A Detailed Snapshot of Zanzibar Slavery History
Table of Contents
- 1 A Detailed Snapshot of Zanzibar Slavery History
- 1.1 Zanzibar Slavery’s Beginnings and the Slave Trade
- 1.2 Slave Classifications and Their Duties
- 1.3 The Cultivation and Land Ownership Rights of Slaves
- 1.4 Social Rights of the Slaves
- 1.5 Slave Marriages and Their Children
- 1.6 Concubines and Their Offspring
- 1.7 Slave Pawning and Hire-Outs
- 1.8 The Fleeing of Slaves
- 1.9 9. Murder Punishment
- 1.10 Freedom from Zanzibar Slavery
- 1.11 From Zanzibar Slavery to Serfdom
- 1.12 Appendix I:
- 1.13 Appendix II
Zanzibar Slavery’s Beginnings and the Slave Trade
A Swahili who survived, under those circumstances, may best describe the roots of the Zanzibar slavery institution and the accompanying slave trade. As a result, the following excerpt from “Desturi za Wasuaheli,” authored by Carl Velten and edited by Harries Lyndon, is reproduced:
*It starts when one discovers events like when their own nation is battling with another: the prisoners are not killed, but rather tied with rope and taken to the town, where they are told, ‘You stay here as our slaves.” They are forced to stay and then marry among themselves. Their children, if any, will also be slaves.
Alternatively, a fine for murder can lead to servitude. If a guy has been involved in a murder, but his family is poor and therefore has no money, yet he is required to pay a fine, which if he cannot, he is taken and sold as a slave and the fine is claimed. And if the murdered person was a free man, the fine would be substantial. He would be followed by his maternal uncle or brother into slavery if he has one.
If an adulterer sleeps with another person’s wife, he must pay for his sins, and if he is poor, he will be forced to work as a slave.
Or, if a person is killed by a witch and that killer is recognized as a witch, she is slain or transported to the location of the crime (i.e. the deceased’s family) and works as a slave.
If a person puts his nephew or child in pawn and does not have the money to redeem the child or nephew, he (the nephew or child) is made to serve as a slave. However, a man is not allowed to pledge or sell his wife, even if he is starving. She will abandon him if he is unable to feed her.
Prisoners of war, adulterers, and individuals in pawn become slaves if their relatives do not have enough money to redeem them. When Arabs or other slave merchants travel up-country, they purchase these slaves and transport them to the shore, where they are sold to others. This is how Zanzibar slavery originated. When they are transported to the coast, the person who brought them must keep a close eye on them since they will flee. Some pretend to be freemen when they arrive at the coast.
Swahili is used in this text to refer to an Islamized East African coast dweller, either of Afro-Asian heritage or pure African descent.
Mrima land experienced famine under Sayyid Barghash’s reign, along with the Zaramo pledging and selling each other. The Arabs in Zanzibar heard that slaves in Mrima were cheap, so they came to acquire Zaramo slaves. They would spend the night, and the following morning, the Zaramo slave would have fled away to his home, and it would be nearly impossible to find him. The slaves dispatched to Zanzibar often stayed for a month, then asserted, “I am a freeman, not a slave!” in the 2nd month. Sayyid Barghash learned that Arabs were traveling to Mrima to buy Zaramo children, so he outlawed them and declared, “Anyone who travels to Mrima to purchase Zaramo children has thrown their money in the sea, and I will imprison him for six months.’ And in reality, they weren’t being purchased at all; instead, the Arabs would travel into the bushes, where they would kidnap Zaramo women or children and gag them so they wouldn’t raise a racket. They would then be brought to the town and sold to traders.
Several Arabs traveled upcountry to battle tribal peoples, and the captives of war were sold as slaves. Alternatively, a tribesman would approach an Arab and say, “I’m here to join you.” and would follow him if the Arab agrees. If the tribesman had kinfolk, they followed him, and the Arab eventually enslaved them. This was why some up-country or Manyema slaves constantly threw tantrums at the shore, claiming, “I was not bought by this Arab; I simply followed him, and he now wants me to be a slave.”
“…children born to parents in Zanzibar slavery continue to be slaves. If a slave woman is married by a freeman, any children born are still slaves. However, if a free woman gets married to a slave, her child does not become a slave as freedom is obtained from the mother.”
Slave Classifications and Their Duties
Slaves were divided into two categories:
- “watumwa wa nyumbani” – domestic and house slaves
- “watumwa wa shamba” – agricultural and plantation slaves,
- “watumwa wa maji” – slaves on the ships
Belonging to the first category was also “masuria” (meaning concubines), “beasar” (the concubine’s children) as well as some slaves that had distinct positions of responsibility and trust, e.g.
- “Mtumwa mtumishi” – servant, envoy
- “Mtumwa mfuasi” – soldier,bodyguard
- “mtumwa mtumwaji ” – agent
- “Akida” – treasurer
- “mtumwa wa shauri” – councillor
The “msimamizi” was in charge of all the slaves on the plantation and was accountable only to the owner. The “nokoa,” notoriously known for being brutal to their fellow slaves, followed him. “Kadamu” were overseers of separate slave-gangs that worked on various portions of the plantation or building projects and ensured that the needed job was completed.
” The required production in threshing and harvesting was calculated on an “hourly” basis, with slaves who worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They had to get out at the crack of dawn to sow. However, the groundwork was done on an acreage basis, with daily responsibilities of weeding and clearing being 100 yards by 4 for clearing fresh land and 200 yards by 4 for hoeing land being cultivated. The head slave or the Nakoa was in charge of ensuring that every gang of slaves (five to twenty people) completed their assigned chores. Women slaves were frequently utilized to sell the master’s garden products at the market.
