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Malawi Slave Routes and Dr. David Livingstone Trail

Date of Submission: 01/02/2011
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Malawi National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Ref.: 5603

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Slave trade was introduced in Malawi by the Swahili-Arab traders in the 19thCentury following a great demand for ivory and slave in the East African markets namely Zanzibar, Kilwa, Mombasa and Quelimane. The Swahili -Arabs moved further into the interior of Africa including Malawi to obtain slaves and ivory.

One of Slave Trade Route was Nkhotakota where one of the Swahili-Arab slave traders, Salim-bin Abdullah (Jumbe) set up his headquarters on the shore of Lake Malawi in the 1840s. From Nkhota kotawhere he organized his expeditions to obtain slaves and ship them across the lake to East African markets, Kilwa. About 20, 000 slaves (Pachai, P.A. 1968) were annually shipped by Jumbe to Kilwa from Nkhotakota. The captives were kept until they number 1000 and taken across the lake and then forced to walk for three to four month journey to Kilwa where they were sold.

Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and explorer. He visited Nkhotakota inl861 where he witnessed slave trade at its peak. He got horrified in the way slaves were handled at Jumbe's stockade and he described it as" a place of bloodshed and lawlessness". In 1864 David Livingstone visited Nkhota kota again and met Jumbe. He was able to secure a treaty between Jumbe and Chewa Chiefs to stop slave trade and hostilities between them. However, the treaty did not last long as Jumbe continued with slave trade. It was up until Nyasaland came under the British protectorate in 1891 that slave trade completely came to cease. It was Sir Harry Johnston who was the first Commissioner in Nyasaland Protectorate who made a significant effort to stop the trade. One of the policies of his administration stipulated was to bring slave trade to an end. Sir Harry Johnston with a force of Sikh soldiers attacked Jumbe in 1894. He was tried and banished to Zanzibar.

The remaining relics along this slave route include a mosque which was the first to be constructed in the country, graves of three Jumbe chiefs and also the graves of the lieutenants of Jumbe. The fig trees where Jumbe and Or. David Livingstone met and agreed to stop slave trade still exist up to this day. Other features very outstanding include the site where the slave market stood, the village of descendants of slave traders and slaves who were freed by the British, and also the Anglican Church which was built on the village of freed slaves to offer them education and Christianity.

Another Slave Route was at Karonga where Mlozi, another Swahili-Arab, settled and terrorized the Nkhonde people and seized them as slaves to Zanzibar. He organized surprise raids as far as Chitipa and Zambia. He also employed a number of the Swahili from Tanzania who undertook such expeditions. He, however, came into conflict with African Lakes Company, formed by Scottish businessmen John and Fredrick Moir in 1878. They were brothers. The Moir brother had a mission to supply the missions working in the country and provide a "legitimate" trade as opposed to the slave trade to the Africans. The African Lakes Company and Mlozi fought each other. It was until Sir Harry Johnston, a slave protagonist, sent soldiers and defeated Mlozi who was tried by the Nkhonde chiefs and hanged.

Another Slave trade route passed through the southern shores of Lake Malawi into Tete Province and Zambezi valley in Mozambique. Here the controllers of the route were the Mangochi Yao chiefs namely Mponda, Jalasi and Makanjira. These Yao chiefs terrorized the peaceful Nyanja, a branch of the Maravi people who lived in the Upper Shire and Southern shores of Lake Malawi. They captured them as slaves, plundering their property and disrupting their agricultural economy. They were sold as slaves to the Arabs on the east coast. Or David Livingstone visited the compound of one Yao chief, Jalasi, where he witnessed the suffering of the captured slaves.

The other slave trade route passed through the southern highlands and was also controlled by the Yao chiefs. Nyezerera and Mkanda controlled the sub route passing between Mulanje Mountain and Michesi Hill in what is now Phalombe District. Two other Yao chiefs controlled the sub route passing through the southern part of Mulanje Mountain and these were Chikumbu and Matipwiri. These terrorized the Nyanja people in the Shire highlands and the Mang'anja of the Lower Shire valley. Dr David Livingstone witnessed the suffering of these people and burning of their villages as he was traveling along the Shire River and around Lake Chilwa in April 1859.

