What is the connection between Scotland, Uganda and Zanzibar?
Dr Livingstone, you may presume. And you will be right – well, almost.
David Livingstone, born in Blantyre in Scotland, began and ended many of his expeditions in Zanzibar, including his attempts to find the source of the Nile – which is, of course, in Uganda, though he spent much of his time searching in the area between Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi) and Lake Tanganyika (in what is now Tanzania). The good doctor never actually visited Uganda, as far as I know (though I am not a Livingstone expert) but he jolly well should have, which is a good enough connection for me.
|David Livingstone House built in 1860 for Sultan Majid|
and used by Livingstone and other explorers.
Other connections? The Ritchies’ May holiday, of course.
It was some journey. Leaving Entebbe on the westernmost shore of Lake Victoria, we flew right over the lake towards the east, gazing down at low green islands which reminded me of Islay and Coll. The lake seemed never ending. Then, eventually, we saw land and began travelling across the huge land mass which is Tanzania. We looked down over the Serengeti - mile after mile of savannah – and the Rift Valley and then more miles of savannah. All of a sudden, a magical sight appeared on our left: Mount Kilimanjaro, the summit at eye level, wreathed in clouds.
|Mount Kilimanjaro from the aircraft.|
|Looking across to the Sultan's Palace and Ferry Port|
from the Beit al ajaib (House of Wonders)
|Spice plantation north of Stone Town.|
|If you look closely, you will see that most of these slaves are children.|
|Moving modern sculpture, with actual chains used for slaves.|
|Modern dhow hugging the coastline|
|Basement holding cell for 85 women and children,|
sanitation provided by a central channel washed out by the tide.
|Anglican Cathedral built on the site of the slave market.|
|Site of the whipping post in front of the high altar,|
used to test the strength and stamina of newly arrived slaves.
And what is Zanzibar like now? Well, we stayed in Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar Town and a World Heritage site. It’s a warren of narrow winding streets with tall old buildings built of coral from the reef which encloses the island. It’s really quite dilapidated now, with many of the structures quite literally falling down.
Once grand buildings face inwards into courtyards and entry is through heavy wooden doors, many of them intricately carved. Indian traders came here as well; in fact, one of the most famous sons of Zanzibar is Freddie Mercury. Indian doors had heavy brass studs, ostensibly to protect them from elephants, and Indian womenfolk were able to survey the streets from beautifully carved wooden balconies. Arab doors are often inset with verses from the Koran.
The Sultan and his family and followers brought their faith with them from Oman. Although in 1964 the Sultan and the dominant Arab community were overthrown during a bloody uprising shortly after independence from Britain, Islam has remained the faith of almost all of the largely African local population: about 95%. Many of the Zanzibari women are far more heavily veiled than we have seen elsewhere in Africa, though many are also resplendent in brilliant scarlet and turquoise. Strangely enough, the leader of Zanzibar's revolution was a Ugandan, John Okello, who had been living in Pemba, the nearby island. During the revolt it is said that more than 17,000 Arabs and Indians were killed in one night (though some sources give a much lower figure).
|Touches of intricate embroidery relieve|
the all-encompassing black of the over-dresses
|Bright scarves for the adults and bright dresses for the school girls.|
|Bright cotton kenzo, a wraparound garment for women|
|Kenzo celebrating independence, uhuru, from Britain, 1961.|
|And even one celebrating Christmas!|
|Terrace, looking out over the sea.|
|A corner of the Tembo Hotel.|
|Stairs with traditional coloured glass windows.|
The Sultan, like other wealthy Arabs of the time, had many concubines as well as wives. While in Zanzibar, I read a fascinating autobiography by Princess Salme, who was born in 1840, daughter of Sultan Said the Great by a Circassian (Russian) slave, one of his thirty-six concubines. Other concubines came from mainland Tanzania and elsewhere in southern and eastern Africa, including some from Abyssinia, modern Ethiopia. The children of these concubines were accepted as legitimate heirs, lived a comfortable privileged life like the one described by Salme, and, through their own children and grandchildren, added to the racial mix of Zanzibar. Lives changed irrevocably over just a generation or so. Salme herself eloped with a German who lived in the house next door to the Sultan’s palace, much to the fury of her brother, the Sultan Barschad, changing her life forever. Sadly widowed within three years, she remained stranded in cold colourless Europe, eventually writing her memoir to give her children some idea of their connections with her warm, exotic and much-loved native land.
|Ruins of the concubines' bath houses.|
The Last Slave Market by Alastair Hazell is a fascinating account of the slave trade across East Africa, its hub in Zanzibar and the way its tentacles spread right across Arabia. The book follows the efforts of Dr John Kirk in recording and bringing an end to the slave market in Zanzibar itself.