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Slavery, antislavery, political rivalry and regional networks in East African waters, 1877-1883

Esclavage, anti-esclavagisme, rivalités politiques et réseaux régionaux dans l'espace maritime de l'Afrique orientale (1877-1883)
Edward A. Alpers

Résumés

Cette étude explore les dynamiques locale, régionale et globale à l'œuvre aux Comores entre 1873 (traité d'abolition du commerce des esclaves depuis Zanzibar) et 1886 (domination française aux îles Comores). Le contexte local de cet article est celui des îles Comores ; au niveau régional, il considère le canal du Mozambique et le sud-ouest de l'océan Indien ; enfin c'est la politique anti-esclavagiste de l'empire britannique dans la partie occidentale de l'océan Indien qui fournit le cadre global. Il s'agit de comprendre quelles furent les conséquences locales et régionales de ces dernières années de rivalité politique et du commerce de traite dans la zone. En étudiant certains événements particuliers, il est possible de mettre en lumière les réseaux économiques et sociaux connectant les populations des Comores entre elles, et au-delà avec Zanzibar et l'espace littoral du Mozambique. Enfin je m’interroge sur la façon dont l'abolitionnisme britannique s’est exprimé aux Comores.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1  S. Subrahmanyam, 1997, p. 745.

1In an early articulation of his notion of “connected histories”, Sanjay Subrahmanyam notes that “a good part of the dynamic in early modern history was provided by the interface between the local and regional [...] and the supra-regional, at times even global”. He goes on to suggest that “for the historian who is willing to scratch below the surface of his sources, nothing turns out to be quite what it seems to be in terms of fixity and local rootedness1”. In this paper I propose to explore a different dynamic from Subrahmanyam’s Bay of Bengal in the 16th and 17th centuries, scratching instead among the dense British archival sources for the Comoro Islands over a short period of time between the 1873 treaty mandating abolition of the export slave trade from Zanzibar to the imposition of French suzerainty over the Comoro Islands in 1886. That is the local context. As Subrahmanyam’s comments suggest, there are many surprises lurking beneath the surface of what appear to be quite local events in the Comoros during this period. Regionally, my context is primarily the Mozambique Channel and wider southwest Indian Ocean; globally, it is the larger British imperial antislavery campaign in the western Indian Ocean.

  • 2  Although there are occasional references to northwest Madagascar in this paper, they are mostly in (...)

2The basic narrative for this period in Comorian history has been carefully studied by Jean Martin (1983), while I have written (2009) about the Mozambique Channel as a sub-region of the Indian Ocean world. To my knowledge, however, no one has adequately examined the British Imperial and Zanzibari connections to the Comoro Islands after 1873, probably as a consequence of the division between Anglophone and Francophone territories from the late 19th century. My paper seeks specifically to understand how the final years of political rivalry and slaving in this region affected matters both local and regional. By examining these events in some detail I hope also to reveal the economic and social networks that connected the people of the Comoros to each other, and beyond the Comoros to Zanzibar and coastal Mozambique2. In the process, I illustrate how British abolitionism played out in the Comoros.

3British anti-slavery activities in the Comoros, especially the intelligence provided by British Consul Frederick Holmwood, produced a rich body of evidence for this chaotic period in the archipelago. As well as featuring different proponents of British Imperial interests, this extensive documentation includes various African voices – notably those of several Comorians – that provide personal details of the trauma of being enslaved and illustrate how local and regional networks were pertinent as lived experience.

Map 1: The Southwest Indian Ocean

Map 1: The Southwest Indian Ocean

Source: Adapted from E.A. Alpers, 1975, p. xxv.

The politics of slaving in the Comoros

  • 3  The most detailed study of the internal history of Ngazidja is B.A. Damiret al., 1985; for the war (...)

4To grasp the local political context of the Comoros, it is important to understand the political situation obtaining on Ngazidja and the linkages between that island’s conflicts and the three smaller islands of the Comoro archipelago. Political authority on Ngazidja was divided historically between two competing dynasties, both of which traced their roots to a common Hadrami ancestor. Each dynasty provided rulers for a related cluster of sultanates, although the two dominant polities were Bambao, with its capital at Moroni, and Itsandra, with its principal towns at Itsandra-Mjini and Ntsudjini, all three on the western side of the island (see Map 3). In the late 19th century there were four such ruling matrilineal houses (inya) and 11 different sultanates. In theory, from among these inter-related inya one ruler was supposed to be recognized as a kind of supreme leader or Ntibe, which served as a stimulus to more or less continuous political struggles throughout the 19th century3. This political instability came to a head in 1879/1880, and its unfolding eventually led to the declaration of a French protectorate over Ngazidja in 1886.

Map 2: The Mozambique Channel

Map 2: The Mozambique Channel

Source: E.A. Alpers, 2009, p. 130.

  • 4  See, e.g., M. Horton, J. Middleton, 2000, p. 130 and sources cited therein.

5The specific origin of the conflict can be traced to the celebration on 21 August 1877 of Nairuzi, the Persian-origin New Year that has been integrated into both the Swahili and Comorian ritual calendars and was historically a time of communal competition4. According to local traditions, diviners (kuhani) predicted that within the year a prince called Ali was destined to seize the title of Ntibe from the current holder, Msafumu, a scion of the Inya Fwambaya, who had consolidated his power in about 1873 with external support from Seyyid Barghash b. Said of Zanzibar (r. 1870–1888). Sure enough, later in the year the one missing prince of the line, previously known as Mhadji, who had been absent in Egypt for many years, returned to Moroni and claimed his original name as Said Ali b. Said Omar.

  • 5 Said Bakari Bin Sultani Ahmed, 1977, p. 66, § 19.5.
  • 6  B.A. Damir et al., 1985, p. 81-83. For the dates of Buisson’s command, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1 (...)

6Born at Moroni in about 1855, Said Ali had spent his early years with his father, rather than with his matrilineal kin, at Maore (Mayotte), where according to one player in these political struggles Said Ali studied at the local French school5. Following the death in 1875 of the Sultan of Bambao, who had been exiled by Msafumu to Mahajanga, the major port of northwestern Madagascar, the 20 year old Said Ali determined to return to Ngazidja to lay claim to the throne of Bambao, on the west side of Ngazidja. Because his father had worked in the colonial administration at Mayotte, Said Ali was regarded as a friend of France. Stopping at Zanzibar on his return to the Comoros from Egypt and Mecca, Said Ali met with Seyyid Barghash, who in turn sought to influence the succession to leadership in the Bambao sultanate. When Msafumu could not make up his mind whether or not to install Said Ali at Moroni, the latter withdrew from Ntsudjini and gathered his supporters around him. At this point the usual configuration of marital, kinship, and political alliances seems to have broken down, which gave Said Ali the opportunity to install himself at Fumbuni, the main town of the sultanate of Mbadjini, on the southeast of the island, so that he planned to enter Ikoni (the other major town of Bambao) as sultan. This act of usurpation effectively meant that Said Ali would replace Msafumu as Ntibe in the two southernmost polities of the island. Negotiations proved futile and Msafumu prepared for war. For his part, Said Ali was prepared to bide his time at Fumbuni while he waited for its ruler, Sultan Hashim, to return from making the hajj. When Hashim returned in February 1880, he passed through Mayotte, where Said Ali’s father arranged for the French to provide him with passage on board the French screw gunboat La Décidée, then under the command of naval lieutenant Jean-François Buisson, to transport him to Shindini, in Mbadjini6.

7In April 1880 Said Ali and Hashim marched on Moroni, which they seized with a loss of about 50 men from their combined army. Msafumu withdrew to Mbwankuu, a sultanate on the far northeast of the island, where he built up his forces again with help from Seyyid Barghash of Zanzibar. Msafumu then launched an unsuccessful attack on the army of Said Ali at Nyandoni, in the Bambao sultanate, where he was captured by his enemy. Afterwards, Said Ali imprisoned Msafumu in Mbwankuu and kept him under close guard.

  • 7  For an overview of the military forces of Zanzibar around this time, see M. Pawełczak, 2010, p. 23 (...)
  • 8  National Archives, United Kingdom, Kew, London, Foreign Office (hereafter FO) 84/1645, p. 324, n.d (...)
  • 9  FO 84/1645, p. 321. The composition of this “Nyamwezi” force raises a number of intriguing questio (...)

8During this period of captivity Msafumu’s allies continued to lobby with Seyyid Barghash for support against Said Ali and eventually they were permitted to recruit a force of between 150 and 200 mostly Nyamwezi soldiers, armed with Enfield rifles, at Zanzibar. This exercise of Busaidi military power was very much in line with Barghash’s employment of Zanzibari troops along the Swahili coast, where he was seeking to solidify his commercial empire7. “Nyamwezi” may have been a generic term for mainland Africans, perhaps both enslaved and freed, at Zanzibar at this time. Evidence for this notion comes from the testimony given by Hamadi Wadi Bingote, an enslaved Yao who had been liberated from a dhow sailing from Kilwa three years previously by the British at Zanzibar; unable to find work in Zanzibar, he had enlisted as a soldier in this armed force, which was under the command of a Comorian named Kara Haji. Hamadi stated that “We were mostly Nyamwezi”; in addition, “some of my friends who had been freed by the English, also Konop who had been a teacher in the English mission and some of his companions joined us8”. The motley composition of this force was confirmed by the testimony of Comorian Mzee bin Mfuhaa. “I was formerly a bumboat man in Zanzibar but came to Shujini [Ntsudjini, on the west coast of Ngazidja] on the breaking out of this war to look after my family. Afterwards I joined the regiment of Nyamwezi”, to which he added that “there were several of the Universities’ Mission boys in my company [;] they spoke and wrote English9”.

Map 3: Nineteenth century sultanates and principal towns of Ngazidja

Map 3: Nineteenth century sultanates and principal towns of Ngazidja

Source: S. Blanchy, 2004, p. 349.

  • 10  Antankarana was a small kingdom at the north of Madagascar in the province of Antsiranana. For ear (...)
  • 11  B. Damir et al., 1985, p. 84-87; J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 25-28.

9This Zanzibar force embarked for Ngazidja on 11 March 1882; a month later Msafumu, apparently slipping his captors in Mbwankuu, laid siege to Moroni. For his part Said Ali recruited between one or two hundred Antankarana warriors from northwest Madagascar10. Finally, battle was joined in October 1882 at Mihambani, located above Moroni, in a struggle for power that involved all but one of the princes of the Comoros, the Sakalava ruler of Antankarana, several slave traders from Nzwani [Anjouan], the Sultan of Zanzibar, who was himself increasingly the pawn of the British in East Africa, and the French backers of Said Ali at Mayotte. After three months’ struggle, Said Ali’s combined forces seized and razed Ntsudjini and on 29 January 1883 finally recaptured Msafumu. A week later, on 7 February 1883, Msafumu was found dead of undetermined cause in his place of captivity in Moroni. In the process of this complicated civil war, argue Damir, Boulinier, and Ottino, warfare was transformed on Ngazidja from what had previously been a kind of affair of champions and limited battle that was ended when a leader was wounded or killed, to a form of total warfare in which no captives were taken11.

  • 12  E. Alpers, B. Zimba, 2009.

10Where do the British fit into this picture? As is well known, in 1873 Seyyid Barghash b. Said was pressured by the British to complete the formal process of abolishing the export slave trade from his East African realm, at least partly in exchange for British support of the footholds of his commercial empire on the coast. Although the 1873 treaty neither ended the export slave trade from continental East Africa nor slavery in Zanzibar itself, its conclusion encouraged Her Majesty’s Government to increase its efforts to end the slave trade in the last major area of open overseas slave trading from the mainland, the Mozambique Channel. Having finally pressured Portugal into a more compliant stance towards abolition12, the British now turned toward stamping out the trade in captive Africans that masqueraded as the libre engagé labor system.

  • 13  The most extensive analysis of the system of the procurement of engagés during its heyday in the 1 (...)
  • 14  Quoted in G.W. Clendenon, P.M. Nottingham, 2000, p. 7.

11The engagé libre or “free emigrant” system of indentured labor had been established by the French following the second abolition of slavery in the French empire in 1848. This thinly disguised system of slavery was instituted by the French government in the mid-1850s to serve the labor needs of French planters on the well-established French island-colony of La Réunion and the new French island-colonies of Nossi-Bé [Nosy Be] and Mayotte, over which French authority was asserted in 1840 and 1841, respectively13. In the reported pidgin of an Arab slaver: “All same ting to me. Old time you call it slavery, now you call it free labour; I go catch men, sell; you give the money, all right14”. Following this initial reaction to the end of slavery by French planters and officials, and the desultory continuation of procuring engagés over the following decades, a revival of the system was inaugurated in the 1880s in response to a renewed surge in the demand for labor at La Réunion and Mayotte.

  • 15 J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 242 n. 17.

12Instead of relying on their inadequate anti-slave trade patrol, the British strategy focused on the Comoros because of their knowledge that the islands served as an intermediary way station for the redistribution of captive labor. To that end the British sought now to conclude and enforce abolition treaties with various Comorian rulers. The person who was charged with carrying out this policy was Frederick Holmwood, the experienced British consular official at Zanzibar, who was named Consul to the Comoros on 26 August 188115.

  • 16  J. Prestholdt, 2008, p. 13-33.
  • 17  FO 84/1619, draft of telegram from Granville to Miles, 11 February 1882, p. 18.
  • 18 J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 25, 252, n. 65.
  • 19  FO 84/1619, Granville to Miles, 1 April 1882, p. 27 ff and 30 June 1882, p. 36.

13Holmwood naturally looked first to Great Britain’s oldest ally in the Comoros, the Sultan of Nzwani, better known to British East Indiamen and Royal Navy officers as Johanna. As Jeremy Prestholdt has vividly demonstrated, over the course of more than a century of intimate contact with the British, through a process of mimicry the ruling class of Nzwani at the capital town of Mutsamudu had come to adopt numerous British ways, including dress, speech, and cuisine16. In addition to Nzwani, British Foreign Secretary Lord Granville advised S.B. Miles, who was then Acting Consul General at Zanzibar while the indomitable Sir John Kirk was on home leave, that “Holmwood’s visit to Comoros should also include Mohilla [Mwali]17”. In his new capacity Holmwood apparently first visited the Comoros in March 1882 aboard HMS Seagull, whose commander, Mather Byles, had several months earlier been refused a meeting with Said Ali at Ngazidja18. Apart from some difficulty at Mayotte, where Commander Byles refused to allow the official interpreter from Zanzibar to land during a visit of three weeks’ duration, Holmwood’s initial foray seems to have been satisfactory19. Not surprisingly, however, the brief appearance of the British Consul did not deter the slave trade.

  • 20  FO 84/1621, p. 56; see also FO 84/1643, p. 13, Holmwood to Hill, Zanzibar, 1 March 1883.

14On 19 April 1882 the Cape Station-based HMS Eclipse, commanded by Edmund St. John Garforth, seized a dhow named the Futeh El Kheir at Nzwani that was owned by an Arab named Mohammed b. Teyyib. According to information provided to the British “in a joint letter” from Sultan Abdullah b. Hamza and Msafumu, the dhow had carried 58 captives across from the mainland to Ngazidja and then shipped twelve of them to Nzwani. Alerted to the recently departed slaver, the Eclipse set off for Nzwani where she found the dhow at anchor, having already landed her human cargo. Garforth’s vessel then towed the Futeh El Kheir back to Moroni and thence to Zanzibar, where it was condemned in the Admiralty Court in May 1882 and destroyed, largely on the evidence of a Makua woman who had been carried in the original cargo from Mozambique to Moroni and who “recognized the Nakhoda [captain] and 2 of the crew as having been in the dhow that brought her from the mainland”. During the adjudication process, testimony revealed that “the slaves brought by this dhow are said to have all (been, in pencil) Makuas and appear to have been all landed at Mroni20”. According to Garforth’s report, she further testified that she had been embarked at Mruli, at the mouth of the Lúrio or Luli River (38°E, 14°15'S). Moreover,

  • 21  FO 84/1621, Miles to Granville in W.B. Cracknall to Miles, received 2 May 1882, reporting on these (...)

