The Indian Ocean Islands – Zanzibar – South East Coast

2nd March 2013

Zanzibar’s South East Coast

This area of coastline remained the most undeveloped until recently, and some areas still retain a wild sensation, which increases the further south you go. The main road leads to Paje village, about half-way along this stretch of coast, and then turns north to newly built, larger, smarter hotels such as Breezes, the Italian Venta Club Resort, Sultan’s Palace and Karafuu, and south to small, rural villages and clusters of charismatic budget guest houses arrayed along the distant beaches here.

The route to the South East Coast from Stone Town passes through a long avenue of mango trees, now wonderfully mature and providing shady respite along the road, which at this point is straight and narrow, designed for carriages in the days of the Sultans. This avenue of trees was planted by one of Sultan Said’s most beautiful daughters, Princess BiKhole, and has developed a number of rumours about its conception. One tells how she had such an unquenchable desire for beautiful young men that she ensured that each tree was planted by a different desirable slave… It is said that she intended to extend the avenue the full distance to Stone Town, but either ran out of time, mangoes or men. What is true is that no two mango trees standing side by side are the same species, so creating a fantastic spread of colour and fruit through most months of the year.

Further along, are the ruins of Dunga Palace, the old home of the Swahili Great Lord, the ‘Gazetted Monument of the Mwinyi Mkuu’. It remains in good enough condition to be an evocative and worthwhile stopping point; walking among his ancient stone thrones and water features is enough to convince visitors that he enjoyed an impressively opulent dotage. The Mwinyi Mkuu sytstem of rule started in Zanzibar in the 13th century, and continued unhindered until the coming of the Omani Arabs. A shadow of doubt still remains over the questions of their origins, although it is thought that the first Mwinyi Mkuu was Hassan Bin Abubakar, who was then followed by successors. The most powerful and famous of these great lords was Ahmed bin Mohammed, who lived between the years of 1785 and 1865, and it was he who was responsible for building this great palace. Construction of the palace took ten years, mainly between the years of 1845 and 1856. It is said of the Mwinyi Mkuu that ‘his rule was felt in every part of Unguja’, although some areas of the island, such as Tumbatu, had their own subordinate rule. The domain of the Mwinyi Mkuu was distinctly compromised by the advent of the Omani Sultans, and by the reign of Sultan Barghash the traditional Great Lord of Zanzibar stature was reduced essentially to that of a village governor, although in his hey-day he was greatly respected and revered. Relics of these greater days remain in the ruins of this palace, and an impressively hand-painted porcelain bowl that may be of oriental origin is among the few items from this time gathered in the national museum.