Tracing slaves from Zambia
By Edwin Mbulo in Livingstone

Saturday February 02, 2008 Print Article Email Article
Artistic impression of a slave caravan on display in the Livingstone Museum
Artistic impression of a slave caravan on display in the Livingstone Museum

DAVID Livingstone in his book ‘The Zambezi and its tributaries’ wrote, “Would that we could give a comprehensive account of the horrors of the slave trade with an approximation to the number of lives it yearly destroys. For we feel sure that were even half the truth told and recognized, the feeling of men would be so thoroughly roused, that this devilish traffic in human flesh would be put down at all risks. But neither we nor anyone else have the statistics necessary for the work of this kind”.

National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC) executive director Donald Chikumbi recently summoned to a workshop on tracing slavery and ivory trade in East and Central Africa held in Bagamoyo, Tanzania to give Zambia’s account of its involvement in slavery and the slave trade, which was brutal and dehumanizing.
Slavery help ed shape the history of four continents, and yet only the United States of America seems to freely tell the story of this brutal trade while others have taken to silence.

Chikumbi states that Zambia is very relevant and linked to the slave trading and slavery activities in Africa.

Chikumbi says that the history of Zambia ‘s participation in the trade has been traced from the 18th century through to the end of the 19th century when the long distance trade in Central Africa was at its peak.
He says that the trade was perpetuated by the Arabs, Swahili, Portuguese, the Chikunda, the Bemba, the Lunda (north), the Mbunda, the Mambari and the Luvale.

“The most affected areas of Zambia were Northern, Luapula, Copperbelt, Northwest, Central and Eastern provinces. Tthe studies which have been undertaken have revealed that the slave trade had telling impacts on Zambia. It has been established that by 1860, large numbers of slaves were produced by warfare and raiding,” he says.

Chikumbi indicates that wars associated with the generation of slaves were prevalent, though wars connected with political interest like successive disputes and expansion of kingdoms continued, slave traders exacerbated them for their economic gains.
“The Chikunda, Arabs and the Portuguese encouraged strong chiefs to wage war on weaker tribes for the purpose of obtaining slaves,” he says.

Chikumbi says that slave raiding caused disruption of many societies and unsettled situations especially in the Northern and Luapula provinces leading to ruthless rulers and individuals equipped with fire arms to establish control over large areas.
He states that it is estimated that 19, 000 slaves from Zambia and Malawi passed through the customhouse of Zanzibar.

“This was exclusive of those of those sent to Portuguese slave ports. In Zambia alone, there are reports of over 5,000 annually, others who were traded by relatives to the Sultan. These did not pass t h rough the custom house in Zanzibar so no duty was paid for them,” he says.

Chikumbi states that Mbala was the most out post established in the early 1890s for checking slave routes to the east and to counter Bemba raids for slaves in the area.
“It became the seat of the British South African Company territory in the north and ruins of the official residence of the company administrator overlooking the Stevenson road constructed in 1883 by James Stevenson from Kawimbe Mission to Chituta port on Lake Tanganyika are still present, not far from the Mutambalike burial ground and anti-slavery campaigns against the Arab-Swahili slave traders and their Bemba allies were launched from here,” he says.

Chikumbi says that the historical significance of the road is that it was used as a route for slaves from the interior or northern Zambia to the Arab-Swahili destinations in East Africa through Chituta port on Lake Tanganyika.

He stated that around Mambwe-Mwela mission i n Mbala there are fort ramparts dug around the mission station as defensive measures against the Arab-Swahili slave traders and their Bemba allies who regarded the mission in the area as interference to their slaving activities.

“The trench system measuring 105 by 58 metres protected the missionaries and the Mambwe refugees and the freed slaves,” he says.

He added that 20 kilometres to the southeastern part of Mbala town is Chituta or Kituta bay at Chisanza, which served as a part through which slaves were exported to Tanganyika with the assistance of the African Lakes Corporation, which was established in the 1880s to legitimately transport slaves.
Chikumbi reveals that the Old Mambwe-Mwela Roman Catholic Mission located 100 kilometres northeast of Mbala on Makamache farm was established in 1891 as a haven of refuge for the Mambwe and other captives freed from the Arab-Swahili slave trade in the area.

“The surviving remains of the old buildings are howev er being threatened by agriculture activities which are conducted by the farm owners and discussions on the need to protect the structures of the old mission remains have been held with the landlords,” he says.
At Kawimbe Mission, the London Missionary Society (LMS) established a church in 1892 to provide sanctuary to people who were frightened and displaced by the Arab-Swahili traders, Bemba raids and redeemed captives from slave traders.
At the mission graveyard there is a burial ground of Mama Meli who died at the age of 102 in 1972.

“Mama Meli or Mary was freed from the Arab-Swahili slave traders by the colonial anti-slavery campaigners in the late 1890s and left in the hands of the LMS where she grew up and later married,” says Chikumbi.
He explains that major routes in the northwestern part of Zambia connected the Copperbelt and Lamba land at Chiwala through Kaonde, Lunda and Luvale areas to Angola.

“Important to note was that in the Northern Province t he trails used by the slave traders were also used by David Livingstone where he had the first-hand experiences of the activities of the slave trade in Southern -Central Africa,” he says.
He states that Ikomba in Nakonde district is popular for its Mpundu tree locally known as the Namatemba tree near.

“It is here that David Livingstone rested during his great campaign against the trade in the area. The tree lay on the major slave route in northern Zambia. It is also a place of rest for the slave caravans where weak slaves were left to die. The tree is well preserved as no one is allowed to cut any part of it,” says Chikumbi.

He states that Sumbi Village in the Northern Province was a distribution centre for slaves who were mainly generated in the surrounding area controlled by Chief Makasa.
“In this village we have Lile Sumbi Nachula who does not know her age but may be well over 100 years old, witnessed slave trading in her fathers territory,” Chikumbi reveals.
He notes that presentation of slave routes and the story as a people’s heritage had been hindered in a number of African countries including Zambia immediately after independence.

“In Zambia like in many African countries gaining political independence suppressed certain issues in the need to protect the fragile situation of ethnic division,” he says.
Chikumbi indicates that a unified national culture was promoted and anything of the past which appeared to bring any line of division was discouraged. However this terrible tragedy was commemorated by declaring as a national monument a mupapa tree in Makoli Avenue in Ndola where some trade in slaves used to take place.
Chikumbi says that Makoli Avenue was formerly called Moffat and that it means forked woken yokes used to chain slaves together.

He states that Mukuba Hotel has since adopted and fenced off the site to minimize vandalism to the national monument.

“It appears that Swahili traders including C hip embere, Malilo and Chiwala who arrived in the area during the 1880s erected a stockade on part of the site of modern Ndola, and that this tree provided a shaded meeting area within the stockade and groups of up to seven captives from the surrounding population were occasionally sold to the Mbunda from Angola. The majority of the captives were however not sold but were shared out among the Swahili and kept to fight for them,” he said.

He stated that identification and documentation of both routes and sites of the slave trade in Zambia should be done as a matter of urgency.

“To this end NHCC is planning to engage other stake holders to have a field national inventory. In addition some cooperating partners who have shown interest in projects of this nature such as the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) will be approached. These heritage resources should be clearly presented and accessed by the public as part of the cultural tourism for economic and socia l de velopment on a sustainable basis,” he says.

“The conservation and promotion of the slave trade sites and relics will constantly help to remind us not again to have this approach in the future history of humankind. They shall be eternal reminders to stand united to fight all contemporary forms of racism, discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance and any form of injustice,” concludes Chikumbi

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