November 29, 2018

A Guide to Diving and Snorkelling in Zanzibar

Filed under: Zanzibar — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:48 pm

Along with being dazzled by the azure ocean, pristine beach forest and silky white sand, there is so much underwater fun to be had in the warm waters of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is one of those magical destinations that perfectly combines equal doses of exhilarating sea adventures with peaceful, feet-up relaxation. If you’re in the mood to get more than your feet wet, you can dive down to encounter the diverse, colourful marine-life that glides over the coral reefs they call home.

Zanzibar pretty much has all the great diving and snorkelling spots so if your dream holiday includes ocean exploration and adventure, read on to find out more of what you can expect on this special island off the coast of Tanzania.


Zanzibar is, quite simply, a diver’s paradise. With an average water temperature of 27 degrees Celsius and visibility between 20 and 60 metres, it is a great diving destination throughout the year.

Diving and snorkelling in Zanzibar, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, beach and bush holiday, Zanzibar honeymoon

© Zawadi Hotel

Leven Bank is only for advanced divers as drops can descend as deep as 55 meters and strong currents call for serious endurance. Once you reach the underwater landscape of rocky, coral-laden outcrops that teem with a variety of fish species, you’ll realise the hard work was completely worth it. Possible sightings at Leven Bank include whitetip reef sharks, dolphins, rays, honeycomb moray eels, barracudas, tunas, bluefin trevallies, guitarfish, triggerfish, and groupers.

Diving and snorkelling in Zanzibar, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, beach and bush holiday, Zanzibar honeymoon

© Xanadu Villas

Nankivell and Hunga Reef are both great for beginner divers as their deepest drops range between 12 and 16 meters. Although not very deep, these dive sites still make for spectacular visits into the world of interesting coral formations that are the playgrounds of diverse marine-life. There are opportunities to see reef sharks, dolphins, barracudas, snappers, silver sweetlips, Napoleon wrasse, groupers, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and lobsters.

Also check out: Boribu Reef, Kendwa Reef, Renco Bommi, Shane’s Reef, Chakatuni, Coral Garden, Mbwangawa, Turtle Gap, Haji, Kichafi, Misoli, and Leon’s Wall.


As with diving, Zanzibar and its surrounds have an impressive list of snorkelling spots. Conditions and visibility in these areas are top-notch almost year-round, making Zanzibar a haven for snorkelers.

Diving and snorkelling in Zanzibar, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, beach and bush holiday, Zanzibar honeymoon

© Ras Nungwi

Mnemba Atoll is a well-known conservation area in Zanzibar and at the top of most people’s ‘must-snorkel’ list. Average visibility is good year-round and ranges between 10 and 30 meters. Snorkelling along the coast of Mnemba Island will get you up close to beautiful coral reefs, assorted fish species and other marine-life like dolphins, green turtles, and sea stars.

Diving and snorkelling in Zanzibar, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, beach and bush holiday, Zanzibar honeymoon

© Zawadi Hotel

Tumbatu Island offers a prime snorkelling spot away from the maddening crowds and closer to local people that live more traditionally than those found in the touristy areas. Since Tumbatu is less frequented by human visitors, the marine-life here is curious. Expect to swim near to bat fish, rare cute whip, ribbon eels, and leaf fish.

Also check out: Kendwa Reef, Chumbe Island, Stone Town Reef, and Prison Island.

Chat to us about planning an exciting island getaway to Zanzibar.

September 28, 2018

Diving with Whale Sharks off Mafia Island, Tanzania

Filed under: A guide to Tanzania,The Indian Ocean Islands — Tags: , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 8:51 am

Your questions, answered!

Off the coast of Tanzania, far south of Dar es Salaam, there is an island that welcomes spirited adventurers looking for a getaway that’s further off the beaten track than the other islands off East Africa’s coastline. Mafia Island is a peaceful retreat with pristine diving and snorkelling spots that are home to a colourful array of ocean dwellers, including the whale shark.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Encountering the largest fish in the sea is quite simply breath-taking, and it will be one of the many, long-lasting memories of a beach holiday in Tanzania. We answer the questions most regularly asked by our guests when booking a trip to Mafia Island to dive with whale sharks.

When is the best time of year to see whale sharks?

From October through to February each year, Mafia Island becomes a particularly magical place. Whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea, venture close to the shore to feast on the plankton pushed out with the silt from the Rufiji River into the warm waters of the Indian ocean. As filter-feeders, whale sharks glide below the water’s surface with their mouths open consuming multiple kilograms / pounds of plankton and small aquatic organisms each day.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Mafia Island experiences the longest whale shark season globally. Whilst the behaviour of whale sharks is still relatively unknown, the most reliable time to encounter them within the October to February period at Mafia Island is during November and December.

What is it like diving with whale sharks?

Despite its name, whale sharks are neither typically whale nor shark. Without proper teeth and shy by nature, swimming with whale sharks is a safe excursion that makes Mafia Island such a special destination. As with all wildlife, a respectful distance should be kept at all times as a whale shark will most likely be nervous of the strange four-limbed creature swimming beside it.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Like the unique set of fingerprints humans have, whale sharks have distinct patterns and scarring that make each individual fish different from its neighbour. These are truly magnificent and beautiful creatures whose size add to this captivating encounter. Reaching up to 12 meters long, weighing in at 20 tonnes, and with the potential to live for 70 years, diving with whale sharks is a humbling experience.

What kind of accommodation is on Mafia Island?

The perfect natural setting is equally matched by luxury furnishings, tasteful décor and a high standard of service at the lodges on Mafia Island. Stylish and laid-back island-living is the mainstay of the different accommodation types found here, such as bungalows, stone chalets and even treehouses.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Pole Pole

Mafia Island is a fantastic honeymoon getaway for newlyweds wanting peace and quiet after months of wedding planning. Families too will love the diversity of lodgings as well as activities that are on offer for the kids to get involved in. For those travelling on a larger budget, the lodges on the neighbouring Fanjove and Thanda islands are extremely exclusive and dreamy!

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Kinasi Lodge

Inspired to dive with the underwater giants of Tanzania’s crystal blue coastal waters? Chat with us about putting together the perfect Tanzanian beach holiday for you.

August 15, 2018

Tanzania Honeymoon Ideas: Safari and Beach Romantic Getaway

Filed under: A guide to Tanzania,Tanzania Safari Guide,Zanzibar — Tags: , , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 10:30 am

You’ve said your vows, made an evening full of special memories with friends and family, and partied together until dawn. Now that the wedding is over, it’s time for just the two of you to spend quality time together. This might mean relaxing on a white sandy beach or tracking wildlife whilst on a bush safari.

honeymoon destinations; honeymoon ideas; romantic getaways

Sunset over the Katavi National Park © Nomad Tanzania

If you want to do both the beach and safari whilst on honeymoon, then Tanzania – which includes Zanzibar – is one of the best romantic getaways to choose as it offers the best of both. Here are just some of the honeymoon ideas to include when you’re planning a couple’s retreat to Tanzania and Zanzibar.

Witness a wildlife spectacle

Tanzania honeymoon ideas that centre around wildlife safaris afford you the opportunity to witness some of the very best fauna and flora that Africa has to show. Watch the herds of wildebeest, zebras and antelope as they journey over the vast plains of the Serengeti during The Great Migration, whilst staying at Singita’s Faru Faru Lodge in the private Grumeti Game Reserve or Nomad’s Lamai Serengeti Lodge on the Kogakuria Kopje.

honeymoon destinations; honeymoon ideas; romantic getaways

Greystoke Mahale on the shores of Lake Tanganyika © Nomad Tanzania

If you’ve always dreamed of looking into the eyes of a chimpanzee, then do include Lake Tanganyika and the Mahale Mountains in your honeymoon destination itinerary. At Nomad’s Greystoke Mahale, you’ll bed down at the foothills of the mountains in a thatched banda and enjoy sundowners on the lake’s sandy shore. Located in western Tanzania, the Mahale National Park partners well with a stay at neighbouring Katavi National Park.

A trip to Ruaha National Park will put you in the heart of Tanzania’s concentrated wildlife action, where predator-prey sightings are an almost guaranteed part of every safari in this southern park. Here you can stay at the exclusive Selous Safari’s Jongomero Camp, which oozes intimate luxury and gives you some of the very best in excellent views, game drives and bush walks.

honeymoon destinations; honeymoon ideas; romantic getaways

Romantic dinner in the Ruaha National Park © Selous Safari Company

Dive into the Indian Ocean

With palm trees lining the powdery soft sand and sparkling azure water, Zanzibar’s beaches are some of the most idyllic in East Africa and make for a stunning setting for a romantic honeymoon. Whether you’re needing to relax on the beach after a busy time of wedding planning or are keen to check out some of the cultural sights, Zanzibar really does have it all. And since it’s just a quick 15-minute flight from mainland Tanzania, it’s easy to incorporate Zanzibar into your honeymoon escape.

honeymoon destinations; honeymoon ideas; romantic getaways

Rest and relax at Pongwe Beach @ Pongwe Beach Hotel

Pongwe Beach is found on the island’s north-east and gives honeymooners a chance to experience a pristine beach that is far from the maddening crowds of tourists. Pongwe Beach Hotel is excellent value for money if you’re travelling on a smaller budget.

If you’re wanting to take long, romantic sunset walks together, then choose to stay at Nungwi and Kendwa as these are the only beaches on the island that are not tidal. You can also enjoy some partying at night before returning to ultimate luxury at the glamourous Zuri Zanzibar or Essque Zalu Hotel.

honeymoon destinations; honeymoon ideas; romantic getaways

A colourful rooftop tea-time setting © Emerson on Hurumzi

Stone Town is Zanzibar’s main town and is full of rich culture, history and long-standing traditional markets. From tropical fruits to handmade jewellery that are sold by friendly locals, Stone Town is full of East African character and charm. Choose to stay at one of the many boutique lodges and hotels in Stone Town, such as Emerson on Hurumzi or Park Hyatt.

Are you planning a romantic honeymoon? Contact us to discuss how we can tailor a getaway for you that combines both the beach and safari.

February 21, 2018

Zanzibar’s Best Beach Bars

Filed under: Tanzania Odyssey News,Zanzibar — Tags: , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 1:09 pm

Zanzibar Beach Bar

With a name literally ending in ‘bar’, it’s safe to say that Zanzibar has quite the happening nightlife.

From street markets to beach bars, there’s always something fun to do after dark. Here are a few of our top choices of beach bars in Zanzibar that offer not only delicious drinks, but also a wonderful location, welcoming atmosphere, and spectacular views.

The Jetty

Zanzibar Jetty Bar
Essque Zalu Zanzibar Hotel’s ‘The Jetty’ is one of the best places on the island to enjoy drinks while watching the turquoise blue waters of Nungwi. Set al fresco on the shoreline, The Jetty offers diners a taste of modern Arabic cuisine, often to the tunes of live local music.

The Rock Restaurant

Rock Restaurant Zanzibar

Perched on a coral outcrop in the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean, The Rock is arguably the most famous restaurant in Zanzibar. At low tide, you can wade to the restaurant through a few metres of shallow water, and at high tide, a small fishing boat takes diners to and from the shore. It is renowned for it’s extraordinary location and views, as well as it’s fabulous food and drinks.

Gerry’s Bar

Gerry's Bar Zanzibar

Ideally located on a tranquil beach in Nungwi, Gerry’s Bar is a friendly and laid-back beach bar, and the perfect spot to enjoy an ice-cold cocktail with friends, whilst admiring the sunset. Gerry’s Bar often hosts live music beach parties and is loved for its vibey, relaxed atmosphere.

Kendwa Rocks

Kendwa Rock Bar

Kendwa Rocks offers a beach party every Saturday night with music and entertainment, but it is most famous in Zanzibar for hosting the Full Moon Party. The Full Moon Party is organized around the full moon every month (usually on a Saturday, but not always). Attracting a large crowd of locals and travelers alike, the Full Moon Party offers a delicious grill, amazing acrobats and fire eaters and great live music to keep you dancing all night.

