History of the slave trade would not be complete without some account of the work done by early Christian Missions established on the Islands of Zanzibar. The missions played an important role in the struggle against slave trade and also in speeding up the emancipation process.
Dr. Livingstone was troubled by what he saw of slavery and the slave trade in Africa. The major accomplishment, to which the UMCA greatly contributed, was the abolition of the Slave trade in Zanzibar. After moral and military pressure (including nine British warship off the coast), the trade in men, women and children was stopped.
John Kirk who was the British Consul General in Zanzibar, pressed Barghash bin Said (Sultan of Zanzibar, 1870 – 1888), to the signing of the treaty for abolishing the slave trade. Under Kirk’s pledge of British protecting the Sultan and his kingdom against other European powers, and on his intimation that if he defies, British warships shall receive an order to attack the Zanzibar town, the Baraghash agreed to sign the unpopular treaty on 6th June, 1873 and close the Slave Market officially.
The site of the former slave market, then an open area surrounded by small huts, was bought on September 5th, by an English missionary from the UMCA, the Reverend Arthur Nugen West with part of the site being given by a Hindu merchant, Mr. Jeiram Senji. Immediately the work for the construction of the present Christ Church Cathedral began. Worship began in a thatched mud hut. Bishop Edward Steere who succeeded Bishop Tozer, and the Cathedral construction was completed on the same day seven years later.
The Cathedral was designed by C. F. Hayward, who was a friend of Bishop Edward Steere, the builder of the Cathedral. He sent the plans from England but never saw the building he panned. The name Christ Church was chosen for the first permanent church of the mission was a dedication of St. Augustine, first Cathedral in England, at Canterbury. Also it is in the memory of Rev. A. N. West who had bought part of the site and died on the Christmas day 1874.
The “Slave Market Church” grew steadily, and in 1877 Christmas services were held in the roofless church. The roof produced its own problems for a Bishop who was not a trained builder. A wooden roof would be eaten by white ants, a metal roof would too hot. Bishop Steere resolved to use local resources and mixed pounded coral with cement, sheeted with zinc. Many doubted that it would stand, but over 100 years later it is as strong as ever.
The Cathedral is a working building with daily services, serving the Anglican Communication in Zanzibar. It still bears witness to the truths, which guides its founders. But it has also many items of historic and religious interest, linked with David Livingstone and those early times. The high altar is positioned on the exact spot previously occupied by the slave whipping post.
The cluster mission buildings at Mkunazini compound included the former St. Monica’s School (confiscated by government in 1964) and a storied hospital building (now St. Monica Hostel) still with an underground room (Slave chamber) which had been used to keep slaves before were taken to the markets. In 1997, slave statues were erected in the compound to commemorate the centenary celebration for the abolition of slave trade. In 1979 the Christ Church Cathedral was gazette by the Zanzibar Government for permanent preservation under Ancient Monuments Preservation Decree of 192. (Cap 102).
This church is seen as God’s intervention in human affairs through men and women of good will. The place of horror and despair has been transformed and became a divine area of worship and praise.
The UMCA Christ forms one element of the Anglican Church complex at Mkunazini that commands great historic significance as followed:
a) The Church complex constitutes an important episode in the history of the slave trade and slavery in Zanzibar and East Africa that enables the public to imagine the old order.
b) The Christ Church Cathedral is a great memorial to the closure of the slave market, and marks a great effort made by the UMCA to help wipe out the slave trade in the region. As Rev. Arthur N. West remarked that, the construction of the Cathedral at “the place of evil is a sign of triumph”.
c) The Church is still an important centre for the Anglican Christian community in Zanzibar.
d) Now the Church complex includes slave statues representing a visual memory of the slave trade and slavery.