The University of Arizona

Cloves, Slaves, and British Imperialism: The Rise and Fall of Omani Plantation Slavery in Nineteenth Century Zanzibar

Nicole J Crisp


Starting in the 1820s, plantation slavery designed for clove production erupted throughout Zanzibar, an Omani-controlled archipelago in East Africa. But by 1890, Zanzibar’s independence, as well as its slavery, waned as it became a British protectorate. Slavery on Zanzibar represented a blend of traditional Omani slavery with new plantation-style slavery which developed during a period of heightened abolitionist movements and British imperialism in the Indian Ocean. Attempts by the British to end the slave trade in the western Indian Ocean and slave labor in Zanzibar reveals how Europeans conceptualized slavery in the 1800s by privileging the abolition of economic over domestic slavery. In this essay, I analyze plantation slavery in Zanzibar from two different, yet related angles. First, I will examine how this slave system developed and collapsed in such a relatively short amount of time. Second, I seek to understand how this new form of economic slavery coexisted with older forms of Omani slavery, specifically domestic slavery. In doing so, we see how this slave system combined elements of both domestic and economic slavery which further enhances our ability to understand the two as connected and intersecting categories of slavery. Further, this case demonstrates how, in the nineteenth century, slavery on a small archipelago of islands both effected and was affected by global economic and political shifts.

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