The dhow had no passport from the Sultan of Zanzibar under whose flag she sailed but had one pass from the Sultan of Johanna [Nzwani] and a false pass without name and with an old seal purporting to be from the Sultan of Comoro [Ngazidja] [...] The Nakhoda Mohammed Teyyib who is also the owner is a well known slave dealer and I have requested the Sultan [of Zanzibar] to confine him in the fort21.

15Remembering that Sultan Abdullah was the ruler of Bambao and Msafumu, the overlord of Itsandra against whom Said Ali was at that very moment fighting for control of Ngazidja, it is clear that from the very beginning of their renewed abolitionist efforts in the Comoros the British found themselves entangled in the political chaos that gripped the islands in the early 1880s. Indeed, Holmwood’s initial trip to the Comoros more or less coincided with the dispatching of the armed force of Nyamwezi from Zanzibar to support Said Ali’s rivals.

16A lengthy intelligence memorandum by the British Consular interpreter, Salim b. Azzar (this was the same individual whom Commander Byles did not allow to disembark at Mayotte), indicates that the British were fully informed of the political situation in the Comoros and of the detailed alliances involving the major players. Reporting separately to the senior officer at the Cape Station at the same time in late April 1882, Captain Garforth noted the support that the Sultan of Zanzibar had rendered to Msafumu. In addition, Garforth commented:

  • 22  FO 84/1621, for Salim b. Azzar’s memorandum, p. 75-78; Garforth to Captain Percy Luxmoore, Eclipse(...)

I am not fully acquainted with Saeed Ali’s history, but he resided formerly for some years at Bourbon, and is a noted slave dealer: his principal occupation of late had been providing slaves (so-called “Engagés”) for the French settlements at Mayotta and Nos-Beh22.

17Whether or not Garforth’s knowledge of Said Ali’s itinerant history was correct, both his association with the French and his engagement in the disguised slave trade clearly identified him as an enemy of abolitionist Great Britain.

18If abolition was foremost on Granville’s mind when he advised Holmwood before the latter’s return to the Comoros, politics and potential imperial entanglement were not far behind:

  • 23  FO 84/1619, Granville to Holmwood, 21 July 1882, p. 40.

You will warn the various rulers of the islands of the dangers they will invite if they persist in carrying on the slave trade, and you will be at liberty either to confirm the existing treaties or to negotiate others providing for the total prohibition of slavery throughout the group. You will avoid committing H.M.s Govt. to the support of any special political party & will confine your negotiations to the de facto rulers of the islands23.

19In addition, Granville’s draft orders indicate quite plainly that Great Britain was unhappy with the actions of the Sultan of Nzwani, their oldest ally in the Comoros, with respect to the slave trade.

20When Holmwood returned to the Comoros he did so in a vessel loaned to the British Government by the Sultan of Zanzibar, an action that must have demonstrated to everyone how intimately the fortunes of Great Britain and its Busaidi client state were intertwined in the region. Asked for his opinion by the Foreign Secretary, John Kirk opined:

  • 24  FO 84/1619, Granville to Miles, 2 September 1882, enclosing Kirk to Hill, St. Leonards, 31 August (...)

1) I know of no political drawbacks to our accepting the Sultan’s handsome offer. 2) I think the fact of Holmwood’s serving in the Sultan’s ship in a S.T. suppression cruise would have a very beneficial effect24.

21Accordingly, Holmwood embarked for the Comoros aboard the Sultan of Zanzibar’s ship the Sultany at the end of September 1882.

  • 25  For the texts of the treaties with the first two see FO 881/4698, Treaty with the Sultan of Johann (...)
  • 26  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 1, Holmwood to Granville, “Sultany” off Grand Comoro, 29 (...)

22During the month of October Holmwood managed to extract anti-slave trade treaties with the Sultans of Nzwani, Mwali, Bambao, and Itsandra25. Holmwood also submitted reports and drafted journal entries regarding the political conditions in the archipelago as best he could. He specifically urged British intervention in the muddled affairs of Ngazidja, where he reported that “lawless bands of mercenaries were ravaging the interior”, which made it impossible for him to complete as thorough a report as he would have wished26. In his printed journal extracts, Holmwood reported the siege of Moroni that he encountered upon his arrival on 3 October 1882 and the role being played by several “notorious slave dealer[s]” from Nzwani in the relief of Said Ali. He noted further that before Said Ali’s isolation at Moroni:

  • 27  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s report on Ngazidja, p. 15 (p. 164).

By the sale of a number of slaves and free Comoro children, whom he had captured, to the King of Johanna, and to numerous friends who own slave-dhows, he has however kept himself well supplied with food and ammunition, while the numerous fraternity of slave-dealers, who have lately been growing desperate from want of employment, have been joining him from every point27.

23On 12 October Holmwood went ashore to visit Said Ali, whom he found attended by about one hundred well dressed individuals. In the same report he writes:

I at once recognized many of these as persons who had been before Sir John Kirk and myself [at Zanzibar] in connection with Slave Trade cases, and my interpreter knew both the name and history of fully half of those present. He pointed out the young Chief of Lurio River [in Mozambique] and other notorious slave-runners.

24Said Ali, who was only about 27 years of age at the time,

  • 28  For a brief mention of M. Godin, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 257.

conversed in French [...] He said he had been warmly encouraged by the French to make himself Chief of Mroni, which was the most convenient place for their engagé trade... He had only a fortnight since sold sixty engagés to his friend M. Godan28 [sic].

  • 29  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s report on Ngazidja, p. 16 and 18 (p. 164-1 (...)

25Declaring the support he enjoyed from both the French and the Sultan of Nzwani, Said Ali even “produced a letter in bad French signed by a petty official residing at Nossi Bé, declaring that Sayyid [sic] Ali ought to be Chief of Mroni [...].” Holmwood noted that “many French planters made use of their engagé system to purchase raw Makua slaves in these islands”, but he also identified “a young Comoro girl [...] who had been taken from her home by force” and sold by Said Ali to a known slave dealer29.

  • 30  FO 84/1623, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s journal entry for 8 October 1882, p. 7-8 (p. 160).
  • 31  FO 84/1623, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s journal entry for 23 October 1882, p. 14 (p. 163).
  • 32  FO 84/1623, p. 198, Holmwood to Miles, Z, 21 November 1882.

26When Holmwood moved on to Nzwani and confronted the ageing Sultan Abdullah on the extent of slavery and the slave trade in his realm, part of his evidence was “a letter from the King himself to Ali-bin-Omer [Said Ali], reproaching him for sending so few slaves from Mroni after all he had done for him” and the fact that Holmwood had “condemned two vessels carrying Johanna colours” that “had brought slaves from Mroni and landed them at this very plantation”. Apparently, however, Sultan Abdullah had previously admitted to British naval officers that he “has received slaves from the Rebel chief in part payment for assistance given”. While most of these captives were recently landed Makua from Mozambique, there were some free Comorian females who were sent to Sultan Abdullah’s harem. Despite his protestation that “if there is a Comoro-speaking slave in the country, you may do whatever you like”, Holmwood wrote with great satisfaction: “Perhaps it had not occurred to them that I was provided with interpreters perfect in the Makua and Comoro languages30”. When he visited Mwali, Holmwood discovered that there, too, the Sultan had “been meddling with Grand Comoro affairs, and had obtained slaves from Ali-bin-Omer31”. Later that year the British reported the seizure of “vessels [that] had recently been engaged in running slaves from the Mozambique coast, and that on their last voyages they had conveyed raw Makua slaves, to the port where they were seized, under the charge of notorious slave traders32”.