Slaves were also contracted out by their owners for wages in the early days of western commerce, when slave and free labour systems collided, with the entrepreneur giving half of the wages to the slaves (including food) and the other half to the owner of the slaves ”
Agricultural slaves often laboured for two to five days per week for their owners. On the rest of the days, generally Thursdays and Fridays, they might labour for themselves, either working on their own farms or working for minimal salaries as cleaners, washermen, porters, and aiding blacksmiths and carpenters. The master had no claim to the slave’s earnings in this case, however, if the master located the slave’s employer, the slave was required to pay a nominal fee to the master. The slave normally did not get food from the owner on free days except for Friday (holiday).
The slaves on board the Swahili commercial vessels formed the majority of the crew. The ship’s master, “nahodha,” and the companion, “nahodha mdogo,” were mostly slaves who had inherited their positions from their masters.
Non-agricultural slaves got salary or/and payment in kind because they could not get free days during caravan safaris or onboard the ships and because they could not grow their own food. Slaves with high rank who worked in caravans or on ships might have occasionally split the earnings with the owner.
The bodyguard of the Sultan only had a few slaves consisting of mercenaries from Afghanistan and Persia made up the force. The navy was made up of a large number of Arabs, while the cavalry was largely Baluchis and Makranis (known in Swahili as “Mabulushi”).
Slaves were categorized as
- “mzalia” – born into slavery, into the household
- “mjinga” – unskilled, raw slave
- “mtwana” – male slave
- “mateka” – war prisoner
- “mjakazi” – female slave
- “kitwana” – young male slave
- “mtoro” – a slave who ran away
- “kijakazi” – a young female slave
Slaves did not view each other as fellow slaves, known as “njoli” unless they had similar ranks. This applied even to escaped slaves, “watoro,” who normally developed a hierarchy within them based on their former ranks as slaves.
“Mzalia” was a slave born in servitude whose both or either of the parents was born at a coastal town or a recognized coastal tribal territory like the Zaramo. A slave with only one parent born in a coastal town was referred to as “Mzaliwa wa mara moja”. The home-born slave was called ‘mzalia wa mara mbili’ if both the parents were from the coast. “mzalia wa mara nyingi” was a “mzalia” with grandparents that were also born along the coast. Homeborn slaves were treated similarly to free people as they were not always on sale. They went on with their lives almost like free folk but were enslaved to the owner of their grandparents’ or parents’ house.
A “mzalia” might formally become free and even marry a free born wife or husband after serving the master for a few years. However, the previous owner was likely to hire such a legally liberated slave, which tended to perpetuate the slave-master relationship in form of serfdom (“uhadimu”).
Children of concubines, known as “besar,” or slaves that were “wazalia wa mara nyingi,” usually held positions of responsibility and trust.
Cooking, needlework, sewing, and how to create baskets and mats were taught to home-born slaves who worked in the house doing domestic tasks, getting water from wells, and going to the shop or market.
Women slaves did most of their labour in the kitchen and serving food. The female slave normally held the water jug for the masters to wash their feet and hands with their wives permission. When the wife went to a wedding ceremony or mourning session, the female slave would escort her. She was also tasked with carrying the wife’s parasol or umbrella. The majority of the crying at the mourning sessions was done by elderly female slaves.
The home-born male slave joined the master on a journey and conducted all of his errands. His job was to make the travel as comfortable as possible. He learned to sew the long white robes (“kanzu”) and embroider the clothing that was worn over them, such as the brown ‘bushuti’ or the black “joho”. Some specialized in producing shoes, hats, or intricately carved doors. These artisans were free to spend their earnings, but they were required to give presents to their masters.
When “mjinga,” an untrained slave, was first purchased, he was given new clothes, a machete and a hoe. He was also provided with a sleeping place. He was then granted his own plot of land on which he could cultivate and grow food of his own, which was often cassava, rice, millet or beans. The master fed him until he was able to harvest his own crops, at which point the master anticipated a present from him. A share of the crop was given as a gift. Some masters anticipated and sometimes demanded a gist after each harvest.
Slaves on plantations or agricultural slaves generally worked between 6 to 11 a.m. and between 2 and 5 p.m. Sick slaves were not allowed to work, and the master oversaw their care until they recovered. In the event of the death of a slave, the master covered the costs of the funeral. However, the master did not attend all of the slaves’ funerals. He was only involved in the burials of concubines, home-born slaves, their offspring, and slaves who occupied key positions.
Agricultural slave women were employed to sell the farm produce of the master at the market or on the streets.
The Cultivation and Land Ownership Rights of Slaves
As previously stated, a new untrained slave was given his own piece of land to cultivate their own food.” A slave typically had cultivation rights on plots ranging from 200 by 10 up to 200 by 50 yards, and he owned all its output.
Slaves were allowed to cultivate their traditional crops on their master’s land, which were mainly cloves, coconut or other spices. Slave-grown food crops prevented weeds from growing under the plantation’s trees, a practice that evolved to the “squatter” system following the abolition of Zanzibar slavery slavery in both the mainland island and Pemba.
When a slave cultivated land for his personal use that was not “plantation” property, it was typically of inferior quality, or it was fine ground that had recently been cleared and was being prepared for future development, such as clove planting.
Slaves could gain possession of land by marriage, normally known as “kiambo”, meaning the family construction site.
Other areas that were not plantation grounds, were jointly owned by a village, a clan, or by the Shirazi people.
Social Rights of the Slaves
Slaves were required to adhere to a stringent code of conduct. A slave was expected to accomplish a lot of things without being instructed. If he noticed his master holding something, he was required to grab it from him right away. He removed his cap when he entered his master’s chamber or went to the “baraza” (place of reception or public audience). He was always required to follow behind the master. He could not sit on a stool or chair. Every evening and morning, he was supposed to go and greet his master. Home-born slaves were the only ones allowed to shake hands with the owner and other freemen. Ordinary slaves did not dine with their masters, even though they regularly ate the same foods. Only high-ranking male slaves sat alongside free men, while concubines sat together with free women during ceremonial feasts.
