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Slaver Descendant Not Proud or Ashamed

September 6, 2001 GMT

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ZANZIBAR, Tanzania (AP) _ Ummi Mahsoudha Alley Hammid says she is neither proud nor ashamed of her great-great-grandfather, the African slave trader who sold tens of thousands of people into bondage in the Arabian peninsula and beyond.

``He was a very good businessman,″ says the 51-year-old mother of six.

Her ancestor, Hammid bin Mohammed bin Juma, was known as Tippu Tip, from the sound his guns made during raids from the Zanzibar archipelago into eastern and central Africa to round up Africans and march them to the Indian Ocean coast in chains.

``The business then was elephant tusks, slaves, salt, beads,″ Hamid said. ``He was a good trader who was really fearless and went to the hinterland where no other people dared to go.″

The slave trade on the island of Zanzibar was abolished in 1873, but Tippu Tip’s three-story house still stands, now occupied by squatters.

Nearby is the Anglican cathedral, built on the site of the slave market.

Amilka Williams, a guide and descendant of slaves, pointed to an orange circle painted in front of the altar. Here, he said, slaves were tied to a post and whipped to test their endurance; the greater the endurance, the higher the price.

``Many slaves died here,″ he said.

The issue of compensation is not much discussed in Tanzania, the country of which Zanzibar is a part, though with the approach of this week’s U.N. racism conference in South Africa, Foreign Minister Jakaya Kikwete added his voice to those calling for Africa’s former colonizers to make restitution.

``Our poverty is evidence enough of the damage done by the slave trade and colonialism,″ he said before leaving for the conference.

But Hammid, the slaver’s descendant, said it was all in the past. ``I don’t think it matters in this generation,″ she said in an interview.

``I don’t feel pride that I am a descendant of a slaver, neither do I feel shame _ just like I wouldn’t have felt pride or shame for being a descendant of a slave,″ she said. ``They were victims of the atrocities of the slave trade, just like I would be a victim if I am made accountable for what my forefathers did.″

In West Africa, slavery is associated chiefly with the European and American powers between the 16th and 19th centuries. On the east coast it dates back more than 1,000 years and is associated more with Arabs.

Scholars say Arab traders brought Islam to the eastern African coast in the first millennium, and also took Africans back home as domestic slaves.

``The pattern of slavery in North Africa and Arab-speaking lands doesn’t entirely fit with the Western pattern of economic slavery, as linked to the cotton plantations in America,″ said Nelly Hanna, chairwoman of the Arabic Studies department at the American University in Cairo.

There was some economic slavery, she said in an interview, but the dominant types were ``military slaves, and then those used for domestic slavery and as concubines.″

Economic slavery included Africans from the mainland working on the vast clove plantations in Zanzibar that enriched Arab sultans.

Tippu Tip, son of an Arab slave trader and an African mother, died in 1905. He made a fortune in the mid-1800s, leading expeditions of up to 4,000 men from the coast into the interior, killing elephants for ivory and rounding up men, women and children to be sold at Zanzibar’s slave market.

Prof. Godfrey Muriuki, a historian at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, said Tippu Tip established his own kingdom in eastern Congo and became one of the most notorious among a number of black slave traders operating in East Africa.

``He literally devastated the area,″ Muriuki said. His raiding parties ``burned houses literally to ashes, killed people and raped women.″