27Despite Holmwood’s alarum, in Zanzibar Acting Consul General Miles was not convinced of the need for intervention in

  • 33  FO 84/1623, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 18 November 1882, p. 155-156. According to FO 84/1643, d (...)

the petty political squabbles of a little Island ruled over by several independent Sultans where we have no interests to defend and where any action on our part would almost certainly engender French jealousy and intrigue33.

  • 34  FO 84/1623, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 30 November 1882, p. 196 and related documents enclosed (...)

28Meanwhile, the slave trade from Mozambique to Ngazidja continued as vessels were seized a month later by British cruisers and destroyed at Moroni34. While the ratification process for the abolition treaties proceeded on the British side, things took a turn for the worse at Ngazidja. In late April 1883, Miles reported home news carried to Zanzibar by two of Her Majesty’s naval vessels

  • 35  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 27 April 1883, p. 204, underlining in pencil, not in ori (...)

[…] of the Island of Grand Comoro being in a state of volcanic eruption. The flames and smoke vomited forth were visible at a great distance and the streams of lava are said to have destroyed several villages. Famine and war have completed the misery of that unhappy island. Syyid [sic] Ali bin Omar having defeated his rival Moosa Foum [Msafumu] put him to death and then commenced a massacre of his adherents, while the Arab dhows taking advantage of these disorders have commenced to kidnap and enslave the children and run them to Johanna and Mohilla for sale35.

  • 36  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 27 April 1883, p. 204, underlining in pencil, not in ori (...)
  • 37  FO 84/1644, Kirk’s note on Miles’ report, p. 207.
  • 38  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, 27 April 1883, p. 234 with enclosures regarding its condemnation, (...)
  • 39  FO 841644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 23 June 1883, p. 310.
  • 40  FO 84/1645, Sultan Abdullah, Statement of Slave Dhow taken by King of Johanna, 25 April 1883, p. 2 (...)

29To add insult to injury, Miles noted that “[t]he soldiers and slaves of His Highness Syyid Barghash’s first expedition have been mostly enslaved by Syyid Ali or sent to Johanna36”. Commenting from his temporary residence in England, Kirk noted that Said Ali “is an agent of the French colonists & of the King of Johanna & the representative of the Slave Trade intent37”. On the same day that he reported news of the eruption of Mount Karthala, Miles also noted the capture by HMS Harrier of a dhow named Simba flying the flag of Mwali: “On the dhow being boarded two boys were found who declared themselves slaves and stated that they had been kidnapped from Grand Comoro and were being taken for sale to Mohilla38”. Two months later the British acknowledged that both HMS Harrier and HMS Undine were no longer being able “to overhaul dows at sea”, adding that very few slaves had been rescued in recent months39. However, in late April 1883 the Sultan of Nzwani apprehended a slaver with at least 123 captives that were landed on the island. By August both the dhow and 103 (60 male and 43 female) of the remaining captives were brought for adjudication to Zanzibar. “The slaves now freed are mostly Makuas shipped by a slave dealer residing at Angoxa on the Mozambique coast40”. By October of that year, Kirk, now returned to Zanzibar from his leave, reported home with deep concern:

  • 41  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 8 October 1883, p. 167-168.

From reports that reach Zanzibar by every native vessel coming from these islands there cannot be a doubt that a wholesale shipment of the population of Comoro [i.e. Ngazidja] both free and slave is being carried on through Seyd Ali for the French planters, and Frenchmen are named as actively engaged in this traffic41.

30Two days later he reiterated:

  • 42  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 10 October 1883, p. 181.

As to Comoro itself I am told on the best authority that large shipments both of slave and free Comoro people are being made to Mayotta & Johanna. Quite recently a Frenchman took away from Moroni to Mayotta 54 slaves captured by Seyd Ali and sold for money42.

  • 43  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 23 November 1883, p. 257.

31Six weeks later he identified the Sultan of Nzwani as a major player in this trade, stating that he had paid no attention to the new abolition treaty whatsoever43.

32At the beginning of November 1883, Frederic Holmwood returned to the Comoros with the ratified anti-slave trade treaties for Nzwani and Mwali. In the process of attempting to gain Sultan Abdullah’s compliance with the treaty he had signed the year before, Holmwood charged the Sultan with

having stocked his harem with numbers of young girls torn from their homes in the neighbouring island with his connivance and assistance; while a still greater proportion of these enslaved people had been relegated by him to his plantations or sent as engages in fulfillment of a private contract he had entered into at Mayotte

  • 44  FO 84/1645, Holmwood to Kirk, HMS Tourmaline off Mohilla, 4 November 1883, quoted at p. 270v-271. (...)

33including some of those he had seized from the dhow he reported to the British in late April. Faced with this situation, Holmwood determined that his best strategy was to focus on “a few Comoro slaves whom I had arranged privately to bring as witnesses to Zanzibar”, although when he left Nzwani on 3 November he took only one of these individuals on board HMS Tourmaline44. When Holmwood arrived at the capital of Mwali the same day:

  • 45  FO 84/1645, p. 272v-273.

I found here several newly imported Comoro people who had arrived in dhows dispatched from Moroni by Sayyid Ali, and I brought away with me as evidence a freeborn girl whom I had found had relatives, respectable trades people, in Zanzibar. She had been seized together with all her schoolfellows while attending the school in her village by the Johanna mercenaries of Sayyid Ali who had shipped them on board a dhow which they had in waiting, regardless of the entreaties of their parents who followed them to the beach45.

34This person was named Mariamo Halii, whose narrative we will come to shortly. In view of what Holmwood had discovered, it comes as no surprise that he was convinced that the rumors which had been reaching Zanzibar for the past year about the burgeoning slave trade under Said Ali were proven to be true beyond a doubt. He also considered this commerce to lie at the root of

  • 46  FO 84/1645, p. 274v-275v. For the official Portuguese announcement of the abortive treaty to suppl (...)

the resuscitation of the failing sugar industry of Mayotte [...] since the practical failure of the Mozambique treaty, more than ever synonymous with the continued supply of engagés for their planters, and this our anti-slavery policy seriously threatens46.

Voices of the enslaved

  • 47  For a discussion of translation in assessing the testimonies of liberated slaves in eastern Africa (...)

35Holmwood’s strategy was to employ the voices of “liberated” Comorians to provide word-of-mouth witness to his own narrative on the regional slave trading network in the Mozambique Channel. Among the numerous testimonies that Holmwood collected in 1883, the originals of which are located in the Zanzibar National Archives, three are particularly valuable both because they are significantly longer than most re-captive narratives and for what they reveal about conditions in the Comoros in the very last days of the illegal slave trade. What is interesting about all three statements is that they do not appear to follow any explicit or implicit question and answer format, although as always translation clearly is an issue47. They describe at a very personal level the close connections among the Comoros and between Ngazidja (Grande Comore) and Zanzibar, as well as the involvement of rival Comorian political authorities in the engagé libre system, while their depositions provide us with an expanded awareness of how the chaotic conditions of this era in 19th century eastern Africa affected individuals whose lives could be permanently altered by the terrible fate of enslavement.

  • 48  ZNA AA1/48, n.d., but presumably no later than 4 November 1883, when an exact copy was made that i (...)

36The first is a deposition taken in early November 1883 from a young man named “Mlamali, a freeborn native of Grand Comoro. Age 2048”. Mlamali begins by stating:

  • 49  Probably meaning a baggala rather than a batil, a “double ended boat now used for pearl diving” in (...)
  • 50  The reference is to the aged but still powerful “Queen of Domoni”, Boeni Djoumbe Matche Halima: se (...)
  • 51  Dr. Benjamin Wilson was surgeon on board a whaler from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who in 1872 set (...)
  • 52  See note 24 above.
  • 53  At Nzwani, “bushmen” referred to those who lived in the interior highlands of the island. See C. A (...)

I was born at Mroni, both my parents were free people. They removed to Bajini [Mbadjini], on the other side of the island when I was quite young. I have always resided in this district. Sheikh Hashim has been the chief for many years. His business was to ship the Makuas when the Frenchmen arrived. The Makua slaves came across the mountain [Karthala] from Mroni. No Comoro people were ever sold to the French. About three years since Sultan Abdullah of Mroni refused to send any more slaves for shipment, Sheikh Hashim quarreled with him in consequence, and joined Sayyid [sic] Ali when he landed in the country. After Sayyid Ali had killed Moosa Fum Sheikh Hashim took to shipping Comoro people both free and slaves. I heard that Sayyid Ali was also shipping all the people he could lay his hands on. Many of the Comoros people thus seized by Sheikh Hashim were sold to the French, but when there was no Frenchman at the port they were shipped to Johanna. Many of my friends were exported in this way, principally to Mayotte.
I was kidnapped together with four companions at the end of the last Ramazan (Aug.st 1883). They were sold to a Frenchman who arrived in a large dhow to purchase engagés. They were slaves. I was put on board a batela49 carrying Johanna [Nzwani] colours and taken to Mohilla where I stayed 4 days. There were many slaves in this vessel. All of us were brought on board with ropes but these were cut when we got on board. My companions were sold at Mohilla and taken to Mayotte. I was purchased by a Madagascar man. He took me across to Johanna and sold me to Bueni Jumbe the King’s sister50. She sent me to Dr. Wilson’s to work51. She had four other newly arrived Comoro people whom he had purchased. I had known them by sight in our own country. Bueni Jumbe’s young son had several young Comoro girls his mother had purchased as concubines for him. During the three months I have been working in Johanna I have been treated with great kindness and both myself and my companions have as much food as we can eat and good clothing. I wish to return to Dr. Wilson’s estate as soon as an opportunity occurs; he has promised to employ me as before when I come back with a free paper. I know a considerable number of Comoro slaves in Johanna, especially on the King’s estate; many of them were free people who have recently been sent there by Sayyid Ali. Every day people pass through our estate with young Comoro children for sale; they are difficult to dispose of owing to the reports about the new treaty52. Dr. Wilson has explained it to his people, but the Johanna men say there is to be no change. The King has sent forty free bushmen53 as engagés to Mayotte: Numbers of bushmen have since come down from the hills and demanded protection from Dr. Wilson. He has given them work and when the King sent to order them away, he turned the policemen off his estate.
When the Tourmaline anchored at Mohilla I recognized the dhow I was shipped in from Bajini. She was lying at anchor in the harbour.

  • 54  FO/1645, p. 305 and v., “Colony of free bushmen settled at Dr. Wilson’s estate”. Wilson also emplo (...)
  • 55  A.K. Bang, 2003, p. 54; S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 407, n. 3. See also FO 84/1645, p. 323v., for the sta (...)

37Mlamali’s deposition bears witness to continued French engagement in the illegal slave trade, many decades after legal abolition in 1848. It also reveals the readiness of the ruling elites of both Ngazidja and Nzwani to subject their free subjects to enslavement in the guise of free labor. In fact, one of the 25 depositions that Holmwood took in 1883 was the result of a meeting with the bushmen to whom Mlamali refers in his narrative. According to this statement, these people testified that “[w]e have come down from our village for fear of the king. He suddenly seized forty of our people a few months since and shipped them to Mayotte as slaves”. The bushmen concluded by emphasizing the point about the greed of the Sultan of Nzwani in these terms: “The Johanna people do not disturb us, only the king54”. Mlamali’s account also provides a fascinating case of a young man who, notwithstanding his freeborn status and the proximity of his home island, chose after abolition at Nzwani to remain as a free laborer on the plantation of Dr. Wilson. His testimony is a powerful indication of the apprehension apparently felt by those who had been victimized by the slave trade at the idea of returning to the site of their initial captivity. More generally, it stands as vivid testimony to the collapse of society in Ngazidja. Indeed, it was this period of crisis that precipitated the wholesale emigration of Comorians from Ngazidja to Zanzibar55.

38Wamendoa was a woman whom Holmwood estimated to be about 25 years old. She begins her testimony by declaring:

  • 56  FO 84/1645, p. 301 and v.

I am a free woman of Shujini [Ntsudjini] near Itsandra. My uncle, my mother’s brother lives at Zanzibar. His name is Abudu wadi Saud. […] My parents are dead. After Musa Fum’s death all the slaves and many of the free people were seized by the Johanna soldiers of Sayyid Ali. Many were taken by him and sent to King Abdullah [of Nzwani], but I was retained with several companions by the soldiers and sent for sale to Johanna. Bueni Jumbe bought me and she is very kind and considerate. There are several free Comoro girls living in her young son’s house. I trust she will allow me to go to Zanzibar[.] I am allowed great freedom and go constantly to visit my friends who have been purchased by different people in Mtsamundu[.] I can give you the names of many belonging to families well known in Itsandra56.

  • 57  FO 84/1645, p. 301.
  • 58  FO 84/1645, p. 302 and v.

39Holmwood adds two valuable notes regarding her uncle to Wamendoa’s statement. First, he writes that “her uncle is well known in Zanzibar where he has worked as a gunsmith for more than 20 years”, adding parenthetically to her statement that “this man is well known to my interpreter who states he has often spoken of his niece at Shujini57”. Furthermore, by clearly identifying her kinship relation to her uncle, Wamendoa also testifies to the dominant matrilineal descent system that prevailed on Ngazidja. Apparently, Wamendoa was not one to make light promises as she provided Holmwood with a “List of Comoro people kept as slaves by Johannamen58”:

Mrendewa bint Junibauma. She is 16 years old and arrived for the King’s harem in Sayyid Ali’s last shipment. She is detained in the house of Sayyid Othman (King’s aide de camp) waiting his pleasure. She was an old friend of mine.

Ringaria bint Karenkondo age 20
Fatima bint Burahini “ 16
And her mother Mgemina
(These came from Bajini)
Mariamo bint Mbaraka “ 22
She came from Bambao
The above are all my fellow slaves here.

  • 59  FO 84/1645, p. 302v.
  • 60  S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 396.
  • 61  Quoted in I.A. Tabibou, 2004, p. 224.

40Wamendoa continues to name a further ten female and ten male Comoro slaves in the houses of different elite Nzwani families connected to the king. In an especially intriguing note she then observes that “some of these were practically slaves in Grand Comoro, but they belong to servile families who do not marry into free families59”. Without knowing what precise term Wamendoa may have used to describe the status of these individuals, the translation suggests that they probably belonged to one of the two categories of slaves (warumwa) who were natives of Ngazidja. Such individuals were distinct from the third category of slaves at Ngazidja, who were “strangers, ethnically different, not speaking the language, not Muslims60”, in other words, continental Africans, most of whom were Makua from Mozambique. Indeed, according to one modern informant from Ngazidja, the Mozambique Makua “only spoke the Swahili language or the language of Mozambique61”. Regarding the indigenous bonded population of the island, some clarification is provided by a man named Shangana bin Mwalimu, who had been an official under Msafumu, but who had defected to the side of Said Ali. In his testimony to Holmwood he states that Said Ali sent his men to the towns in which Msafumu’s family slaves resided.

  • 62  FO 84/1645, p. 327v.

They were virtually free but belonged to original slave families who had tended the cattle of the chief’s family for generations. […] They [Said Ali’s men] took away every soul-men, women and children62.