With these options and much more on offer, there’s certainly no shortage of beautiful beach bars worth a visit while in Zanzibar. For help planning your perfect holiday in Zanzibar contact us, or phone us on +44 (0) 20 8704 1216 in the UK or in the US on +1 866 356 4691. 

January 31, 2018

Tanzania Horseback Safaris

World-renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty, and boasting highlights such as the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater and the tropical spice islands of Zanzibar; a Tanzania makes for an unforgettable horseback safari destination.

Tanzania Horseback Safari

Benefits of a Horseback Safari:
• They are more eco-friendly than safari vehicles
• You can explore areas that are inaccessible by vehicle
• Horse riding allows you to get closer to wildlife without disturbing it
• You will naturally notice more of your surroundings than you would in a vehicle, as you are moving at a slower pace and are more immersed in the environment
• Most places that offer horseback riding safaris cater to all ages and riding abilities
• It’s a completely different way to experience the wilderness

Here are a few unforgettable horseback safari experiences in Tanzania:

What better way to experience the Great Wildebeest Migration than from horseback? Horse riding over the vast plains of the Serengeti, next to massive herds of wildebeest, zebra and other wildlife, is a truly exhilarating experience.

Serengeti Horseback Safari

Photo © Singita Sasakwa Lodge

If galloping along a pristine white sand beach, next to the gentle and warm waters of the Indian Ocean, sounds like your kind of safari experience, then a horseback ride in Zanzibar is a must do! From full moon beach rides to swimming with the horses, horse riding in Zanzibar is a magical experience.

Horse Riding in Zanzibar

Photo © Seacliff Resort

Mount Kilimanjaro is surrounded by stunning savannahs and wilderness areas, and horse riding in the shadow of this famous mountain is a quintessential safari experience. With no fences, buildings or roads in sight, the opportunities for spotting wildlife are endless. In addition to the brilliant game viewing, the area has some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa. As you ride, there are also numerous opportunities for interactions with the local people and herdsmen, ensuring a wonderfully enchanting cultural experience.

Horse riding near Mount Kilimanjaro

Photo © Kaskazi Horse Safaris

Are you chomping at the bit to go on a horseback safari in Tanzania? Get in touch with us and we’ll help you plan your perfect trip.

August 18, 2017

Experience the Best of both Bush and Beach in Tanzania

Filed under: Selous Game Reserve,Zanzibar — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 6:35 am

Bush and Beach Safari Tanzania

“I love Tanzania because of the light, colours and life in almost every scene, especially at dawn, when the rising sun floods the grasslands with gold, schoolchildren walk along the roadsides and vendors set out their wares. Nature surrounds you with all its exuberance: the largest animals mingle with the most minute; bird calls fill the air; trees blossom with flowers; hills roll into the horizon, and fishing dhows set sail in coastal waters. Mostly, though, the highlight is Tanzanians themselves, with their equanimity, charm, dignity and warm welcome.”
– Mary Fitzpatrick, Writer

When it comes to a winning holiday formula, it’s hard to beat a bush and beach safari. Combining the thrill of the untamed African wilderness, with the romance and relaxation of the beach, Tanzania offers the ideal destination from which to enjoy the best of both the bush and the beach.

This is by no means the only option, but here is one of our favourite bush and beach combinations that works well together:

Selous Game Reserve – Zanzibar

Selous Game Reserve: This is one of the world’s biggest wilderness sanctuaries where wildlife dominates the vast landscapes. Although it is easily accessible via a 1-hour light plane flight from Dar es Salaam, once within the reserve you’ll feel miles away from anywhere and the game viewing opportunities are wonderful. In addition to being able to explore the area on foot or in a game vehicle, the intricate network of river channels within the reserve allows you to also go in search of wildlife in a boat. See our Selous accommodation options here.

Selous Game Reserve

Zanzibar: After an exciting and adventure-filled safari in the Selous Game Reserve, there’s no better place to wash the dust from your feet than in Zanzibar’s turquoise waters. Renowned for its white sand beaches and world-class snorkelling and diving opportunities, Zanzibar is truly an island paradise with countless accommodation options. Here, travellers can also explore the sights and smells within the cultural heart of Zanzibar – Stone Town.

Bush and Beach Safari Tanzania

The combinations of epic bush and beach combinations in Zanzibar are endless. We highly recommend getting in touch with us so that we can determine the best fit for your needs, budget and dates of travel.

March 7, 2013

The Indian Ocean Islands – Zanzibar

Filed under: The Indian Ocean Islands — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:28 pm

A sense of Zanzibar drifts in the mind’s eye as a fairytale island, eliciting images of Arabian nights, awash with romance and spirits that dwell among the bizarre and beautiful ruins of its ever-elusive history. It is said that sailors smell a scent of spice on the wind before their dhows beach on the white coral sand shores, and on arriving they discover a land quite distinct from any other. And so it remains in most part today, an oasis of green amid a startling turquoise sea, its rural centre alive with the drifting pace of a non-motorised existence, sustained on foot or bicycle in the intermittent shade of palms and heat of a tropical sun.

The islands of Zanzibar are just dots on a map in the great Indian Ocean a few kilometres from mainland Tanzania, a tiny portion of the great Republic, and yet Zanzibar has evolved a history and reputation that far exceeds its size. The archipelago of Zanzibar is a world of irreconcilable paradox, a plentiful island paradise that has born witness to a harsh and cruel history of domination and slavery. It has emerged in the 21st century with a heady brew of mixed African and Arabic cultures and religions poised between the bedrock of tradition and the pressing imperatives of the modern world.

All at once you might look out across the translucent, shimmering channels of the Indian Ocean and see a wooden dhow skimming the waves beneath a billowing sail, built to a design unchanged for centuries, and watch it moor beside a shiny new hydrofoil.

You might walk through streets of private homes that have been lived in by generations since 1800, and then return to an elaborately carved antique Arabic four poster bed to switch on cable television by remote. This is the paradox of ancient and modern in present day Zanzibar. Times are changing in these remote Indian ocean islands, where in the past three years they have embraced technological advances that took the western world a century. Until 1995, there was just one television on Unguja, Zanzibar Island, attracting a large crowd to its screen on the Creek road. While this still operates in the midst of a popular coffee baraza, Stone Town now has numerous Internet cafes, there are televisions in the villages, and the modern world keeps on rolling up to its shores, seeking an island retreat but also enjoying the luxuries of satellite tv and telephone connections, email and hairdryers.

Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands, the largest of which are Zanzibar Island, called Unguja, and the island of Pemba. The next largest, Tumbatu Island, off the northwesterly tip of Unguja, is rarely visited by tourists, but is the site of an early Shirazi settlement that may even be the first in this region. The smaller satellite islands include Chapwani, Bawe, Chumbe, Chunguu, and Mnemba, most of which can be visited on boat trips from the Zanzibar Island, although Mnemba is reserved exclusively for guests staying at the lodge there. Zanzibar Island is 86 km long and 39 km wide, and is separated from the mainland by 35 km of sparkling Indian Ocean over a shallow coral shelf. Pemba lies 41 km northeast of Unguja, and is much smaller – about 64km long and 22.5 km wide – and is separated from the mainland by the narrow but extremely deep and often dangerous Pemba Channel, which drops to over 1000m deep. Here swim the larger creatures of the sea, the whales, sharks, barracuda and huge manta rays that peruse the clear, salty depths on the outskirts of the reefs.

The islands are coral rock outcrops that were once mainly forested, but are now predominantly agricultural farmlands with numerous spice and coconut plantations dating from the days of the first Sultan. The last remaining areas of natural forest are protected, such as Jozani on Zanzibar Island and Ngezi and Msitu Mkuu on Pemba. Mango trees have been planted throughout the main islands, with the greatest number on Pemba, and baobabs have seeded and rooted wherever there is enough earth to sustain them. Villages cluster in the shade of these great life-giving trees, and beyond them stretch wide, open areas of low bush. Farmers in these rural regions trundle their home-grown produce to the main road at the islands’ centre on ox-cart, bicycle or on foot, and then onto the island buses that ferry back and forth from the central market in town.

Much of the land provides fertile soil that allows for a fantastic range of fruit and vegetable plantations to continue flowering throughout the year. Rice has been grown on Zanzibar since the Persians first planted it on arrival, and is now a staple dish although much is imported. The eastern side of Zanzibar Island is exposed coral rock with a thin covering of vegetation, and many of the coastal villages are dependent on fishing and the growing evolution of seaweed as an export crop to Asia. The fishermen operate mainly on a level of small-scale subsistence, using nets, lines and hand-held spears and sticks. Women ply the shallows with nets and poke sticks for octopus at low tide, and gather shellfish to supplement the family meal while tourists devour the last remaining octopus. Seaweed farming provides an important economic income for local women, who are responsible for the plantations. They cultivate their crop by attaching small sprigs of seaweed to strings, which are then pegged out in rows just beneath the tide line. These plots require a great deal of work and attendance, although the crop can increase ten-fold in a couple of weeks, and the harvest is then taken to a central co-operative at which they are paid by the weight of their crop.

The island bedrock of coral rag is the basis for the roads, on which many tyres are burst, and is used to build rugged homesteads, combining coral rocks with a limestone ‘cement’ that you can frequently see being made on the sides of the road. As on the mainland, it is common to see houses that seem to have been abandoned halfway through the building process, although it is rare that this is the case. Invariably the vast expense and effort involved in building a house results in a long-term ‘layer by layer’ approaches, with additions being made in accordance with erratic income flow. The trees growing through the centre will be felled just before the roof is added.

Zanzibar beaches & coast 

The best beaches on Zanzibar Island are to the North and East, where the sun shines on luminescent clear waters in a range of striking turquoise blues, and the sand is clean and bright and fine. On the whole, the beaches on the West Coast are generally less inviting, as this is the central region for industrial development and fuel depots around Stone Town. Nevertheless Mangwapani and Fuji and Mbweni and Kisimkazi remain clean and quiet enclaves on the western shore to escape the madding crowds. All the islands are surrounded by rich coral reef, which protects the shoreline and also results in wide flat shallows that are invariably subject to tidal extremes, although these are less extreme on much of the west coast.

Zanzibar – Climate

The climate of Zanzibar is generally hot, between 21-29oC, and becomes increasingly humid from mid-November to March, when air-conditioning becomes a welcome treat.

The ‘long rains’ – masika – fall between April and May, although showers often continue through June – so finishing later than on the mainland. Early July to October is coolest and driest, with an average temperature of 21oC in August.

The ‘short rains’ – vuli – should fall in November, usually intermittent showers followed by sunshine. It is hot and dry and humid between December and March, when the island is subject to the north-east monsoon wind – Kaskazi – and is slightly cooler during the months of Kusi, the Southwest monsoon, between April to November.


March 6, 2013

The Indian Ocean Islands – Stone Town

Filed under: Stone Town — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:34 pm

The sun begins to dissolve into the horizon, perfecting a sweep of unknown orange against pure pale blue, and Stone Town stirs with the wakefulness of night. Muezzins in their different mosque towers call the faithful to prayers again, dogs bark and children shout as they play football in open corners or dive into the harbour waters and demonstrate feats of bravery with their friends. A crowd starts to gather along the harbour front and in Forodhani Gardens, where smoke is beginning to rise from barbecues at the assorted food stalls and the curio markets are assembling by gaslight amid a hubbub of banter and chat.

History of Zanzibar’s Stone Town

Zanzibar Stone Town is an extraordinary place. UNESCO has recently declared the old town one of the world’s historic cities, and at last more attention is being paid to its desperately needed conservation.

The old quarter roughly forms a triangle in the middle of the West Coast of Zanzibar Island, bordered by the sea on two sides and the Creek Road to the east. Continuing east beyond the Creek Road, Stone Town rambles into Ng’ambo – ‘the other side’ – a wide expanse of modern blocks and tin roof housing that contains the growing population of modern day Zanzibar.

The old city, however, remains a living monument to the culture and histories of its curious mix of East African, Arab, Indian, Persian and European conquerors, traders and seafarers, and continues to thrive as a commercial centre.

The ancient maze of narrow streets is a romantic hotchpotch of historic old stone buildings built close for cool respite from the tropical island sun, and shaded by elegantly carved balconies, loggias and verandas that cling precipitously overhead – close enough to catch a whisper, or a kiss. These historic stone constructions are homes and hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, offices and shops, whose stone and wood structures are still the backdrop for tropical Arabian-style nights, cloaked women heavily scented with spice and illicit romances eluding the boundaries of a strict social code.

Houses of the most wealthy and influential are built from coral stone, in the Arabic style, usually contained within a walled central courtyard accessed through one grand door. The door, being all that could be seen from outside, was considered the outward expression of the wealth and standing of the household within, and often was built first.

Many remain to this day, with elaborate carvings of patterns of lotus flowers, fish and vines or dates, and sometimes inscribed with passages from the Koran to tell of the household within. In accordance with the customs from Persia and Iran many of the doors are also studded with impressive polished iron studs, sharply pointed to ward off ill-intentioned marauding elephants…despite the striking lack of these on the shores of Zanzibar.

The best way to explore the old town is on foot.

A walk around Stone Town may take a couple of hours as an evening stroll, or an afternoon or all day, depending on how lost you wish to get. (It is also possible to take guided walks with a tour operator or local guide. Organised walks with a tour operator usually take between 2 and 4 hours and cost $15-20 per person; see list for reliable operators). The history of the town is evident wherever you look, for it is a town in which every old building tells a story of the past.

Stone Town – A walkers guide…

The Forodhani Gardens are a focal point of the town near the harbour, and a good place for a central bearing. Perhaps take a soda here, consider the fact that these gardens were once a railway yard, and look back towards the panoramic vista of strange and beautiful architecture that stands in its variation behind. This area of town becomes a focal point of town when the sun sets, and crowds gather to walk, talk and eat together. The harbour front is lined with rows of food stalls, illuminated by flickering gas lamps, selling a bewildering array of barbecued seafood, kebabs, burgers, and fresh juice drinks.

The Forodhani Gardens go by many names. When they were officially laid out in 1936 they were named the Jubilee Gardens to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub, Sultan between 1911-1960. But after the Revolution in 1964 they were renamed Jamituri, The People’s Gardens in English. The bandstand in the middle of the garden was used by the sultan’s army band to entertain the people, and the white arch was built for the arrival of the British Princess Margaret in 1956. Unfortunately she arrived at the dhow harbour instead, and the arch was never used in its official capacity.

Directly behind the gardens, across the Mizingani road is The Arab Fort, (also called The Old Fort, Ngome Kongwe in Swahili, or Gereza, meaning Prison). It is one of the oldest buildings in Stone Town and with a strange and changing history. The present two storey, high crenellated-walled structure was built by Busaidi Omani Arabs between 1698 and 1701 after they defeated and ousted the Portuguese. It became the basis for their defence against the vanquished European occupants and also the Mazrui, a rival Omani group, who occupied Mombassa at the time. Somewhat poignantly they chose the site of an old Portuguese church as the site for the stronghold, and parts of this original building, dating from between 1598 and 1612, can still be distinguished in the inside wall.

During the 19th Century the fort became a prison, and regular exemplary punishment or even execution was meted to prisoners outside the east wall.

In the early 1900s it’s purpose softened, and it was used as a railway workshop for the Bububu Railway steam train. The track ran seven miles between town and Bububu, and never extended the further 24 miles to Mkokotoni as originally planned. It passed so close to the houses that pedestrians were forced to duck into doorways at its approach, and became a principle means of transport for people, livestock and produce between the rural areas and the market. At the end of the First World War, the railway was extended to transport sand and stone from a quarry at Chukwani for the construction of a new port by land reclamation at the present site. But when the work was completed the days of the railway were numbered, and finally it closed in August 1929. The railway yard in front of the port was landscaped and so transformed into the public park that remains today.

The Fort also had a new lease of life; the British restored it in 1949, and converted the main courtyard into a Ladies’ Tennis Club. There was no further work on the Fort until 1994, at which time the excellent outdoor theatre was constructed in conjunction with the development of the Zanzibar Cultural Centre. The Fort is now open on regular weeknights for dancing and drumming shows, and is an ideal arena for staging the Festival of the Dhow Countries in July, during which films are shown in the amphitheatre and bands perform to an excitable open air audience in the adjacent enclosure. A tourist information desk inside the entrance provides details of performances and other events at the Fort and around town throughout the year.

Beside the Fort, the pale and elegant elevation surrounded with wide but skinny-pillared verandas is called Beit al-Ajaib, The House of Wonders, for when it was constructed it was the tallest building in East Africa, and decorated with the first electric lights on Zanzibar and the first lift. British sailors called it ‘the Sultan’s Christmas Tree’. This unusual construction was designed by a British Marine Engineer and built for Sultan Barghash as his ceremonial palace in 1883, on his return from exile in Bombay – the architecture has a distinctive Indian influence.

Now the lower floor and gateway of The House of Wonders is a marketplace for arts and crafts, particularly batiks and basketwork. The entrance has an excellent example of elaborately carved Zanzibari doors, which were originally covered with gilded texts from the Koran, and outside are two impressive 16th century Portuguese cannons. Although the palace suffered great damage during the 1896 bombing, it has been well restored. The exterior entrance is similar to its original state, just thankfully lacking the menagerie of caged lions and other animals which, in the days of Barghash, were arrayed outside its gates.

The rapidly growing families of the sultan’s harem soon outgrew their town and country residences, and in 1956 Sultan Majid deemed it necessary to add another palace alongside the original Sultan’s Palace, called Beit al-Hukm. The latter addition to the palace complex did not survive long, having taken the brunt of the bombardment by the British in 1896 following Sayyid Khalid’s attempt to usurp the throne upon the death of the previous sultan, Sayyid Hamed (1853-96). The efforts of the British reduced the new palace to rubble, and it was subsequently made into a garden. The building that has since been built in its place houses the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority.

Next door is the site of the former palace built by Sultan Said between 1827 and 1834. The old Beit al-Sahel, Palace at the Coast, was the Sultan’s town house, and by all accounts a pretty two-storey whitewashed building with red and green tiles. After the bombardment of 1896 that destroyed Beit al-Hukm, the palace was rebuilt. It subsequently became The Sultan’s Palace, and the residence of the sultans and their families following Sultan Khalifa’s occupancy in 1911 and until the Revolution in 1964. After this time it was called The People’s Palace, and became the seat of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council. The palace was once also home to General Sir Lloyd Matthews, the Welsh commander of the British influenced Sultan’s Army, who remained here until his death from malaria in 1901. It now houses the amusing and interesting Palace Museum dedicated to the opulent reign of the Busaidi dynasty of sultans. Visitors wander through the state and private rooms on 3 floors of the old residence, where exhibits include ageing parchments showing International trade treaties and royal portraits as well as a room dedicated to the fascinating runaway Princess Salme and an intriguing range of furniture. One room is divided in two to show the remarkably different aesthetic tastes of the Sultan’s wives, and the bedrooms display a dubious line in formica wood-effect wardrobes, apparently favoured by the last Sultan, Jamshid bin Haroub, who was overthrown from the palace during the Revolution. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm, Entrance $3.

It is sometimes possible to visit the adjoining Royal Cemetery, which contains a half-finished tomb of Sultan Seyyid Said and his sons Khaled, Barghash and Khalifa. The mausoleum was started by Majid, but left unfinished when he found himself open to complaints from puritans of the Ibadhi sect.

Continuing northeast along Mizingani the wide flat-faced buildings that look slightly as if they have had too much sun are soon to be given a facelift when the old Hotel Le Grand is restored to a wonderful thing again by the Halcyon Hotel Group, the force behind Blues Restaurant. Next door, is the Old Customs House, with fine carved doors and fresco-green coloured walls.

Further along the Mizingani Road towards the port, stands the elegantly restored Ithna’sheri Dispensary, first commissioned by Sir Tharia Thopan as a charitable dispensary for the poor. It faced directly onto the seashore until the 1920s when the New Harbour was built on reclaimed land in front of it. The foundation stone was laid in 1885, although the honourable Thopan was not alive to see it, and his wife continued the work. Fredrick Portage, the consulting engineer who oversaw the final completion of the building in 1894, commended the craftsmen for their fine workmanship, and indeed the ornate balconies, (inside and out), elaborate stucco work and stained glass windows withstood a harsh test of time during the following years. The building continued as a charitable dispensary after the death of Sir Tharia Thopan, and also housed a resident doctor and pharmacy, but the occupants were forced to flee the island during the 1964 Revolution. The building then fell into the hands of the new government, who had neither the money nor the incentive to maintain it. Twenty five years of neglect later, the Old Dispensary was rented from the government by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture who implemented an conscientious program of conservation restoration that remained staunchly true to the original authentic materials and design. Somehow the three-storey structure manages to combine an outer appearance of elegance and ornate detail with an internal sensation of solidity, created from rich, thick wooden floors and balustrades, and huge, cool walls surrounding a light, airy courtyard. The building today houses a number of offices, and a French Restaurant, Chez Marina, Tel: 0747 410244, occupies a prime position on its uppermost balcony, with fantastic views of the sunset over the harbour. A small craft market and good bookshop operate on the ground floor.

Continuing west along the harbour road or turning left through the gates of the port (into a hectic pell mell of boat ticket salesmen), brings you to the Dhow Harbour, where local fishermen dock to unload their catch. It has a particularly feisty atmosphere in the mornings, but is always a vibrant place to stop and watch the action on the impressively large dhows, called jahazi, that dock here.

A good ten-minute walk along the Malawi Road, past Cinema Afrique, brings you to Livingstone House, the base used by missionary and explorer David Livingstone in 1866 to recoup and prepare his supplies for his final arduous journey into the interior. The house now contains the offices of the Zanzibar Tourist Corporation, although they are not evidently willing to offer advice or show you around, but it is occasionally possible to find someone at the desk and catch a brief glimpse of the cavernous stone interior. If this extra walk for possibly little reward does not appeal, turn right off the Malawi Road and head back into the labyrinthine heart of Stone Town….

To the left of the Old Dispensary is ‘Mtini’, the Big Tree. This huge old fig with hanging vines is as much a part of the oldest features of the city as the finest architecture and was planted by Sultan Khalifa in 1911. There is always a crowd gathered in the shade of the Big Tree, either building or working on repairs to small dhows, or simply sitting in general contemplation of passers-by.

Just behind the Tree the Malindi Ijumaa Mosque, a common name for all large and central mosques, meaning simply Friday Mosque, on account of the importance of the Friday gathering here. This one is an impressively modern construction. A mosque was originally built on this site by Muharmi Arabs, and later enlarged by the Mwinyi Mkuu in 1839. It was then fully renovated in 1994 in the modern Arabesque style. There are thought to be around 48 mosques within the boundaries of Stone Town, a space not much greater than 200 acres, but many are very unostentatious and barely distinguishable from nearby buildings. .

Keep heading straight, taking a left-hand kink but not actually turning left, and this will bring you to Mchangani Street, and the blaze of colour that is the kanga bazaars. If you do turn left from here you will enter into the central hubub of Darajani Market, which assails the senses with a profusion of colour, chatter, and the wafting scent of spice from the stalls along the roadside. Stallholders pile their fruit and vegetable wares into precarious pyramids, and carts sell sugar cane or prickly bunches of ramboutan in the midst. Beneath and around the covered market on the Eastern side, huge slabs of stone are covered with a wide assortment of sea creatures, and next door, meat is appetisingly carved from huge hanging carcasses. Although it was once the duty of the men to shop while their wives and daughters kept out of sight, it is now more common to see women picking their way among them and buying food for the table. The fresh fruit and vegetables are both delicious and cheap, but the old adage is a good one; boil it, peel it or forget it – although in this case, probably just peel it. There are also nearby knife stalls with very cheap knives…

The market faces onto the Creek Road, a main road into and out of town and a centrifugal point for transport. The dala dala terminal is opposite the market. Turning right from the market onto the creek road and walking a short distance (in a southerly direction) brings you to the wide New Mkunazini Road on the right hand side, leading back into town.

