lord 1904 Zanzibar.

Chained convicts unloading a ship in Zanzibar (forced labour) 1904 or earlier.


Zanzibar chained convicts

Zanzibar forced labour


Chained convicts at work on a boat. This postcard with the title "convicts at work" was issued in 1904 by Pereira de Lord photo artist in Zanzibar. See Ref 2. The photo was probably taken earlier than in 1904. Again the same chains and and collars used on these workers unloading a ship were previously ere previously used for slaves.

  1.  The Early postcards of Zanzibar by P.C. Evans East Africa Study Circle 2005 page 71

Below you find a You-tube film regarding the slavery history of Zanzibar: