New York Herald/December 26, 1874
Zanzibar, East Coast of Africa
Nov. 15, 1874
For the last four or five years the island and town called Zanzibar have been very prominent before the public. The rigorous measures pursued by the British government for the suppression of the slave trade on this coast and the appeals of Livingstone in behalf of the aboriginal African have made Zanzibar a well-known name. Previous to this time it was comparatively unknown — as little known, indeed, as the polysyllabic name by which it is described in the Periplus of Arrian. The mention of Zanguebar, Zanji-bar — or, as it is now called, Zanzibar — produced very little interest. Some few people there were who remembered there was such a name in very large characters on the map of the world, occupying a large strip on the east side of Africa, during their schoolboy days, but what that name indicated or comprehended very few knew or cared. They thought that it might be a very wild land, peopled with cannibals and such like, no doubt; for I remember well, when I first returned from Africa, a great number of those kind who frequent clubs and big societies often asked me, “Where the deuce is Zanzibar?” There were people, however, who prospered and grew rich on the ignorance of their white brothers who were so woefully deficient in elementary geographical knowledge. These were the staid old merchants of London, New York, Salem and Hamburg, who had agents living at Zanzibar, who unobstrusively collected precious cargoes of African productions and shipped them home to their employers, who sold them again quietly and unobtrusively to manufacturers at enormous profits. Great sums of money were made for many many years by these old merchants, until the slave trade question began to be agitated and Livingstone’s fate to be a subject of inquiry. When a Committee of the House of Commons held a protracted sitting, sifting every item of information relating to the island and its prospects, its productions and commerce, &c., and the NEW YORK HERALD despatched a special commissioner in search of Livingstone, one result of whose mission was the publication of the name of Zanzibar far and wide. Captain Burton has also written two large volumes, which bear the conspicuous name of “Zanzibar,” in large gold letters, on their backs; but very few of these volumes, I imagine, have found their way among the popular classes. I mean to try in this letter to convey a description of the Island, its prince, and such subjects as have relation to them, as will suit any mind likely to take an interest in reading it. De Horsey’s “African Pilot” describes Zanzibar as being an island forty-six miles in length by eighteen miles in width at its greatest breadth, though its average breadth is not more than from nine to twelve miles. The “African Pilot” and None’s “Epitome” place the island in south latitude 6 deg. 27 min. 42 sec., and in east longitude 39 deg. 32 min. 57 sec., but the combined navigating talent on board her Britannic Majesty’s surveying ship Nassau locates Zanzibar in south latitude 6 deg. 9 min. 36 sec., and east longitude 39 deg. 14 min. 43 sec. Between the island and the mainland runs a channel from twenty to thirty miles in width, well studded with coral islands, sand bars, sand banks and coral reefs.
The first view the stranger obtains of Zanzibar is of low land covered with verdure. If he has been informed much concerning the fevers which trouble the white traveler in equatorial Africa, he is very likely to be impressed in his own mind that the low land is very suggestive of it, but a nearer view is more pleasing and serves to dispel much of the vague fear or uneasiness with which he approached the dreaded region of ill-health and sorrow. The wind is gentle and steady which fills the vessel’s sails; the temperature of the air is moderate, perhaps at 70 deg. or 75 deg. Fahrenheit; the sky is of one cerulian tint, the sea is not troubled and scarcely rocks the ship, the shore is a mass of vivid green, the feathery fronds of palm trees, and the towering globes of foliage of the mangrove relieve the monotony, while the gleaming white houses of the rich Arabs heighten the growing pleasure with the thought that the “fever may not be so bad as people say it is.” Proceeding southward through the channel that separates Zanzibar from the Continent, and hugging the shore of the island, you will many times be gratified by most pleasant tropical scenes, and by a strange fragrance which is borne from the leaf-clad island — a fragrance which may remind you of “Ceylon’s spicey isles.” With a good glass you will be able to make out first the cocoa palm and the deep dark green globe of foliage which the mango raises above when the tree is in its prime, the graceful bombax, and the tall tamarind, while numbers of tall gigantic trees of some kind loom above masses of umbrageous shrubbery. Bits of cultivated land, clusters of huts, solitary tembes, gardens and large, square, white houses, succeed each other quickly until your attention is attracted by the sight of shipping in the distance, and, near-by, growing larger and larger every moment, the city of Zanzibar, the greatest commercial mart on the east coast of Africa. Arrived in the harbor you will find the ship anchors about 400 yards from the town, close to a few more European ships, and perhaps a British man-of-war or two, while a number of queer-looking