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May 04 - 10, 2007


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fact that so little is known about the East African
Slave trade ... makes it such a fascinating subject

Coastweek - - With a name like Yoland, living in Ruyton XI Towns and having spent much of my childhood in Zanzibar, the letters X Y and Z have a habit of `jumping out` of any printed page.

Hence, when I was leafing through an 1875 copy of Eddowes Journal, one of Shrews- bury`s oldest news-papers, I was amazed to find a letter from May Allen in Zanzibar!

Many hours and weeks later, I had collected 67 of May's letters home.

Having grown up surrounded by the large family of Archdeacon John Allen, vicar of Prees in north Shropshire, May studied nursing and in 1875, at the age of 40, asked her father if she might go to Africa with the Universities Mission to Central Africa.         

It is to John Allen`s eternal credit that having, against his wishes, reluctantly given May his blessing on her chosen career to be a missionary, he then put his whole heart and soul into helping the cause in every way he possibly could.

Coastweek - - 'Zanzibar - May
Allen and the East African
Slave Trade' by Yoland Brown.

In May 1881 he wrote to his daughter in Zanzibar: "I am greatly thankful that you went out though I much dislike the idea of your going.

"But I had little idea of how God in his great mercy would bless your work.

"Your going out has certainly stirred me up to do more in speaking for missions".

On the 28th October 1875 May and her family were in Lichfield at the invitation of Bishop Selwyn, who had himself spent many years as the missionary Bishop of New Zealand and Melanesia.

May received communion and the Bishop`s blessing for her journey and the work she would be doing with the mission.

A few days later she sailed on the `Punjab` with her hand picked nurses, Sophia Jones and Emma Durham.

Also travelling to the Zanzibar Mission on the same ship were Herbert Clarke, a solicitor, and Owen Phillips, a layman.

On 12th December the `Punjab` arrived in Zanzibar and the following day May sat down to write her first letter home, reassuring the family back in Prees she was settling into her exotic new home.

The Archdeacon sent this first letter to the Eddowes Journal, the leading Shropshire news-paper of the day and it appeared on 19th January 1876.

Over the next six years, May's accounts of her work and the doings of the missionaries of the UMCA in East Central Africa were printed in the Journal, thus keeping the mission field constantly in the minds of its readers.

This regular news was backed up by the Archdeacon's public speaking on the work of the mission.

He travelled the country, "many pulpits were open to him and many subscriptions and donations were won by his energy.

"The more publicity we can give", he said, "to the history and the aims of missionary enterprise the better for the world".

Interesting as this correspondence is, it would not make a book and it took a very short time to realise that a great deal of background information would be required to give a full picture of the island of Zanzibar and the story of slavery on the east  side of Africa.


In fact what was needed was the history of this very special island - which is inextricably bound up with the Arab country of Oman and the East African coast from Somalia to the delta of the river Rovuma - the history of the East African slave trade and the story of the formation of the Universities Mission to Central Africa - which of necessity includes something of Livingstone's early travels.

The fact that so little is known about the East African Slave trade makes it such a fascinating subject:

We are not talking about the Atlantic Triangle with black bodies in 18 inch layers in the hold of a European ship.

This was more a supply of seamen to man the trading dhows which criss-crossed the Indian ocean, agricultural workers for the date plantations of Oman and pretty girls (and boys) to pleasure the men (and women) of all the Arab and Persian countries from Oman to Turkey.

At least that was the case until the Europeans arrived on the scene, bringing with them vastly increased demand, debatably more cruelty, followed by the often misguided and badly thought out anti-slavery treaties of the British.  

May Allen was one of a dedicated congregation, and in her case also highly educated and talented, missionaries who set off across the world to 'save' the ignorant savage for God.





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