Trails: Exploring World History through Documents and Images
Marc Jason Gilbert
"End" of the African Slave Trade: The Case of East Africa
World historians have an abiding interest in the
place of slavery in world history. If the early work of Philip Curtin on
plantation economies is any measure of the emergence of modern world history,
the subject of slavery can be said to have served as one of the field's
midwives. However, while the origins and impact of the slave trade in the
early modern era have received close attention and have hence generated
resources for teaching, scholarship on the decline of slavery has yet to
be translated into effective ways for teaching the subject. This is unfortunate,
because despite decades of decline, slavery remains a part of the human
experience, from the Niger River basin to the Sudan and from the sex shops
of Thailand to the streets of Bulgaria. Students might thus benefit from
a leavening of the standard meta-narratives of the rise of the African slave
trade and its "abolition" in the nineteenth century with some exposure to
both its slow decline and also its continuing survival. The resources section
that follows offers some means by which this goal can be achieved. Primarily,
however, this column is designed to place graphic evidence of world historical
processes directly in the hands of instructors. It will initially do so
by offering a document that many teachers requested when its existence was
made known on the H-World Listserv a few months ago. It is a certificate
of manumission issued by the German Imperial government in 1911 that is
alleged to be the last such certificate issued: no further certificates
were deemed necessary due to the purported end of the slave trade in East
Africa. The document is supported by other illustrative materials also suitable
for classroom use.
[Translation of Document]
of East Africa
Liberation No. 59
1. Name of
Person Liberated: Juma `bin [son of] Sudi
2. Place of
Birth: Chole [Most likely a village near an anchorage in Mafia
Bay of the island of that name north of Kilwa]
3. Sex: Male
4. Age: 25
Status: Not noted
6. Place of
Room Cleaner [Room work]
to whom he was in thrall (literal meeting): Mwanngura, binti
(daughter of) Hatibu of Kyegeani
virtue of his having been let go by his (female) owner and
by virtue of being entitled to his freedom via this certificate
of liberation according to the Law of September, 1891.
on the 9th of February, 1911
(Signed by) Imperial
District Officer Richter
This certificate of manumission was issued to Juma
`bin Sudi at Kilwa, 135 miles south of Dar es Salaam in what today is the
United Republic of Tanzania. Settlements at or near this site (Kilwa Kissiwani,
Kilwa Kivinje) occupied an important place in world history. From the 13th
to the 16th century, Kilwa served as an important urban center for Omani
and Shirazi merchants who contributed to the evolution of the culture of
"coast," i.e. Swahili, culture. They traded for gold, fur, beeswax, and
ivory with Great Zimbabwe and for slaves further north in today's Tanzania.
Omani and Shirazi merchants sold Middle Eastern crockery and Ming and other
Chinese porcelain. This exchange offers evidence of the place of both Africa
and Islam in the development of a world economy. Kilwa's central mosque,
then the largest in East Africa, was visited in 1331 by Ibn Battuta, the
famous Arab traveller, who found the island city of interest. It may also
have been visited by Admiral Zheng He [Cheng Ho], whose Chinese Treasure
Fleet visited Swahili lands almost a century later.
Kilwa was sacked and temporarily eclipsed as an
Arab trading center by the Portuguese in 1505. However, by 1868, the Omani
traders recovered and drove the Portuguese out. With the exception of a
brief Portuguese interregnum in 1725, Kilwa was a leading Arab center of
the East African slave trade for more than a century. This trade grew with
the concurrent spread of European plantation economies as close as Mauritius
and as far away as Brazil. Kilwa was eventually absorbed into the Sultanate
of Zanzibar (1841-1884) which controlled the lion's share of the East African
trade. By 1874, Zanzibar (whose very name is derived from the Arabic word
for slave, i.e. zanj) attracted the attention of European imperial and anti-slavery
interests which forced the Sultan to close its then-famous slave market.
Even so, the trade for a time remained brisk and a slave was allegedly sold
there as late as 1935.
In 1885-1886, when Juma `bin Sudi was born, the
British and German imperial governments partitioned between themselves the
mainland territories of the Sultan of Zanzibar. The partition was a classic
example of the process of "informal empire." Neither European state took
possession of the land: this was given in each case to a private company
"chartered" to exercise ruling powers over the domains in which they ostensibly
traded. They did this to avoid the costs of direct colonial administration
(which would ostensibly have to be responsible for the welfare of the subject
peoples) and also to reduce the chance of a collision between European states.
