Production of Sugar-cane juice probably by freed slaves in Zanzibar Stone-town and with an Ostrich looking on in the background. Photo taken around 1895. Each workers wear the same badge and cloths.The metal badge proofs that they were freed slaves.

antique photo sugarcane juice production Zanzibar

  Photograph by Coutinho Bros photographers Zanzibar (stamp on back) Size 28,5 by 20,5 cm. The Coutinho brothers established one of the first commercial photographic enterprises on the island of Zanzibar, some time in the 1870´s. Probably of Portuguese origin, little is known of their lives. The initial partnership between the two brothers lasted little over a decade, before J. B. Coutinho entered into partnership with A C Gomes & Sons c.1890. Gomes had opened his first studio in Aden before 1869, moving to Zanzibar in the early 1870´s, establishing what was probably the first studio on the island. That arrangement was dissolved on 31st July 1897, when the Coutinho Brothers started trading together once again. Their photographs of life in fin-de-siecle Zanzibar were sold singly and in albums, and form an important visual account of the period. At some point c.1905, the brothers went their separate ways, Felix moving to Mombasa in Kenya, and opening a photographic company there, once again producing tourist images and postcards, but this time trading as Coutinho & Sons.

Sugar-cane is grown on Zanzibar. On the photo we see sugar-cane being processed and cooked to to produce sugar-cane-juice. The popular juice is still being drunk in Zanzibar and Oman today. The Ostrich looking on in the background and hoping to get some leftovers.

  Antique photo Sugarcane juice production Zanzibar

Production of sugar-cane juice Zanzibar

Zanzibar freed slaves

Detail of the above photo with the Ostrich looking on

Zanzibar producing sugar cane juice

Zanzibar producing sugar cane juice

All the workers wear the same cloths and a metal badge with numbers on a string around their neck. It is very likely that these badges are the proof that the person is a free man! Ref 1 confirms this practice in East Africa.  Ref 2 and 3 show a photo with slaves freed up by Nicolas Tobback in Kisingani that also have a badge around their necks.

If anyone knows more about these metal badges  in Zanzibar let us know!!! 

Military campaigns produced large number of captives who were then declared liberated as state soldiers and missionary orphans. Catholic missionaries were actively involved in ransoming slaves and turning them into converts and workers. So probably the people above are freed slaves involved in a work training programme by missionaries, which may also explain why they are clothed identical.

  1. Government and labour in Kenya page 4: "A register of freed slaves was kept, each slave being given a brass badge with its registered number on it as proof of his freedom"
  2. Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost-Afrika in de 19e eeuw. Historische en hedendaagse aspecten, Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal Netherlands 2003: See photo on page 44 1.17 shows a group of freed slaves also wearing a metal token around their necks! They were freed by the eccentric Belgian Toback (for more details see next reference)

Slaves freed by Nicolas Tobback Kisingani

These slaves in Kisingani purchased and freed by Nicolas Tobback from his personal money are also wearing a metal token around their necks.

    3. Source of this photo: Koninklijk Museum van het leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis Brussel: Fotoarchief Tobback doos "Congo Belge avant 1900"; "Een groep slaven omstreeks 1890 in Kisingani vrijgekocht door de Belg Tobback. Zowel koloniale agenten als slaveneigenaars  kregen een premie voor elke bevrijdde , in dienst van de Kongo Vrijstaat  tewerkgestelde slaaf"