Shoes, caps and the white “kanzu” were not worn by agricultural slaves. A slave could not address a freeman by his name. A freeman was referred to as “Bwana” or “Mwinyi” which meant Master. A slave could not have an umbrella for their personal use. Every evening, all home-born slaves as well as other slaves holding key positions in their master’s house, business, or plantation usually attended classes called “madarasa” at nearby mosques and were taught to write, read, and solve simple arithmetic. Except for Fridays, Koran classes were conducted at a school (“Chuo”) every morning. Unskilled slaves were not allowed to attend these lessons until they had earned their master’s trust.
Slave Marriages and Their Children
Slave marriages did not usually include the formalities that are customary among East African coastal people. A male slave and a woman slave would arrange to marry and then go to their common owner to notify him of their plans. In a case where the woman slave was from another family, the owner of the male slave purchased her so that the pair might live together. The male slave was required to pay a specific fee from his private income to his master for this. If the slave couple had separate masters, their children were owned by the wife’s master house.
An unskilled slave was asked to pay 1 Rial (dollar) by the master for the marriage. “Kilemba” was the name given to this charge (turban fee). The woman’s dowry (“mahari”) was a minimum of 5 dollars, which she kept in trust with her master. As a result, she was unable to spend the dowry. The dowry was returned to the male if the couple divorced without having a child. If her husband died, or if the couple divorced after having a child, or if she was pregnant when they divorced, the lady retained the dowry.
Unskilled slaves’ marriage ceremonies were short. while the woman was waiting in her chamber, the master told the man slave in front of everyone in the house or at the plantation, “ I, have married you to your fellow slave.” After that, the male was free to consummate the marriage right away.
The Muslim Instructor (“maalim”) was invited to execute the traditional Muslim wedding ritual, “nikaha,” in front of witnesses in the case of marriage between other slaves.
After consulting with their masters, slaves ranked as mtumishi”, “mtumwaji “, ‘akida”, “mtumwa wa shauri”, “nahodha”, “msimamizi”, “nahodha mdogo”, “kadanu” and “nokoa” could have various degrees of the ritual, such as hosting a feast and even inviting other slaves of the same status.
The lawfully freed slave was not mandated to consult with his employer or master. He was, however, expected to notify his previous employer or master about the wedding, which would then be overseen by his employer (who was frequently the previous master) who functioned as his father. (A legally liberated slave lived as a serf, whether or not he worked for his former master.) The wedding was organized like a freeman’s if he was able to afford it. The dowry was normally in the range of ten to twenty dollars. If the bride was a slave, the turban cost of $5 was paid to the bride’s brother or father. The bride retained the fee if she didn’t have a father or a brother, or her master kept the price if she didn’t have a brother or a father. There was no turban paid if the bride was a free lady.
A freeman or a slave could marry a female slave. An unskilled man slave was only allowed to marry a fellow slave. Home-born slaves or sons of concubines were allowed to marry a free lady.
Freedom and slavery were determined by the mother’s status. If both the parents were slaves, the kid was born a slave who might be sold at any time by the master. When a free man marries a slave woman, their kid is considered a half-slave, which means he cannot be sold and can easily reclaim his freedom. Half-slaves were not allowed to inherit from their fathers. A child born to a free lady and a slave man was considered a free man. Sons of concubines could also not inherit from their fathers.
Slaves could intermarry with the army and Arab Sultan’s bodyguard members (who were predominantly Asians except for Arabs) who traditionally could not intermarry with the Shirazi and the Arabs. This was because Seyyid Said, the maiden Zanzibar’s Omani Sultan (who had stolen power in Oman), was against his soldiers intermarrying with his subjects.
“Talaka” (divorce) among the unskilled slaves was accorded by the master. The man slave would ask his master to divorce them and he would declare the divorce in front of the whole household saying, “ I have divorced you, so-and-so, and your fellow slave, so-and-so”. The divorce would take effect when the master had uttered the “talaka” three times, whether on the same day or on three separate occasions. The lady in this case was not subject to the “eda” (prohibition period) after the divorce, and she was free to remarry either her ex-husband or another man the following day.
Marriages between slaves of different classes, or between freemen and slaves, could only be dissolved in the same way that freemen did.
Concubines and Their Offspring
A man could purchase a female slave, “mjakazi,” and have her as his concubine, “suria,”. A man could occasionally purchase a “kijakazi” (a young girl slave) and take her to his home to teach her the traditional housekeeping. The girl was isolated from the rest of the female slaves upon reaching puberty and given her own chamber. Consequently, she was made a concubine and was forbidden to leave the house alone. Other slaves treated her with the same regard as the master’s wife. Every 4th night, the master slept with this concubine. If he had several concubines, they all shared the 4th night. In case the master lacked a wife, the concubine took over the wifely duties. If a man resided at his father’s house, he could not own a concubine. The head of a family or household was the only one allowed to have a concubine.
Concubines’ children were called “besar,” and even though they were regarded half-free, the man “besar” could not necessarily marry a free-born lady of high status. Although a nobleman was able to marry a “besar” lady, the “besar” had no inheritance rights.
If a man did a lot of travelling, he opted for a concubine rather than a wife, because many coastal people’s customs prohibited a woman from accompanying her husband on journeys without permission from her guardians or parents. Furthermore, during a journey, the danger of losing his wife to pirates or enemies was constantly present, especially during inland safaris.
If a man decided to marry a freed slave or a concubine, their children were deemed free-born, but they had a lesser social rank since they lacked a female line of descent, as slaves were frequently imported from “distant lands.”
