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

8 Responses to “Zambian History- Slave Trade”

  1. Mutapulo Says:

    This material must find itself into the classrooms of Zambian schools.

    Who shall wage the struggle for a truthful national history for Zambia ?

    Shall you , reader? The Japanese Supreme Court rejected their own Governmnets’ attempt to alter Japanese war history and make it more “friendly”. While this appears far fetched with the Zambian judicial system, the resopect for truth and a correct Zambian History goes begging !

    Let Us “Make Zambia fair ” – Tell this truth !

  2. Livington Moyo Says:

    There are men who were taken as slaves when a railway line was constructed from the then Northern Rhodesia to Southern Rhodesia. One of them Muluwana Moyo, who happens to be my Grand father came from the Lozi tribe under Chief Luwanika. Are any records in Zambian history where one can get the information that can help me and my family to trace our relatives. Our Grand father died in 1966 in Zimbabwe. He had never been in contact with his relatives back in Zambia, including his young brother named Jan or Jani who is believed to have gone back to Zambia or settled in the Northern part of Zimbabwe called Hwange the then Wankie. There are names like Gwindi and Mpezeni were given as nicknames to some of my brothers and from our enquiries, it seems they were names of my Grandfather’s brothers or blood ralatives in Zambia.

    Can you forward to any Zambian or Historian in the Zambia who might help link us with our relatives.

    I am presently residing in South Africa. I am a Lecturer at an FET College and a Training Consultant.

    1. Lisa Says:

      You are Lozi. I do not know how much research you have done but while Moyo is the name of a village in the western province and most people with the names are named after it because they are linked to it one way or another. It is also a wide spread name as it can be found all the way to South Africa. Muluwana however is another matter… I think. With a bit of research you should be to zero your search down to a village or two.
      As far I know, villages have village registers kept by the village headman and they go back to Lewanika lya Matunga. Given the poor records keeping in villages, my suggestion is you contact the the National Registration office located at Mongu Mongu BOMA. They should be able to at the very least to have suggestions for what district and or village to go to for the name Muluwana. From there it should be a matter of naming names to find relatives. Hope this helps and good luck with your search.

  3. Tina Says:

    It is interesting that people are looking for information regarding slavery in Zambia. It is true, slavery did occur in Zambia at a much larger extent than what we think.

    I do have oral history, passed down to me and I believe that the info is relatively true however, it needs a lot of negotiation with the village people because it has been kept silent for a long time.

    I am a decendant of a father whose parents were slaves and a mother whose parents were slave traders.

  4. Tuliswensi Ian Simwanza Says:

    I once read a book on history of Zambia. It detailed, the history of tribes and the urbanisation which came as result of the Mines. I do not the Author as such I have failed to get my hands on it again. I could appreciate if one helped me find it again.

  5. Tuliswensi Ian Simwanza Says:

    i know that certain tribes or the now called ethinic groups e.g the Chikunda (eastern province) and a certain section of the lambas(copperbelt province) are simply a cosmopolitan of people who came from far and wide as a result of slave trading and kind of got assimilated with the locals. could one with acculate information shade more light on this assesation?

  6. I posted an enquiry on the 13th of March 2009. Trying to get some information which might help me and my family to ttrace down our relatives in Zambia. The name of our Grand Father who came from Zambia (the then Northen Rhodesia) as one of the slaves who constructed the railway line from Livingstone to Bulawayo is Moliwana not Muluwana like I had indicated on my correspondance in 2009.

    What I have also gathered is that he was from a village not far away from Livingstone. I have also gathered that my Grand fathers father was called Mbida (spelling might be wrong but its alog those lines). Where they were staying, it was along a certain river. During the rain season, they would relocate to the other side of the river and come back after the rain season.

    I am currently contacting the Zimbabwe National Railways for any information that can be on their archives which might help be crack this puzzle. The difficult part of this situation is that our grandfathers Zambian Identity Document got burnt, which makes this whole exercise difficult.

    1. Are there any people who used to practice seasonal migration accross a river in the villages around Livingstone?

    2. Does the name Moliwana exist in Zambia, particurlaly among the Lozi people living around Livistone?

    3. Which department of home affairs can I contact for any leads?

    If I can get the lead, I am prepared to seek help from the Zambian authorities to do verify my origin through genetic counselling and DNA tests.

  7. john wynne hopkins Says:

    A very interesting article. I was born in South Wales brought up in Northern Rhodesia 1954 and remember the slave tree and also the ilala Palms which used to cross the main road from Lusaka to Ndola. I always remember my father pointing out the palms and explaining how the palms showed which rout the slavers took. I have also seen the lines of palms crossing the Maghadigadi in Botswana which show the routs of the Arab/Muslim slave traders crossing Botswana. I am reading the history of the Northern Rhodesia Police at the moment which tells the story of how the missionaries asked the early police units to stop the slave trade in Northern Rhodesia. I believe the last slave trading raid was in the western province and the tribes asked the NRP to stop them and I think that was 1920.

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