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David Livingstone: The East African Slave Trade

West and East African Slave Trades

The triangular (or transatlantic) trade involved Britain, West Africa, the West Indies and (pre-independent) North America. The British slave trade was stopped in 1807 but an East African slave trade continued with the Arab traders. The main slave market was in Zanzibar.

Livingstone's Abolition Campaign

David Livingstone (1813-73) spent much of his life campaigning against the slave trade based in East Africa.

He first came into contact with the slave trade as a missionary in the 1840s. Appalled at the treatment of the enslaved people, he began sending eye-witness accounts of its horrors back to Britain. His reports were influential, causing great concern in Britain.

The East African slave trade centred round the slave markets on Zanzibar island and other ports along the coast. Captured Africans were sold here and sent to work as slaves on spice plantations in the Arabian peninsular and Indian Ocean Islands.

This trade was smaller than the transatlantic one. Even so, an estimated 2 million people were sold through the markets. Many more never reached the markets but died on the forced march from their homes in the interior to the coast.

Livingstone believed in 'Commerce and Christianity'. He felt that a profitable trade in goods would replace the need to trade in people and that, if they became Christians, Africans would not support slavery.

In 1871, Livingstone's report of the Nyangwe massacre – when slave traders fired into a crowded market and 400 people were killed – shocked the British public. The British Government put pressure on the Sultan of Zanzibar and he closed the slave market in 1873, just six weeks after Livingstone's death. This ended the legal trade in slaves on the East Coast of Africa.

Click here to find out more about Scotland and the slave trade

Click here to find out more about David Livingstone Centre