Slave Pawning and Hire-Outs
Since Islam doctrines forbid the system of pawning, pawning slaves was prohibited by law. Due to the fact that Swahilis and Arabs regarded slaves as property that they could purchase and sell, a person in serious debt could pledge and pawn his slaves to pay off his debtors. A person in desperate need of money was allowed to pawn his slaves, according to traditions. The slaves, on the other hand, could not be held in pawn for more than a month. A slave-owner who was unable to redeem the pledge and settle the matter within one month could often make a new commitment at the conclusion of the time, therefore delaying redemption.
If a pawned slave escaped or perished, the pawnbroker did take responsibility for the death. The pawnbroker was fined by the slave owner for assaulting or threatening a pawned slave. If the slave fled because of the assault or threats of torture or death, the pawnbroker had to pay the slave-owner another fine. The 2 fines were usually equivalent to the debt owed the slave-owner. As a result, if a pawnbroker led a slave to flee due to his threats or abuse, the owner of the slave was not obligated to repay the debt. Slave owners were obligated to bring eyewitnesses to testify in the Muslim court (kadhi) against the pawnbroker in such circumstances.
Pawned slaves were allowed to visit their masters or wives once or two times a week. The wife could also be pawned separately or alongside the husband. Slaves who were pawned were required to labour for the pawnbroker in a similar manner that they worked for their masters. If they did not satisfy the pawnbroker, he had the option of returning them and demanding his money.
Without his master’s consent, a low-ranking slave could not obtain a loan. A merchant who gave a slave a loan without the approval of the slave’s owner had no right to seek his money from the slave’s master in case the slave fled, died, or was simply unable to repay the debt. The master’s approval was usually given in writing.
High-ranking slaves like “mtumwaji” and “akida” did not require their master’s permission to borrow money from lenders. In reality, slaves of higher status frequently loaned money to their inferiors and juniors, particularly for wedding expenditures. There was no formal contract between slaves, and loans between slaves were usually interest-free.
Masters could rent out their slaves for wages. The slave received half of the pay, while the master received the other half. The employer also fed the slaves lunch. Rented-out slaves did not get any meals from the master except for Fridays.
As the last century came to an end, a new supply of slaves started running out in Pemba and Zanzibar and with the rising need for plantation labour, more and more slaves of all kinds were rented out to plantation owners, particularly during clove harvesting season. By the time Zanzibar slavery was abolished, pawning slaves had virtually vanished, and some slaves were being freed and others were purchasing their freedom.
Hindu merchants, Banyani and certain Ismaili sect members constituted the majority of professional pawnbrokers moneylenders and pawnbrokers.
The Fleeing of Slaves
Following the fleeing of a slave, the owner first reported the incident to whoever sold him the slave, then to the ferrymen and people at the harbour, giving them the best possible description of the fleeing slave (“mtoro”). If such a slave was subsequently found, he was taken back to his master for a one-dollar redemption price. If the owner had not reported his slave’s escape, whoever apprehended the “mtoro” became his or her owner.
When a “mtoro” was found, he or she was frequently beaten severely and imprisoned for two to three days. He only got leftovers and a glass of water once a day. The master may also take his personal things as further punishment.
Household slaves generally did not flee. Plantation slaves were known to run away in gangs, often headed by a “nokoa” or the “kadamu.” The “nokoa” was in charge of punishing each runaway slave who had been apprehended and brought back. Slaves on plantations occasionally rose against the “nokoa,” killing him if he was particularly brutal. Among the runaway slaves, rank was recognized strictly.
“When a slave escaped, a twisted coconut fibre rope was purchased, and the teacher read the chapter Ya sini over 7 knots tied on the rope, after which the rope is given to the slave’s owner, who takes it home where he stood in the doorway and called his slave by name 7 times. The rope is consequently hung above the entrance, and if they are in luck, the slave would return, or he would be captured and brought back by others.”
9. Murder Punishment
- When the perpetrator and the victim both belonged to one master:
If an unskilled slave murdered a fellow unskilled slave, the killer was subjected to solitary incarceration and severe beating, as well as having to pay the owner a portion of his personal income for several years.
If an unskilled slave murdered a slave with rank with intent, he was summarily executed. If he murdered accidentally, he was required to pay a fine to his master by working for him for years on the free days except for Fridays.
If a ranked slave murdered an unskilled slave with or without malice, he was required to pay the master a fee. Typically, the fee was equivalent to an unskilled slave’s market price.
When a ranked slave murdered a fellow slave of rank, whether equal, junior or senior, he lost his status and was incarcerated for weeks, as well as having to pay the owner a fine. His private property was sometimes seized, and he was sometimes auctioned. The severity of the penalty was determined by the rank of both the victim and the accused, as well as their relationships with the master. The murder of a high-ranking slave was seen as sabotage and was punished harshly.
2. When the murderer and the victim were owned by separate masters:
When one unskilled slave murdered a fellow unskilled slave, the murderer was punished and handed over to the dead slave’s owner.
An unskilled slave who purposefully killed a slave of rank was executed after being given to the master of the dead slave. If he murdered without intending to, he was severely beaten and handed over to the dead slave’s master. His personal property was seized by his own master. His new owner placed him in solitary confinement for up to a week. After his release, he was only granted one free day each week to work for himself for approximately a year.
When a ranked slave murdered an unskilled slave, he was required to pay a fine to his master, who then delivered one of his unskilled slaves to the owner of the deceased unskilled slave. The fine was generally the same as the cost of one unskilled slave on the open market.
When a ranked slave murdered a fellow ranked slave, he was required to pay a substantial fee to his own master, who then handed the deceased slave’s master two or three unskilled slaves, or a slave of a similar rank. If a ranked slave was committed murder for the second time, he was degraded and sold, or he was given over to the murdered slave’s master.
If a slave of any kind killed a freeman, the slave was put to death in public after being tried at a Kadhi’s Baraza.
A master was not penalized if he murdered his slave. Typically, the rest of his slaves would flee, and slaves from other masters would refuse to labour for him on their off days. Other slave owners would not pawn their slaves to a master who had murdered his own slave and would also not hire slaves to him.
If a freeman murdered a slave, he was usually required to recompense for the dead slave by offering a slave of the same type in exchange. The customary recompense was not accepted without significant bargaining if the slave slain was in a position of responsibility or trust. Such incidents have frequently resulted in violent family feuds.
Later, cases of a slave murdering a freeman or another slave, or a freeman murdering a slave, were handled with by the Kadhi in later days, who considered them as cases of a freeman murdering a fellow freeman.
Freedom from Zanzibar Slavery
Seyyid Barghash, Zanzibar’s Sultan signed an agreement on 5 June 1873, that declared the slave trade illegal in his territory after a protracted battle with European abolitionists and several threats by the British. Zanzibar slavery was not legally abolished until 1897, Kenya in 1904, and Tanganyika in 1919.
Long before the system of slavery was officially abolished, a slave could be released by his master. If a slave had behaved and lived satisfactorily for a long time, especially if he was in a position of power in the owner’s household, the master could write a document of freedom for him. A copy of the document was kept by both the liberated slave (“mhuru”) and by the master. A master could free his slaves when he grew old and wished to honour God and receive His reward. Certain masters travelling to Mecca or returning from Mecca granted freedom to their slaves.”
Slaves were given freedom in God’s name because, while Islam sanctioned slavery, it did not pose a significant barrier to its elimination.
“A religion that deems the abolition of slaves to be a deed of the highest imaginable value in this world, and even grants a right to happiness in the next, should not be regarded a bastion of slavery.”
Thousands of slaves, however, remained in servitude despite their conversion to Islam. This is still the case today in some regions of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. (Classical slavery, according to some of my Ethiopian acquaintances, still exists in Ethiopia’s rural provinces.)
Most slave owners expected Zanzibar slavery to be abolished following the prohibition of the slave trade. As a result, shrewd masters forced their slaves to purchase their freedom from their masters. The cost of freedom was generally a significant portion of the slave’s little plot of land earned via “kiambo” ownership. This type of ‘trade-in freedom’ arose from the practice of a slave owner who intentionally liberated a slave receiving a gift from the liberated slave and his relatives, if any. The gift was typically part of the slave’s land acquired via his marriage to a free lady. This arrangement enhanced Arab ownership of agricultural land, which Arabs had customarily been unable to purchase from the Waunguja, the island’s indigenous occupants.
The previous owner referred to a liberated slave as a “son” or “brother,” and the ex-slave remained tied to his former master’s household.
The following would be written on the Freedom Certificate (“Hati ya Uhuru”):
“I, So-and-So, declare that I have awarded so-and-so freedom in the name of Almighty God in writing, indicating that he is a free man. No one may meddle with his affairs whilst I am living, and there is no way to interfere with him when I am dead. And anybody who upsets this written document in this will be considered a sinner in the eyes of God since it is I who have set him free. Anyone who arrives and enslaves him despite this certificate would be considered a sinner.”
Originally, no official authority had to endorse the Certificate of Freedom; nonetheless, certain parties would take the certificate to be stamped by the Kadhi. Following the illegalization of the slave trade in 1873, particularly post 1890 when Zanzibar became a British protectorate, the relevant paperwork was documented and stamped at a government office.
The official British strategy in was to gradually abolish Zanzibar slavery in order to prevent a situation where freedom would be sought after by the laziest slaves first, resulting in anarchy and the ruin of the plantation economy.
Sultan Seyyid Ali bin Said, on the other hand, was forced to proclaim that slaves were allowed to buy their freedom in 1890. Due to the fact that only a few of the slaves had the money or land to buy out their freedom, this declaration did not significantly reduce the number of slaves. Seyyid Ali further ruled that all slaves coming into his territories (Zanzibar, Kipini and Pemba – Kipini is the section of Kenyan coast under Zanzibar’s flag) and any slaves born post-1890 would be free.
In 1897, Seyyid Hamoud freed the slaves in Pemba and Zanzibar (not along the Kenyan coast) and promised to compensate the slave owners. Concubines were to be legally married.
However, freedom was only given after a formal request to the government. Because the government had no information on the slaves and because the majority of the slaves were uneducated, only a small number of slaves applied for freedom. Despite legal opportunities for a slave to attain freedom, two more elements contributed to the continuance of Zanzibar slavery at the estates. To begin with, slave owners claimed that the compensation provided by the government was insufficient, thus they did not tell or encourage their slaves to ask for freedom. Secondly, several plantation owners issued threats to their slaves that if they were freed, their cultivation rights would be revoked and would be unable to work for a living. As a result, many slaves remained enslaved up to 1909, when Seyyid Ali bin Hamoud officially abolished Zanzibar slavery, and slave reparations could not be granted beyond 1911. Domestic slavery, in contrast to the horrors of the slave trade and the cruel penalties imposed on disobedient slaves, particularly on estates, is believed to have been quite pleasant. This might explain why there was no slave insurrection in Zanzibar, and why slave emancipation did not lead to anarchy or a disruption of the plantation business. In actuality, “clove output soared and Zanzibar’s prosperity did not significantly drop” in the years after slave abolition.
Due to the loss of slaves due to abolition and uprisings led by the local Sultans, the economy along the Kenyan coast suffered greatly.”
From Zanzibar Slavery to Serfdom
In his monumental work, Prins wrote about the Swahilis in 1960:
“The descendants of liberated slaves (wahuru) were called “wahadimu,” and they were still bound to the master’s house in some form of bondage, which includes obligations during funeral and wedding ceremonies, as well as the observance of special etiquette. Those dubbed wadinasi, born of a liberated man (either the father or both parents), were distinct from these,”
During wedding and burial rites, the “master” was required to financially help the “hadimu.”
