Our tour guide warned about the emotional draw of this place, “many have cried and some quickly rushed outside because they could not bear the mere thought of being there.” We got out of our cool and comfortable van into the blistering heat of Stone Town, the world heritage site of Zanzibar, and walked a hundred meters to our first destination.
We arrived at an old building of just two floors. The sign outside (in photo) announced ‘Former Slave Market Site’ sending me shivers. “What’s inside?” I thought ducking my head at the entrance that led to shiny stone steps down to the first floor which was an art gallery catering to tourists like us and hosting local artists who mostly painted on canvas with subjects ranging from still life to landscapes.
We were led to the basement through dark, dingy, narrow, and circuitous alleys that brought us to what was once the herding area of slaves. “Zanzibar was the center of the slave trade in East Africa in the mid-19th century,” according to our travel guide.
While listening further to history, we had to sit on stone slabs around a room of 25 square meters with a ceiling height of just five feet. There weren’t any windows but simply small slits of space on the walls of very hard stone. Without ventilation, we exerted effort while breathing made even more difficult by the pervasive stench.
We learned that the whole perimeter held at least fifty slaves who were shackled to each other. Apparently, they were sold in bunches. The tide from the nearby sea would occasionally fill this tiny enclave. Disease and deaths resulted from the miserable living environment.
Zanzibar today enjoys a healthy rate of tourist arrivals especially with the availability of Five-Star resort complexes frequented by citizens of nations who once colonized this island. Until today the colonization continues and who knows, the covert forms of slavery as well.