Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers
and explorers to its shores for centuries. The Assyrians,
Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese,
Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English
have all been here 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 (97%) - the remaining 3% is made up of Christians,
Hindus and Sikhs. The earliest visitors to Zanzibar
were Arab traders who are said to have arrived in the
8th century. The earliest building that remains on Zanzibar
is the mosque at Kizimkazi, which dates from 1107, and
is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed
with the monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily
in ivory, slaves and spices. The two main islands,
Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba,
provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs, being
relatively small, and therefore fairly easy to defend.
Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid
dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate
from Muscat to Zanzibar, perhaps making it easier
to protect, where he and his descendants ruled for
over 130 years. Most of the wealth lay in the hands
of the Arab community, who were the main landowners
at that time. They kept themselves to themselves,
and generally did not intermarry with the Africans.
This was not true of the Shirazi
Persians who came from the Middle East to settle on
the East African coast. The story goes that in AD
975, Abi Ben Sultan Hasan of Shiraz in Persia (now
Iran) had a terrible nightmare in which a rat devoured
the foundations of his house. He took this as an omen
that his community was to be devastated. Others in
the Shirazi court ridiculed the notion, but Sultan
Hasan, his family and some followers obviously took
it very seriously and they decided to migrate. They
set out in seven dhows into the Indian Ocean but were
caught in a huge storm and separated. Thus, landfalls
were made at seven different places along the East
African coast, one of which was Zanzibar, and settlements
Widespread intermarriage between
Shirazis and Africans gave rise to a coastal community
with distinctive features, and a language derived
in part from Arabic, which became known as Swahili.
The name Swahili comes from the Arab word sawahil,
which means 'coast'. The Zanzibar descendants of this
group were not greatly involved in the lucrative slave,
spice and ivory trades. Instead, they immersed themselves
mainly in agriculture and fishing. Those Shirazi that
did not intermarry retained their identity as a separate
group. Two smaller communities were also established.
Indian traders arrived in connection with the spice
and ivory trade, and quickly settled as shopkeepers,
traders, skilled artisans and professionals. The British
became involved in missionary and trading activities
in East Africa, and attempting to suppress the slave
trade centred in Zanzibar.
Zanzibar was once one of Africa's most prosperous
countries. The spices that it grew, so desired by
the rest of the world, made it so. The wealth derived
from the spice trade was augmented by the slave trade,
indeed the spices and the slaves went hand-in-hand
as Zanzibar's spice plantations depended on slave
labor, and there are still sad relics of this trade
in human flesh to be found on the island. Furthermore,
Zanzibar was one of the most important ports in Africa.
Goods from Britain docked here
before they moved on to other parts of Africa. No
longer very prosperous in the fiscal sense, the island
has a wealth of historical monuments to visit which
commemorate the African, British and particularly
Arab influences- sultan's palaces, cathedrals, mosques,
fortresses and old colonial houses. "Spice Tours"
are the ideal way to see the island's historic sites
and spice plantations. There is also a sanctuary for
the rare Zanzibar duiker and the red colobus monkey
in the protected Jozani Forest, just twenty-five kilometers
from the town.
FACTS ON ZANZIBAR
Zanzibar is an island partner within the United Republic
of Tanzania, located in the Indian Ocean about 35 km off
the coast of mainland Tanzania at six degrees south of the
Equator. Zanzibar is made up of many islands, the main two
being Unguja (sometimes called Zanzibar) and Pemba. The
highest point is 390 feet above sea level.
The main language is Kiswahili. Even if you only use a few
words whilst you are in Zanzibar you will make many friends.
English is widely spoken and many people also speak Arabic.
Other European languages such as French and Italian are
known by some local people, especially around the tourist
The combined population of Zanzibar including Pemba is approx
About 95% of the local population is Muslim. The remainder
are Hindu or Christian and some with traditional beliefs.
As well as many many mosques, Stone Town hosts an Anglican
and a Catholic Cathedral and a Hindu Temple.
The population of Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with
a rich Swahili culture. Because of religious and cultural
traditions dress code is important, and men and women should
dress appropriately when away from the beach, ie covering
shoulders and legs too below the knees. Beachwear on the
beach is fine, although nude or topless bathing is not tolerated.
When in villages or in Stone Town wearing beach wear would
(and does) cause offence. Try to wear loose-fitting, non-transparent
clothing when in public.
Zanzibari people are generally very warm, open and hospitable,
and your respect for permission before taking photographs
or filming local people is appreciated. Do not take photos
or film at sensitive government sites including the State
House, seaport, airport or military sites. If uncertain,
it is always better to ask.
Public consumption of alcohol is not permissible, except
in hotels and tourist areas, bars and some restaurants,
where it is no problem.
Public displays of affection such as kissing are not customary
and generally considered offensive, unless behind closed
Local customs should respected. Mosques are sacred places
an there is generally no entry to non-Muslims, unless accompanied
by a person of the faith who can show you around except
during the times for congregational prayer, which are five
When offering or accepting things, try and remember to offer
and receive with your right hand. This is the hand which
should also be used for eating.
Zanzibar experiences ideal holiday weather for most of the
year, with the exception of April and May, which are seasonally
subject to the long rains. Short rains can occur in November
but are characterized by short showers, which do not last
The heat of summer is seasonally often
calmed by windy conditions, resulting in pleasant sea breezes,
particularly on the North and East coast. Being near the
equator, the islands are warm all year round but officially
summer and winter peak in December and June respectively.
Zanzibar is blessed with an average of 7-8 hours of sunshine
SUMMER - November to May Hot, some humidity with rains in
November, May and June.
WINTER - June to October Warm with rains in June, otherwise
BEST - December to March and July to October
The unit of local currency is the Tanzania Shilling (TSh).
American dollars in cash or travellers cheques are acceptable
in many places around town. Credit cards are still almost
unknown in Zanzibar, and if you do manage to find a place
to use them there will usually be a surcharge of at least
10%. Bartering about prices is common in Zanzibar marketplaces.
Hotel, restaurant and tour operator prices are generally
Power system is 220-240 volts ac, plugs 13amp usually square
All visitors must have a valid passport and visa to enter
Tanzania. Visa fees vary according to the country you originate
from. Visas can be obtained from Tanzania Diplomatic Representatives
All visitors traveling to Tanzania should have a valid international
certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever.
Anti-malaria medication is recommended
when traveling within East Africa. Anti-malaria tablets
are recommended to be taken a few days prior to arrival,
during your stay and for a short period after returning
Airport departure tax on international flights is to be
paid in Cash Only. In some cases some airlines include the
departure Tax in their ticket price. Please check with your
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