“As slave owners, the Arabs farmed coconuts and cloves since around 1800, long-term crops with low yields in the first couple of years, even though capital had to be invested. This might explain why the vast majority of land in the “developed” areas of (western) Pemba and Zanzibar is privately held. Squatter tenants have been accepted on these lands on sufferance since the abolition of Zanzibar slavery, with the only security often being the owner’s interest in the common agreement, in which the squatters are permitted to build their homesteads and cultivate yearly crops (which stops the growth of weeds among the tree crops) against counter prestation of collecting nuts and cloves as well as weeding the owner’s groves for a number of days, for which he receives pay into the bargain. Even though a number of squatters receive formal licenses countersigned by Mudir or Kadhi, the arrangement was typically not established in writing and was agreed by only a verbal bond. Slaves had cultivation rights on plots ranging in size between 200 by 10 and 200 by 50 yards, and he held onto all of the output. Furthermore, even if they continued to work (especially collecting) for his master, the products of their own labour on their free days of each week (or on one day during the wet season) belonged to them.”
The initial owners of plantations of cloves were Arabs from Oman, either members of well-established Omani families or fresh settlers in Zanzibar. As negotiated between Waunguja’s Mwinyi Mkuu and the Arab Seyyid Said, forest areas could be allocated to Arabs who cleared them and cultivated them mostly with coconuts and cloves employing slave labour. After Zanzibar slavery was abolished, the Shirazi, who were fishermen and farmers, moved into the plantation economy.
Plantation slaves had to farm under the trees to produce their personal food in addition to keeping the trees weeded since their masters provided them with very little food.
Life patterns on the plantations remained mostly unchanged after Zanzibar slavery was abolished. Slaves were freed, but the plantations (“shambas”) remained Arab property, with Indians and the Shirazis also owning some. As a result, the ex-slaves became landless. Some big plantation owners left a handful of small plantations as trust (“waqf”) for the benefit of their former slaves. Christian missionaries purchased a few to help rehabilitate ex-slaves. The vast majority of ex-slaves returned to their previous jobs or purchased property in the “no-man’s-land” between the Shirazi towns and the Arab plantations. Only a few people with Shirazi marriage links resided in Shirazi villages.
Squatters were those who relocated to or stayed in the shambas. The squatting system shared many similarities with the plantation system of Zanzibar slavery. Traditionally, squatters used to be able to build houses and produce food crops on the shamba (even banana plants which were not seen as trees). Like slaves, squatters were also prohibited from planting or owning trees. For a modest fee, squatters were required to assist the shamba owner in picking the cloves during harvest time. Squatters neither paid rent nor share their harvests with the shamba’s owner and could be not ejected unless there was a breakdown of personal ties between the squatter and the owner. The squatter had no financial obligations to the property owner. Squatters were allowed to plant fruit trees such as oranges, mangos, lemons, limes, tropical apples, pawpaws, breadfruit, and jackfruit by some landowners. These plants were tended after by the squatter, who also gathered the fruit. The product was split equally between the squatter and the owner. (The landlord owned the trees growing in the garden of the property he has rented out in Oman and the previous Trucial Oman States.) The tenant is responsible for looking after the trees, which were mainly Indian almond trees called “Terminalia catappa,” and the landlord was entitled to half of the produce.)
Customarily, squatters did not have to get permission to settle on a shamba. On the shamba, he was supposed to get along with the owner, his supervisor or his agent. Provided that there was room on the shamba, squatters were always welcome. A squatter’s cultivation area was not restricted to a single part of the shamba or even a single shamba.
If the owner gave permission, a squatter’s rights could be inherited by his relatives and/or children. Traditionally, the owner would not object. Squatters, on the other hand, were not allowed to sell their rights, but they could delegate their responsibilities and obligations to family and friends.
Due to the fact that relations between the owners and the squatters were typically good, squatters were frequently called “Wasimamizi” (overseers). Between 1957 and 1963, however, Indian and Arab landlords voiced a strong desire to eliminate the squatters system and have it replaced with full wage labour to plant cash crops and trees like chillies. This action was in violation of squatters’ customary rights, and it instilled insecurity and fears in them. Several Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) members took advantage of the situation, threatening to deport squatters who failed to join the ZNP dominated by landlords.
It is important to distinguish between “hadimu” (“mahadimu”- plural) and “mhadimu” (“wahadimu”- plural). Hadimu was a former slave or a descendant of a former slave. Mhadimu, also known as Muunguja or Mwunguja, was a Shirazi from Zanzibar Island (Waunguja in plural).
By the 1950s, the titles “mahadimu” or “wahuru” for liberated slaves had practically vanished, and both groups, (of which just a handful survive today) became known as Wahadimu and were confused with the initial residents of Zanzibar, the Waunguja. Due to this misunderstanding, several of the Waunguja Shirazi’s younger generation confused themselves for ex-slaves and joined arms with the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP). The Watubantu and Wapemba joined the alliance of the ZNP and ZPPP (Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples’ Party). Some Wahadimu opted for the name Shirazi over Wahadinu since the term Shirazi was not derogatory and did not separate any single Shirazi “sub-tribe” from the other.
The term “Waunguja” is incorrectly used as a synonym for “Wazanzibari” (Zanzibari residents). This is clearly derived from the name “Zanzibar” for both the “Unguja” island and the nation as a whole.
The landlord-squatter relationship, which was based on the ancient slave master system, lasted for over half a century with varying degrees of attachment and bondage until 1964, when the Revolution upset the social balance.