  • 63 S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 396. According to one older Ngazidjan, those who were vanquished in local warf (...)

41According to Sophie Blanchy, such individuals “were practically never re-sold. They were divided into two groups, the first from the families of masters with whom kinship relations could be constructed, the second from peasants who approached the status of sharecroppers63”. Thus, even though these Ngazidjans may not have been considered to be free at home, they were protected from sale by the social contract that obtained among the free-born elite of that island. It was this contractual protection that was shattered by the warfare of the early 1880s.

  • 64  ZNA AA1/48, n.d., but presumably no later than 4 November 1883. A virtually exact copy is included (...)

42Turning to our third example of a “liberated” Ngazidjan, Mariamo Halii was, like Mlamali, “a freeborn native” of Ngazidja. In her deposition64, she declares:

  • 65  The only variance from the original in ZNA AA1/48 in the FO 84/1645 copy is that Mariamo’s father (...)
  • 66  Most likely Houani on the north coast of Mwali, i.e. facing directly towards the south end of Ngaz (...)
  • 67  Mitsamihuli is located on the extreme northwest coast of Ngazidja.

I was born at Hansambo near Hsandaa [Itsandra]. I am seventeen years old. I have lived there all my life. For the last three years I have lived alone with my widowed mother. My father, Fundi Baja Wahalii was a maker of native furniture and lamps. He died four years ago. He was Liwali of Hansambo under Moosa Fum. He owned three plantations which are now in my mother’s hands65. They will belong to me. They are let to free people who pay rent in kind. I am an only child. My mother’s brother Mbushozi lived with us and took care of the business after my father’s death, but three years since he went to Zanzibar with Mwenyi Hossein who married my mother’s sister.
We were not much troubled by the war for we were well off and the village people are fishermen. After the famine peace returned and I went daily to the village school kept by Mwalimu Mbahua, a woman of Sayyid [Said] Ali’s faction. One day while she was at prayer the Johanna soldiers of Sayyid Ali came down on the village and seized without warning every girl in the school. They took us straight to the landing place under Sayyid Ali’s house at Moroni and put us on board a dhow which was lying at anchor. My mother and the parents of some of the other girls followed the soldiers crying. My mother begged the soldiers not to ship me as I was her only child and she was old. The Jemadar Mohamed Alawi pushed her aside saying to his men: “in with them”. There were about thirty of us altogether. We girls were placed by ourselves and were all crying. When we left we were all very sick so that we said little to each other. That night a gale came on and we were blown out to sea and some days afterwards we arrived at Mohilla without food or water. The nahoza [Swahili nahodha or ship’s captain], Bakhari, took all the rest onshore to purchase food and carry water. We heard him say referring to us: “They are only children and will be afraid to leave in this strange place”. The moment they were out of sight, I and four of my companions jumped overboard and waded on shore and ran inland till we came to some woods. Towards evening we met a man who stopped us and asked who we were. We told him the truth and he said he would take us to a friend who would protect us from being retaken. He took us to Doani66 and gave us over to Sultan Abdullah who was living there in exile. A few days afterwards one of my companions died of fever, the two others are working for their food on the other side of the island as Sultan Abdullah was too poor to feed them. I was too delicate to do field work; the separation from my mother had made me ill. I had been in Mohilla about four months when you [i.e. Holmwood] came. Sultan Abdullah could not have kept me any longer as he had since rescued some of his own people who had been shipped by Sayyid Ali in a dhow which put in to Mohilla.
Immediately I landed at Zanzibar I recognized on the beach my uncle Mwenyi Hossein. I wish to go and live with my aunt, but beg that you will write to my mother and if possible bring her to Zanzibar if she still lives. She said she should go to Mtamihuli [Mitsamihuli]67 where we have relations.

43Mariamo Halii was only one of the enslaved free people who were associated with the house of Msafumu. Her account reveals her ability to exert personal agency even as a captive, while it also demonstrates the advantage of having been enslaved within a familiar cultural and social context. The kindness shown to her by the unnamed man who helped her and her companions after their escape from the slavers also reinforces the testimony by the free bushmen that they had nothing to fear from the people of Nzwani, as opposed to the king and his cohorts. In addition, her statement bears further witness to what we already know about the exceedingly close connections between the Comoros and Zanzibar in the 19th century, since the appearance of her maternal uncle on the shore upon her landing at Zanzibar implies that he was very possibly informed in advance of her imminent arrival. It further reveals how articulate Africans could be when provided an opportunity to express themselves at some length and without the restrictions of a format into which their testimony was expected to be recorded.

44As we have previously seen, throughout this period of political turmoil in the Comoros, slaving voyages continued to transport non-Comorians – mainly Makua – from continental Africa to the archipelago, both for local consumption and for the “free emigration” labor market that served French planter needs on Mayotte. In April 1883 a slave dhow from Moma, on the Mozambique coast to the south of Angoche, was seized by the Sultan of Nzwani, who was by then seeking to accommodate British antislavery pressure. By the time it was sent to Zanzibar for adjudication, only 103 (60 males and 43 females) remained from the original shipment.

  • 68  FO 84/1645, p. 16-17, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 7 August 1883; see also FO 84/1645, p. 23-33, (...)

The slaves now freed are mostly Makuas shipped by a slave dealer residing at Angoxa on the Mozambique coast. The master and owner of the dhow states that he brought them for Dr. Wilson but he subsequently escaped from custody and was brought to Zanzibar68.

  • 69  FO 84/1645, p. 307. This would be the same Bueni Jumbe noted by Mlamali and identified in n. 49 ab (...)

45One of the persons interviewed by Holmwood in November 1883 was a woman named “Maria Makua,” who was a slave belonging to the Queen of Nzwani, although she provided no information on her forced migration to the Comoros69.

  • 70  A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 43-44; A. Gevrey, n.d. [1870], p. 89.
  • 71  Not understanding the commercial networks of the Mozambique Channel, A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 47, n. 1 (...)
  • 72  A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 47-48.

46Here it may be helpful to introduce the short statements written by two anonymous Makua boys who were “liberated” to the UMCA boys’ school at Kiungani, Zanzibar. In the words of one, “we were all brought together by two Arabs […] from the Comoro Islands”. The boat carrying them landed at a village called Mashuani, at Umwali, which is undoubtedly the well-protected port of Nioumachoua (Nioumachoa, Nyumshuwa, Numa Choa), a walled town on the south coast of Mwali70. The itinerary of the second boy was more complicated. From somewhere on the Mozambique coast the dhow carrying him and three other captives reached Madagascar71. After almost two months in Madagascar, he embarked again: “the dhow hoisted sail, and was at sea three days. On the fourth day we came to a town called Mashuani”, where he remained for another six weeks before embarking for Zanzibar72. Thus two Makua boys from different villages in northern Mozambique found themselves gathered up as shipmates on the south coast of Mwali and eventually as classmates at Kiungani, Zanzibar. Their stories speak directly to the system of slaving and antislavery networks that dominated East African waters at this time and connected the Comoro Islands, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Zanzibar.

Conclusion

  • 73  See E.A. Alpers, forthcoming.

47The idea of connected histories is surely borne out by the intense period of slaving and political rivalry in the Comoro Islands that I have analyzed in this paper. These foreland islands, as I have described them elsewhere, were not only connected to continental Africa and the wider Indian Ocean world, but also among themselves73. Competing elites of Ngazidja, who shared a long history of political competition, sought to achieve political and economic dominance by recruiting both Ngazidjan allies and their elite counterparts on the smaller islands of the archipelago, as well as from Zanzibar and Madagascar, in these conflicts. Driven by the demand for plantation labor by French colonists at Mayotte, Nossi-Bé, and Réunion, involvement in slaving connected well-born Comorians from every island to their counterparts in Mozambique and Madagascar, as well as to the French. At the same time, British antislavery efforts centered at Zanzibar drew them into these networks. If both the British and French considered imperial designs towards Ngazidja, Nzwani, and Mwali, so too did the Sultan of Zanzibar. Finally, the diverse cache of evidence collected by Holmwood leaves no doubt that the late surge in slaving and these bitter conflicts victimized not only ordinary Mozambicans, but equally elites and commoners – both free and bonded – in the Comoros themselves.