A short distance down this road is another main right-hand turn, which leads to The Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ. The cathedral is an appropriate mixture of Gothic and Arabic styles, and was built on the site of the last open slave markets in the world, under the supervision of Bishop Steer (1874-84), who was also the first man to translate the bible into Swahili . The mission was instigated by his requests made to Oxford University and a speech by Dr David Livingstone at Cambridge University describing his personal experience of the horrors of the slave trade. There followed the formation of the Universities Mission in Central Africa, (UMCA) which united the efforts of Britain’s four most important universities at that time. The first service took place on Christmas Day 1877, four years after the slave market was finally closed by a reluctant Sultan Barghash and a year before the Cathedral was finished. The slave chambers still exist below, and a guide from the church can take you down into the grim dark chambers and regale you with tales of the injustices suffered, although the dimensions of these cells speak for themselves. Most of the guides work for the church and also provide a colourful account of its interior. A red circle in the floor before the altar marks the spot on which stood a post where slaves were tied and whipped, and all around are reminders of those who dedicated their lives to ending the abominable trade. A central crucifix is made from the tree beneath which Dr. Livingstone’s heart was buried in Zambia, and a stained glass window is dedicated to his memory. The stained glass window behind the font remembers those men who died at sea in the Indian Ocean while fighting the slave trade, and plaques on the walls remember missionaries and servicemen who died in action. The altar is decorated with mosaics donated by Miss Caroline Thackeray, who reigned as head teacher at the St Mary’s School for freed girl slaves and their children for over 25 years. The impressive ruins of this old school and its chapel can still be seen in the extensive grounds of Mbweni Ruins Hotel, surrounded by a fine botanical garden.

Continuing west along Mkunazini Road towards the heart of Stone Town, and at its end turn right onto Katificheni Street and take the first right again onto Hamamni Street, to find the Hamamni Persian Baths on the right hand side. These large and elaborate Persian-style steam baths were generously donated to the public by the royal bathing enthusiast Sultan Barghash, and built by Hadj Gulamhussein in the 1880s. They have not been in use since the 1920s, but have been excellently restored to allow visitors today to gain a fair impression of how they must have been when they held water and functioned. Numerous rooms surround a central fountain courtyard, with areas for steam baths, plunge pools, shaving and ablutions. They have now been declared a protected monument to retain them in their present state. To look around, look for the caretaker, Hakim Wambi, in the building opposite. He will give you a guided tour and extract an entrance fee.

From the Hamamni (‘Place of the Baths), it is just a short distance to St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, on Cathedral Street, (which can be reached, among other routes, by turning left, left and right, right!) The Cathedral was completed in 1906, built by French Missionaries and designed in the Romanesque style by the same architect who designed the basilica of Marseilles. Many of the first Christian converts were freed slaves. A very mixed Catholic community use the Cathedral regularly for mass, and occasionally it is open for an opportunity to have a look at the badly restored murals inside.

Turning left from the Cathedral brings you to the crossing of Gizenga Street, a popular shopping street filled with numerous stalls and artisans proffering their wares.

If you can resist the urge to shop, (the carpenters are very good just here), and instead continue along Cathedral Street, the road ends in an area at the back of the Arab Fort that was once the old fruit and vegetable market and the site of the last public execution (by sword) during the reign of Sultan Khalid bin Said (1888-90)

Heading left and left again from the Cathedral, or right and right again, should bring you onto Kenyatta Road, one of the main streets running through this region of Stone Town and a reliable point of reference! Following Kenyatta Road to the left brings you into Shangani.

Tucked between Shangani Street and the delightfully named Suicide Alley, are the impressively large and astoundingly dusty remains of the Africa House Hotel, formerly the English Club from 1888 until Independence, and one point of the old town where sundowners on the seaside veranda have become something of an institution. It is without doubt the best spot to watch the sun set over the sea, but while in bygone days this was a rather elegant choice, nowadays visitors perch on an inglorious veranda and are conscientiously ignored by a motley crew of high or disinterested waiters. It is fun to climb the vast wooden stairs and peer around the now deserted dining room, filled only with shafts of dust-filled sunlight and an excellent collection of black and white photographs hanging lopsided along the walls. These are worth the climb if you are passing, and perhaps you can galvanise someone into getting you a drink. The lower rooms and surrounding alleyways are frequented by the less exemplary members of Zanzibari youth, and are not recommended for night-time wanderings. The Africa House still just about operates as a budget hostel, but you will not find it listed below, as the sadly accommodation standards are so low that we do not feel it worthy of inclusion, however historic the location.

Stone Town – Tippu-Tip’s House

The house where the infamous Arab merchant known as ‘Tippu Tip’ enjoyed his old age in wealth and comfort can also be seen in Shangani, behind the dilapidating Africa House Hotel. It has now been converted into flats and is a private residence, but the carved doorway leading into a courtyard beyond provides a sense of the old slaver’s past grandeur.

Tippu Tip

The most notorious of all slave traders, Hamed bin Mohammed el Murjebi, was born in 1840 to a Muscat Arab merchant, although he also had African blood and it is said that his grandmother was a slave. This fearsome and powerful merchant warlord was widely known as Tippu Tip, sometimes also spelt Tippoo Tib. His nickname is said to have come from the sound of his muskets firing, although it is also said to refer to his physical nervous habit of blinking his eyes very rapidly. (Apparently a local bird with distinctive blinking eyes is also known locally as Tippu Tib.)

Tippu Tip, Chief Mirambo and Mutesa were the three most powerful potentates of interior during the 19th century, ruling vast tracts of land by force and fear. Tippu Tip took control of the previously uncharted forest west of Lake Tanganyika, and developed his bush ‘empire’ over 10,000 sq miles with the fire power of his muskets. He is said to have transformed the currency of the interior from barter to currency – initially the exchange of cowry beads and then Maria Theresa dollars.

Although nominally subject to the Sultan, to whom he would bow whenever he returned to the island on which his fortune was accumulating, Tippu Tip was an independent ruler of land that few others could navigate or control. The Sultan was happy to know that trade from the interior was routed through Zanzibar, and even those who deplored the nature of the slave trader’s wealth were forced to turn to him for assistance.

David Livingstone, the British missionary and famous explorer of the African Interior, found that his survival depended on the assistance of the slave merchants whose trade he found abominable and shaped his life to stop. Journalist Henry Morton Stanley then enlisted the help of Tippu Tip when he sought to follow Livingstone, and then to carry out subsequent near fatal expeditions in cahoots with King Leopold of Brussels to rescue and resupply Emin Pasha in 1867, somehow cutting a swathe with one of the most dangerous marauders of all. The explorers and missionaries then provided the old warrior with a means to a pension in his latter years, exchanging a free reign to exploit the natural resources of the interior in return for his promise to abstain from capturing slaves in the Free State established by the British.

Emerging from the back of Tippu Tip’s house brings you back on Shangani Street and into the vicinity of The Serena Hotel, which has been redesigned and redeveloped on the site of the old Extelcoms Building and the next door ‘Chinese doctor’s’ house. The hotel still houses some of the ancient old telephone equipment in the reception area.

Further along Shangani Street Back towards the Forodhani Gardens, on the corner after the Tembo Hotel, you can still see the original building of The First British Consulate, (now covered with advertising boards and housing an inglorious internet centre). To your right, over and around the bridge/ tunnel, is the moving sad site of the Zanzibar Orphanage.

Continuing Southeast along Kenyatta Road and then Kaunda Road, parallel to the waterfront brings you to the Peace Memorial Museum, opposite the park called ‘Mnazi Moja’, (‘One Coconut Tree’ – although there are lots), on Creek Road. The main museum building is designed in an impressive, symmetrical classical/arabic style, and was built in 1925 by the British architect John Sinclair. He had quite a monopoly on major building design in this part of town, as the long road out to the museum also passes his other work along the way. One is The British Residency, just past the Portuguese Arch at Vuga Roundabout, and then on up Kaunda Road past the High Court of Justice, also designed by Sinclair. The museum houses an eclectic collection of memorabilia from all eras of Zanzibari history – an interesting although dusty and dishevelled array of items from the slave traders and the sultans and the Mwinyi Mkuu, and from the early European explorers and missionaries, including Livingstone’s old medicine chest. There is also a translation of the first century AD text, the ‘Periplus of the Erythraen Sea’ and a number of ancient black and white photographs showing Zanzibar during the colonial period – mainly the damage done by the British to the palace complex in 1896. Opposite the Peace Memorial Museum is the Zanzibari Natural History Museum, home to an impressively dusty collection of stuffed birds and animals and bones – apparently including those of a dodo.

Activities around Zanzibar Island:

(prices are per person, based on two people travelling, they decrease for a group and become slightly ridiculous for single person, who may consider joining with others.)

City Tour, (c. $15-20) usually a half day walking tour with a bilingual guide, which can be arranged to include a guided tour of the Anglican Cathedral and slave chambers.

If you still have time on your hands in Stone Town, it is also possible to arrange excellent Swahili cooking lessons at the Arab Fort.

A trip to the Spice farms (c.$10-$30, depending on the size of the group) usually takes about half a day. Following your nose and tasting a variety of brightly coloured fruit is a fun way to spend a morning. It proves an invigorating educational experience as you translate a multitude of different pods, blossoms, barks into the aromatic coloured powders that may be more familiar in the kitchen at home, and taste hundreds of new and familiar fruits (around 57 varieties are grown in all!). Additional fun may be had with the ‘Lipstick pod’, used both as the colouring for Tandoori meals and for women wanting a touch of vibrant colour on their lips. The walk can also be combined with a slap-up spicy lunch cooked and prepared on the farm, and can also include a visit to the Persian baths at Kidichi or stop at Mangwapani beach on route.

All of the tour operators listed below will organise trips to spice farms, and usually each favours a different farm. Many include other activities along the way, and it is becoming more popular to include a lunch stop. The well-renowned individual tour leader Mr Mitu is highly recommended for group trips, organising a full day tour including lunch and a trip to the beach for a very reasonable price. His offices are signposted just behind Malawi Road, near Cinema Afrique.

For those missing the safari action, or just seeking a bit of natural seclusion, Jozani Forest is an unusual little nature reserve half way between Stone Town and the south-east coast. (c. $15 from town, $15 entrance, or about $35 if combined with a full day trip to the East Coast)

Jozani Forest reserve has various nature trails to explore through different natural habitats that include a mangrove boardwalk, a botanical nature trail and the monkey-sighting site. Each of these potentially provide opportunities to catch a glimpse of a number of interesting rare species, such as the rare and handsome Red Colobus Monkey (Piliocolobus Kirkii) endemic to Zanzibar. These fiery coloured primates sport a dashing white mane and seem unfazed by passing tourists following the ‘monkey trail’. Despite instruction not to get too close to the primates for fear of passing on infections, they are strangely keen to demonstrate extraordinary jumping and mating skills at very close proximity.

The mangrove boardwalk may provide a sighting of the rare Zanzibari Coconut Crab, (Birgus Latro) that is also found on Chumbe Island. Thought to have descended from a hermit crab, this lumbering old crustacean grows up to 1.5 ft long, and can weigh between 5-6 lb. It eats coconuts and climbs trees, giving rise to the old belief that it could scale a palm to claw coconuts down to eat. Its less congenial name is the ‘Robber Crab’, due to its ingenious and successful ability to pilfer food. They are known to slice through tin cans and pots and pans to get to food inside.

The dry, seasonal woodlands are also inhabited by the less rare but perhaps more endearing Bushbaby (Galagoides Zanzibaricus). This small but long-tailed woolly primate has a distinctive ‘whoop whoop!’ call, but its nocturnal habits make a daytime sighting rare. Sykes Monkeys, Small Buck and Bushpigs are also often seen in Jozani Forest. All walks should be accompanied with a guide, and the $8 entry fee allows visitors to cover all walks at their leisure.

A half day tour to Mangapwani Slave Caves ($15) takes a scenic route about 11km north of Stone Town north up the coast road, to a natural cave that may or may not have been used for holding slaves, and a man-made chamber that definitely was. The sites are close to a good beach overlooked by the Aga Khan’s new restaurant, which provides a good seafood and meat grill for $25 per person in an idyllic setting.

