(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)

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Arabs, Blacks and Mixed Races on the East Coast

The monsoon winds to the southwest between June and October made easy sailing for traders from Oman to the east coast of Africa, and an easy return voyage in the opposite direction in the monsoons of December to April. Salalah was one of the ports for travel to and from the African coast, and it was Oman that came to dominate the coast politically.

In 1804, Said bin Sultan, after murdering his father's cousin, became the Sultan of Oman. He took the title "Seyyid," replacing his former title, "Imam," and his wife took the title "Seyyida." And after consolidating his power in Oman, Seyyid Said moved against members of a clan from Oman, the Mazrui, who lately had been exercising power independently at Mombasa. While Seyyid Said's navy was bombarding Mombasa's Fort Jesus, a British ship docked at Mombasa and threw its support to the Mazrui, hoping that Britain could establish a base at Mombasa and improve its opposition to the slave trade in the region. A contingent from the ship planted the British flag and declared Mombasa an English protectorate, but, in 1826, Said obliged the British to withdraw.

Said was encouraging Arabs in eastern Africa to enlarge their clove plantations on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba – plantations worked by slave labor. In 1837 he defeated the Mazrui in Mombasa, and in 1840 he moved the center of his rule to the coastal island of Zanzibar, 150 miles (240 km) to the south.

Zanzibar was a trade center: slaves and ivory from Africa's interior and spices from the island to the mainland. Sultan Said's rule in his African territory pursued friendly relations with traders in the interior. It exploited rivalries between tribes, encouraging stronger chiefdoms to conquer their weaker neighbors and sell them into slavery. The size of caravans from the coast were enlarged. Said's trading centers developed at Tabora and at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, which served as staging areas for deeper penetration, including to Buganda in 1844. Said was growing richer from his trade in ivory and slaves. Then in 1847, to stay on the good side of the British, Seyyid Said agreed to end his trading in slaves. And Said continued doing well, becoming the world's foremost exporter of cloves, ivory and gum-copal.

Said encouraged the immigration of bankers from India to Zanzibar, and the Indians were granted religious toleration. Indians became dominant in Said's financial and customs administrations, while Arabs dominated his military. Cultural differences created tensions between the Indians and Arabs, but they tolerated each other enough for peace and the functioning of authority.

Tension also existed between people in Oman and those in Zanzibar. Omani women thought women in Zanzibar uncivilized. Members of Said's family in Oman thought themselves of higher rank than their kin in Africa, and they viewed speaking a language other than Arabic as an indication of barbarity. note36

The Fall of the Kololo and Survival of the Lozi

The people called Kokolo (Makololo) had been driven away by Shaka in the early 1820s and had been on the run until the 1830s when they moved with their cattle into territory that had belonged to the Lozi, along the upper Zambezi River in south central Africa. They were aggressive and militarily superior to the Lozi, and they conquered the Lozi. And like other conquerors they kept local political relations in place, becoming overloads, while some Lozi royalty fled northward. The Kokolo taxed the Lozi, turned some of them into agricultural slaves and sold others to slave traders in exchange for more guns. Lozi society became more cattle oriented, and the Kokolo went on regular cattle raids against the Ila people to their east.

The Kololo were less successful at suppressing subversion than the ancient Spartans had been. Lozi royalty sneaked back and in 1864 led an uprising that annihilated or scattered the Kokolo. Elements of the Kokolo language, Sikololo, and cattle raising remained with the Lozi.

The Ndebele, Shona, Ovimbundu, Prazeros, and Others

The Ndebele, who were driven northward by the Boers, settled on the Zimbabwe plateau in the 1840s. There, with their Zulu-style regiments and fighting methods, they overran peoples called Sotho and Shona – the latter already weakened by attacks by the Ngoni from north of the Zambezi River. The Ndebele expected tribute (taxes) from those they had overrun, and they raided those who were late in payment.

To the north of the Zimbabwe Plateau, along the Zambezi River in Portuguese East Africa, were the Prazeros and their slave-soldiers. The Prazeros were mainly black but proud of their mixed Portuguese heritage. They were estate owners and overlords, expecting subordinate farmers to support them and their armies. With the decline of the Maravi Empire in the 1700s the Prazeros had gained control over the ivory trade, and in the mid-1800s, well-armed with guns and without powerful state to oppose them, they extended their hunting and raiding 300 miles (480 km) inland from the coast.

Decentralization in Ethiopia

On the east coast in the north, near the southern end of the Red Sea in a land called Ethiopia, Christian emperors in their stone and mortar palace at Gondar had been declining in power. They lived by taxing people around Gondar and surrounded themselves with court ceremonies and called themselves King of Kings, but they had little more than nominal power elsewhere in what is called Ethiopia, where warlords ruled.

The warlords received favors from local people. A visit to a village by a warlord was an occasion for the village people to show their respect, done with a celebration and feasting. And the warlord received gifts – perhaps oxen for plowing the warlord's land, or sheep, goats, butter, honey or some other goods, usually following the warlord's announcement of some need, such as paying for a military campaign, marrying another woman or his loss of personal property.

Gondar was where three caravan routes intersected, all of them to and from Muslim controlled territories, with trade in Gondar controlled largely by Muslim merchants. From the northwest and northeast came textiles and various manufactured goods, including guns. From the south came gold, ivory and slaves. Gondar had a Muslim district and a larger Orthodox Christian district. Roman Catholicism, the religion of a few racially mixed descendants of Portuguese and Ethiopians, had been suppressed in the 1600s, and however many Roman Catholics there now were in Gondar they practiced their faith in secret.

Living outside the city to the northwest, in small dusty villages, were the Qemants. They worked at growing food and also sold timber and firewood to people in Gondar. Their religion contained animism and elements of the religion of the ancient Hebrews.

Between Gondar and the town of Massawa on the coast of the Red Sea, a greater power than Gondar had arisen. This was Tegray, under the warlord Webé Hayla Maryam, who had ruled since 1835. Tegray had long controlled the salt trade in the region. With greater access to the coast than Gondar, Tegray had acquired a larger stock of firearms. Webé considered himself ruler of the Red Sea coast. He was in conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which had absorbed Massawa in 1557 and had made it a prominent port on the Red Sea, with typical Islamic Ottoman architecture. With its troubles, the Ottomans had withdrawn, and the warlord Webé (whose official title had been dejazmach, an Ethiopian aristocratic title) was disturbed by the threat of Ottoman power returning to Massawa. He wrote letters to Queen Victoria. But help from Britain was not forthcoming. So he turned to the French for help, and that help didn't come.

Webé was defeated in the early 1850s by a Dejazmach Kassa, who crowned himself Tewodros II and reigned as Emperor of Ethiopia beginning in 1855. Emperor Tewodros sought to reestablish a cohesive Ethiopia and to reform its administration and church. He sought the restoration of Solomonic hegemony and considered himself the Elect of God.


American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt, by Daniel Rasmussen, 2011

History of Africa, by Kevin Shillington, chapters 16-20, 1989

A History of the African People, by Robert W July, chapters 8-13, Fourth Edition, 1992, (A fifth edition, 1997, exists)

Morocco since 1830: a History, Chapters 1 and 2, by C R Pennell, 2000

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.