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Zanzibar > Pictures and travelogues > Stone Town slave market

Pictures from the slave market in Stone Town, Zanzibar: Slave Chambers, the Slavery Memorial, and Tippu Tip's House.   

Stone Town's slave market, Zanzibar
A slave chamber at Stone Town's slave market, Zanzibar.

In 1698, Zanzibar became part of the overseas territories of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. The latter was engaged in a lucrative slave trade across East Africa. 

Omani ruler Said bin Sultan encouraged the development of clove plantations in Zanzibar, using slave labor. By the early nineteenth century, the slave trade was considerably expanding due to growing demand for labor on sugarcane plantations mainly in Mauritius and Reunion.  

Since the Sultans of Zanzibar controlled much of the East African coast and the trading routes extending further into the continent, Zanzibar became the main slave-trading port in East Africa.

Caravans started out from Bagamoyo on the mainland coast, travelling more than 1300 km (800 mi) on foot as far as Lake Tanganyika, buying slaves from local rulers on the way, or simply capturing them. The slaves were chained together and used to carried ivory back to Bagamoyo.

Then from Bagamoyo, the slaves were shipped to Zanzibar where the slave market used to be. Countless slaves died before reaching the market.

The slaves were put on sale in Stone Town market in the late afternoon. They were arranged in lines, with the youngest and smallest at the front and the tallest at the rear, and paraded through the market by their owner, who called out the selling prices.

After being sold to a new owner, slaves were either put to work in Zanzibar or shipped to Oman or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. A wealthy Arab slave trader used to contain rebellious slaves in Changuu Island, located just off Stone Town.

In the mid-19th century, about 50,000 slaves were passing through Zanzibar each year. Slave and ivory trade makes Zanzibar a rich city that was famous worldwide.   

Stone Town's slave market lasted until 1873 when Sultan Barghash closed it under pressure from the British. It was probably the last legal slave market in the world. Read more about the abolition of the slave trade in Zanzibar.  

Slavery Memorial at Stone Town, Zanzibar
Slavery Memorial Monument at Stone Town's slave market, Zanzibar.

The Anglican Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Christ) was built over the former slave market just after the closure of the market, but the original holding cells are still underneath. The slaves were chained in 15 underground chambers, separated in male and female compartments. Two of the 15 chambers are currently accessible to tourists.

The chambers had low ceilings and tiny windows. Up to 65 slaves were crammed in each of these terribly small chambers before being taken to the market. To fetch a higher price, the slaves were often cleaned just prior to auction. A large tree was used as a whipping post to show the strength of the slaves. Those who did not cry fetched a higher price.  

The place of the Anglican Cathedral was deliberately chosen to celebrate the end of slavery. The altar stands on the spot of the whipping tree. The grave of Bishop Edward Steere who built the church may be found behind the altar.

A crucifix beside the chancel has been fashioned from a branch of the tree under which David Livingstone's heart was buried. Livingstone whose many of the journeys to Africa began and ended in Zanzibar was an explorer and anti-slavery campaigner. He died in present-day Zambia on 1 May 1873 from malaria. His heart was buried under a tree near the spot where he died while his body was returned to Britain for burial.

A Slave Memorial was built on the same site. It is a sculpture of five slaves placed in a pit just outside the Anglican Cathedral. The slaves have a collar around their neck and are chained one to the other: the chain is one of the original chains used at the time of the slave trade. The memorial is made by a Swedish artist who expressed perfectly the pain and desperation of the slaves.  

Tippu Tip's House in Stone Town, Zanzibar
Tippu Tip's House in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Hamed bin Mohammed bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi, better known as Tippu Tip (1837 - 1905), was one of the wealthiest slave traders and plantation owners in Zanzibar. He led many trading expeditions into Central Africa.


Tippu Tip met David Livingstone. He supported several western explorers of the African continent and occasionally helped some missionaries.This clever man succeeded in establishing his ascendancy over a number of African chiefs as well as over his rival Zanzibari traders who had preceded him on the Upper Congo.  


In 1876, Tippu Tip was requested to escort Henry Morton Stanley down the Congo River. He accompanied Stanley only to the Stanley Falls. He became the ruler of Upper Congo. 


Tippu Tip retired in 1891 in Stone Town and wrote his autobiography. He owned more than 10,000 slaves and 7 plantations. He had a personal harem which he visited daily. He died in 1905 in his home in Stone Town. 


The house of Tippu Tip is situated just a couple of meters from the Africa House Hotel. Once one of the richest buildings in Zanzibar, it is currently in a bad state. Several families live in the building that has been divided in flats. 


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Travel guide and travel directory to Zanzibar with many pictures.