In so doing, they were pursuing the pattern of royal charters employed in
the initial stages of the so-called Age of Discovery. The Royal Charter
of the British East India Company of 1600, which granted it the right to
coin money, build forts and wage war, was typical of that period and served
as one of the models for the charters employed in the so-called Age of Imperialism
and "scramble for Africa" in the late nineteenth century. Much of eastern
Africa was divided between the Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft (the
German East Africa Company) and William McKinnon's private British East
By 1888, the German East Africa Company had established
a capital north of what today is Dar es Salaam, and immediately introduced
land ownership laws that inspired fears of a European land grab. This led
to an "Arab Revolt" in 1889-1890. Since the potential African allies of
the leaders of that revolt were active in the slave trade, part of the German
pacification strategy was to demonstrate to these Africans that it had no
intention of interfering with the slave trade. The strategy worked. The
revolt was crushed.
The Arab revolt, however, prompted the German government
to take direct control over the colony. Perhaps seeking a moral justification
for the assumption of state authority, the new German imperial regime suddenly
reversed the company's policy and began to dismantle the slave trade. First,
it confiscated the human cargo of slaver caravans and began issuing certificates
of liberation (the first in 1891). This was followed in 1906, by the abolition
of the slave trade, though domestic slavery was allowed and the Germans
reserved the right to demand compulsory labor for public works projects.
Children of slaves born after December 31, 1905 were declared free. Two
years later, British East Africa (the formal colony that succeeded the bankrupt
British East Africa company), took similar steps to end the slave trade.
Compensation payments were offered by British colonial authorities to former
slaves until 1911. In that same year, the last certificate of manumission
in German East Africa was issued to Juma `bin Sudi.
Juma `bin Sudi, now free, could only watch as the
Swahili coast drifted into slow decline over the remainder of his life,
but he may have also witnessed that region's ability to remain part of the
larger pageant of world history. During the First World War, the German
garrison at Kilwa surrendered to British naval forces on September 7, 1916.
The entire region had by then became a distant battleground of the Great
War in which thousands of Africans perished. After the war, German East
Africa was made a British mandate and then a British colony (Tanganyika).
Finally, Kilwa was selected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 for
its contribution to Swahili culture and its role in the making of the African
- Where did most slave traders
in East Africa originate?
- Why did the slave trade
become more important after the late 1600s?
- Who controlled the East
African coast from 1600-1885?
- Could a woman own a slave?
- Where were most slaves
involved in the East African slave trade captured?
- What commodities from
Asia played a role in the East African slave trade?
- What role did "chartered"
European trading companies have in paving the way for eventual European
- After the abolition of
the slave trade, how did Europeans exploit African labor without compensation?
- What role did Kilwa play
in the First World War? How did it figure in the post-war "mandate"
system? What were some other "mandates" and how did they fare?
- What would an Internet
search of such terms as "slave trade Sudan, Mali, Thailand, Eastern
Europe" reveal about the current nature of the slave trade? Does it
remain an issue in Africa? Is slavery still an international issue with
implications for multinational corporations and even possibly St. Valentine's
Juma `bin Sudi's Certificate of Liberation (or manumission)
can be shown via an overhead projector or distributed as a handout. My students
prefer the handout as it connects them physically with a former slave and
hence raises both the emotional stakes and quality of classroom discussion.
Students can be assigned any or all of the sample study questions offered
above. They may also make presentations on their search for parallel documentation
of slave manumission. European efforts to end of the slave trade can be
examined as a humanitarian and/or self-serving venture. Kilwa can function
as a case study in world history. Students can choose to explore the various
roles it played as a receiver of Chinese goods (via central Asia, India
and Persia) as center of the slave trade, as a colonial city or as an aspect
of Africa's participation in the First World War. It can perhaps best be
used to serve a larger exercise that compares slave ports such as El Mina
Students can also engage the question as to whether
African slavery, or slavery generally, has come to an end. Resources that
can support these efforts are provided below. Happily, in the last two years,
the Web's fearless premier antislavery homepage has been collecting student
learning activities at http://www.antislavery.org/
These resources include maps, in-classroom activities and even guides to
holding school assemblies whose content can easily be morphed into serving
the topics above. For a web page dedicated to a lesson plan for teaching
about slavery in present day Mali see http://www.worldtrek.org/odyssey/teachers/malilessons.html.
It should be noted that all the teaching materials
presented here were gathered as a result of a Fulbright Seminar in Tanzania
that included secondary and post-secondary instructors. All teachers are
encouraged to utilize this means of enriching their teaching of world history.
Further Resources for Teaching
An excellent overview of the African role in global
trade suitable for ninth grade and above is the "Land of the Zanj" chapter
in Margaret Shinnie, Ancient African Kingdoms (New York: New American
Library, 1965): 130-144. The chapter contains not only virtually all the
maps and photographic images necessary for instruction (though dark black
and white), but has drawings of coins and porcelain that are essential to
the discussion of Africa's place in the world economy. Also useful at all
levels of instruction is a selection from The Voyage and Acts of Dom
Francisco, Viceroy of India describing the sack of Kilwa that is available
on-line at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1505mayr.
