Dhow chasing on the East Coast of Africa.
The slave-trade is, however, still carried on to a lamentable extent on the east coast of Africa, to supply the Arabian and Persian markets, and has been the chief cause of all the depopulating wars which have taken place on that side of Africa, reducing whole districts inhabited by an industrious people into howling deserts. A squadron, consisting entirely of steamers, has now for some years been stationed on that coast for its suppression.
Though not sanctioned by the Portuguese government, their officials in their possessions at the mouth of the Zambesi and other places along the coast have taken an active part in the trade, as have also the French, who, though they do not call their captives slaves, equally encourage the slave-dealers and internal warfare, by purchasing the blacks taken in battle and carrying them off under the name of apprentices to their possessions in the Southern ocean. The service on this coast, though less unhealthy, provided the crews do not sleep on shore, is often severe in the extreme, the boats being sent away for considerable periods to watch for slaving-dhows as they sail along the coast. These dhows are large, swift-sailing craft, commanded and manned by Arabs, savage fellows, who frequently fight desperately when attacked by the boats. With a strong breeze they often manage to elude even steamers. When hard-pressed, with a full cargo of slaves on board, they will run their vessels through the surf on shore in the hopes of carrying off some of their unfortunate captives who may escape from the wreck, being very indifferent about those who may be drowned. The Arabs themselves generally manage to get on shore, though sometimes the whole of their black cargo is sacrificed.
From the following account by an eye-witness some of the lesser horrors of the slave-trade on the east coast may be conceived. It exhibits, also, the spirit in which our gallant officers and seamen carry on the duty imposed on them.
Her Majesty’s steamer Vulture, Commander Cay, was, in 1874, cruising off Madagascar, when, it being almost calm, a dhow was seen standing for the port of Majunga. Although she had every appearance of an honest trader, a boat was sent to board her, carrying one of the officers and an interpreter, with directions to hail the Vulture should any slaves be found. All was suspense till the cry came from the dhow of “She’s a slaver, sir!” Three hearty cheers were given by the Vulture’s crew. “How many has she on board?” asked the captain. “Two hundred, sir,” was the answer. A hawser was soon passed on board the slaver, and she was hauled alongside. Then began the sickening task of transferring the poor captives from the dhow to the ship. The British seamen behaved nobly; even the regular grumblers forgot their complaints and came forward to assist in transporting the weak and helpless creatures from their prison. So cramped and emaciated were they that many had to be carried in the arms of the men. Tenderly and carefully did these strong, rough fellows bear their helpless burdens, notwithstanding the filth which had accumulated on them during their long imprisonment in the pestilential hold. Now and then a baby appeared, and was eagerly lifted on board by the men. There were seven, and as the little ones were borne along they opened their eyes with wonderment. One baby had been born on board the dhow, and another had lost its mother during the fatal voyage. Those who had suffered most were children whose ages ranged from three to seven years. They had been evidently unable to hold their own against the stronger ones in the scramble for food which had taken place at feeding time; the stronger thrived, while the weaker starved. Of the hapless cargo thirty were at death’s door, and thirty others little more than skeletons. Many of the unhappy beings had scarcely tasted food during their imprisonment in the dhow. In they poured, a living stream, until the ship’s decks were covered with a black mass of human beings of all ages, including women so old that it was difficult to understand what object those dealers in human flesh could have had in shipping such worthless articles for the slave-market. At last the stream stopped. “They’re all out of the dhow, sir,” exclaimed the seamen who remained on board the vessel. “Have another look and make quite sure,” answered the commander. Well it was that they did so, for in a dark corner of the hold, buried all but the head in the sand which the dhow carried for ballast, lay a poor old woman. She was dug out and borne on board.