Boat trips and Dolphin Safaris from Zanzibar

There are pods of bottle-nosed, humpback and spinner dolphin all around Zanzibar and Pemba Island, and these are commonly spotted on dives and boat trips. Resident pods commonly spotted around Fumba and off Mnemba Island on the north east coast, however the dolphins that receive more attention than most are those around Kizimkazi, the site of the increasingly popular Dolphin Safaris. This is commonly a trip out in a local boat, spending about 2 ½ hours scouting the waves for a sign of the resident bottle-nosed or humpback pods. All the dolphins are wild, and sightings are never guaranteed, and the humpback variety are generally much shyer than their co-species, and if they do not want to play they need not hang around, as both varieties can swim much faster than any flipper-clad swimmer. The local industry that has sprung up here has benefit the Stone Town tour operators more than the people of Kizimkazi and the tourists more than the dolphins, but around 9 out of 10 return home satisfied with a close up view of these exceptional animals. Rates range from Tsh 10,000 ($15) per person on the basis of two people in a boat travelling from Kizimkazi Village, or around Tsh 25, 000 for a boat from Kizimkazi Dimbiani accommodating any number from one to ten people on the excursion. Trips are usually around two hours long, but if you are nice to your boatman and there is a successful sighting he might be persuaded to stay out for an extra half and hour.

Zanzibar – Island Hopping

The closest island to Stone Town is called Changuu, Swahili for ‘Tortoise’, in reference to its unusual residents. The island is also called and is said to have once been owned by a wealthy Arab, who used it to detain unruly slaves… A prison was actually built on the island by Sir General Lloyd Matthews in 1893, who spent much of his time in Zanzibar apprehending ruffian slave smugglers and other insurrectionists, but the prison was actually never used. Instead it became a quarantine station for immigrants entering coastal East Africa. Frangipani-lined pathways were planted for the quarantined ‘inmates’ to enjoy a fragrant night-time stroll.

A half-hour boat ride from the harbour brings you to this small and pretty island surrounded by coral reef and clear sea, making it a popular spot for snorkelling.

Snorkels can be hired beforehand or on the island for Tsh1000 per day, and most swimmers set off from a sandbank beach facing the town that gets smaller and smaller as the tide comes in and more and more excursion boats stop to moor against it.

The island itself is picturesque and pretty, and provides a rare opportunity to sunbathe. A path leads all around and takes about ¾ of an hour to walk. Along the way it passes large pits in the ground, which were quarries for coral rag and used to build houses some of the original stone houses in the Stone Town and Dar es Salaam

One of the main attractions of Chunguu is its resident population of giant tortoises, believed to have been brought to the island from Aldabra in the Seychelles in the late 18th century. They used to roam the island freely, but a decline in population followed a trend in visitors stealing the pocket-sized babies, and they are now contained within an appropriately vast pen. Visitors can climb inside and feed these seemingly pre-historic reptiles with oranges, mango peel and greenery, for which they seem grateful and tirelessly devour. There is a plan to free the massive creatures again, while continuing to protect the now thriving young. There is little hope of casually stealing a full grown male, as their body weight is a number of tonnes and would require the strength and determination of at least four grown men.

The Indian Ocean Islands – Zanzibar – History

Filed under: History of Zanzibar — Tags: , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:31 pm

Zanzibar Island’s History

The very name of the main island of Zanzibar reflects a central core element to its history. The name ‘Unguja’ means ‘transit’, and from the earliest dates of its recorded history this little island has attracted a remarkable number of visitors to its shores, and borne witness to an exceptional exchange of foreign goods.

The early years….

The early history of Zanzibar is mainly reconstructed from early writings, stories and intelligent supposition, often making it almost impossible to disentangle the truth from a rich web of myths and legends. However, it is likely that the first inhabitants of the islands were descendants of the first known example of hominoid man, as discovered in Olduvai Gorge in mainland Tanzania, who journeyed to the Zanzibar archipelago in dugout canoes during the Neolithic period of the late Stone Age, in around 4000BC. Then it is known that travellers from the ancient kingdoms of Sumeria, (6000-3000BC) Assyria (2000-612BC), Mesopotamia and Egypt travelled and traded with the East African coast from this time on, and it is probable that Zanzibar was known to some or all of these early civilisations. It is thought that the Phoenicians discovered Zanzibar and Kilwa on their journey to Sofala in around 1000BC, in present day Mozambique, and in subsequent centuries these trade routes strengthened and developed into a powerful commercial network that extended to include the Silk Route trade from China to India.

Through the course of the 1st century AD a regular pattern of trade was established between the coasts of Arabia and East Africa. Dhows would sail on the Northeast monsoon winds from the Kingdom of Saba, or Sheba, bringing beads, porcelain and Chinese silks, and return with the Southwest monsoon laden with gold from Sofala, and slaves and spices, ebony, ivory, indigo and tortoiseshell from the lands of ‘Zinj el Barr’, as they called this Indian Ocean coast. The name is thought to have been derived from the Persian word ‘zangh’ for black and ‘bar’ referring to the coast, meaning ‘Coast of the Black’. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy describes the ‘Zenj’ people in his historical account of the second to fifteenth century, ‘Geography’, as tall, dark and fearsome. The English explorer Richard Burton held a more romantic notion that ‘Zanzibar’ was derived from the Arabic ‘Zayn za’l barr’, meaning ‘Fair is this Isle’, although the name was used to describe the whole East African Coast until the late 15th century.

Word of the travels of sailors and traders soon spread far and wide, and it seems that the 9th century legend of Sinbad the Sailor, as told in The Thousand and One Nights, was inspired by circulating tales of the land of Zinj. Sinbad was a sailor on merchant ships which set out on typically long voyages that bore no guarantee of safe return, but he made it back to the shores of Mesopotamia laden with gold and ivory, after intrepid encounters with kings, elephants and apes. These distant lands of abundance became an attractive destination for those seeking to begin a new life abroad, and the population of the land of Zinj began to be defined by a growing number of immigrants from different lands.

A number of legends coincide with a mass emigration from Shiraz, Persia, in around 975 AD. The reasons for this are varied, and it followed the religious upheavals incited after the death of the prophet Mohammed, but it resulted in the popular legend telling how the Persian king, Ali Ben Sultan Hasan was responsible for the first major Arab civilisations along the East African coast. He is said to have had a dream in which a rat with iron jaws gnawed and destroyed the foundations of his palace, which he interpreted as a sign of imminent disintegration of his dynasty. Despite the mockery of the court, he galvanised his six sons and an entourage for each into seven vast dhows and they set for ‘Zinj el Barr’. It is said that each of the dhows landed at different points of the coast, including Zanzibar, Kilwa, Tongoni, Mombassa and the Comoros Islands, all known to be points of early Shirazi settlements.

Immigration and settlers from the East

During the 7th century AD, the rise of Islam in Arabia brought war and repercussions of unrest throughout Persia, and the fruitful lands of Zinj became an attractive destination for those wishing to escape the hardships of home. There was a gradual influx of Omani and Shirazi settlers from Arabia, and Persia, and the outcome of the mix was not always peaceful as they established land ownership.

Wars and raids elsewhere on the African continent were also causing different tribes on the mainland to seek new land elsewhere, and throughout 1000 AD Bantu tribes continued moving eastwards and settle along the coast. They began to call themselves ‘Sahil’, from an Arabic word meaning coast, and so the mix of African, Arabic and Persian languages and people on the coastline developed the evolution of the Swahili civilisation.

The foundations of the first mosque on Zanzibar Island can still be seen at Kizimkazi, and are attributed to the first Shirazi settlers described above. The Mihrab, or alcove to which prayers were directed, bears a Kufic inscription of the date 500 AM, equivalent to 1107 AD, and by this time there was a widespread adoption of Islam among the mixed local groups.

Enter the Portuguese

Meanwhile, the Portuguese had been earnestly seeking a sea-route to India, and charting routes around the irritatingly large continent that stood in the way. Finally, in 1498, the notorious seafarer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and made his presence known along the East African coast. The islands of Zanzibar and port of Mombassa proved an invaluable base for preparations and supplies for the long trip to the Far East, and they built garrisons that were soon followed by a push for Portuguese rule of the coastline in 1503. Capturing twenty Swahili dhows, shooting a number of islanders and forcing the Swahili Mwinyi Mkuu, the island chief or ‘Great Lord’ of Zanzibar to become a Portuguese subject rendered Zanzibar one of the new Portuguese territories along the East African coast. By 1509 they occupied the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. Their tactics of burning, looting and plundering were not popular, and their Zanzibari subjects tended to respond variously with hostility and resistance, until there developed a form of truce as the Portuguese continued to assist in protecting against other Arab or African invasions. The fort at Chake Chake on Pemba was built by the Portuguese in 1594, along with other fortifications along the coast – developed in a bid to withstand widespread Omani uprisings – but they were not enough. Gradually the Portuguese territories were lost; Hormuz to the Persians in 1622, and Muscat to the Omanis in 1650. In 1652 the Sultan of Oman mobilised his troops to the aid of the Mwinyi Mkuu, and the Omanis raided the Portugese settlement on Zanzibar and burnt most of the garrison on Pemba. The islands became a protectorate of the Omani empire.

Nevertheless, the Portuguese left a legacy of now staple imported foodstuffs, such as cassava and cashews from Brazil, maize, avocados and guava. They also encouraged use of the iron nails for boat building, a departure from the ‘sewn boats’ of yore, and showed how to use dung for cultivation. They were even indirectly responsible for the evolution of the kanga, (described below under Shopping.)

During this mayhem the British were quietly doing what the Portuguese had originally set out to achieve. The first British ship, the Edward Bonaventura, dropped anchor at Zanzibar in 1591, under the command of Sir James Lancaster. They befriended the Mwinyi Mkuu, who supplied them with water and food, and thereafter a number of British ships stopped at the island to restock on route to trade in India.

Following successive struggles, the Portuguese were forced to retreat as far south as Mozambique, and by 1698 the Omani Arabs had regained firm control.

The long reign of the Sultans

The sultan of Oman originally ruled from Muscat, from where he appointed governors and strengthened his position on the islands by ordering fortifications such as the Arab Fort to be built on the harbour, over the old Portuguese foundations. Oman was by now a powerful trading nation, relying on dates as a major crop export. They were in need of cheap labour, yet forbidden by Islam to use Muslims as slaves; instead they imported Africans from the mainland by the boatload.

The majority of trade along the East African coast began to be routed through Zanzibar, and during the 1820s Sultan Seyyid Said bin Sultan – sultan of Oman since he was fifteen years old – instigated the first stone buildings of what would later become Stone Town. Sultan Said demonstrated a shrewd mind for business and advance, and was excited by what was proving to be a profitable island investment. He made a couple of preliminary visits to the islands before deciding to transfer the seat of his sultanate from the hot and contentious capital of Oman to the more conducive climes of Zanzibar in 1832. He found that trade had already been established in ivory and slaves, and cloves had begun to be planted, and he strongly encouraged all of these trade possibilities further. He signed commercial treaties with a number of western powers, beginning in 1833 with United States, and allowed the first foreign consulate to open in 1837. His ambition was great, and especially inspired by his intention to centralise trade of all of East Africa through the little island of Zanzibar.

When Sultan Seyyid Said bin Sultan arrived in Zanzibar for the first time in 1828, he recorded that Unguja Island was broadly divided into territories of two distinct local tribes. The north of the island, including Tumbatu island, was inhabited by the WaTumbatu, ruled by a matrilineal queen called the Mwana wa Mwana, and the south by the Hadimu. ‘Hadimu’ seems to be from an Arabic word meaning ‘slave’, although the Arabic immigrants that employed this nickname failed to conquer these islanders, or to take them as slaves. In fact, the Hadimu apparently employed their own slaves from the mainland, and it is likely that they were already converted to Islam. The Hadimu claimed descent from the Shirazi immigrants who had settled on the southern shores of the island, but in reality were a mix of people including many immigrants from the mainland. Whatever their origins, the Hadimu had one ruler, of Shirazi origin, known as Mwinyi Mkuu; ‘The Great Lord.’