vessels, which you will style “native,” lie huddled between your own vessel and the shore. These native vessels are of various tonnage and size, from the unwieldy Arab trading dhow, with two masts leaning inelegantly and slovenly toward the bows, while the towering after part reminds you of the pictures of ships in the Spanish Armada, to the lengthy, low and swift-looking mtepe, which, when seen going before the wind, seems to be skimming the sea like a huge white seagull. Beyond the native fleet of trading Muscat dhows, Kilwa slavers, Pangani wood carriers and those vessels which carry passengers to the mainland, the town of Zanzibar rises from the beach in a nearly crescent form, white and glaring, and unsymmetrical. The narrow, tall, whitewashed house of the reigning Prince Barghash bin Said rises almost in the centre of the first line of buildings; close to it on the right, as you stand looking at the town from shipboard, is the saluting battery, which numbers some thirty guns or thereabouts; and right behind rises a mere shell of a dingy old Portuguese fort, which might almost be knocked into pieces by a few rounds from Snider muskets. Close to the water battery is the German Consul’s house, as neat as clean whitewash can make an Arab building, and next to this house rises the double residence and offices of Her Britannic Majesty’s Assistant Political Resident, surmounted by the most ambitious of flagstaffs. Next comes an English merchant’s house, and then the buildings occupied by Mr. Augustus Sparhawk, the agent of the great house of John Bertram & Co., of Salem, Mass.; and between the English merchant’s house and the Bertram agency, in neighborly proximity, is seen the snow white house of Mr. Frederick M. Cheney, agent of Arnold, Hines & Co., of New York, while beyond all, at the extreme right, on the extreme end of the crescent, on Shangani Point, towers in isolated vastness the English residency, which was formerly the house of Bishop Tozer and his scanty flock of youthful converts. If you start again from that central and prominent point, the palace of His Highness, and intend to take a searching view of the salient objects of observation along the sea front of the town, you will observe that to the left of the water battery are a number of sheds roofed with palm fronds, and that in front of these is about the only thing resembling a wharf visible along the beach. This you will be told is the Zanzibar Custom House. There may be a native dhow discharging her cargo, and lines of burly strong laborers come and go, go and come, continually, bearing to the Custom House bales, packages, ivory tusks and what not, and returning for fresh burdens; while, on the wharf, turbaned Arabs and long-shirted half-castes either superintend the work or from idle curiosity stand by to look on.
Moving the eye leftward of the Custom House to a building of noble dimensions you will see that mixture of richness of woodwork and unkempt slovenliness and general untidiness or semi-decay which attracts the traveler in almost all large Turkish and Arab houses, whether in Turkey, in Egypt or Arabia. This is the new palace of Prince Barghash. The dark brown veranda, with its open lattice work, interlaced bars of wood, infinitesimal carving — the best work of an Arab artisan — strike one as peculiarly adapted for a glowing climate like this of Zanzibar. But if the eye surmounts this woodwork it will find itself shocked at observing the half-finished roof and the seams of light which fall through it, and the dingy whitewash and the semi-ruinous state of the upper part of the structure. A little left of this stand two palatial buildings which for size dwarf even the British residency. One is the house of Nassur bin Said, the Prime Minister of His Highness; the other is inhabited by the Sultan’s harem. Beyond these large buildings are not many. The compact line of solid buildings becomes broken by unsightly sheds with thatched roofs. This is the Melinde quarter, a place devoted to the sale of fish, fruit, &c., to which new European arrivals are banished to seek residences among the few stone houses to be found there.
Beyond Melinde is the shallow Malagash inlet, the cause — I may say the main cause, perhaps the only cause — of the unhealthiness of the country, like a rich, prolific garden, teeming with tropical plants and trees, sloping gently upward as far as the purpling ridges of Elaysu.
Such is Zanzibar and its suburbs to the new arrival, as he attempts to note down his observations from shipboard. Descending the side ladder he is rowed ashore, and if he has a letter of introduction is welcomed by some “noble specimen of a British merchant,” or an American merchant of thirty-five or forty years’ standing, or a British official, or by one of those indescribables who has found his way into Zanzibar, and who patiently bides for the good time that is reported and believed to be coming; for I find that Zanzibar, instead of attracting the real merchant, has, since my last visit, but changed its European inutiles. When I was here before I met a living specimen of the happy and sanguine Micawber class. He is gone, but another fills his place. One can scarcely dare say anything good of Zanzibar or of any other place without attracting the wrong class of persons; and as I am on this topic I may as well specify what class of persons can be benefited pecuniarily by immigration to Zanzibar.
To an enterprising man of capital Zanzibar and the entire sea line of the Sultan’s dominions offer special advantages. A man with a capital of £5,000 might soon make his £20,000 out of it; but not by bringing his capital and his time and health to compete with great, rich mercantile houses of many year’s standing and experience, and, settling at Zanzibar, vainly attempting to obtain the custom of the natives, who are perfectly content with their time-honored white friends, when the entire coast line of the mainland invites his attention, his capital, his shrewdness and industry. The new arrival must do precisely what the old merchants did when they commenced business. He must go where there is no rivalry, no competition, if he expects to have a large business and quick returns for his money. He must bring his river steamer of light draught and penetrate the interior by the Rufiji, the Pangani, the Mtwana, or the Jub, and purchase the native product at first cost and resell to the large mercantile houses of Zanzibar or ship home. The copal of the Rufigi plain, accessible, as I know by experience, to a light draught steamer, is now carried on the shoulders of natives to Dar Salaam and Mbuamajii, to be sold to the Banians, who reship it to Zanzibar and there resell to the European merchant. The ivory of Unyamwesi is brought down close to Mbumi Usagara, which is accessible by a light draught steamer by the Wami. The ivory trade of Masai and the regions north is carried down through a portion of the Pangani Valley, and the Pangani for a short distance is also navigable and furnishes a means of enabling the white merchant to overreach his more settled white brothers at Zanzibar. The Jub River, next to the Zambezi, is the largest river on the east coast of Africa, while it is comparatively unknown. Arab caravans penetrate the regions south of it and obtain large quantities of ivory and hides. Why should not the white merchant attempt to open legitimate trade in the same articles by means of the river? When John Bertram, of Salem, Mass., came to Zanzibar, some forty years ago, there was not a single European house here. He was an officer of a whaling vessel when he saw this large town, with its splendid opportunities for commencing a mercantile business. On arriving home he invested the results of his venture in chartering a small vessel with goods such as would meet a ready sale in Zanzibar. The speculation turned out to be a good one; he repeated it, and then established an agency at Zanzibar, while he himself resided at Salem to conduct the business at home, to receive the cargoes from Zanzibar and ship cloth and other goods to his agency out here. The business which the young whaler started continued to thrive. Agent succeeded agent as each man went home, after a few years’ stay in Zanzibar, to enjoy the fruit of his labors. Boys sent out to Zanzibar to learn the business became responsible clerks, then head agents and subsequently opulent merchants, and so on from year to year, until John Bertram can point with noble pride to his own millions and the long list of noble men whom he taught, encouraged, sustained by his advice and enriched.
The moral of all this is, that what John Bertram, of Salem, did at Zanzibar, can be done by any large minded, enterprising Englishman or American on the mainland of Africa. Nay, as there is a larger field on the mainland and as he can profit by the example of Bertram he can do more. Men experienced in the ways of Oriental life need not be told in detail how people live in Zanzibar, nor how the town appears within, nor what the Arabs and half-castes and Wangwana know of sanitary laws. Zanzibar is not the best, the cleanest nor the prettiest town I have ever seen; nor, on the other hand, is it the worst, the filthiest nor the ugliest town. While there is but little to praise or gratify in it, there is a good deal to condemn, and, while you condemn it you are very likely to feel the cause for condemnation is irremediable and hopeless. But the European merchants find much that is endurable at Zanzibar. It is not nearly the intolerable place that the smelted rocks of Aden have made Steamer Point, nor has it the parboiling atmosphere of Bushire or Busrah, nor is it cursed by the merciless heat of Ismaila or Port Said. If you expose yourself to the direct rays of the sun of Zanzibar for a considerable time it would be as fatal for you as though you did such an unwise thing on the Aden Isthmus. Within doors, however, life is tolerable — nay, it is luxuriously comfortable. We — I mean Europeans — have numbers of servants to wait on us, to do our smallest bidding. If we need a light for our cigars, or our walking cane, or our hats when we go out, we never think of getting these things for ourselves or of doing anything of which another could relive us of the necessity of doing. We have only the trouble of telling our servants what to do, and even of this trouble we would gladly be relieved. One great comfort to us out here is that there is no society to compel us to imprison our necks within linen collars, or half strangle ourselves with a silken tie, or to be anxious about any part of our dress. The most indolent of us never think of shifting our night pyjamas until nearly midday. Indeed, we could find it in our hearts to live in them altogether, except that we fear a little chaff from our neighbors.