  • 74  For details, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, 3rd part.
  • 75  See, for example, A.K. Bang, 2003, p. 54, 131; I. Saleh, 1936; I. Walker, 2014.

48In the end, the internecine struggles of the early 1880s effectively destroyed legitimate governance on Ngazidja, and Said Ali’s strong French connection opened the way for France to extend its southwest Indian Ocean island empire beyond Réunion, Nossi-Bé, and Mayotte. Once France had declared a protectorate over the three remaining Comoro Islands (Ngazidja, Nzwani, and Mwali) in 1886, the course of Comorian history was certainly altered. One of the beneficiaries of the new imperial regime was none other than Said Ali himself74. As we have seen from the personal testimonies of several contemporary free Comorians, the violence of the early 1880s precipitated a new migration from Ngazidja to Zanzibar that built on foundations of commercial, religious and familial networks that dated to earlier in the 19th century75. The uncertainties of the first years of French colonial rule further exacerbated this movement, thereby cementing a regional network that endures to the present.

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Bibliographie

Ali, M.G., 2004, « Archéologie de l’esclavage aux Comores », in S. Fuma (éd.), Mémoire orale et esclavage dans les îles du Sud-Ouest de l’océan Indien : silences, oublis, reconnaissance, Saint Denis, Université de La Réunion et CRESOI, p. 197-220.

Allibert, C., 2000, « La chronique d’Anjouan par Said Ahmed Zaki (ancien cadi d’Anjouan) », Études Océan Indien, 29, p. 9-92.

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Alpers, E.A., 2009, East Africa and the Indian Ocean, Princeton, Markus Wiener.

Alpers, E.A., forthcoming, “Africa’s Indian Ocean islands”, in T. Falola (ed.), African islands.

Alpers, E.A., Hopper, M.S., 2008, « Parler en son nom ? Comprendre les témoignages d’esclaves africains originaires de l’océan Indien (1850–1930) », Annales : Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 63 (4), p. 799-828.

Alpers, E.A., Zimba, B., 2009, “British abolition in southeast Africa: The first 50 years”, Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa, 63 (1-2), p. 5-15.

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Notes

1  S. Subrahmanyam, 1997, p. 745.

2  Although there are occasional references to northwest Madagascar in this paper, they are mostly incidental to the networks I describe herein.

3  The most detailed study of the internal history of Ngazidja is B.A. Damiret al., 1985; for the wars of the nineteenth century, see p. 77-87 and J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 354-388.

4  See, e.g., M. Horton, J. Middleton, 2000, p. 130 and sources cited therein.

5 Said Bakari Bin Sultani Ahmed, 1977, p. 66, § 19.5.

6  B.A. Damir et al., 1985, p. 81-83. For the dates of Buisson’s command, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 562 n. 273, p. 584 n. 140; for some details on his career, see I. Denis, 2012, p. 286, 287, 291. La Décidée was a French-designed screw gunboat (2nd class) built at Toulon in 1861 and commissioned two years later. It remained commissioned until 1884 and was broken up a year later. It had a wood hull and a displacement of 359 tonnes. “The type was defined as one with relatively powerful artillery, great mobility, restrained dimensions, and shallow draft. A flat bottom and two false keels permitted the ships to beach themselves and remain high and dry for the duration of a low tide. The ships were intended for coastal operations in European waters, but were also to be useful for river operations in the colonies. […] They had three masts with square sails on the foremast” (S.S. Roberts, n.d.). Among numerous references to the activities of La Décidée during this period, see I. Denis, 2012, p. 198, 221, 225, 231, 239, 248, 249.

7  For an overview of the military forces of Zanzibar around this time, see M. Pawełczak, 2010, p. 238-249.

8  National Archives, United Kingdom, Kew, London, Foreign Office (hereafter FO) 84/1645, p. 324, n.d. but one of 25 enclosures in Frederick Holmwood to Sir John Kirk, Zanzibar, 15 November 1883. Konop is a Polish surname, but there is no one named Konop in the standard history of the UMCA.

9  FO 84/1645, p. 321. The composition of this “Nyamwezi” force raises a number of intriguing questions about the fate of “liberated Africans” at Zanzibar. It would also be interesting to see if there is any mention of the enlistment of UMCA mission “boys” in the UMCA archives (which are housed in the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House, University of Oxford). It certainly is not part of the official history of the UMCA. For one perspective on Nyamwezi labor during this period, see S.J. Rockel, 2000; for more on the Nyamwezi force, see FO 84/1623, p. 165, Report by Consul Holmwood, Inclosure 2 in Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 18 November 1882.

10  Antankarana was a small kingdom at the north of Madagascar in the province of Antsiranana. For earlier examples of seeking mercenaries from Madagascar in the political struggles of Ngazidja, see M.G. Ali, 2004, p. 208, 218.

11  B. Damir et al., 1985, p. 84-87; J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 25-28.

12  E. Alpers, B. Zimba, 2009.

13  The most extensive analysis of the system of the procurement of engagés during its heyday in the 1850s is by J.-E. Monnier, 2006, especially p. 47-52, 99-176. For Mayotte, see A. Gevrey, n.d. [1870], p. 166-70, and J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 252-256.

14  Quoted in G.W. Clendenon, P.M. Nottingham, 2000, p. 7.

15 J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 242 n. 17.

16  J. Prestholdt, 2008, p. 13-33.

17  FO 84/1619, draft of telegram from Granville to Miles, 11 February 1882, p. 18.

18 J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 25, 252, n. 65.

19  FO 84/1619, Granville to Miles, 1 April 1882, p. 27 ff and 30 June 1882, p. 36.

20  FO 84/1621, p. 56; see also FO 84/1643, p. 13, Holmwood to Hill, Zanzibar, 1 March 1883.

21  FO 84/1621, Miles to Granville in W.B. Cracknall to Miles, received 2 May 1882, reporting on these events, p. 55-56, also enclosing Admiralty Court, Zanzibar, Cause No. 6 of 1882, S.B. Miles, 24 April 1882, condemning the Futeh El Kheir, p. 59-60 and “Certificate as to Destruction of Prize” for same, 20 April 1882, p. 63; cf. J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 253 n. 70.

22  FO 84/1621, for Salim b. Azzar’s memorandum, p. 75-78; Garforth to Captain Percy Luxmoore, Eclipse at Sea, 20 April 1882, “Relative to Political affairs in Comoro Island,” p. 80-81.

23  FO 84/1619, Granville to Holmwood, 21 July 1882, p. 40.

24  FO 84/1619, Granville to Miles, 2 September 1882, enclosing Kirk to Hill, St. Leonards, 31 August 1882, p. 47.

25  For the texts of the treaties with the first two see FO 881/4698, Treaty with the Sultan of Johanna, Bambao, 10 October 1882; FO 881/4699, Treaty with the Sultan of Mohilla, Doani, Mohilla, 24 October 1882. This Bambao is a village on the eastern side of Nzwani (see Map 2) where the Sultan had a sugar plantation and is not to be confused with the Sultanate of Bambao on the western side of Ngazidja (see Map 3).

26  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 1, Holmwood to Granville, “Sultany” off Grand Comoro, 29 October 1882, p. 3 (p. 158 in bound volume). In his journal entry for 14 October 1882, Holmwood writes that “the Johanna men had announced their intentions of ravaging the whole country,” p. 17 (p. 165).

27  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s report on Ngazidja, p. 15 (p. 164).