When Seyyid Said began to transfer the sultanate seat it was necessary to acknowledge the local chief and negotiate terms of power. The sultan employed the most likely means, that of extravagant promises of a generous pension that was never paid, although the Mwinyi Mkuu retained some rights of sovereignty. The Mwinyi Mkuu known to Seyyid Said was Hassan bin Ahmed, the ruler and owner of the stone palace at Dunga, the impressive ruins of which can still be visited. Negotiations with the Sultan resulted in Hassan bin Ahmed promising to share half of his labour force and collecting taxes on the Sultan’s behalf, although he soon compensated for his unpaid pension by keeping half the profits for himself. But as the Sultan’s demand for labour grew with the expanding cultivation of cloves and other economic crops, so did the demand for labour from the Hadimu.

Seyyid Said’s successor, Sultan Majid, incurred a clash of interests with a successive Mwinyi Mkuu, Muhammad bin Ahmed, resulting in the imprisonment of the latter. Muhammad bin Ahmed, commonly referred to as Sultan Hamadi, seems to have been imbued with greater powers than most. Legend has it that the ‘Great Lord’ was either exiled or escaped to the mainland, and subsequently the islands suffered a terrible drought. The drought lasted for three years, until the islanders stepped up their petition against the Sultan to return their chief. Whether the Sultan bowed to pressure or was struggling with his tax collection and labour demands, the leader was found, recalled and reinstated, and the island was once again blessed with rain. On his return the Mwinyi Mkuu fortified his fine house at Dunga, which eventually became his permanent dwelling. He then pulled off an impressive political manoeuvre when he married the hereditary leader of the Tumabatu tribe, the powerful Mwana wa Mwana, and so united the smaller ‘kingdoms’ of the Zanzibar archipelago.

In essence, the Mwinyi Mkuu became a nominal leader for all local matters, while the Sultan looked after the more profitable trade and international affairs. The transfer of the sultanate from Oman to Zanzibar in 1832 brought an era of prosperity to the islands and the Sultanate, probably far greater than that which they would have achieved in Oman.

Sultan Said saw and exploited the mercantile promise of such a fertile island at the centre of the East African trade routes, based on the profitable extortion of slaves and ivory from the interior. While levying large taxes and taking their share of all transactions on their shores, the Sultans also developed vast and profitable plantations, originally of coconuts and subsequently cloves, and built impressive palaces reminiscent of Oman in its prime.

Sultan Said was largely responsible for the prosperity of the clove plantations in Zanzibar, after initially seizing the small plantations owned by Saleh bin Haramil al Abray who had brought the first twenty trees to the islands in 1813. The sultan then decreed that every plantation owner must plant and tend 3 clove trees to every coconut palm, or risk his land being confiscated. With such determined efforts he achieved a leading position in the world market for clove production by the end of his reign.

Among the widespread estates and plantations, the first sultan built himself town and country palaces and installed his wives, advisors, eunuchs, slaves and a vast harem of concubines of mixed nationalities. The women were Arabian, Persian, Turkish, Circassian, Swahili, Nubian and Abyssinian, and their lives, languages and children mixed together in stately splendour beneath the sultan’s roof. The sultan divided his time between town and country, and when in Stone Town resided at Beit il Sahel, now the Palace Museum, which was later joined to a new palace called Beit al-Hukm by a suspension bridge that hung over the roofs of the Persian baths.

One colourful source for first hand information regarding the lives of the Sultans and their families is written by one of his many daughters, Princess Salme. Her Memoirs of a Zanzibari Princess provides a colourful account of her experiences of early life among the harem and within the various palaces and residences of the Sultans.

Princess Salme was christened Emily Reute when she converted to the Christian faith in order to marry her lover, a German merchant whose house in Zanzibar neighboured her own. Her memoirs are written from the perspective of her subsequent exile in Germany, and span the reigning years of the first three Sultans of Zanzibar.

Salme was brought up in the oldest of the Zanzibari Palaces, Beit il Mtoni, on the sea front about 7km north of Stone Town. She describes the palace when its elegant balconies and rooms were filled with a regal entourage of innumerable courtiers and concubines, and the courtyards were home to an exotic menagerie of ostriches, peacocks and gazelles. But when she returned to the palace in 1885 after nineteen years of exile, she was aboard one of the five German warships that docked in Zanzibar harbour with their guns trained on the Sultan’s palace. Her Stone Town home of Mtoni was already in ruins, and to this day its walls stand in a dilapidated state, and are washed by the waves of the encroaching sea.

Sultan Majid

When Sultan Said died at sea in 1856, the estimated population of Zanzibar was 25,000, rising to 40,000 during the northeast monsoon when the town became full of opportunistic merchants from the Persian Gulf. The first sultan of Zanzibar died leaving thirty-six children, and his son Majid took on the role of Sultan, although his younger brother Baghash had ideas that he should take the position himself. Barghash had been with his father on the boat from Oman to Zanzibar when the old Sultan died and resolved to flout the traditions of Islam and bring the body back to the island for secret burial; so allowing him time to overthrow his brother. Although this attempt was discovered and quashed on arrival, the dream did not die, and in later years Barghash plotted a conspiracy to usurp his ruling brother for good.

In truth, neither brother was the rightful heir, as Said’s eldest son Thuwain, sometimes called Tueni, was alive and ruling in Oman. It was then negotiated, (with British assistance, on the grounds that they had interests in the Port of Oman and their help was yet another bargaining chip in their efforts to end the slave trade), that Majid should pay his elder brother in Oman an annual sum. But one payment was enough for Majid, who felt such an arrangement made him seem just a vassal of Oman. Trouble flared up later in 1859 when the belittled Sultan Thuwain set sail to recoup his payments, but was met and pacified by a British Cruiser on an unshakeable mission to protect their trade route to India.

Two years later the British arbitrator and Governor General of India declared Zanzibar and Oman independent states, and the British and French, who also had a consul in Zanzibar, drew up the Anglo-French agreement in recognition of the sultan as independent sovereign over the East African territories.

But for Sultan Majid fraternal struggles continued at home too, where his younger brother Barghash continued to connive for the throne. When his plot was at its height, Majid was forced to imprison Barghash, and despite his sisters’ cunning plan to free him by sneaking past the guard and dressing their brother and his chief as women, the usurper did not succeed. Instead, once again, the British intervened with a few well-timed shots fired from their gunboat. They then removed Barghash to Bombay in British India and there he remained for the duration of his brother’s rule. On Majid’s death, in 1870, the exiled prince returned to take up the position he had so coveted.

Sultan Barghash

Sultan Barghash bin Said was a sultan with a powerful sense of grandeur and self-importance, who suffered the great indignity of an age when the power of the Sultan was being smartly curtailed by the interests of foreign powers. His feisty temperament towards those who seemed to stand in his way did not mellow much with age, but he did retain conveniently amenable terms with the British, albeit in response to their formidable navy in his harbour, and built himself a fine collection of palaces. He had Chukwani Palace built eight miles south of the town in 1879, as a house in which to recuperate after illness, as the air here was supposedly more healthy. Judging from numerous unpalatable descriptions of Zanzibar Town at this time this was most likely true. (see Impressions of the First Explorers below). He followed the completion of the recuperation house with a new country residence just north of the town, and south of his old childhood home at Mtoni. The new Marhubi Palace was an elaborate expression of sultanate opulence, and included enough Persian baths and balconies to amuse and contain his extensive harem. Typically constructed in coral and wood, it was mainly destroyed by fire in 1899, although the basic stone structure and bath houses remain as ruins. Then in 1883 he built the House of Wonders as a ceremonial palace, designed by the British Marine engineer. and the tallest building constructed thus far in the history of East Africa. The ornate fretwork and delicate style of this 4-story palace shows a distinct influence of ornate Indian architecture, that must have impressed Barghash during his exiled years.

The slave trade, and treaties that attempted to quash it

Slave trading on the African continent was brutal, violent, and continued through many long centuries. Thousands of slaves were rounded up on the mainland and brought to Zanzibar Island, where they were sold and either employed on the Sultan’s plantations or shipped around the world. It was domination wrought by the power of arms, muskets and swords, controlled and carried out across the continent by fearsome caravans of slavers who opened up dangerous routes through the interior. The effects of the trade were incalculable. Tribes were scattered and relocated, while others raided their neighbours for valuable others to trade. Dingy, windowless cellars still exist beneath the Anglican Cathedral – originally the site of the central slave market on Zanzibar Island – and serve as a reminder of the horrors of this trade in human lives. Similarly, a deep, dark pit at Mangwapani has an underground tunnel to the sea, dating from the days of illegal trading.

The anti-slavery campaign had gained greater momentum since slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 and later was punishable by exile to Australia. The Americans followed suit in 1808, France and Germany thereafter, but in East Africa slaves remained a powerful source of income.

The Sultan finally agreed to an anti-slavery treaty in 1839 that banned transport of slaves on either side of the ‘Moresby Line’, a demarcation on the map that led directly from the most southerly point of the Sultan’s domain in Mozambique to Diu Head in India. The treaty also banned sale of slaves to Christians, and gave the British the right to confiscate any dhows carrying slaves in illegal waters.

The trade between Zanzibar and Oman remained unchanged, and the demand for slaves continued to increase with dramatic effect across the mainland. Thousands of slaves continued to arrive on the shores of Zanzibar, and the Sultan was anxious to protect his considerable interests – which covered over 1 million square miles of the continent and provided him with a sizeable revenue – while the British shored up their efforts to diminish the trading limits.

The first Sultan Said retained good relations with the British, who sent the first British consul, Captain Hamerton, on a diplomatic mission to Zanzibar in 1841. Said felt that the European counterparts might be a worthwhile ally in his defence and fight against Mazrui Arabs in Mombassa and Oman. Indeed, they did agree to help, but as the Industrial Revolution was at its height and there was great demand for raw materials that the wide African Continent could provide, the British negotiated assistance in terms of a contra-deal in return for the Sultan’s assistance in their fight against the slave trade.

Under considerable pressure in 1845, the Sultan signed a second treaty presented by the British Consul Captain Hamerton, this time reducing slave trade to only between the latitude lines within the limits of the Sultan’s dominion on the coast, and effectively preventing legal transport to Oman. But the illegal trade continued to flourish.

When the body of Dr. David Livingstone, a hard fighting hero in the battle against slavery, arrived in Britain in March 1873 after his death on African soil, the British were further inspired to honour their previous attempts to put an end to slave trading. Sir Bartle Frere and the increased might of the British Navy were sent in a stately retinue to the ports of Zanzibar to persuade Sultan Barghash to back down on the issue of slave trade, and although they succeeded in engaging him in endless treaties and discussions, the Sultan still sidled around the issue of closing the slave markets in his dominions. Sir Bartle Frere was driven to a furious frustration, and handed negotiations to Sir John Kirk, whose job was made considerably easier when he was given the full support of the British Navy to support his discussions. Kirk was able to tighten his grip around the British ‘support’ of the Sultan, and in such a way encourage Barghash to post an historic proclamation on the doors of the Customs House. This notice officially ended the trade in slaves by sea and in all slave markets in East Africa.

By the time Stanley returned to the islands in 1874 he found the Zanzibar slave market had been abolished, and the designs were being drawn up for a new Anglican Cathedral where it had once stood.

The enforcement of the abolition of slavery in the early years of the twentieth century was supervised by Sultan’s governors, Liwalis, Muslim Judges, Kadhis, and British colonial officers. Enforcing the new laws was sometimes brutal, and the British navy fought and lost many lives in combat with lawless Arab Slave traders.

With the decline of the slave trade, ivory became one of the main commodities of trade. Tusks from the interior were carried by human porters, although now it is hard to remember how huge the tusks of old African elephants grew before this trade annihilated them; some were so large that they required four men to carry one between them.

After the Slave Trade and the end of the Busaidi Dynasty

Among others, the journalist Henry Morton Stanley noted that Sultan Barghash was not faring well as a result of the political struggles that were fast diminishing his dominion and power. In 1877 Barghash engaged in talks with Sir William Mackinnon to provide Britain a seventy year ‘lease’ over the mainland on the basis of their understanding, but these came to naught in the following decade as the British and German colonialists simply took the land and divided it up between them. By this time the Sultan was in a bad way, afflicted by elephantiasis, consumption and depression. One of his senior advisors irritated him so greatly by showing too much friendliness to the German military arrogantly arrayed around the Sultan’s harbour, that Barghash had him poisoned. But the Sultan himself had not much longer to live, and in March 1888 he died and was succeeded by his brother Khalifa. Despite the claims that Khalifa was mentally unstable after suffering six years locked in an underground chamber by his brother, the colonial powers championed his rights. They quickly drew up treaties, notably including the German East Africa Company’s claim to a fifty-year lease over the coastal territories.

