Travels with V

Tanzania, Zanzibar & Pemba

On slave trade and a princess

Zanzibar, Stonetown part one

We drive back to Arusha, the starting point of our safari, but now we fly east, past Kilimanjaro and out into the sea. Our goal is the island of Zanzibar, once a part of an Arabian sultan’s empire. Zanzibar is infamous for its slave markets and famous for its spices. We fly there in a tiny plane and land in the capital of Stonetown. The houses are spotless white, their doors exquisitely carved and the streets narrow and labyrinthic.

Yes, the slave markets. Capturing and selling Africans as slaves was not the white man’s monopoly. In Stonetown there was a big slave market where African slaves were sold by Arabian slave traders for many hundreds of years. It was outlawed as late as 1897. Today a Christian church is built on the spot where the market were held, but the gruesome cells where the slaves were held captive, waiting to be sold on the market, are still intact and preserved.

Near the church there’s a memorial for the victims of this awful trade, created by Swedish artist Clara Sörnäs.

Shaken by this terrible encounter with a gruesome history we walk around Stonetown, starting with the nearby market, a face of chaos:

We continue our walk through the narrow streets to the sultan’s palace. Here we are told the remarkable and touching story of the runaway princess Salme, the sultan’s daughter with one of his concubines. When Salme was 19 she met and fell in love with a neighbour, a German businessman.

This happened in the mid-1800’s, and when the princess discovered that she was pregnant she fled the country. She was later reunited with her lover and married him. Eventually the couple settled in Germany where she became “frau Emily Ruete”. But the marriage was ill-fated, her husband was killed some years later in a traffic accident. Salme, needing money for herself and her children, wrote a book called The Memories of an Arabian Princess in Zanzibar.


If you want to know more about this strange and exotic story, read here or here (in Danish) 

In Stonetown there’s also an old Arabian fort, but there’s really not much to see there. And a famous palace called House of Wonders, which was closed when we were there. So instead we walk along the harbour, decline politely the offerings of gangs of souvernir salesmen and sit down at a fine waterhole in a garden shadowed by tall trees.

Stonetown was the birthplace of a boy named Farrokh Bulsara who was to become world famous under the name Freddie Mercury. We pass by his house, it’s just an ordinary two-storey house, and that’s it. Definitely more interesting are the famous carved doors of Stonetown, here’s a collection:

Are there any more fascinations in Stonetown? Well one for sure is the sound of a Norwegian folk song in a Taarab club…

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