28  For a brief mention of M. Godin, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 257.

29  FO 84/1623, Confidential Print, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s report on Ngazidja, p. 16 and 18 (p. 164-165).

30  FO 84/1623, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s journal entry for 8 October 1882, p. 7-8 (p. 160).

31  FO 84/1623, Inclosure 2, Holmwood’s journal entry for 23 October 1882, p. 14 (p. 163).

32  FO 84/1623, p. 198, Holmwood to Miles, Z, 21 November 1882.

33  FO 84/1623, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 18 November 1882, p. 155-156. According to FO 84/1643, draft responses for Granville to Miles, the Foreign Secretary agreed that Great Britain’s interests “are not sufficient to call for any active interference in regard to the suppression of the Slave Trade”, p. 3-6, quoted at p. 5.

34  FO 84/1623, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 30 November 1882, p. 196 and related documents enclosed in Holmwood to Miles, Zanzibar, 21 November 1882, p. 198, 202-212.

35  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 27 April 1883, p. 204, underlining in pencil, not in original copy. For a brief summary of the twentieth century eruptions of Karthala and a list of earlier ones, see J. Seach, n.d.

36  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 27 April 1883, p. 204, underlining in pencil, not in original copy.

37  FO 84/1644, Kirk’s note on Miles’ report, p. 207.

38  FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, 27 April 1883, p. 234 with enclosures regarding its condemnation, p. 236-239. Original letter also in Zanzibar National Archives (hereafter ZNA) AA1/48.

39  FO 841644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 23 June 1883, p. 310.

40  FO 84/1645, Sultan Abdullah, Statement of Slave Dhow taken by King of Johanna, 25 April 1883, p. 23v; Sultan Abdullah to H.M. Consul and Political Agent at Zanzibar, Mutsamudu, 12 May 1883, p. 31-33; FO 84/1644, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 23 June 1883, indicates 147 captives, p. 312; FO 84/1645, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 7 August 1883 for 103 disembarked at Zanzibar, p. 15-17, original letter also in ZNA AA1/48.

41  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 8 October 1883, p. 167-168.

42  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 10 October 1883, p. 181.

43  FO 84/1645, Kirk to Granville, Zanzibar, 23 November 1883, p. 257.

44  FO 84/1645, Holmwood to Kirk, HMS Tourmaline off Mohilla, 4 November 1883, quoted at p. 270v-271. Original in ZNA AA1/48.

45  FO 84/1645, p. 272v-273.

46  FO 84/1645, p. 274v-275v. For the official Portuguese announcement of the abortive treaty to supply engagés from Ibo to Mayotte and La Réunion, see FO 84/1623, Boletim Official do Governo Geral da Provincia de Moçambique, 21 October 1882, No. 44, p. 177.

47  For a discussion of translation in assessing the testimonies of liberated slaves in eastern Africa and the Gulf, see E.A. Alpers, M.S. Hopper, 2008.

48  ZNA AA1/48, n.d., but presumably no later than 4 November 1883, when an exact copy was made that is now included in FO 84/1645, p. 285-287v.

49  Probably meaning a baggala rather than a batil, a “double ended boat now used for pearl diving” in the Gulf. See G.R. Tibbetts, 1971, p. 48.

50  The reference is to the aged but still powerful “Queen of Domoni”, Boeni Djoumbe Matche Halima: see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 1, p. 253, 400 n. 100 and vol. 2, p. 16, 84, 91.

51  Dr. Benjamin Wilson was surgeon on board a whaler from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who in 1872 settled on Nzwani with a 30 year lease of 2,000 hectares from Sultan Abdallah [Abdullah] III on the Patsi plains near the capital of Mutsamudu. Six years later, the Sultan ordered the inhabitants of three Patsi villages off their land so that Wilson could develop his plantation unimpeded by village cultivation. J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, p. 10-12; P. Vérin, 1994, p. 104-105; G.W. Clendennen, P.M. Nottingham, 2000, p. 71.

52  See note 24 above.

53  At Nzwani, “bushmen” referred to those who lived in the interior highlands of the island. See C. Allibert, 2000, p. 52-54.

54  FO/1645, p. 305 and v., “Colony of free bushmen settled at Dr. Wilson’s estate”. Wilson also employed hired slaves (vibarua in Kiswahili) on his estate. See FO/1645, p. 306, “Hired slaves residing and working on Patsy estate” with the opening statement that “We are sent by our masters to work with Dr. Wilson”. Wilson was also deposed by Holmwood and stated: “When I cannot obtain free labour I hire slaves of whom there are far more in the island than is necessary for its present needs”. Seeking to justify his actions, he added somewhat dubiously: “I hold an opinion from a well-known legal authority in the States that what I do is strictly lawful by American law”. FO/1645, p. 311 and v.

55  A.K. Bang, 2003, p. 54; S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 407, n. 3. See also FO 84/1645, p. 323v., for the statement to Holmwood by Sultan Abdullah b. Hamza of Moroni, who was then in exile at Mwali, where he indicates: “I wish therefore to retire to Zanzibar where so many of my relations and people have settled”.

56  FO 84/1645, p. 301 and v.

57  FO 84/1645, p. 301.

58  FO 84/1645, p. 302 and v.

59  FO 84/1645, p. 302v.

60  S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 396.

61  Quoted in I.A. Tabibou, 2004, p. 224.

62  FO 84/1645, p. 327v.

63 S. Blanchy, 2013, p. 396. According to one older Ngazidjan, those who were vanquished in local warfare were not infrequently reduced to or sold into slavery on the island: quoted in I.A. Tabibou, 2004, p. 223-224. For a note on the popular denial of the existence of slavery in the Comoros, see M.G. Ali, 2004, p. 205.

64  ZNA AA1/48, n.d., but presumably no later than 4 November 1883. A virtually exact copy is included in FO 84/1645, p. 288-290v.

65  The only variance from the original in ZNA AA1/48 in the FO 84/1645 copy is that Mariamo’s father is said to have owned two, rather than three, plantations.

66  Most likely Houani on the north coast of Mwali, i.e. facing directly towards the south end of Ngazidja.

67  Mitsamihuli is located on the extreme northwest coast of Ngazidja.

68  FO 84/1645, p. 16-17, Miles to Granville, Zanzibar, 7 August 1883; see also FO 84/1645, p. 23-33, for statements from the Sultan of Nzwani regarding this seizure.

69  FO 84/1645, p. 307. This would be the same Bueni Jumbe noted by Mlamali and identified in n. 49 above.

70  A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 43-44; A. Gevrey, n.d. [1870], p. 89.

71  Not understanding the commercial networks of the Mozambique Channel, A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 47, n. 15 (p. 290) is mistaken in identifying Madagascar with the Comoros.

72  A.C. Madan, 1887, p. 47-48.

73  See E.A. Alpers, forthcoming.

74  For details, see J. Martin, 1983, vol. 2, 3rd part.

75  See, for example, A.K. Bang, 2003, p. 54, 131; I. Saleh, 1936; I. Walker, 2014.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Map 1: The Southwest Indian Ocean
Crédits Source: Adapted from E.A. Alpers, 1975, p. xxv.
URL http://afriques.revues.org/docannexe/image/1744/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Titre Map 2: The Mozambique Channel
Crédits Source: E.A. Alpers, 2009, p. 130.
URL http://afriques.revues.org/docannexe/image/1744/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 113k
Titre Map 3: Nineteenth century sultanates and principal towns of Ngazidja
Crédits Source: S. Blanchy, 2004, p. 349.
URL http://afriques.revues.org/docannexe/image/1744/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 178k
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Edward A. Alpers, « Slavery, antislavery, political rivalry and regional networks in East African waters, 1877-1883 », Afriques [En ligne], 06 | 2015, mis en ligne le 21 décembre 2015, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : http://afriques.revues.org/1744 ; DOI : 10.4000/afriques.1744

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Auteur

Edward A. Alpers

Research Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

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