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Zanzibar’s Christ Church Cathedral opens slave-trade heritage centre

Posted on: June 24, 2016 10:57 AM
Statues of slaves bound together with chains around their necks serve as a reminder of the atrocities suffered by the men, women and children who were captured and sold into slavery in East Africa.
Photo Credit: Lynette Wilson / Episcopal News Service
Related Categories: History, slavery, Tanzania, zanzibar

[Episcopal News Service, by Lynette Wilson] Christ Church Anglican Cathedral stands in Stone Town as a symbol of remembrance to the men, women and children taken from East Africa and sold into slavery. A massive stone structure just outside the historic city’s narrow streets and corridors, the cathedral also serves as a reminder of the Anglican Church’s role in abolishing the slave trade, and its contribution to the spread of Christianity in Africa.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, Stone Town receives more than 100,000 visitors annually, with many of them visiting the cathedral, where guides offer tours of the property built on a former slave market.

In the fall of 2013, the Anglican Diocese of Zanzibar – part of the Anglican Church in Tanzania – in partnership with the World Monuments Fund-Britain began a project to preserve the cathedral and to create a heritage centre to commemorate the abolition of slavery and to educate people about slavery in its modern forms.

“The project will preserve a highly significant monument, and promote access to one of the most important heritage places in East Africa,” said Bishop of Zanzibar Michael Hafidh, in an email message. “Telling the story of this dark chapter in the region’s history in an open and factual way will help bridge social and ethnic divides and promote tolerance, reconciliation and an inclusive society.”

The heritage centre will tell the story of the slave trade in East Africa, both in English and Swahili, to promote interfaith dialogue, educate tourists, bridge social and ethnic divides, and teach children about tolerance and reconciliation to promote an inclusive society.

“The process of creating the heritage centre . . . and making it accessible to school children, who are the country’s future leaders, will promote interfaith and intercommunal dialogue and understanding,” wrote Hafidh, whose mother was a Christian and whose father was a Muslim.

The European Union and the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, among other donors large and small, provided financial support for the cathedral restoration project. Except for the spire, restoration is complete.

On 15 June, the heritage centre opened. Featuring an East African Slave Trade Exhibit, it tells the story of slavery and the slave trade beginning with capture in places like Congo, Kenya, Tanganyika, through transport, buyers and sellers, from working the spice plantations and the journey abroad, to freedom and the legacy slavery imparted on Zanzibar, an island archipelago with 1.3 million people, the majority of them Muslim.

“Zanzibar was an important trans-shipment point for slaves coming from the mainland who were either sold on Zanzibar’s slave market to Arab or Swahili plantation owners to work on the spice plantations of the island of Zanzibar or the island next door, Pemba,” said Derek Peterson, a professor of history and African studies at the University of Michigan and a member of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor. “Or sometimes they were also sold in great numbers to dealers who took them around the Cape of Good Hope bound for Brazil.”

The slave trade shifted to East Africa after the British parliament voted to end the West African slave trade and later positioned navy squadrons off the coast to intercept slaving vessels headed for the New World, driving up the price for slaves, said Peterson, who previously taught at Cambridge University in England. The demand for slave labour was high in the Caribbean and Brazil; the latter country didn’t abolish slavery until the late 19th century.

  • Click here to read Lynette Wilson’s full in-depth article on the Episcopal News Service.