Another luxury, which we enjoy out here, which may be not enjoyed in Europe. What think you of a salt water bath morning, noon and evening just before dinner? Our servants fill our tubs for us, for our residences stand close to the sea, and it is neither trouble nor expense, if we care at all for the luxury, to undress in the cool room and take a few minutes’ sleep in the tub. Though we are but a small colony of whites, we resemble, microscopically, society at home. We have our good men and true and sociable men; we have large hearted hospitable men, our pig-giving friends, our hail-fellows well met, and perambulating gossips. Our liquors and wines and cigars are good, if they are not the best in the world. Some of us of course are better connoisseurs in such things than others, and have accordingly contrived to secure the most superior brands. Our houses are large, roomy and cool; we have plenty of servants; we have good fruit on the island; we enjoy health while we have it, and with our tastes, education and national love of refinement, we have contrived to surround ourselves with such luxuries as serve to prolong good health, peace of mind and life, and, inshallah! shall continue to do so while we stay in Zanzibar. The above is but the frank, outspoken description of himself, as might be given by a dignified and worthy Zanzibar merchant of long standing of European extraction. And your Commissioner will declare that it is as near truth as though the Zanzibar merchant of long standing and experience had written it himself.
Now we have had the Europeans of Zanzibar, their houses and mode and law of life described, let us get into the streets and endeavor to see for ourselves the nature of the native and the Semitic resident, and ascertain how far they differ from the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-American sublimities.
As we move away toward the Seyid’s palace we gradually become conscious that we have left the muddy streets with their small, narrow gutters, and which re-echoed our footsteps so noisily. The tall houses where the Europeans live, separated by but a narrow street, ten feet wide, shut out the heat and dazzling glare which otherwise the clean white-washed walls would have reflected. When we leave these behind we come across the hateful glaring sunlight, and our nostrils become irritated by an amber-colored dust, from the “garbling” of copal and orchilla weed, and we are sensible of two separate smells which affect the senses. One is the sweet fragrance of cloves, the other is the odor which a crowd of slaves bearing clove bags exhale from their perspiring bodies. Shortly we come across an irregular square blank in the buildings which had hemmed us in from the sunlight. A fetid garbage heap, debris of mud houses, sugar-cane leavings, orange and banana peelings, make piles which, festering and rotting in the sun, are unsightly to the eye and offensive to the nostrils. And just by here we see the semi-ruinous Portuguese fort, a most beggarly and dilapidated structure. Several rusty and antique cannon lie strewn along the base of the front wall, and a dozen or so of rusty and beggarly-looking half-castes, armed with long, straight swords and antique Muscat matchlocks, affect to be soldiers and guardians of the gate. Fortunately, however, for the peace of the town and the reigning Prince, the prisoners whom the soldiers guard are mild-mannered and gentle enough, few of them having committed a worse crime than participating in a bloodless street brawl or being found intoxicated in the street.
Passing the noisy and dusty Custom House, with its hives of singing porters at work, and herds of jabbering busybodies, nobodies and somebodies, we shortly arrive at the palace, where we might as well enter, and see how it fares with His Highness Barghash bin Said, the Prince of Zanzibar and Pemba. As we may have merely made an appointment with him as private citizens of a free and independent foreign country, and are escorted only by a brother citizen of the same rank, etiquette forbids that the Seyyid should descend into the street to receive his visitor. Were we Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul or Political Resident His Highness would deem it but due to our official rank to descend into the street and meet us exactly twenty-four steps from the palace door. Were we an Envoy Extraordinary the Prince would meet us some fifty or seventy-five paces from his gate. We are but private citizens, however, and the only honor we get is an exhibition of the guards — Belooches, Persians and half-castes — drawn up on each side of the door, their uniforms consisting of lengthy butternut-colored disdashehs, or shirts which reach from the nape of the neck to the ankles of each.
After we have ascended a flight of steps we discover the Prince, ready to receive us, with his usual cordial and frank smile and good natured greeting, and, during a shower of good natured queries respecting our health, we are escorted to the other end of the barely furnished room, where we are invited to be seated.
I have had (adopting the first person singular again) a long conversation with the Prince of Zanzibar; but, omitting all extraneous matter, I shall only touch upon such portion of our conversation as relates to a subject in which we are all interested, viz.: the slave trade and to the diplomatic mission of Sir Bartle Frere.