The Anglo-German agreement of 1890 defined mainland Tanzania as a part of German East Africa, and Zanzibar a British protectorate with the Sultan as sovereign, implemented until after the Second World War. This occurred in conjunction with the British campaign to end the slave trade and prevent German take-over.

The first European Explorers

Geographical maps of the great African continent were a point of great discussion in Britain in the early years of the 19th century, mainly due to the large blank area that filled the centre, labelled ‘Unknown Parts’.

The Association for Promoting the Discovery of the East African Interior was formed in Britain in 1788, and this joined later with the Royal Geographical Society and directed great effort at determining the answers to the riddle. Much of the coastline and North and South was comprehensively charted, and yet the centre was a mystery with only a few clues pieced together from the work of classical geographers such as Ptolemy and some Arab manuscripts. It was a source of much academic argument, study and interest, although for a long while little was actually done to determine the truth.

Meanwhile, another society was actually sending explorers to the great continent for the purposes of education, although this time the learning was taken with them and deployed to the natives of the land, rather than brought back home. This was the Church Mission Society in London, who was responsible for posting the first white missionary and explorer to the East Africa. The intrepid man was Johnann Ludwig Krapf, a Protestant Doctor of Divinity from Germany.

Zanzibar provided the ideal starting point for journeys into the interior, as the Sultan was the nominal sovereign of the uncharted lands beyond and it was the meeting point for the Arab caravans to and from the interior. Here the explorers equipped for their journeys and exchanged money for the beads and cloth that would be their currency on the mainland.

Johann Krapf arrived in Zanzibar with his wife in January 1844, and from here equipped with porters and guides for his expedition to Mombassa. Despite his enthusiasm at finding ‘innumerable heathens’ to potentially convert, the way ahead was arduous and full of suffering, not least from the incalculable ills of Malaria.

Two years later the CMS sent another missionary to join him, a Swiss named Rebmann. Their travels through present-day Tanzania brought them to the mystical mountain of the Djagga, or the ‘Mountains of the Moon’ described by Ptolemy and much debated in London academic circles. The missionaries’ first-hand reports fuelled yet further heated arguments about the existence of Kilimanjaro.

The Royal Geographical society finally took steps to follow the missionaries and determine some truths for themselves. In 1856 they funded an expedition led by a ‘clever and adventurous Captain’, Richard Burton, accompanied by John Hanning Speke, also an army officer, to find Mount Kilimanjaro and determine the source of the Nile. Burton and Speke arrived in Zanzibar to equip for their adventure and set out following the slave caravan route southwards towards Lake Tanganyika. These early explorers were followed by the already famous explorer and missionary, Dr David Livingstone, who had made two previous expeditions into Southern Africa. The Royal Geographical Society and Foreign Office raised capital for him to continue their geographical investigation, and he agreed to go, ‘ not as a simple geographer, but as a missionary, and to do geography on the way’. He was also driven by a desire to somehow put an end to the slave trade – the horrors of which he had witnessed on his earlier expeditions. Livingstone arrived in Zanzibar in 1866, when the traffic in slaves was estimated between 80,000 – 100,000 a year, despite the various treaties agreed with the British. He was followed by journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley who arrived on a boat from Bombay in 1871, in hot pursuit of his idol.

Impressions of Zanzibar through the eyes of the Intrepid Explorers

Being in the habit of recording and relaying information about their discoveries, the notes of these early explorers are an interesting source of information about the island as seen through the eyes of Europeans in the early 19th century.

On Stanley’s first visit he noted that the sea was a startling ‘cerulean blue’, and the coastline was awash with variegated greens of mango, tamerind and coconut palms. Stanley recorded ‘as [he] sailed along the coast…his nostrils were assailed by natural scents…but the sweet sensuousness of nature soon gave way to man-made pollution’.

This last is in keeping with Livingstone’s rather brutal observations of the island, in which he famously states it would be better named ‘Stinkibar’ for all the filth and pollution that had accumulated along the streets and beaches of Stone Town. Not only was all the rubbish and sewage allowed to accumulate in the narrow streets, but it was common for the dead bodies of slaves to be dumped on the beaches. The decomposing mass became a haven for all number of vile diseases and ailments, and such reports give weight to Sultan Barghash’s decision to build country palaces for health reasons.

The shortest war in history and demise of the Sultanate

In 1896, following the death of Sultan Hamid bin Thuwaini, (1893-1896) Seyyid Khalid bin Barghash (son of Barghash), attempted to seize the Sultan’s throne, although the British had already nominated Hamoud bin Mohammed as their own choice of a successor. In response to the opposition, the British bombarded the coastal House of Wonders in what was later to become known as the ‘shortest war in history’. 45 minutes of continuous bombing from the harbour front was enough to convince the meddlesome young hopeful to desist. Despite the affiliations to the British, the Sultan remained the absolute monarch and continued a lifestyle in the traditions of his predecessors – retaining four wives and a huge retinue of concubines and children, requiring his subjects to prostrate themselves in his presence and always having the final word. But Sultan Hamoud, (1902 –1911), was the last to enjoy such an opulent lifestyle before the Sultanate had to undergo dramatic reforms. His successor, Khalifa bin Haroub, (1911-1960), experienced a marked change in the lavish opulence enjoyed by his ancestors during his long reign. Numerous democratic political reforms were introduced to lessen the autonomy of the Sultan, making him the figurehead of a constitution, and at the end of his reign elected Legislative Councils were introduced to deal with state affairs. Such was the demise of last two Sultans of Zanzibar, although neither enjoyed their title for long. Abdullah bin Khalifa, (1960 –1963), suffered cancer and died after just three years, and the last sultan, Jamshid Bin Abdullah, (1963 –1964), was forced to flee his island within months of his coronation. He has since resided in England, receiving a modest annual payment from the British government in accordance with the terms of an earlier agreement which transferred the land rights of the Kenya Coast to them, previously belonging to the Sultan. He remains to this day tucked away in a suburb of Portsmouth, sharing his income among the retinue that accompanied him on his exile and a long way from the extravagant, ostentatious lifestyles of his forefathers.

After the wars

The independent political development of Zanzibar really began after 1956, when six non-governmental members were elected to the Legislative Council.

There were two main political parties. The Zanzibar Nationalist Party, ZNP, had already been had been founded in 1955 as a development of National Party of Subjects of the Sultan of Zanzibar, led by Sheikh Ali Muhsin Barwani, and had rapidly developed from a league of rural African peasants into a radical Arab movement which then failed to earn strong African support. Thus a second party was formed in response to the plight of the ZNP, this was the Afro-Shirazi Party, ASP, led by Abeid Karume, and intended to represent the Shirazis and African majority.

The first elections were held in July 1957, and ASP won 3 of six seats with the rest going to independents. But the party split after the election, and many of its Shirazi supporters left to form the Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party (ZPPP), this time headed by the Shirazi Sheikh Muhammed Shamte. Before the next election in January 1961 the Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party formed a coalition with the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, resulting in a joint deadlock of votes for the ASP and the new coalition. The results remained similar during the elections following the granting of self-government in June 1963. When Zanzibar was officially granted independence from Great Britain on December 19 1963, it was as a constitutional monarchy under the sultan, with the Zanzibar Nationalist Party in power and Shamte at its head.

The Revolution

The supremacy of the Arab minority had begun to pall, and in January 1964 a small band of Africans rose up in a dramatic revolution against the Sultan and Arab domination. The violence was instigated by the cunning leadership of the self-professed ‘Field Marshall’ John Okello, an immigrant labourer from Uganda with a prison record and dubious past, who spread fear in the hearts of his African supporters by telling them tales of how Africans would be enslaved and their children slaughtered by the Arabs after Independence. On January 12th at 3 o’clock in the morning Okello organised his followers to carry out surprise attacks, beginning with a raid on the Police Station armoury led by him and followed by others on the army barracks, the radio station and the jail. The rebels planned to capture and kill the Sultan and certain politicians, and to incarcerate others, but the Sultan succeeded in fleeing the island with his family and a small entourage and, after being refused landing in Mombassa, flew to England from Dar es Salaam. For a while following, the Arab community suffered widespread conflict across the islands, in which an estimated 12,000 were killed, alongside approximately 1,000 Africans, and many fled the islands for their lives.

(Random interesting facts that I can’t find any space for – potentially fit alongside History, after the Revolution, as Farookh Bulsara (aka Freddie Mercury) and his family were forced to leave Zanzibar in 1963 along with many of Shirazi or Indian origin who were considered party to the supremacy of the Sultan. – or with details of Zarathrustra)

Perhaps one of the internationally most renowned ex-citizens of Zanzibar was Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the rock band Queen. Mercury was originally named Farookh Bulsara, and born in Zanzibar in 1946 to parents of Persian origin, who had immigrated to Zanzibar via India.

His family followed the Zorastrian faith, into which he was initiated at the age of eight in the ceremony of Navjote. One of the many underlying beliefs of Zorastrianism is that celibacy and abstinence sap a man’s spirit and make him susceptible to evil. (see more on Zoroastrianism below, p. xxx) The rock star never forgot his Zanzibari roots, and included a very Zanzibari Swahili exclamation in the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody – probably his most famous song – when he calls ‘Bismillah’, meaning ‘In the name of God’. A possibly less known fact about Mr Mercury was his passion for collecting Zanzibari stamps; so great that he developed one of the most comprehensive collections, which, when valued and sold on his death was worth over $3,000,000.)

Okello reigned briefly as Leader of the Revolutionary Government, but was expelled to the mainland soon after, and a new government formed with the ASP, led by Abeid Karume, as president of Zanzibar and chairman of the Revolutionary Council. Three months later, on April 26th 1964, an agreement was made between the leaders of Zanzibar and Tanganyika that the two would be officially joined and named the United Republic of Tanzania with Zanzibar. The country was then renamed the United Republic of Tanzania on October 29th, in an agreement that allowed Zanzibar a great deal of autonomy. The constitution was later rewritten in 1965, and although this officially determined the Republic as a one-party state, there were two. TANU, led by Julius Nyerere, governed mainland Tanzania and former Tanganyika, and in Zanzibar there was still the ASP. In 1977 Nyerere, now President of the Republic, merged TANU with ASP to form the Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party, (CCM, or the Revolutionary Party of Tanzania) as the sole ruling party.

So Abeid Karume became first First Vice President of the union government in 1965, and retained this position until he was assassinated seven years later. As the terms of his office wore on, he was accused of wrongfully detaining a number of influential politicians and businessmen. Many Zanzibaris felt that having come to power without a constitution he was not in a rightful position to negotiate the Union with the mainland, and that they had suffered a drop in living standards since. Karume was succeeded by Aboud Jumbe, also of the ASP and Revolutionary Council. It was over 30 years before any kind of voting rights were resumed, and the first election since the 1964 revolution took place in 1980, in which forty people were nominated to serve in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Jumbe resigned in 1984, and Ali Hassan Mwinyi took his place as President of Zanzibar, and became First Vice President of Tanzania at this time. One year later, in October 1985, Mwinyi was elected President of the United Republic, and Idris Wakil became President of Zanzibar and Vice President of Tanzania. He was succeeded in 1990 as President of Zanzibar by President Salmin Amour.

After a succession of rallies, the constitution was amended. The first multi-party elections were finally sanctioned in 1992, and first undertaken in 1995. The rules for registering political parties decreed that each should have at least 200 members in at least 13 of the 25 regions of Tanzania, to ensure that tribal, religious or ethnic groups would not dominate. On Zanzibar, the already registered Civic United Front (CUF) party headed by Sheikh Shariff Hamad found huge popularity, so great in fact that they gained a minority lead over the ruling party – and a recount was demanded. The recount altered the figures, giving CCM 50.8 % to CUF’s 49.2%, earning them 26 seats at the Zanzibar assembly to 24 CUF seats. CUF boycotted the opening session of the new assembly. Eleven individual international observers monitoring the election declared it a shambles and called for a recount, although this was never carried out, and many international aid development donors, (notably the World Bank and International Monetary Fund), withdrew their funding from the islands in protest. Salmin Amour was installed for a second term, as president of Zanzibar for CCM.