Accessible works on the history of East Africa before
and after the coming of the Europeans include Ronald Oliver, The Dawn
of African History (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), M. N. Pearson,
Port Cities and Intruders (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University
Press, 1998), Basil Davidson, The Lost Cities of Africa (Boston,
MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1959), and G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville, The
French at Kilwa Island (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).
For trade patterns in the Indian Ocean littoral
before 1750, see essays by Abu Lughod and Janet Lippman as well as Richard
Eaton in Michael Adas (ed.), Islamic and European Expansion: The Forging
of a Global Order (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993) and
K. N. Chaudhuri, "The Unity and Disunity of Indian Ocean History from the
Rise of Islam to 1750: The Outline of a Theory and Historical Discourse,"
in the Journal of World History 4 (1993): 1-21. For the later period,
see Erik Gilbert, "Coastal East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean: Long-Distance
Trade, Empire, Migration, and Regional Unity, 1750-1970," which is available
on-line at http://www.historycoop.org/journals/ht/36.1/gilbert.html.
Peter Stearns, Michael Adas, Stuart Schwartz and
Marc Jason Gilbert, World Civilizations, The Global Experience, New
York: Longman, 3rd revised edition, 2000) offers a useful survey with documents
and slave narrative accounts of both the Atlantic and East African slave
trade which includes a table showing annual slave exports from the Red Sea,
Trans-Sahara, trans-Atlantic and East Africa. It also provides an annotated
bibliography on African slavery in world history. The rise and decline of
the slave trade in Africa and beyond is explored in two somewhat detached
and scholarly works by Robin Blackburn (The Making of New World Slavery
(New York: Verso, 1997 and The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (New
York: Verso, 1988) and by John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the
Making of the Atlantic World (1994). The impact of the slave
trade in Africa is illuminated in Paul Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery:
A History of Slavery in Africa (1983) and Patrick Manning, Slavery
and African Life 1990). Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle
East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) offers an accessible introduction
to the subject. Currently, the sections of this work that define the place
of slavery in the Islamic world, including East Africa, can be found on-line
The controversies over the impact of the replacement
of the slave trade by Europeans in Africa with so-called "legitimate trade"
(i.e. whatever its intent, it served to mask or justify greater European
penetration) are explored in Robin Law, "The Transition from the Slave Trade
to `Legitimate' Commerce" in Studies in the World History of Slavery,
Abolition and Emancipation, I, 1 (1996) available at: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~slavery/essays//esy9601law.html.
This and the larger question of the pace and impact of abolition as well
as other post-secondary issues for study can be explored utilizing the Special
Issue of the journal Slavery & Abolition (Volume 19, Issue
19.2) on "Slavery and Colonial Rule in Africa" edited by Suzanne Miers,
Emeritus Professor of History, Ohio University and Martin A Klein, University
of Toronto. The issue includes articles on "The International Context: Slavery
and the Slave Trade as International Issues 1890-1939," by Suzanne Miers;
"No Liberty, Not Much Equality, and Very Little Fraternity: The Mirage of
Manumission in the Algerian Sahara in the Second Half of the Nineteenth
Century," by Dennis Cordell; "The 'Freeing' of the Slaves in German East
Africa: The Statistical Record, 1890-1914," by Jan-Georg Deutsch and "Slavery
in Colonial Cameroon, 1880s to 1930s," by Andreas Eckert.
Observations on and interviews relating to current
slave-keeping among the Tuareg, justifications for the practice, and denials
of its existence by the government of Mali can be found at http://www.humanities.ualberta.ca/History111/from_henry_gates.htm,
Web Resources for Student
Activities/Research and Illustrative Images
The starting point for student activities is http://www.antislavery.org/.
Useful narratives and images for East Africa, Kilwa, and the slave trade
in world history can be found at http://www.kilwa.net/Kilwa_English/Kilwa_Area/kilwa_area.html,
For the on-line excerpt of the Portuguese sack of Kilwa mentioned above,
Juma `bin Sudi's birthplace at Chole can be visited at http://www.utalii.com/Mafia_Island/Mafia_island.htm.
A good map showing Kilwa and Mafia Island as part of the Sultantate of Zanzibar
is provided at http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/eastafrica/tangpre1815.html.
A typical entry on European chartered companies can be found at http://www.bartleby.com/65/ch/chartere.html.
Imperialism in East Africa is explored at http://www.onlytours.com/destinations/africa/tanzania/history.htm,
For slavery in Africa today, see http://www.africaonline.com/site/Articles/1,3,48750.jsp,
For International Slavery today, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,950179,00.html,
Biographical Note: Marc Jason Gilbert is Professor of History at North Georgia
College and State University and a University System of Georgia Regents
Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning.