Arab Slave Traders in Northern Rhodesia 1895

North Eastern Rhodesia 1895 the last slave traders.

by John Wynne Hopkins, Rhodesian War Games

(The Long Grass -T.W. Lawman, P112-117.)

Fort Rosebery was established by H.T. Harrington but Harrington was universally known by the tribesmen of the day as “Chiana” the “Little Master”.

“Chiana” arrived in Northern Rhodesia in 1895 as a police trooper in an expedition led by Major P. Forbes who later became the Administrator of Northern Rhodesia. “Chiana” was transferred from the police to the civil service. He was first posted at Choma (on Mweru Wantipa) and later the Kalungwishi Boma near Lake Mweru. It was from here that he conducted his operations against the Arab slave-traders. On his arrival at Kalungwishi he found the graves of the first officials of the Boma.

While at Kalungwishi he succeeded in capturing the infamous Arab slave-trader, Nasoro Bin Suliman who for many years had terrorized the region. Nasoro would continually avoid Harringtons ambushes.

T.W. Lawman in his book The Long Grass mentions that he met an old African called Chiunkani who as a young man had served with “Chiana” and he knew about the operations to capture Nasoro Bin Suliman.

Harrington had received word that Nasoro Bin Suliman was taking refuge in the village of Mporokoso in the north of the territory. Together with W.R. Johnstone, Mr. Hector Croad (of Kilwa Island fame) and Mr Andrew Law and their respective police forces. Harrington surrounded the village.

There had been many occasions when Harrington had nearly captured this wily old slave-trader from Zanzibar, but now Harrington with a large force of police had the stockaded village surrounded and had dug in on the perimeter. Some slave women escaped from the village and informed Harrington that there was a gap in the stockade which had not been completed and was not defended.

“The rifle fire was heavy both from within the village and from the attackers,” said old Chiunkani.

From platforms in the trees just outside the stockade snipers were picking off the police who were endeavouring to position themselves ready for the assault. The bugle sounded and with battle cries the assault began and the stockade stormed.

Harrington followed by Law and Croad, led his force to that part of the stockade which had not been completed. At the same time Johnstone who was leading an Abercorn contingent went to the right of the village to make a diversionary demonstration.

The assault on the stockade was made with little loss. The native police put their snider rifles through the poles of the wooden defenses and kept up a heavy fire until part of the outer wall gave way when they pushed it.

The village was taken but to Harringtons dismay Nasoro Bin Suliman had escaped yet again through another gate at the rear of the village.

The buildings were not entirely destroyed but all the cattle were taken and many slaves were released from bondage.

All the forces returned to their respective stations and left Harrington to brood over his failure to capture Nasoro Bin Suliman (“Chisesa”). It was two months later that Harrington received the word that Nasoro Bin Suliman “Chisesa” the slave trader was back in the area. Within an hour Harrington was on his way with a force of 60 police.

(Authors note, the police must be of the North Eastern Rhodesian Constabulary and thus wore a khaki uniform, with green facings, fez and were equipped with leather equipment and snider rifles.)

Harrington received word that the old Arab slave trader was travelling very slowly and many of his men were deserting him. A scout came to “Chiana” Harrington to tell him that Nasoro had no heart to continue running. At first “Chiana” Harrington was sceptical but three hours later Nasoro Bin Suliman came riding along the path on a white muscat donkey.

The Arab was very polite and all he said was “Bwana Chiana, ni me Kwisha” (young master I am finished) It was thus that “Chiana” Harrington was responsible for capturing one of the last Arab slave-traders in North-Eastern Rhodesia.

“Chiana” Harrington held Nsoro Bin Suliman for several months at Kalungwishi Boma and in their discussions Harrington asked Nasoro why he persisted to fight the Government. Nasoro replied that his people had been turned out of Nyasaland and they had decided to form a Mohammedan kingdom along the Luapula river and in the country which is now the Copperbelt of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia)


Authors notes: – The sequel to the defeat of Nasoro is that the tribes of the North-Eastern Provinces wanted to come under the protection of the British Government as they could do nothing about the Arab slave-traders and their followers and thus further operations to drive out the Arab slave-traders would commence in 1899.

In 1899 Chief Milambo of the Ba Ushi tribe asked of “Chiana” Harrington “Now that you have turned out all the Arabs what am I going to do with the bad men in my country?” He added: “I have no prisons like you have and no askari to guard them. When any of my people got troublesome before I sold them for calico to the Arabs.” For once Harrington had no answer.

Authors note:- What I find interesting about this date is that my family only arrived in Northern Rhodesia in 1954, when I was 5 weeks old. So, my family arrived in Northern Rhodesia only 55 years after the Arab slave-traders were finally driven out of the region by the British. From Lake Mweru to Lake Tanganika was the infamous slave route in Northern Rhodesia of the Arab slave-traders taking their caravans of slaves to the East coast of Africa. I remember being shown the slave tree in Ndola and the slave trails which were lines of ilala palms crossing the country.

The sequel to this article will be the final defeat of the other Arab slave-traders in Northern Rhodesia region by the Central African Rifles of Nyasaland and the North-Eastern Rhodesian Constabulary.


The Long Grass -T.W. Lawman.

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