Almost all the Yao chiefs stopped Slave trade after being defeated by the British Colonial Government forces led by Sir Harry Johnston. After the defeat, the Colonial Government erected forts along the slave routes to check slave trafficking and to bring peace in the area. Some of the forts are still intact up to date. Some of the forts include Fort Mangochi, Fort Johnstone and Fort Lister. Other forts disappeared. The forts were usually given names of Europeans who participated in the fight against the slave trade. The forts include Fort Johnstone, Fort Lister, Fort Hill, Fort Maguire, Fort Manning and Fort Mangochi.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The main Slave Route in the interior of Africa, Central Africa, were Nkhotakota, Karonga, Mangochi and Phalombe where the Swahili-Arabs and their Yao allies built their headquarters and stockades and also organized expeditions to capture slaves as far as Zambia and Congo. These routes were the major terminus of the Slaves in the entire of Central Africa going to the East African Coast Markets. At Nkhotakota, Jumbe send about 20000 annually to the market of Kilwa.

These Slave routes contain most preserved relics of Slave trade in the entire region of Central Africa. At Nkhotakota, there is a fig tree where David Livingstone, Jumbe and the Chewa chiefs made a treaty to end slave trade and hostility between them. Part of the mosque which Jumbe built so as to introduce Islam still stands today. The spectacular Fort Mangochi built by the British still stands today.

The Slave routes are a rare and unique heritage site in Malawi which records the memories of hardship and inhumanity which the people of Malawi and the entire Central Africa went through in the 19'h Century. It is important that this heritage should be preserved to keep this memory alive for younger generations to come.

The Slave trade routes led to the coming in of another chapter in the history of Malawi and the whole of Central Africa, which is colonization. The forts which were constructed on the slave route, not only acted as site for control of the illegitimate trade, but also formed the basis of administration of new form of government established by colonialists. Examples include Fort Johnston (now Mangochi Boma), Fort Manning (now Mchinji Soma), and Fort Hill (now Chitipa Boma). These sites have been maintained as administrative centres even in the post colonial and independence period.

The slave trade routes are a justified heritage because they also have a link to missionary work. When David Livingstone reported accounts of experience on his Second Journey to Africa, he recommended that Christianity be introduced in the area to counteract slave trade activities. This led to the coming of important missionaries along the slave trade routes. These include the establishment of Established Church of Scotland (now Blantyre Mission of CCA.P.), Free Church of Scotland which established at Cape Maclear (now Livingstonia Mission of CCA.P.), the Universities Mission to Central Africa at Magomero (now Anglican Church), Holy Family Mission at Phalombe (Catholic Church), Mulanje Mission (CCA.P.) and Mitsidi Mission of the Zambezi Industrial Mission in Blantyre (now Zambezi Evangelical Church). This means that the slave trade routes and Livingstone trails have a link to the present important missionaries.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The sites remain in their original authenticity. The original form and design of Fort Mangochi and Fort Lister including the associated buildings remains the same, no alteration has occurred. This is also true with the Mosque at Nkhotakota which Jumbe built. The original materials are also intact; no new materials have been added to the property. However most of them are now in ruins. Most of the relics at the property are authentic; the same fig tree where in 1861 Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish Explorer and missionary, met Jumbe and gave him an umbrella is still present at Nkhotakota. Likewise, the other fig tree where Dr. David Livingstone had a meeting with Jumbe and Chewa chiefs in 1864 and agreed to end slave trade and hostility between them is still intact.


The integrity of the sites at Fort Mangochi and Fort Lister have been intact. The environmental setting remains the same as it has been the time the forts were built, the same brachystegia trees remains within the property, no human encroachment has occurred. However, the perimeter wall of both forts have fallen, especially Fort Lister, but it is a bit intact at Fort Mangochi. Most of the buildings are in ruins.

The property at Nkhotakota has been compromised to some extend due to natural and human factors. The raise of the lake levels has submerged some relics and the graves of three Jumbes are now buried by sands. The raise of lake levels also caused collapse of some section of the mosque which Jumbe built in 1850s; the first mosque in Malawi. However, most of the relics of the properties are intact. The other factor is due to human activities such as rice cultivation. Most residents near the sites are the descendants of Jumbe's lieutenants whom he brought from Zanzibar and some are the Bisa tribe from Congo whom he employed. The population now has grown and there is pressure for land to build houses. However, most of the relics are intact; people respect them as part of their history.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Slave sites in Malawi are quite different from those from the East African Coast. These were trade routes established by the Swahili-Arab traders and their African allies in the interior of Africa. Headquarters were established in different points. The major ones were Nkhotakota, Karonga, Mangochi and Phalombe. These acted as operation or command centres where slave traders organized themselves. They could send an expedition to raid and capture slaves in different parts of Central Africa. Sometimes they went as far as Congo. They came back with slaves and temporarily kept them until the required number; in most cases 1000 slaves were reached. Thereafter, the slaves were taken to East African slave markets. Slave sites in East Africa were primarily slave markets, where slave from the interior of Africa and other East Coast areas were auctioned and sold to different parts of the world, mostly Asiatic countries.