“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” Those famous words uttered by Henry Morton Stanley were probably the reason I was most excited about going to Zanzibar. It was Zanzibar that was at the heart of the beginning of so many explorations into the African continent, and a place intimately linked to both Dr. Livingstone’s travels and a focal point of his efforts to end the slave trade. I have always been interested in the legend that is Dr Livingstone, a man originally bound to Africa to spread Christianity, turned adventurer explorer who became a champion to end the Slave Trade.
Dr Livingstone was a famous British Explorer, and during the Victorian era, (the golden age for exploration); Livingstone was a rockstar. He spent 30 years exploring the African continent, often being the first European to set eyes on many of its areas, most specifically in its interior. He famously came upon and subsequently named Victoria Falls (after Queen Victoria), trekked across Africa, mapped large regions and of course went in search of the elusive source of the Nile. His accomplishments and stories made him iconic, and it was these explorations deep into Africa that allowed him to witness first hand the horrors of the Slave Trade; and subsequently ignited his determination to end it.
Upon our arrival in Zanzibar, I was excited to learn more about the country, see Stone Town (a world heritage site), learn more about Dr. Livingstone’s time and or course see the legendary beaches. So you can imagine my shear delight when we arrived in Zanzibar and meet our guide Mussa, who within minutes said the now famous quote; “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” (With perfect emphasis on the I presume part!). As Mussa drove us to our destination, he began talking to us about the island of Zanzibar, overwhelming us with fascinating bits of history as well as current events. It was then and there I begged him to take us around Stone Town so that we could better appreciate it both historically and presently. He kindly agreed and arranged his schedule so that he could take us.
But that would have to wait a couple of days, our first stop would be Neptune Pwani, a coastal resort on the East Side of the island . We were very much looking forward to a couple of days of relaxing after our Safari and mainland Tanzania adventure. We were exhausted from our long days full of adventure and the constant African massage – which was Hassan’s way of describing driving many hours over veerrry bumpy roads at 100km/h. The resort and the beaches were more beautiful than we ever imagined. The water was turquoise blue as far as we could see. The resort was beautiful, the straw roofed huts scattered through green landscapes and surrounded by two large blue pools. The pictures of our time at the resort will serve as a better descriptor than anything we can write. We enjoyed 2 full days of sun – I sat in the shade and managed not to get a tan whatsoever – while Marcin fried himself as usual. It was just what we needed to energize us for the next leg of our trip. On the third day, we packed up and headed off to meet Mussa.
The great thing about travelling with Mussa, was that you felt like you were hanging out with a friend. Our first stop would be a Spice Farm to see how and why Zanzibar became known and the Spice Island. We roamed the farm while Mussa told us the history of Zanzibars spices. My favourite part was the history, Marcin’s was sampling everything handed to him, and Mussa’s I suspect – was laughing at our determination to identify the smells associated to the spice leaves he was handing us. Naturally we always replied “oh yes, that’s what I was going to say” comment, after our failed attempts to identify such a simple aroma as cinnamon. One of the most memorable moments was when Mussa gave us a pod of Cocoa seeds, we ate some but couldn’t possible eat them all so he called over some local kids who had been busy collecting water nearby. He offered them the seeds and they screamed with delight, raced to us and gratefully took the rest. Mussa also found time to look for a chicken (or specifically a cock) as two of his had fallen ill the previous night requiring him to kill them. This lead to a conversation that subsequently determined that I would likely die if left to fend for myself, and that as Mussa suggested, I should become a vegetarian.
After purchasing some deliciously smelling spices we headed off to Stone Town. We arrived in the city – it was once again a moment of seeing and experiencing something completely new. The buildings are white, and of course look like they are made of Stone, which Mussa later explained is partially true. The materials used in the construction of the town are a mixture of stones that are composed of ancient coral now found on the island and limestone.
The buildings are old, weathered, peeling in places and often blackish, but it gives the town a feeling of life and uniqueness. As we wound our way through the maze of streets, Mussa showed us a succession of the most beautiful wooden doors we had ever seen. Big enough to walk a moose through and intricately hand carved, they are very unique to Stone Town. They are ornate, with brass knobs of different shapes protruding from them and have elaborately carved arches with images influence by various periods in Zanzibar’s history. We also visited the town market – it was huge and bustling with life – it was so big that there were buildings designated to certain types of food. There was a fish and seafood building, a beef building and a chicken building. I made it through the seafood building – barely – one gentleman happily showed me a giant Grouper, which he promptly gutted. Next was the beef building – the smell, flies and the meat hacking was way to much for me – so needless to say, I never made it to the chicken building, and Mussa once again suggested I become a vegetarian.
The more solemn part of the tour was when Mussa told us all about the history of the former Slave Market and the Slave Trade in Zanzibar.
During the reign of the Omani Arabs in the early 19th century, Zanzibar was the main slave trading point in East Africa. Large Arab caravans would head into the African continent, where they would bribe local chiefs and kidnap people to obtain individuals to sell as slaves. They would then march them back to the coast and bring them to Zanzibar for auction. Mussa took us to the former auction area of the market, and subsequently down into the chambers were the slaves were kept for days before auctions. The chambers were dark, airless, damp and one could hardly stand in them. I was overcome, I felt myself wanting to flee, to get out of this place, it was confining and overpowering. I made myself stay and listen to everything he had to say, but still found myself thinking about how much I wanted to flee from there. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the feeling of being trapped in there.
Mussa then took us to the site of the former auction block, where an Anglican church now stands – built after abolition by former slaves. Within the church, in front of the alter, there is a round mark surrounded by a large area of red stone. The round marking symbolizes the whipping post and the red, the blood of those that suffered there. It was at this spot that slaves where brought to during auction and whipped to determine their strength and price. The markings in the church serve as a reminder of the atrocities that were committed there. This brings us back to Dr Livingstone. Dr Livingstone was a tireless advocate in the pursuit of abolishing slavery. He used his fame in Britain to share his beliefs and wrote countless letters to politicians, Queen Victoria and also newspapers. When the British people, reading his words became outraged, the British pressured the Sultan of Zanzibar to make it illegal to sell slaves to christians. Despite the pressure from the British, the trade continued illegally until 1873, when Britain threatened the Sultan with their Naval fleet, and the market finally closed. The church was built as a historical monument to the events surrounding this part of history. Dr Livingston did not live to see the abolition but to honour his work, within the church there is also a special cross. It is a large wooden cross that hangs near the front of the church, and it is carved from the tree where it is said that Dr. Livingstone died in a small town in Africa.
Needless to say, this was a lot of information coming at us, Mussa explained it so eloquently, I hope I have the details correct, I listened attentively, but my memory can be suspect at times – we know Mussa is going to check the blog so hopefully he will inform me of any historical errors we have made.