A special contribution to The Source, ahead of Black History month, Part 1 – Slavery and slave trade: A forgotten dark history

The more one travels, the more one learns. Museums all over the world like Paris, London, New York, Montreal and Victoria inform of previous humans’ histories. The story is quite different this time…

It was only when we reached Zanzibar, a small island off the Indian Ocean, part of the state of Tanzania, that we came across a unique monument: Slaves Monument. Unlike other simple monuments in other parts of the world like Europe, the United States, Canada, and the Middle East and North Africa regions, this one stood out for its simplicity, expressivity and its surroundings. The monument is shown in the picture to the left.

The monument was built in 1997 in the exact same place where slaves were auctioned and sold. As seen through the zoomed-in picture below, the monument reproduces a scene where 5 slaves were standing, chained to each other from around the neck, waiting to be called and auctioned.

The monument shows male and female slaves of all ages, which highlights the fact that no one got spared. Slavery reached every black person that the machine industry of the time could get hold of.

The monument was designed by Clara SÖrnäs, a Swedish stone artist, during the years 1997–98.

The moment is located near the slaves’ chamber, which has a den-like entrance with a small corridor leading to two spaces: one branching to the right where male slaves were kept and a second branching to the left where female and child slaves were kept. It is quite low in height and signs reading ‘watch your head’ were placed at each entrance as a caution. When you enter the rectangular space, you see an elevated seating space split by a small canal. The guide explained that the central canal served as the slaves’ toilet. Thus, the slaves had just one space in which they would eat, sleep and eliminate. If you are wondering about who was responsible for the cleaning, the answer is mother nature. When the tide is high, the sea waves flow in and wash away the waste.

The harsh conditions were quite deliberate. The slaves’ merchants are not keen on keeping weak slaves. Only those who manage to withstand such conditions and survive proved worth keeping. Several slaves succumbed to suffocation, starvation and poor hygiene. The slaves’ cell had only two tiny window-like spaces for light, air, and oxygen. Once closed, all would be dark.

The following plaque stood at the entrance to the chamber:

A church and a mosque were built at the vicinity of the slave auctioning location. Our guide then showed us the place inside the church where the slaves used to exhibit their strength by standing and receiving lashes. Those who managed to withhold their pain and not show weakness were systematically sold at a high price. Those who moaned or cried were dismissed for weakness, and either sold for a cheap price or returned to the chamber. At the same location inside the church, there was a well where the infant children of slaves would be thrown in alive. Ironically, it is now used to baptize children.