Ancient Tanzania places hope in heritage tourism to heal wounds of slavery

Tanzania touts slave trade artifacts, including 150-year-old memorabilia from famous British explorer David Livingstone, to promote heritage tourism in the western town of Tabora mired in widespread poverty and economic stagnation.

Heritage tourism is increasingly becoming a growing industry in Africa, attracting large numbers of descendants of the slave trade and tourists who are disenchanted with traditional attractions and seek more authentic experiences by visiting historical and cultural sites.

More than 9 million people are said to have been sold as slaves by Arab traders in the Middle East and other regions on long journeys through the Sahara Desert and the Indian Ocean.

– Tourist dollars

Perched on the hills with thin straws of grass, Tabora, formerly known as Kazeh, was founded by Arab traders in the 1850s and became a center of the slave trade and a crossroads of the main caravan routes of ‘Ujiji-Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. to the town of Bagamoyo on the coast of the Indian Ocean.

The ancient city is known for its long streets dotted with giant mango trees believed to have been created by long lines of slaves spitting mango seeds in their path.

“Cursed” by the brutal slave trade, the city has lagged economically for decades, but authorities are actively trying to market its heritage slave trade sites to cash in tourism dollars and attract much-needed foreign investment.

Tabora Mayor Ramadhani Kapela said heritage tourism is not a new phenomenon and is part of the government’s broader effort to rekindle forgotten history and appeal to tourists and investors.

“The idea is to make people remember their story and where they came from, no matter how brutal it was,” he told Anadolu news agency.

From handwritten scribbles in Dr David Livingstone’s notebook to chains used to chain slaves to the old fort used as the headquarters of German East Africa, and to a 150-year-old mango tree used as a gallows for sick and tired slaves , officials use multiple relics of the slave trade to revive the history of the ancient city in the hinterland.

Tourism is one of the cornerstones of the Tanzanian economy, contributing around 17.2% of the country’s gross domestic product and 25% of all foreign exchange earnings. The sector, which provides direct jobs to more than 600,000 people, injected around $ 2.4 billion in 2018, according to government statistics.

At the village of Kwihara, located 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) from Tabora, the brown-colored, Arab-style “tembe” house, built in 1857 by an Arab merchant where Dr. Livingstone lived during his stay in Tabora in 1872 , appears surprisingly intact with a sordid story belies its beauty.

Mbarak Saleh, a curator, said a collection of Dr Livingstone’s personal effects, including letters, maps, pictures, a diary and a copy of the New York Herald daily, is a great treasure for future tourism .

“This house was a center of the slave trade at that time. I think people would be interested in visiting and learning more about the slave trade, ”he said.

According to Saleh, Livingstone stayed in this house in 1871 and it was then occupied by Henry Morton Stanley, who waited three months in the hope that the Arabs would beat Mirambo – a famous king of the Nyamwezi people – and reopen the path to the Lake. Tanganyika.

– Slave trade trail

Despite the wealth of tourist attractions, the tourism industry remains largely untapped in Tabora. The authorities rely on the relics of the slave trade and colonialism to seduce foreign visitors.

The move to the slave trade relics market, touted as a silver bullet to unleash the impoverished city’s tourism potential, however, evoked bitter memories among villagers who remember the horrors of the slave trade where their ancestors took them. were brutally shackled and forced to work as cheap laborers. .

“The slave trade was a very bad thing. It was the worst crime against humanity. No amount of money can heal the wounds he inflicted on our ancestors, ”said Mustafa Kitwana, 91, a resident of Itetemia village.

For most of the inhabitants of Tabora, the slave trade remains one of humanity’s most tragic and disturbing crimes, partly responsible for their miseries.

Hamisi Kaloka, a retired official in the archeology department of the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, called on traditional African leaders whose ancestors colluded with Arabs in this terrible matter to apologize publicly.

“We can no longer blame the Arabs for their cruelty. It would be wise for our local leaders to apologize to the victims of the slave trade, ”he said.

About John A. Provost

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