Review – The Last Slave Market by Alastair Hazell

Review – The Last Slave Market by Alastair Hazell

Brutality of Zanzibar slave trade laid bare in fast paced book    

This excellent book may at first appear ​an obscure insight into 19th Century figures in Zanzibar. It confounds expectation. Incredibly well written it provides a fascinating portrait of an island at the epi centre of the slave trade through the 1830s to 1880s. The height of the Empire the British colossus towers over the region with London and East India company locked in rivalry and mutual suspicion. A blind eye is conveniently turned as Arab traders raid ‘the interior’ for slaves and ivory from as far north as Uganda before bringing back around 25,000 slaves a year to Zanzibar to sail by dhow to Turkey and Arabia where they would become fundamental to the workings of societies and families as they had done for hundreds of years. The nature of slavery much different and more complex than European Atlantic trading. But its heinous nature cannot be disguised in the frequently disease ridden Zanzibar. Brilliant character portraits of principled British consulates Kirk and Hamerton fighting a trade they despise. The latter an honest and tough East India man apparently sneered at by urbane officials in Whitehall. Livingstone makes an appearance with his utterly dis functional soon to die alcoholic wife he meanwhile is shown to be an inept leader, communicator and a loner whose stubbornness over rides judgement. He drives the hero of the piece Kirk to distraction and lingering resentment. Stanley hardly comes out any better appearing a ruthless carpet bagger trashing Kirk’s reputation for failing to help Livingstone. Although medical science and geographical knowledge were still being forged the reader is left in no doubt about the brutal shrewdness and worldliness of the time. Prime characters notably the Omani Sultans frequently run rings around blundering British politicians many of whom are indifferent to disturbing the status quo of the region and its slaving customs. Eventually and dramatically the industry implodes with Kirk spearheading the charge with astonishing energy.

Ben Pinnington

Twitter: @BenPinnington1

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