Zanzibar Slavery’s peculiar structure had left its influence on all kinds of activities after it was abolished. Households relied heavily on servant girls and boys for menial jobs, as well as shopping and going to markets. This is still the case today, to an extent. Hundreds of young people work as “domestic servants” for meagre pay. Before the Zanzibar Revolution, formally organized contemporary enterprise and past slavery shared close characteristics. Zanzibar slavery had long been a feature of commercial and feudal households, and Swahili sailors frequently referred to the shipowner’s enterprise as their extended family or “mlango,”.
Following the 1964 Revolution, all land, including major plantations, was nationalized; however, proprietors of small plantations were permitted to keep their trees. Squatters were each allotted at least three acres of plantation land. State farms were established on surplus plantation grounds.
African and Arab Ethnic Groups
“Mswahili” is a term used to refer to many diverse categories of people in East Africa have been referred to as “Mswahili.” It used to refer to Africans from the coast who were Muslim and spoke Kiswahili in the not-too-distant past. Most people in coastal islands and towns dislike being called “Waswahili.” Superiors referred to Afro-Arabs and Kiswahili-speaking Africans of lower social class as “Waswahili.” All Africans (excluding Somalians and Ethiopians) were referred to as “Waswahili” by immigrant Arabs, while Asians called the Africans “Habshi” or “Habsi” (Abyssinian) or referred to them as “Golo” (slave). The word Swahili was “primarily an epithet of reference and therefore a significant sociological indicator,” according to Prins.
It was rarely used for self-identification since it implied a great deal of low social status. As a result, other identities like Shirazi or Arab, or to a smaller extent Indian, were always favoured. As from the late 1950s, the word Swahili has often been used to refer to any coastal resident of any nationality who speaks Swahili as his first language. This term, however, was not explicitly applied to any ethnic group. As a result, the Waswahili incorporated Africans of various tribes, including Asians and Arabs. As a result, a person may be Swahili and/but African (Nyamwezi, Zaramu, etc.), Swahili and/but Indian or Arab, and so forth.
Travellers and historians have used the name Swahili indiscriminately, but colonial administrators carefully avoided it because “no defined borders were distinguishing the Swahilis from other members of surrounding indigenous populations.”
Today, with the adoption of Swahili as a national language, all Swahili-speaking and coastal people of all ethnic backgrounds and religions take satisfaction in identifying as Swahili. A Swahili, on the other hand, might be defined as someone belonging to a Swahili cultural group (s). The Swahili cultural region has Islamic maritime, fishing and agricultural groups that have merged Arab, African and to a smaller extent Indonesian, Persian, and Indian cultural aspects. Those who bear this culture are not all of the same ancestry or physical appearance. Their history demonstrates their cultural unity.
“A blend of Arab and African cultural components,” according to Lofchie, “including Arab architecture, and attire, and art, Islam, and the Swahili language, which is basically African in vocabulary and grammar but highly saturated with Arabic.”
There were three primary groups of Arabs in Pemba and Zanzibar:
- The initial inhabitants, known as “native Arabs” (Waarabu), were mostly concentrated in Zanzibar Town and the clove-growing regions of the western part of Zanzibar Island. They belonged to Zanzibar’s landowning aristocracy and had lived there for several generations. Almost everyone speaks Swahili at home and is of mixed Arab-African ancestry.
- Wamanga (Arabs from Oman), who continuously arrived with the monsoon boats, or after an extended long sojourn in Zaire (Congo), Burundi, or Rwanda, where they made wealth and subsequently bought land in Zanzibar. The Congo Arabs (Waarabu wa Kongo/Wamanga) migrated to Zanzibar around the late 1950s, following the civil war that erupted in Congo. The elder generation spoke Arabic amongst themselves. Since the Revolution, the majority of them have sought sanctuary in the Persian Gulf states and in Oman, where they have received extensive official aid.
- Arabs from Dhofar, Aden, Sheher, Mukalla, and Sokotra Island in South Yemen (in Arabia), known as Hadhrami or Washihiri. These people worked in modest businesses, such as running coffee shops and retail stores. Their elders also spoke Arabic amongst themselves. With their Swahili-speaking spouses and children, most of them have returned to South Yemen.
Somali, Somali Arabs (Barawa), and Shia Persians from Iraq, Iran, and the island kingdom of Bahrein were three additional tiny communities that economically, socially and politically associated with the Arabs.
In terms of social standing, Africans could be divided into four groups:
- The Washirazi (Persian for “people from Shiraz”), descendants of the immigrants from Persia who settled at the coast in the 10th century A.D. and were considered to be the indigenous population. They worked in the coconut/copra/coconut sector and were largely fishermen and farmers.
- Swahili immigration, mostly from the Lamu and Mafia islands off the coastlines of Kenya and Tanganyika.
- Descendants of the liberated slaves, the Mahadimu (serfs, derived from Arabic “khadim”). Most of them were domestic employees or squatters. They typically identified themselves as Wahadinu or Washirazi.
- Mainlanders (Wabara) who had lately moved from central and east Africa’s mainland. In 1934, they founded the African Association for Immigrant Workers. The name was eventually abbreviated to the African Association, giving the ASP a large urban following. They had originally arrived in Zanzibar during the clove-harvesting seasons, primarily from the Zaramo, Makonde and Nyamwezi tribes. Mainlanders began entering the islands as plantation and factory workers since the Shirazi refused to join the plantation economy’s labour force, which could only be augmented through immigration once Zanzibar slavery and the slave trade were abolished.
Wangazija (the Comorians) established themselves as a unique ethnic group with a distinct identity. They were never referred to as Arabs or Africans or Arabs officially. They immigrated from the Comoro Archipelago to Zanzibar. They have predominantly been French subjects until recently. They are a mix of Arab and African ancestors who created a middle-class group akin to the Asians with who they shared power within the Civil Service during the Zanzibarisation wave from 1960 to 1963. Since the Revolution, many Comorians have fled Zanzibar for the Comoro Islands, where they have joined various political organizations.
