Zanzibar Island is an archipelago made up of Unguja (Zanzibar) and Pemba Island and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 40 km from the Tanzanian coast and 6° south of the equator. The island is 96 km long and 32 km wide. Zanzibar is a province of Tanzania.
The island has played a part in local history out of all proportion to its size. The reason is its easy access to traders and adventurers exploring down the east coast of Africa from Arabia. The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English have all been there at one time or another. Some, particularly, the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly Islamic (95%), the remaining 5% is made up of Christians.
In the 19th century, Zanzibar's sultanate controlled East Africa's major slave and ivory routes. Caravans started out from Bagamoyo on the mainland coast, travelling as much as 1,000 miles on foot as far as Lake Tanganyika, buying slaves from local rulers on the way, or, more cheaply, simply capturing them. The slaves were chained together and used to carried ivory back to Bagamoyo. The name Bagamoyo means 'lay down your heart' because it was here that slaves would abandon hope of freedom. Slaves who survived the long trek from the interior were crammed into dhows bound for Zanzibar, and paraded for sale like cattle in the Slave Market. The long road to the abolition of the slave trade started in 1920, but it took almost 100 years before this came to reality.
For pragmatic reasons Zanzibar became the starting point of all expeditions into the main land. Most followed the long established caravan routes. Burton, Speke, Grant, Livingstone and Stanley all started their expeditions with the help of the Sultanate and penetrated the mainland via Bagamoyo and Kilwa.
Fishing and agriculture are the main economic activities of the local people. Zanzibar was once the world’s largest producer of cloves. Although cloves are still a major export along with coconut products and spices, tourism is developing each year.
Zanzibar has beautiful sandy beaches with coral reefs and the magic of historic Stone Town. The beaches in Zanzibar are a paradise, interspersed with picturesque fishing villages where the people live a simple way of life, unchanged over the years.
Swahili: Swahili is the most extensively spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa. Swahili is an amalgamation of Arabic and several Bantu languages and is thought to be derived from Arabic for the word 'coast'. Moreover it has its roots in Zanzibar, historically the largest Arabic settlement on the East African coast. As such, the purest Swahili is said to be spoken in Zanzibar, and there is a well-known Institute of Swahili studies on Zanzibar island.
Spice Island: The spices were brought into Zanibar by the Sultans of Oman and since the 16th century, they were an important commodity on the trade routes. Zanzibar was once the world’s largest producer of cloves.Today you can visit the plantations and find cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, ylang-ylang, and cardamom.
The Carved Doors: A real treasure of Zanzibar, anywhere you look at, you can find this wonderfully carved doors. You can see old and new doors, little and huge. Take your time and wonder around and, if you dare, cross the doors and meet the people inside; they are friendly and helpful. Indian and Arabic influence can both be seen in these ornately carved wooden doors. Each door is unique and was meant to reflect the socio-economic status and religious beliefs of the house or store owner. Some doors have koranic verses on them, some others with brass ornamentation were imported from India. One of the most impressive doors is one of gigantic proportions that serves as the entrance to the Sultan's Palace (now a museum). It has impressive brass spokes in it and distinctly Indian in design.
Traditional Zanzibar Beds: Traditional Zanzibar beds are essentially very large 4 poster/canopy beds. The canopy holds your mosquito net (essential), where it can be pulled back during the day. The head board and foot board are very high and have decorative panels. Most of the panels have paintings of simple objects like fruit. These beds are truly original and it's reasonable to assume that they are from Omani origin. Today the Zanzibar beds are part of the typical Zanzibar style used in most of the accommodation on the island.
Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey: One of Africa's rarest primates, the Zanzibar red colobus may number only about 1500. Isolated on this island for at least 1,000 years, the Zanzibar red colobus is recognized as a distinct species, with different coat patterns, calls and food habits of colobus species on the mainland. Today it has become the symbol of conservation in Zanzibar!
The beaches: The beaches in Zanzibar are a paradise, interspersed with picturesque fishing villages, where the people live a simple way of life, unchanged over the years. There are more than 25 fantastic beaches in Zanzibar, and some are so peaceful and remote that the only noise breaking the silence is likely to be the ocean.
The seaweeds fisherwomen: A harvest in the ocean... it is a new source of wealth for Zanzibar. Sea weeds are grown well all around the coast of Zanzibar with the exception of some area where there is cold water from rivers and result in lack of enough salinity for sea weed to grow. After having been picked up, cleaned and dried, the seaweeds are exported to Japan and Europe in order to be used as jellifying and emulsifying agent. In the clear waters of Zanzibar archipelago, seaweeds open out like flowers.
The dhows: The traditional dhows became the maritime symbol of East Africa. The art of sailing was allready known for two millenia to the east Africans. The main dhow building centre was at the north coast of Zanzibar Island, where the teak forests were. In Stone town you can book an one-day cruise at a dhow, visiting a sandbank, a reef and two islands. Also common are the 8 M long mashua dhows, that shuttle between Zanzibar and the mainland.
Ngalawa: At the beaches of Zanzibar you will see a lot of the traditional dug-out canoes with outriggers to balance the canoe, the so-called ngalawa. This type of canoes is used by the by the Swahili fishermen allready for centuries.
Tinga Tinga: Widely available in Zanzibar, Tinga Tinga paintings are becoming well-known in the Isles and mainland Tanzania. Tinga tinga paintings have been named according to Edward Said Tinga Tinga (1937-1972). He was born in Mozambique, but during the 1960s he established an art form that became associated with his new homeland, Tanzania. Today, "Tingatinga" is the Tanzanian term for this form of art, known mostly around the world.
Over the years, knowledge about Tingatinga has spread to other parts of Africa and Europe, as well as to other English-speaking parts of the world. Tingatinga is a concept that development assistance workers and African tourists alike have been drawn to, but which, over time, has lost its uniqueness.