Stonetown Church

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

A conversation about what happened on Zanzibar, and interesting place.

Stonetown Church


‘We are the champions, we are the champions…’ blared out from the window when Henry pulled up outside his mate’s house. Albert didn’t hear him arrive because of the music so Henry walked in and stood there until Albert realised he was there.

‘I’ve bought a new CD player.’ He explained happily, turning it off. ‘The other one blew its guts!’ Henry already knew about the old one because he’d tried to fix it by renewing the speaker terminals, but he had declared it dead as a dodo a couple of weeks ago.

After discussing the new player and watching the volume light go up and down, they sat out in the conservatory with a pot of tea and some shortbread.

‘Y’know, Freddy Mercury was born on Zanzibar.’ Henry said, referring to ‘We are the champions’.

‘Zanzibar? Oh South Africa.’ Albert replied casually. Henry was used to this mistake, the only part of Africa that most Kiwis seem to know about is South Africa. Maybe because New Zealand plays rugby with them, or maybe because of Mandella. Henry shrugged.

‘Y’know, the Pyramids of Giza are in Africa’ Henry mumbled with a touch of sarcasm but barely audible and continued aloud as he’d practiced many a time. ‘Zanzibar is an offshore island, a part of Tanzania. It joined up with Tanganyika in 1964 after the Brits moved out in 1961. So it became Tanzania, East Africa. It’s about half way up the African continent, Dar es Salaam’s just six and a half degrees south of the equator… nothing to do with South Africa.’ He knew Albert had heard, but he wasn’t listening.

‘What’s Zanzibar famous for?’ Albert asked, with no curiosity in his voice.

‘The Arabian nights!’ Henry laughed. ‘Well that’s my imagination for you! There are dhows, the narrow streets of Stonetown, ninety percent Muslim, spices like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and black pepper and of course it was a slave market.’

‘Slave market!’ Exclaimed Albert, conscious of recent events. ‘Is that where America got them from?’

‘The wrong side of the continent.’ Henry explained. ‘Slaves were captured in Central Africa, and East Africa and sold on Zanzibar.’

‘Must have been a horrible time for the poor buggers.’ Albert empathised and added. ‘You’ve been to Zanzibar eh?’

‘Horrible’s a good word for it,’ replied Henry, ‘I’ve been there four times and tried to get my head around what happened during those times. What shocks me is that the pioneers coming to New Zealand from Britain brought with them, cattle, sheep, birds and other animals without many of them dying. But David Livingston, y’know the Africa explorer, he reckoned 80 000 Africans died each year either on their way to Zanzibar, or in the Zanzibar slave cellars!’

‘Shit, 80 000 a year!’ Albert was surprised.

‘Yeah and no girl older than ten arrived at where they were taken to with her virginity intact!’

Albert spat in disgust.

‘I wrote all this stuff in my diary,’ Henry recalled, ‘I’m not sure if I can remember all of it now though…’

‘I’m listing.’ Albert assured him.

‘Sultan Al-said moved his entourage from Oman to Zanzibar, in the early 1830’s and under his watch he exported 50 000 souls per year over about 40 years. What makes your chin drop, if Livingston was right about the number that died, 3.2 million died as collateral damage! The captives were brought from the mainland in dhows, small boats with triangle sails, and if any became sick or died, they were tipped over the side. Same in the cellars on Zanzibar, dead’uns were fed to the sharks. The cellars were built with a slipway into the sea for getting rid of the bodies.’

‘Unbelievable!’ Albert shook his head.

‘They had a whipping tree.’ Henry added. ‘To demonstrate the captured peoples’ hardiness. They were tied to the tree and whipped! If they didn’t cry out, a better price was paid for them! There’s a church above the cellars now, the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ and the white marble alter stands where the whipping tree stood. It’s surrounded by red to signify blood! I had to stoop in those cellars…’

‘And you’re fairly short!’ Albert cut in.

‘You’re not so tall yourself.’ Henry smiled. ‘They weren’t fed and there were no dunnies for them to crap into, and being packed in like bananas in a bunch, the conditions were just unimaginable! I felt awful in there and seeing those bloody chains… just sickening really. The Brits put a stop to it in 1873, after pressure from Livingston and William Booth, y’know the Salvation Army bloke. Wilberforce too. I think they put a few battleships out at sea to warn the Sultan… Barghash, I think his name was. Even so, there were black market slaves still sold in secret at the Zanzibar caves until 1906. A fellow by the name of Teppu Tip was the head of the black market, he was the main guide that Livingston used exploring Central Africa.’

‘Man’s been pretty awful to his fellow man.’ Albert said, shaking his head.

‘Yeah,’ Henry took a deep breath, ‘and not long after independence, in 1964? Yeah ’64, John Okello, a Zanzibar man, lead 600 revolutionaries on a mass killing spree of Arabs that lead to the Sultan being booted out. They gang-raped women, beheaded people, even killed kids. Revenge isn’t a sweet thing… but it ended 200 years of Arab domination…’

‘I see what you mean about revenge.’ Albert said flatly.

‘Well there’s a plaque at the church that recognises Britain’s part in ending slavery in 1873 but doesn’t asy anything about it still going on slyly for another 33 years!’

‘Hasn’t stopped yet either, so I hear.’ Albert said glumly. ‘It’s all about money I suppose.’

‘Power and politics comes into it too.’ Henry agreed. ‘How about another cuppa, I want to wash the bitter taste from my mouth… Hang on though, there’s a bit more. David Livingston died in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and he’s buried in Westminster Abbey. But his heart was buried under a Mvula tree that was growing in the village chief’s compound.’

‘That’s fitting.’ Albert nodded.

‘Ah, but that’s not all, some wood was taken from the tree and fashioned into a cross… the cross hangs in the Stonetown church, above the slave market cellars.’

Submitted: October 22, 2020

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