Tanzania: Paradise found, and lost

Tanzania is Beautiful

We only got to see the beaches of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, and we were seriously wowed.  We hear that the national parks, full of wildlife and natural beauty, are even better.

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This is the view from our dinner in Dar es Salaam.  


This is the view from our breakfast in Zanzibar.

I can see why people want to vacation here.  (Mainly Europeans, we noticed.  Americans, check it out!)

But there’s a troubling History

Zanzibar used to be a slave trade port.


Just steps from the beautiful beaches, Zanzibar has a church dedicated to the history of the slave trade, honoring the victims and exposing the ugly truth.  Here’s some of what we learned:

The East African tribes were in a period of transition in the 15th &16th centuries, trying to determine alliances and establish kingdoms, just when the European and Arabic traders arrived. This instability was ripe for exploitation – prisoners of war were more easily traded and transported than one’s own citizens.  (Basically, pirates would simultaneously offer to remove POWs from your village and gift you items which made your life easier, and most village chiefs seemed ok with this exchange.)

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Zanzibar & Tanzania are the east coast of Africa; marked by the top blue line on the right. Slaves from Tanzania area were taken by Portuguese and Arabic traders to farm in Madagasgar and traded in Brazil or Caribbean Islands.  

This is a really embarrassing, and distressing history to discuss.  It would have been easier to just stay on the beach, drinking coconut juice (or eating Ethiopian food at a great tourist restaurant).  It is especially awful to consider that “Christian” nations were the ones doing this slave trade.  But, ignoring the history and the truth of how awful it was doesn’t make the history go away.  As soon as England outlawed slavery, a British missionary helped to raise a church on the exact spot in Zanzibar City where slaves had been  bought and sold for generations.


Today, that church shares communion at the place where slaves were whipped.  Nothing we can do will erase what happened.  Instead, that community chooses to honor the victims of the slave trade, and tell the truth of those events.  Reconciliation can only come through Christ’s forgiveness.

(Note:  we visited Zanzibar several days before the events in Charlottesville, VA, USA.  I was proud to hear that clergy were working to stop the violence there, too.)


After slavery, you’d think that the Europeans would abandon the African continent.  (and, to a certain extent, many businesses did leave.)  But, some countries stayed.  Today, we aren’t exactly sure if they were being altruistic, trying to help the countries they had devastated, or if they were looking for a new way to make money off of those peoples. European colonization of the area was intended to help the Africans with modernization, industrialization, foreign investment (in goods, not people), and military protection. Along with roads and schools and hospitals and foreign trade, European Colonies brought Missionaries to Tanzania.

Lutheran Missionaries.

Germans were only in East Africa for about 20 years, but they managed to establish Lutherans in the country.  60% of Tanzanians are Christians, and 1/4 Christians in the Country are Lutheran.  (By contrast, Lutherans are only about 3% of US Christians).

Azania Front Lutheran Church, downtown Dar es Salaam (capital),  Tanzania 

Today, English Lutheran Worship in Tanzania is pretty similar to Lutheran Church in Mexico, or the US, or Denmark.


And today, the issue facing Christians in Tanzania isn’t slavery.  It’s refugees.  Other countries’ wars and famines bring refugees to their country, and they need to figure out what to do about it.  Their response is eerily similar to the US and UK responses.  More on that in the next post.  Stay tuned, friendly readers!


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