Unearthing the Slave Routes of Tanzania

Tanzania, known for its abundant wildlife, endless plains of Serengeti national park, tall mountains, fresh water lakes and picture perfect beaches hides a mysterious history beneath its fertile soil and glorious landscapes. Tanzania was once one of the biggest and hottest markets for slave trade in Africa.

From the earliest times, Tanzania was a major supplier of slaves that were exported to Arabia, Persia, India and beyond. By the 18th century, the demand for slaves increased drastically and almost the whole of Tanzania was plagued with slave trading.



Just 45 miles north of Dar es Salaam, is the small, rustic town of Bagamoyo. Designated as the seventh World Heritage Site in Tanzania, Bagamoyo is notorious as the slave and ivory trade capital of Tanzania. The name of the small coastal town that derives from Swahili words, ‘Bwaga moyo’ which means ‘lay down your heart,’ probably because it was the last place where slaves would abandon any hope of escape and then would be shipped to Zanzibar slave markets to be sold off to prospective buyers.

Although slave trade was officially banned in 1873, it continued in discreet at Bagamoyo until the end of the nineteenth century.



The tranquil island of Zanzibar, today considered as one of the most beautiful islands across the world, was once the largest slave ports in the Indian Ocean, majorly dominated by Arab slave traders. By the eighteenth century, the increasing demand of slaves meant, traders often kidnapped, pillaged and used violence and power as a major weapon to export slaves across the seas. The brutal practice of slave trade went on for millenniums, as slave trade continued to thrive, and the brutality, worsen.

Today, even centuries past the history of slave trade, many prominent reminders of Zanzibar’s dark history remain scattered across the island. The Stone Town, being the major market where slaves were cramped in dark, airless, chambers before being sold, still has remains of chains bolted to the concrete. Old limestone holding cells, still exist along the island’s coast where slaves were hidden from British abolitionists. Slowly, as antislavery laws were passed, the use of chambers increased. Some of these remaining chambers still contain heart-wrenching final messages of the slaves, awaiting their fate, silently in the darkness.

Prison Island

A 20-minute boat ride away from the coastal edge of Zanzibar, is the secluded Prison Island, locally known as Changuu. The widely unpopulated island gives the impression of a luxurious islet, abundant with nature’s bounty. However, the unpleasant past lurking at the shores of the island narrates a completely different story.

A prison for the slaves of Zanzibar, and quarantine for yellow fever patients, the Prison Island remained a brutal confinement for the ill-fated prisoners for ages.

However, now transformed into a popular tourist destination, complete with amenities of modern lifestyle, the past of the island is buried behind the antique architecture, and washed away with the waves of the ocean.

The abundance of human labor, and the lack of proper government regulations, meant the nation of Tanzania suffered at the savage hands of slavery, while the slavers prospered with lavish lifestyles and abundance of wealth. Today, the salve routes, and a few archeological remains of the slave trading past, makes a window to the horrific history of the country, and are often frequented by intrigued locals and tourists alike.


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