Exploring UnFreedom: Africa’s and America’s Shared Past
September 30, 2007 – Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
I only spent a day in Stone Town, the capital of the island of Unguja, otherwise known as Zanzibar, but it was a rich one. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is compelling, with its beautiful colonial architecture juxtaposed with a horrific history as the world’s last active slave market.
This Stone Town port famous for the exportation of cloves (the main islands of Pemba and Zanzibar were once collectively referred to as the Spice Islands), is equally infamous for its active market in human trafficking. The Great Slave Market, as it was called, officially ceased operations in 1873. From this site, individuals from Africa’s mainland were captured and traded to the Middle East.
In today’s Stone Town
An Anglican church has been built over the remains of the slave market. Fortunately, the church has preserved some of the original structure and a tour of the chambers underneath the cathedral reveals the holding pens where slaves were kept before they were placed on the auction block and shipped across the sea.
Recently, a couple of experiences have prompted greater reflection on my visit to Stone Town.
- First, in May 2009, I went to Cincinnati’s Freedom Center, perched on the banks of the Ohio River, the traditional dividing line between free states and slave states in the US. This museum discusses the horrors created by the slave trade and the courage it took for slaves to attain their freedom, many through the escape routes offered by the “Underground Railroad.” If you can, go! http://www.freedomcenter.org/
- Second, a PBS special called African American Lives highlighted how many African-Americans trace their roots through the use of commercial documents, such as bills of sales, and wills outlining the inheritance of “property.” In this TV special, Oprah and Quincy Jones and other famous African Americans attempt to trace their lineage.
- I highly recommend. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/aalives/
A New Underground Railroad
The legacy of slavery and inequality in America continues to be seen today. One of the lasting ramifications is the disproportionately high rate of infant mortality for African American babies.
One group I volunteer with, The Birthing Project USA, founded by Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, works to improve birth outcomes by partnering young mothers-to-be with Sister-Friend mentors.
These Sister-Friends offer pre-natal health education and invite communities to become involved in the lives of young pregnant women of color.
Check them out here: www.birthingprojectusa.com.
This entry was posted on Monday, June 1st, 2009 and is filed under Africa.