Didem Doğan

Zanzibar, an introduction

The smell of the ocean, a gentle breeze coming from the sea touching the leaves of palm trees, white sands, tides- water pulling away for hundreds of meters making people seem like they are walking in the middle of the sky, water coming again bringing the big ocean waves… Smell of the spices, children saying ‘Jambu’ to you, the sound of the call to prayer coming from the mosques, women walking for kilometres with babies in their hands, old man sitting on banks, Zanzibar is definitely one of the rare places you’ll ever been.

Zanzibar is exotic, not only because it is a tropical island but because it is multicultural. From Arabs to Farsis, from Indians to European colonisers many people cam here, governed these lands, made trade, left their cultural heritage. And this multiculturalism is still alive. When you walk in Stone Town you see the mosques, cathedrals and Hindu temples all together and visit one another at the same place.

First the Arabs came here. In the eighth century they started to move down the Indian sea from Oman and Muscat; they carried ivory, spices, slaves. They brought Islam which is the main religion of today’s Zanzibar, nearly ninety seven percent of the population is Muslim, yet there are also Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. One can see the mosque from the eleventh century. The Sultan of the Al Busaid Dynasty, Sultan Seyyid Said, carries his palace from Oman to Zanzibar in 1832. The second group that comes to the island is the Farsis from Shiraz. Unlike Arabs -who did not mix with the local people- they married African people and thus a new Afro-Shirazi ethnic group emerged. Another smaller community is the Indians who came for trade. The British also came for their missionary purposes in East Africa. The Germans stayed in the mainland across the island and did commerce too. The darkest side of Zanzibar is the slave trade which from 1873 became illegal, though it is said that it continued for a long time. The next period is the British colonial period from 1890 to 1960 when Tanzania gained independence, belonging to Tanzania Zanzibar, today, has an autonomous governance with its own president. Tourism is its main industry.

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