A grudging agreement was eventually reached between CUF and CCM in mid-1999 which aimed to reduce their political conflict. This gave Zanzibar greater autonomy, to suit the pro-separatist CUF supporters, in return for CUF recognising and co-operating with the CCM government.

The lack of international aid assistance could have been incentive enough for the next full-term elections to run more fairly, but the recent elections in October 2000 were equally shambolic. While the electoral process on the mainland took place smoothly and without much altercation, on Zanzibar many of its estimated three quarters of a million voters turned up at their polling station to find it either closed, or open but with no ballot papers. Around 7,000 ballot papers were claimed to have mysteriously ‘disappeared’ from a car when the returning officer stopped to visit a lady friend. Prior to the day of voting, CUF and CCM had each denounced the other for vote-rigging, with the most acute accusations being made by CUF representatives who claimed that the ruling party was furtively drafting voters from the mainland to boost numbers of their supporters on the island. With such extremes of mistrust arising between the parties even before the elections took place, including a number of violent clashes at their pre-election rallies, there was little hope that these elections could run as smoothly as may have been dreamed. In the event, the CUF presidential candidate Seif Shariff Hamad demanded a re-run of the entire election, and found support from the International observers monitoring the democratic procedure. However, the CCM presidential candidate, Amani Abeid Karume, son of the first president of Zanzibar and previously Zanzibar’s minister for Communication and Transport, dismissed cries of foul play as nonsense. With the backing of the CCM ruling party it was decided to simply re-run the elections in the 16 constituencies that suffered voting difficulties. In the final outcome Karume was instated as the new president of Zanzibar (and Vice-President of the union) and CUF publicly declared that they would not acknowledge the government. There have been a number of localised acts of violence since the elections, mainly confined to the island of Pemba, which has always been a CUF stronghold. However, the collective Zanzibari nature is accustomed to waiting, for the sun to rise, the cloves to ripen and the fish to bite. They await the day of justice, and in the meantime the Muslim philosophy of ‘In sh’Allah’ -‘If Allah wills it’- carries them forth with hope for the present president to fulfil his electoral promises to improve their standard of living, and a dream of democracy for their children.

March 5, 2013

The Indian Ocean Islands – West Coast

Filed under: West Coast — Tags: , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 4:38 pm

The West Coast to the north of Stone Town is the main area for industrial and fuel depots, and military bases and government buildings. All of these are regarded as fairly serious business, and it is advisable not to take photographs or wander too closely to any of these properties. But the coast road also wends its way past the ruins of historic palaces and some surprisingly good beaches, and also interesting caverns and caves. The best parts of the West Coast are all accessible on an easy and enjoyable day trip from Stone Town.

Zanzibar West Coast – History

Sultan Said and his sons appreciated the joy of a fine country residence in easy reach of the town, and chose to build palaces beside the sea on this Northern stretch of coast.

About 3km along the coast road you reach the ruins of Maruhubi Palace on the left-hand side. Sultan Barghash built the palace in 1882, to contain his extensive harem, reputed to have been 99 concubines, and one true wife. The sultan was not renowned for his kind heart, and many dramatic rumours concern this palace and grounds in which it is said he spilt the blood of any offending concubine or wife. Stories tell how the autocratic Sultan would pick six concubines at a time, who would all risk death if he was not satisfied by their performance, and then these women would be replaced in order to keep the hareem at the statutory figure of ninety nine. Concubines were also generously put at the disposal of any passing Arab guests, but then would have to be killed so that they would not then bear the fruit of other Arab tribes.

It burned down in 1899, destroying the ornate wooden verandas and craftwork that once surrounded it, and leaving only the supporting stone pillars standing. The Peace Memorial Museum has a photograph of the palace when it was still intact at the end of the 19th century, and it is also published in Historical Zanzibar, Romance of the Ages, which shows a collection of photographs from the Zanzibar Archives.

Since its demise the surviving marble has been stolen from the once fine baths, but both the sultan’s bath and all the women’s cubicles can still be explored. The remaining stone structure gives an eerie sense of what once was, and the extensive mango and coconut palmed groves and wide round water ponds give a sense of the environment in which the concubines and eunuchs once whiled away their days.

A little further north is the less well-preserved ruin of Mtoni Palace, built between 1828-34 for Sultan Said and said to be his favourite of all his residences. This first palace had two floors and several surrounding buildings, including a mosque, bathhouses and an elegant tower that served as an ornate veranda for private meetings and contemplation. Said’s daughter, Princess Salme grew up as a daughter of one of his concubines and describes her childhood at Mtoni in her Memoirs. She describes how the palace was always busy with innumerable staff, visitors, wives and concubines of all nationalities, and the courtyards were home to elegant tame birds such as peacocks, ostriches and flamingos.

Mtoni Palace is now in ruins, since a fire destroyed it in 1914, although for a while the mosque escaped the fire damage and remained in good condition. All this changed when it was used as a warehouse during World War One, and the remains were then cleared to make way for the oil depot. To visit the ruins take the narrow track to the left just before the oil depot.

Soon after Mtoni on the northwards journey brings you to the curiously named small village of Bububu, a quiet, slightly rural coastal region with an exciting number of stories that accompany its peculiar name.

Stories as to why Bububu is called Bububu are fun to relate if only to repeat its monosyllabic name. Some say that the name came about as a result of two boys who lived in the area who were both mute. The name for someone with the affliction of no speech in Swahili is ‘bubu’, and so the name came from the emphasis on both, so Bububu.

A slightly less ridiculous explanation relates to the Bububu railway that ran between 1904 and 1929, covering the seven miles from the edge of the clove plantation to the Old Fort in Stone Town. The locomotive was a steam engine, and it is said the name is an onomatopoeic interpretation of the sound of the chuffing train…Bu-bu-bu-Bu-bu-bu .

However it seems that the name might have been in use even before the steam train, and some suggest the name comes instead from the fresh water spring that bubbles nearby, and from which the majority of the island receive their water supply.

From Bububu a small track leads west and onto a pretty and popular but very unspoilt beach. Here is Fuji Beach and a good place to rest halfway up the coast, or an easy daytrip from Stone Town. A small local restaurant and bar serves inexpensive meals and drinks on the beach.

The road also branches east at Bububu and heads inland to the spice plantations, where the tours take place. About 4km along this road there are old Persian Baths at Kidichi and about 3km further inland some similar but less accessible ruins at Kizimbani. These were built for Sultan Said’s second wife, Binte Irich Mirza, known as Schesade, granddaughter of the Shah of Persia, supposedly at her request for something to remind her of home. Schesade or Sherazade was known to be a strong willed woman who loved game hunting on horseback, and these baths were designed to be visited after just such feisty exercise.

The baths at Kidichi have an underground furnace to heat the floor and water, and the high pointed chambers are beautifully decorated and detailed with a delicate stucco-work showing flowers, palms, dates and birds. Much of the bathhouse has recently been whitewashed in an attempt at restoration. These are now the only remnants of her palace that once stood here, as the rest was built in wood and did not withstand the ravages of time. The baths on Sultan Said’s estate at Kizimbani are very similar in design, but without decoration.

A few kilometres further north is the turning to Mangwapani, and the site of two strange caverns near the beach. To the right hand side of the track lies chilling evidence of the determination of slave-traders to continue in their livelihood after it was made illegal by the British in a treaty with Sultan Barghash in 1845. Here is a deep subterranean stone chamber, its hipped roof just jutting above ground level and broken at the centre by a rough stone entrance. Illegally held slaves were led across a removable bridge and down into the darkness, and then imprisoned by a heavy wooden door overhead. Apparently a path was carved through the coral rock between the chambers and the beach, so that prisoners could be transported to the sea without being seen, but unfortunately this has since been blocked by falling rock.

On the left hand side of the track to Mangwapani there is a path to another cavern, but this is a natural limestone cave and contains a cool, dark pool of fresh spring water. Traditional stories tell how this spring was discovered by a young slave of a wealthy Arab named Hamed bin Salim El-Harthy. The boy was herding his master’s goats when one was lost, and its cries were seemingly coming from under a bush. The boy searched beneath the bush and discovered the cave, which has since provided good water to nearby villagers. The cave is also thought to have spiritual powers, and, along with a number of natural caves around the island, it is used by some as a place to leave offerings to spirits that might dwell there and provide help in times of sickness or need.

Further north, on the road leading up towards Nungwi, another such spring is found in the northeast corner of the ruins of a coral rag house at Mvuleni. These ruins ostensibly date from the sixteenth century, although it is thought that there was a Shirazi settlement here before this time, and the remaining present structure was probably constructed by the Portuguese. The house had simple pointed stone arches and the appearance of a fortified domestic dwelling, with thin gun slits evident in the gatehouse. Across the road at Fukuchani are the remains of a similar construction, although this was almost certainly built over a much older building dating from the 9th century.

The western coast road to the north comes to a natural end at Mkokotoni, before veering around to the Eastern peninsula past the interesting old ruins at Mvuleni and Fukuchani (see below) before reaching Nungwi. Mkokotoni looks out onto Tumbatu Island, an island with a history and a present reputation for its aloof and proud inhabitants who do not much welcome visitors.

There is a long history of grand royal family on Tumbatu Island, but their reign was ended by an untoward attack by piratical Arabs, who later moved south of Tumbatu and quietened down. The ‘Mwana Mwena’ of Tumbatu was traditionally considered Queen of all of northern Zanzibar, but she made a bit of a blunder when she gave the island to the Portuguese and then set off to Goa and became a Christian. She never regained her popularity, even when she came back and tried to smooth things over, and her son took on the rule. The people of the island, known as WaTumbatu, speak their own dialect of Swahili and are famous throughout East Africa for their skill in sailing and navigation. At Makutani, at the south-eastern end of the island, there are ruins of a substantial Shirazi settlement, with remains of a large mosque and houses, thought to have been founded in 1204, by Yusef bin Alawi. In the 13th century an Arab geographer named Yakut travelled to Tumbatu and recorded that the inhabitants were Muslims who had withdrawn to Tumbatu following an attack on them elsewhere. A local chronicler records that a leader of the royal family of Tumbatu, probably Yusef, ruled until the town at Makutani was attacked and destroyed by piratical Arabs and the importance of his reign diminished in the 15th century. But the people did not flee, and started a new settlement on the northern shores of the island. Those wishing to visit Tumbatu Island are obliged to first visit the Mkokotoni police post to obtain a pass, and then find a dhow or boatman to carry you over. The trip can be arranged from the port at Mkokotoni, and due to the reputation of the people of Tumbatu it is advisable to find someone who might be able to make an introduction for you on arrival.

The island of Tumbatu may have been one of the earliest Shirazi settlement in the Zanzibar archipelago, but the people of the island have also traditionally held very strong beliefs in African magic, Shataani. Superstitions concerning boat travel are especially strong, and one enduring belief is that all visitors to Tumbatu should be clean. Men who have not washed their body since sleeping with a woman are not supposed to take a boat, and any woman who has her period is certain to be responsible for the death of all on board if she dares to cross these waters before it is over. While many admit that the intensity of this magic is getting less strong, a dhow that recently overturned and drowned twelve is widely thought to have been as a result of a woman who pretended she was ‘clean’, but lied.

Mkokotoni is a rural fishing village with a bustling market and rows of dusty dukas selling a motley assortment of fruit and random ‘essential’ imported goods. A wide dark beach reaches down beyond the market place and forms a harbour for the dhows and outriggers and their assorted cargoes that pass between here and Tumbatu island.

There are echoes of colonial order and administration as you enter the village through its sleepy police post, and to the eastern side of the market and beach a few grand buildings are dotted in the trees, a legacy of the British station once held here. In 1984, some Chinese coins were found on the beach, themselves a legacy of a much more ancient age of trade between Zanzibar and India, Arabia and China.

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