(For various reasons, Asians other than Persians and Arabs and Persians are not included in this research.) However, it should be noted that the AAP had Ismaili and Hindu candidates in the elections, while the ZNP/ZPPP coalition had Sunni and Ithnasheri candidates with explicit backing from the Bohora, Sunni and Ithnasheri populations. At various points, both ZNP and ASP had a Parsian candidate.
The population of Pemba and the Peoples’ Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba was reported as “80 per cent African, 15 per cent Arab, 4 per cent Asians except for Arabs, and 1 per cent Comorians” in a statement given by the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council in 1964 January about the quota for admission to secondary schools as well as higher educational institutions. There was no mention of Swahili or Shirazi. Many political figures have urged people to forget about such divisions and identify themselves as “Wana wa Afro-Shirazi,”) meaning Afro Shirazi children.
The Shirazi, for their part, may be divided into two groups:
- Pemba Island’s Wapenda, who are linked to the Swahili found in north Tanganyika and Kenyan coastlines and have been heavily influenced by Arabs.
- Tumbatu Island’s Watumbatu, as well as some parts of Unguja and Pemba (Zanzibar) Islands. These are thought to be the oldest Swahili peoples.
- Wahadimu, also referred to as Waunguja, were the “first arrival” inhabitants of Zanzibar Island.
As per Sheik Kombo Thabit, ASP’s general secretary, The term Wahadimu for the first residents of Unguja Island stems from the word “huduma” (service) that the Waunguja rendered to the Arab Sultan of Unguja Island’s and the town of Zanzibar. The Mwinyi Mkuu (Regent and Prime Minister of the Waunguja) equally shared the taxes he levied with Zanzibar’s Busaidi Sultan. The Sultan’s slave bands were responsible for clearing the forests for clove cultivation, and the Mwinyi Mkuu was in charge of recruiting labourers for the Sultan. Once this treaty was implemented, the Waunguja came to be referred to as Wahadimu (those who gave and/or paid homage).
The Shirazi were placed immediately behind the Arabs since they claimed both Asian and African ancestry. When imported foodstuffs like sugar were rationed during WWII, the Shirazi, along with the Indians and Arabs, received bigger shares than the “Africans.”
” However, although they were Africans, they would fall into the lower tiers of the racial scale when compared to Arabs. They were thought to be socially and economically superior to newcomers coming from the mainland as well as the descendants of ex-slaves. Some Shirazis even owned slaves during the slave trade era. The island of Pemba was home to a few notable land-owning Shirazis.
The social mingling of races occurred to varying degrees. Thus, the Shirazis had a stronger, albeit limited, social interaction with Arabs as opposed to the rest of the Africans, maybe due to their lighter skin colour and affluence. Ex-slaves’ descendants and immigrants competed for the lowest social status under the Shirazis ”
The rise of black nationalism, fears of continued Arab dominance, and propaganda that resurrected memories of Zanzibar slavery and the slave trade history threw the social order into disarray, with the lower classes determined to overcome their many years of inferiority via a violent revolution. Though primarily a class revolution, the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution echoed numerous racial tones, since the socio-economic classes closely paralleled the weak – but longstanding – ethnic divides.
Slavery was not new to East Africa, but it was institutionalized and commercialized by non-Africans, with dehumanizing consequences on African communities. The final remnants of Zanzibar slavery were formally eradicated in 1964, which had been the stronghold for East African enslavement and the slave trade in the previous century, and where servitude still existed in some form.
Swahili Terms Relating to Slavery
A freeman – adinasi (wad’inasi)
Keeper of money – Akida (na)
Money lender (Hindu) – Banyani (na)
Concubine’s child – besar (na)
Slave trade – Biashara ya mtumwa
Slave owner, master – bwana (ma)
A serf – khadim (ma), hadimu (ma)
Tribute, Service – Huduma
A slave who led a band of plantation slaves – kadamu(ma)
Girl slave – kijakazi (vi)
Boy slave – kitwana (vi)
War prisoner, captive – Mteka (-)
A “hadimu” Shirazi of the island of Zanzibar – Mhadimu (wa)
Moneylender (Indian) – Mhindi (wa)
Freed slave – mhuru (wa)
Woman Slave – mjakazi (wa)
A fellow slave – njoli (-), mjoli (wa)
Omani Arab – Mmanga (wa)
Hadhrami Arab – Mshihiri (wa)
A Shirazi – Mshirazi (wa)
A squatter – msimamizi (wa)
Runaway slave – mtoro (Wa)
An employee, a servant) – Mtumishi (wa)
A slave – Mtumwa (wa)
Soldier, bodyguard slave – Mtumwa mfuasi
Unskilled slave – mtumwa mjinga
Slave who headed all plantation slaves – mtumwa msimamizi
Messenger/envoy slave – mtumwa mtumishi
A slave who worked as an agent – mtumwa mtumwaji
A homeborn slave – mtumwa mzalia
Sailor slave – mtumwa wa maji
Domestic slave – mtumwa wa nyumbani
Plantation/agricultural slave – mtumwa wa shamba
Councillor/advisor slave – mtumwa wa shauri
An Arab – Mwarabu (wa)
Master – Mwinyi
A slave with one parent born at a coastal town – mzalia wa mara moja
A slave with both parents born at a coastal town – mzalia wa mara mbili
A slave with grandparents born at (a) coastal town (s) – mzalia wa ara nyingi
A slave who was the master of a ship – nahodha (mtumwa)
A slave who worked as a ship’s mate – nahodha mdogo (mtumwa)
A slave who supervised on a plantation – nakoa (ma), nokoa (ma)
A concubine – Suria (ma)
Serfdom – Ukhadimu, Uhadimu
Slavery – utumwa
Abolition of slavery – Uhuru wa watumwa
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