We have all read the despatches of Sir Bartle, relating his intercourse officially with the Sultan of Zanzibar; we have also heard from his own lips his views upon East African slavery. But none of your readers have heard the story of the Sultan himself, with his views of slavery and of the mission of Sir Bartle Frere. Without pretence of literal and exact record of what the Sultan said, I yet declare the spirit of what he said will be found embodied in the following:
“During Majid, my brother’s time, Speke came here and travelled into Africa, and what he said about us Arabs caused us a little trouble. The consuls, too, have given us great trouble. Some have written home much that is not quite true; but some time ago my brother Majid died, and by the grace of God I succeeded him. The trouble which my brother Majid endured was as nothing compared to that which has been the result of that man, Dr. Livingstone’s letters. I maintain that those letters you brought from him and carried to England were the cause of all this great trouble. Indeed, I have had a troublous time of it ever since I came to the throne. First, there came the hurricane of two years ago (April, 1872), which destroyed my entire fleet and all the ships of my people, and devastated the island and the coast. We were well off before that time, and we became suddenly poor. I had seven ships and steamers of war lost, and my people lost about 200 ships, and if you doubt my word respecting the devastation on the land take one of my horses and ride out into the country that you may see for yourself. In the midst of the desolation and ruin which had overtaken us we heard that the former Governor of Bombay, Sir Bartle Frere, was coming out to us to talk to us about the slave trade. Now, you white people must understand that all Arabs trade in slaves, that they have done so from the beginning. Our Koran does not say it is a sin, our priests say nothing against it, the wise men of Mecca say nothing against it; our forefathers traded in slaves, and we followed their footsteps and did likewise. But my father, Said Said, and my brothers, Thouweynee, Majid and Toorkee, were friends with the English and the English gave them advice and got them to sign treaties not to trade in slaves any more. To the treaty that my brothers signed I gave my consent freely when I came to the throne, for I have always been a friend to the English and to Englishmen.
“When Sir Bar tie Frere came here we were in sore distress, and very poor. He asked me to sign a treaty that no slave trade should be permitted in my country. When I consulted my chiefs they held their hands out to me and said. We have nothing, we are poor, but if the English will give us time — say a year or so — we are quite willing to sign that which they ask us.’ I repeated to Sir Bartle what my chiefs were willing to do, and I asked him to give us time such as they gave the Portuguese; but Sir Bartle, in his hurry to get us to sign the treaty, overlooked the distress we were in from the hurricane. Time and time again I asked that he would give us but a few months to consider and prepare for this final stroke of misfortune, but he would not listen, he was deaf to me. Continually, he said to me, ‘Sign this treaty.’ I was quite willing to sign it, though by signing it I was losing about $20,000 a year revenue; but my people could not understand this haste of Sir Bartle Frere to get the treaty signed without giving us time to think of it. We all knew that the English could do what they wanted to do in Zanzibar; if they took the island we were too poor and weak to resist; if they destroyed us all we could not help it. All we could have done would have been to consign our cause to God, and submit. Sir Bartle Frere went away angry. I cannot help it, but I grieve that he should be angry with me for what I could not help. One of the things he asked me to give my consent to was that I should assist the English in putting down the slave trade. How can I assist the English? I have no ships as I had formerly, or I would willingly do so.
“Soon after Sir Bartle Frere went away an English fleet came to our harbor. The English Admiral (Rear Admiral Arthur Cumming) and Dr. Kirk came to see me about the orders they had received from the Foreign Office to stop the slave trade. They both advised me as friends to sign the treaty. I got my people’s consent to do so, and I signed it, not because I was afraid of the English ships, for, if the English came to Zanzibar and said, ‘We want this island,’ I would not resist them, for I know that they are strong and I am weak — but because the English Admiral and Dr. Kirk advised me as friends, for they knew my poverty and understood my case better than I could have told them.”
Such is the story of the Sultan, without embellishment, and I dare say that Sir Bartle Frere will indorse most of it, if not all. It was a surprise to Sir Bartle’s many admirers that his well known diplomatic talents had failed to secure the Sultan’s signature to the treaty for the suppression of the slave trade, but with my knowledge of the method which Sir Bartle adopted to secure the Sultan’s signature I may say now that I no longer wonder at his failure. Small and insignificant as Prince Barghash may be in power and influence he is yet an independent chief of an independent State, to whom are due all the little courtesies which skillful diplomats are in the habit of using to persons recognized as rulers, consequently the stern, relentless coercion which Sir Bartle’s words and manners embodied could not be met in any other way by a man conscious of his dignity as a sovereign prince than by a refusal to sign the treaty. The mild manners and suavity of Admiral Gumming, together with the tact and friendly entreaties of Dr. Kirk, however, produced the desired result, leaving us nothing to regret save the failure of Sir Bartle to succeed where he ought to have succeeded, and where he might have succeeded had he possessed his soul with patience. Now, however, that the treaty has been signed and England’s indignation at the Seyyid’s first refusal to concede to her demands been appeased, strict justice requires that the Prince shall in some measure be requited for the concession he made. This is not merely my opinion, nor is it merely my definition of what justice demands in this case; but it is the outspoken and frank declaration of several eminent English gentlemen with whom I have conversed. They say that the Prince should be indemnified, for this concession on his part, with some grant of money or aid, in some form or another, for sacrificing to England’s views of what is right and wrong an eighth portion of his revenue; that the plea that England may use, that she guaranteed Prince Barghash release from the annual subsidy of 40,000 crowns to his brother at Muscat, cannot be employed at all, as England herself had imposed this sum on the Zanzibar Sultan in order that her commerce might not be endangered in the fratricidal war which might ensue on Prince Barghash’s refusal to pay this heavy subsidy; and that it is doubtful whether Prince Toorkee could ever summon sufficient force to compel Prince Barghash to pay him a single coin. With which views just men will not fail to agree. The beggarly presents which Sir Bartle Frere and his suite brought to Zanzibar for presentation to the Sultan were unworthy of the nation, which no doubt intended to act generously, of the representative of Her Britannic Majesty which conveyed them, and of the prince for whom they were purchased. Well enough, no doubt, for the petty potentate of Johanna, who ultimately received them, but not for the sovereign of Zanzibar and Pemba, and a thousand miles of coast, with whom a British envoy was charged to negotiate. It is not common sense to suppose that any private citizen would look indulgently upon any proposition which required of him to sacrifice £4,000 a year of his income in consideration of a few paltry presents which did not exceed over a few hundred pounds in value at the most, any more than that Prince Barghash should. Yet this is precisely what Sir Bartle Frere was charged to do by the Foreign Office in his late mission to Zanzibar. Owing to the losses incurred by him and his people during the hurricane of 1872, and the sacrifice of a large portion of his revenue by the demands of England, the Prince of Zanzibar suffers from straitness of income and ready money. He has leased the customs to Jewram Sujee, a Banian, for a term of years, for a very insufficient sum. He is sorely troubled with the native war in Unyamwezi, which prevents the ivory from arriving at the sea. His private estates are mere wrecks of what they once were, and the real pecuniary condition of Prince Barghash may be summed up as truly deplorable. Now a present of two condemned gunboats or any two vessels of war, such as the Admiralty has almost always on hand for sale cheap for cash, would be a godsend to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and a round sum of a few thousand pounds given to him as a sign of friendship and good will, might obviate in some measure the necessity of the large expense which England incurs annually in her laudable endeavors to suppress the slave trade.
There are several ways of regarding such a proposition, but it will not appear surprising to the candid reader if he reads the above facts dispassionately and without prejudice. It is a good adage that which advises that we should choose the least evil of two, and everybody will admit that if England could purchase the hearty co-operation of the Zanzibar Sultan with a timely and needful present, in the philanthropic scheme which England has so long attempted to enforce on the East African Coast, it would be less expensive than supporting a large squadron at an expense of several thousands of pounds per annum. And now that the slave trade is carried on inland it is more necessary than ever that Seyyid Barghash’s good will should be secured. Without the aid that England could give the Prince I doubt much that however friendly disposed he may be, he can do anything to assist in suppressing the trade, for the reasons already given.
Turning again to other topics, I may as well sketch the Prince before bowing him my adieu. He is now in the prime of life, probably about forty-two years old, of vigorous and manly frame, and about five feet nine inches in height. He is a frank, cordial and good-natured gentleman, with a friendly brusqueness in his manner to all whom he has no reason to regard with suspicion. He has an open, generous and a very undiplomatic face, slightly touched here and there with traces of the smallpox. He dresses plainly and is not given to ostentation in any way. He wears the usual linen dress of the Arabs, with his waist cinctured by a rich belt of plaited gold, which supports the crooked dagger generally borne by an Arab gentleman. Over his linen dress he wears a long black cloth coat, the edges of which are covered with a narrow gold braid. His headdress is the usual ample turban of the Arab, wound about his head, and completing in his person a somewhat picturesque costume. It would be difficult to choose a prince with whom diplomatic relations could be carried on so easily, provided always that the diplomat remembered that the Prince was an Arab and a Moslem gentleman. Politeness will effect more than rudeness, always with Arabian gentlemen. Admiral Cumming, I feel sure, with his gentle, dispassionate bearing, could effect as much with Seyyid Barghash as Admiral Yelverton’s courteous and calm bearing effected with the menacing ruffians of Cartagena. In whatever school of deportment these old British admirals, who, over a steely firmness, wear such courtesy, are brought up, it might be recommended that diplomats charged with delicate negotiations might be sent to learn lessons of true politeness. There is, however, one phase in Prince Barghash’s character which presents a difficulty in dealing with him, and that is his fanaticism. Ever since he undertook the journey to Mecca he has shown himself an extremely fervid Moslem, indisposed to do anything or attempt anything not recommended in the Koran. A prince of more liberal religious views might have had an opportunity during the late diplomatic negotiations of permanently bettering himself and people; but Barghash was restrained by his extreme religious scruples from asking any aid of England.
Continuing our journey through the town of Zanzibar, beyond the Sultan’s palace, we come to the business quarter of the natives. The spicy smells, intermixed with those of fruit, printed cloth, oils, ghee, peppers, &c., grow stronger as we advance, added to which is the very infragrant odor which is exhaled from the bodies of the naked and unwashed multitude. Flies here congregate in swarms, and settle where they enjoy plentiful repasts. Down into the narrow and crowded alley, flanked by the low palm-roofed sheds where the humble, free and slave populace are engaged in their noisy barter, pours the merciless sunlight, drawing stifling vapors from the filthy and undrained street. Not caring to take more than a hasty glance at anything under such circumstances, we hasten on through the most wretched alleys and streets, by half ruinous houses which only require to be repaired to be made presentable, and only require the superintendence of sanitary police to make them habitable; by low-roofed and square-pillared mosques and verandas, or burzanis, where squat dusky men and yellow men, kinky and straight-haired men, Arabs and Banians, Hindis and half-castes, each of whom we detect by either his garb or his appearance. And so we proceed by ruins and huts and dunghills and garbage heaps and square, dingy white buildings, until we come to the Malagash Inlet, over which a bridge leads to a populous suburb and the evergreen country. If we cross the bridge and skirt the opposite bank by a broad welltrodden path, we will be travelling along the base of a triangle, of which Shangani Point and the British Political Residency may form the apex. A half hour’s walk along this path leads us through ill-kept gardens, where mandioca or manioc (the cassava), Indian corn, and holcus, sesame and millet grow half shaded by orange and lime, pomegranate and mangopalm, and jack trees, until we halt before the white and clean buildings of the English Church mission. We have noted in our short walk that agricultural skill and industry is at a very low ebb, barely fit to be termed by such names, rather a wretched, burrowing and shiftless, slovenly planting; but the genial soil covers a multitude of defects, sins of indolence and unthriftiness.
As we have arrived at the English Church Mission Buildings, what shall I say about the mission except the honest, truthful facts? The Right Rev. Bishop Tozer, “Bishop of Central Africa,” in priestly purple and fine linen, is no more to be seen here, and it really appears as if the mission had begun new life, and had begun to lift its head among the useful societies of the world. As yet I have seen no great increase of converts, but fair promise of future usefulness is visible everywhere. As a friend to the Church which has sent this mission out, I was formerly restrained from saying much about it, because I knew very little good of it; and had I not seen the erudite but undignified prelate exhibiting himself in such unusual garb to the gaze of the low rabble of Zanzibar I would certainly have passed the Church mission and its pitiful ways of converting the heathen in silence. Now, however, I may speak with candor. The great building now known as the British Residency was, in 1871 and 1872, the episcopal palace and mission house. After its sale to the English government the missionaries removed their school to their country house, a half mile or so beyond the extremity of Malagash Inlet. With the money obtained by the sale of the mission house the Superintendent purchased the old slave market — a vacant area surrounded by mud huts, close to the cattle yards of the Banians and the ooze and stagnant pools of the Malagash. On the site of so much extreme wretchedness and crime the Church missionaries have commenced to erect structures which, when completed, may well be styled superb. These buildings consist of a fine residence, a school and a church, which, with another building, just begun by Lacknindoss, the Banian, will surround an irregular square, in which palms and flowers and fruit trees will be planted. A view from one of the windows of the unfinished residence gives us a clearer idea of the locality the missionaries have selected, and suggests grave doubts of the wisdom of its selection. Looking at it from a sentimental point of view, the locality is, no doubt, very appropriate, and a certain fitness is also seen in it. The British government denounced the slave trade, and made a grand effort to crush it; and the market for the sale of slaves in old times was purchased by the mission, on which the missionaries erect a church wherein peace and good will and brotherly love will be preached and taught. The neighborhood, also, is one of the most miserable quarters of Zanzibar; but the missionaries convey with them the power to improve, refine and elevate, despite its extreme poverty and misery. It is all very well, we think; but if we look from the windows and examine the character of the ground into which the walls of the building have been sunk, we will see that it is a quagmire, with putrid heaps of cow dung and circular little pools of sink-water, which permeate through the corrupting soil, and heave up again in globules and bubbles, exhaling the vilest odor that ever irritated the civilized European’s nose. And if what we have seen below is not enough to conjure up in the mind a dismal prospect of sickness and pain and sorrow for the unhappy missionaries who may be appointed to live here, the view of the long and broad stretch of black mud, which the shallow waters of the Malagash leave behind them for hours night and day, will certainly do it. It would require the treasury of a government to redeem the ground from its present uninhabitable state. All I can say, however, is that I can only hope that the dismal future suggested by the scenes near the mission building may never be realized, and that the worthy missionaries may be prosperous in the new field before them.
Dr. Steere, lately consecrated Bishop of Central Africa, is about to arrive here, as successor of Bishop Tozer. If report speaks correctly he is about to establish mission buildings near Lake Nyassa, in which case he will have the hearty sympathy and support of every good man; and, did Livingstone live, Bishop Steere would depart with his blessings and best wishes for success. The very name of Bishop Steere suggests success. He is a practical and an indefatigably industrious man. He is devoid of bigotry, but while devoted to his Church he does not neglect the great fact that conversion of the heathen means more than the mere teaching of the formula of the Church of England. In short, he is a fit leader, because of his plain, practical good sense, his industry, his intellectual acquirements and religion for the new Christian mission, and I heartily congratulate the Board of the Church Mission for their selection and choice of such a man. While we are almost certain that Bishop Steere will be able to show results worthy of him, it is absolutely necessary for the cause of religion throughout Africa that he should be properly supported by his friends at home. There must be no niggard supplies sent to him, for the establishment of such a mission as will insure success requires considerable resources, and the Church Mission should this time make a supreme effort worthy of their great Church.
From the English Mission to the country is but a step, and before closing this letter we should like to ask the reader to accompany us as far as the ridges of Elaysu. The path which we choose lies through cultivated tracts and groves of fruit trees which stretch on either side of it, thickening as they recede, and growing intensely deep and umbrageous, even to the depth and intensity of a forest. We note the sad effects of the hurricane in the prostrate and fast rotting trunks of the cocoanut palm, and the vast number of palms which lean from the perpendicular, and threaten before long to also fall. We note these things with a good deal of pity for the country, the people and the poor, unfortunate Prince, and we also think what a beautiful and happy isle this Isle of Zanzibar might be made under a wise and cultivated ruler. If such a change as is now visible in Mauritius, with all its peaks and mountains and miles of rugged ground, can be made, what might not be made of Zanzibar, where there are no mountains nor peaks nor rugged ground, but gentle undulations and low ridges eternally clothed in summer green verdure. At every point, at every spot you see something improvable, something that might be made very much better than it now is. And so we ride on with such reflections, which reflections are somewhat assisted, no doubt, by the ever-crooked path which darts toward all points of the compass in sudden and abrupt crookedness. But the land and the trees are always beautiful and always tropical. Palms and orange trees are everywhere, with a large number of plaintains, mangoes and jack fruit trees; the sugar cane neighbor, the Indian corn, the cassava, is side by side with the holcus sorghum, and there is a profusion of verdure and fruit and grain wherever we turn our eyes. And shortly we arrive at the most picturesque spot on the island of Zanzibar — Elaysu, or Ulayzu — as some call it — every inch of which, if the island were in the possession of the white man, would be worth a hundred times more than it is now, from its commanding elevation, from the charming views of sea and land and town its summit presents, for its healthiness, its neighborhood to town, for it is but five or six miles off. What cosy, lovable, pretty cottages might be built on the ridge of Elaysu, amid palms and never-sere foliage, amid flowers and carol of birds, amid shades of orange and mango trees! How white men and white women would love to dream on verandas, with open eyes, of their far away homes, made far pleasanter by distance and memory, while palms waved and rustled to gentle evening breezes, and the sun descended to the west amid clouds of all colors. Yes, Elaysu is beautiful and the receding ridges, with their precipitous ravines, fringed with trees and vegatation, are extremely picturesque, and some short bits of scenery which we view across the white glaring bars of sunlight are perfectly idyllic in their modest beauty. But much as I would be pleased to dilate on this and that view to you, with all the varying tints and shadows, gleaming brightness, and soft twilight, of unsurpassed tropical scenes and continuous groves of trees, I am constrained for want of space to refuse. As we turn our horses’ heads around to return, we view the town and harbor of Zanzibar charmingly somnolent in the pale gray haze through which they are seen, representing but too fitly, in that dreamy state in which we imagine them, the lassitude and indifference of the people of Zanzibar.
(Source: “Stanley’s Despatches to the New York Herald,” Archive.org)