Female forced labourers with Askari guard 1890
This web-page gives some information on the shift from classic slavery in East Africa by the Omani Arabs to a another form of slavery (forced labor) by the Germans (around 1890) and also contains information on slavery in Oman. Slavery occurs in many forms and we can still find it today around the world. Also few countries can claim they never played a role in slavery. For an overview of the Atlantic slave-trade see "The Slave-trade" by Walvin (2011 Thames and Hudson) For the East African slave-trade see e.g. "Slavernij en bevrijding in Oost Afrika in de 19e eeuw" (2003 publication by the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal) with Dutch and German text. The East African slave trade was also enormous in size and equally horrible compared to the Atlantic slave trade. Less slaves perished during the sea transport in the Dhows as the transport lasted fewer days than on the Atlantic trade. However large numbers of slaves perished when walking (often carrying ivory tusks or other goods) from the interior to the East African harbours for transport. During the 16th and 17th century the East African slave-trade was controlled by the Portuguese with African and Arab support. The Omani Arabs controlled the slave-trade during the 18th and 19th century with Zanzibar being the main slave-market. Smaller slave markets existed in places like Muscat and Mukalla.
The East African ivory trade was during the 19th century linked to slavery. Initially slaves were used to carry ivory tusks and other goods form the interior of East Africa to the coast, to be sold at Zanzibar.
Already during 1822 Sultan Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Oman & Zanzibar and a faithful ally of England, signed the Moresby treaty, which supposedly put an end to the export of slaves to "Christian" markets. Nevertheless during the early 19th century the slave-trade increased partly due to the need for workers in the new clove plantations on Zanzibar island and great demand from French! colonies. Between 1850 and 1873 at least 173000 slaves were sold via Zanzibar. According Wellsted around 4000 slaves were dispatched annually through the Muscat slave market in the 1830´s. It is estimated that well over 1.6 million slaves were traded from East Africa during the 19th century. The Arab slave trade was actively discouraged and contained by the British (see several of the treaties and the hunting for slave dhows by the British Navy) . With plentiful very cheap and flexible labourers (coolies) from India this also became economically possible for the British.
Starting 1884 German traders lead by Carl Peters (and initially without support of the German government) negotiated directly with local chiefs for control of large parts of the East African mainland (previously controlled by Zanzibari Omani) Later the Germans rented for 50 years a coastal strip of East Africa opposite Zanzibar from Sultan Khalifa of Zanzibar. After the Germans started developing their activities in East Africa (with the DOAG company) the role of the Omani Arabs in the ivory / slave-trade greatly diminished and was replaced by German forced labor, with black "prisoners" again chained by their necks. The local population was forced to work for the Germans in various ways e.g. via taxes and "delivering stones for food" . The Arabs in East Africa revolted against the invading German traders and against their own Sultan of Zanzibar (because of his lack of support) but were beaten by the Germans led by von Wissman once the German navy / army in 1889 came to their rescue. (see next section in the index)
Chained prisoners in Zanzibar, photo taken by J. Sturtz 1888-1890
By 1891 it had become clear that the DOAG (German East Africa Company) was unable to run its dominions, it sold out to the German Government which began to run German East Africa directly as a colony, thus relegating the company some plantations and trade business.The founder of the DOAG Carl Peters saw the blacks more as animals than humans and treated them as such: When Peter´s black concubines fled back to their village he had the village burned down and a concubine hanged. When the German parliament and the press found out about his cruelties he was taken to court and convicted in 1897. In the 1930´s Carl Peters was rehabilitated by the German Nazi´s.... For a balanced view on this topic see the different references e.g. the excellent book "Sklaverei und befreiung in Ostafrika im 19 jahr-hundert".
During the first world war 1914-1918 a small army led by the German Von Lettow of 3000 Germans and 11000 very disciplined local Ashkari soldiers kept a force of 100.000 British and Belgian soldiers very busy in East Africa, with their tactics of "asymmetric warfare", and they only capitulated as late as November 25 1918! The German troops received a Heroes welcome in Germany on their return.
After the first world-war the Germans were kicked out of East Africa by the British. In 1906 the banker Bernard Dernburg became head of the colonial office. Albert Rechenberg became governor. Measures to treat the black population with more respect were introduced. However the main focus as to make the colony more economically viable. The increasing arrival of German settlers resulted in conflicts regarding landownership. The Germans introduced major improvements in infrastructure including railway connections and also started education programs for the local children. After the first world-war the colony was taken over by the British. During the complete period of its existence the German colony had never been economically viable
German prisoners / forced labourers guarded by an Ashkari soldier (around 1890)
Of particular interest was the role of Tippu Tip: Just like an Omani Arab guided in the 15th century Vasco da Gama to Asia it was Tippu Tip who guided Livingstone and others to the interior of East Africa. Tippu Tip was also the most important (and richest) slave and ivory trader of East Africa in the 19th century. Apart from the British also the Germans made keenly use of his influence and services..... His fascinating memoirs were translated from Swahili into German and published by the German Heinrich Brode.
For a very interesting Omani perspective on slavery read chapter XXV of "Memoirs of an Arabian princess" by Bibi Salme 1888 published by Ward & Downey. She also contrasts Christian and Omani views on slavery.
Omani boom examined by the British navy for arms or slaves (around 1890-1900)
Osgood in Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar Muscat etc. published in Salem (USA) 1854 page 32: "Until a few years the dead bodies of slaves (in Zanzibar) were deemed not deserving a burial they were thrown upon the beach , to be removed piecemeal by the dogs that by night came from the jungles, or to be drifted away, or embedded by the waves in the sands of the beach. Through the influence of the British consul at Zanzibar , this disagreeable custom has been discontinued, and the dead bodies of slaves are now required to be buried by the seaside etc."
Regarding slavery in Oman. In 1900 in his book "Cradle of Islam" p 85 S.M Zwemer writes: "The town of Sur (in Oman) has always been a place of trade and enterprise and its buggalows visit India, Zanzibar and the Persian Gulf. The people are all bold sailors since many generations. But Sur also has the unenviable reputation of being now the centre of illicit slave-trading" During 1884 and 1902 the (large scale) traffic in slaves increased somewhat as many slaving ships operated under the French flag (!!), which was rather indiscriminately granted to various Arab and Indian Ocean captains......
Robert Landen in his book "Oman since 1856" published in 1967 writes on page 151: " In 1902 the large scale transport of slaves on the Indian Ocean ended when the Portuguese captured before Mozambique 11 ships with 114 Omani from the town of Sur carrying 725 slaves. The slavers were sentenced to 25 years in prison in Angola - news which converted Sur into a scene of wailing and lamentation. It was news which also marked the end of Sur´s importance as a slave port"
In 1902 Zwemer writes in his book "Topsy Turvy land, Arabia pictured for children" page 102 /103 that near Muscat a servant of the British Consul discovered a boat with slave children. The owner of the slave-dhow was sent to prison and the slave children freed and most went to the Missionary in Muscat (run by Zwemer). Zwemer worked as a missioner of the Dutch Reformed Church of America. This was the beginning of the "rescued-slave school" in Muttrah. Zwemer or more likely the publisher used an older photo (by Frenchman Hipolyte Arnoux) to illustrate the text:
As late as the 1960's slavery still occurred in Saudi Arabia and Qatar: