On Being African Travel
The Island Pt. 3: On Toxic Freedom 
June 10, 2017
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I went to the slave Market. I want to take you with me. 

 Of every experience I’ve had since I’ve been on the island, this was the most soul wrenching. My spirit got lost in unlived memories told as history. 

Slave Chamber 1.

Slave Chamber 2


My breath caught in my throat as I entered these rooms. The heat, suffocating against my skin, closing up my pores. The Island is hot. These dungeons are hotter. Maybe man intended to make man experience hell. If I closed my eyes I was scared the ground wouldn’t be there when I opened them. 

As the guide spoke in his beautiful song like Swahili explaining the history, my mind pictured the seventy men slaves being piled into this one room. Then the fifty plus women being piled into the other. The smell of waste excrement filling the air. Skin pressing against skin. Pushing the word, ‘space’ out of the vocabulary of every mind, making it’s pronunciation lost on every tongue. Imagine forgetting what air feels like. 

150 years ago, it would have been me shackled. Brought from the mainland. Walking, hands and feet bound, feet scalding, men who look like me with whips in their hands screaming at me to move. These tombs would have captured me, not as a tourist site but as a prison. 

How did they do it? How did they survive? How do our people go on with that unlived memory. Slavery built the Island’s economy. It was a slavery port. That was its very purpose. Slaves would be brought from all over East and sometimes Central Africa. They would be brought to be bought and sold on the island. At one point in history there lived more slaves than free people here. A world where a slave would consider himself successful when he owned a slave. That was freedom. Becoming the master. 

“A woman came into the Court…  and accused a man of having unjustly enslaved her. Evidence was produced and the woman was liberated. The man was fined forty rupees… And twenty ruppees were handed to the woman as compensation. She was asked what she was going to do with the twenty rupees… She at once answered, ‘I shall buy a slave with it'”

Newman, Banani; The Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Zanzibar and Pemba, 1898 

It makes me think of oppression. Modern day slavery. Is it possible the idea lived on that freedom from slavery means freedom to be the slaver?

That isn’t freedom. To think of African governments who took over the reigns from white governments, learning from them how to lead the way they did. Neo colonialism. The appeal of freedom seemed to be in the ability to dominate, to be the one to make decisions over other people’s lives. This is a toxic freedom. 

Outside of the chambers I found a wall, lined with graffiti, and chalk writing. Statements of hate from a people to a liberated government. I finally understand the meaning of freedom got lost in translation. When we speak about oppression now, we need to redefine freedom. Our people have lived on with this broken mentality, minds still in chains. Freedom is not handing the reigns over for the oppressed to become the oppressors. 

What if freedom fighting is not a fight against the oppressors? That endless cycle where everyone dies and no one wins. Fighting for freedom is, or should be about fighting against the system of oppression itself. Killing anything that allows it to thrive, sucking out its very oxygen. Of course suffocating oppression causes the oppressors to give up their privilege making them feel attacked but it’s not even about them. They are also caught up in this system that could trip up on them at any time. 

The abolishment of slavery may have freed physical chains but millions of minds need liberation. A new understanding of freedom where slavery/oppression are past memories our people can heal from and not constantly relive in different ways. 


As always, share, comment your thoughts, subscribe. More from the Island’s interactions next week. 


About author


Going on twenty something Black Girl with chubby cheeks,fat lips, big hips, and a really kinky twa (Teeny-weeny-afro) Believer People Watcher Storyteller Favorite color blue, boo!

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  • Joy Ruguru

    Fighting for freedom should be about fighting against the system of oppression itself, not the oppressors
    Thank you for saying this.

    • Joy, I’m glad that stuck with you. I definitely think it’s worth saying. Thanks for sharing your thought.

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