Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous part of the United Republic of Tanzania, in East Africa. Originally settled by Arab and Portuguese traders who visited the region in early times, it was controlled by Omanis in the 18th and 19th centuries. Up until the late 17th Century, it was a centre of the slave trade for the Arab Region. (American slaves came from West Africa and not this region).
The Sultan was forced in 1873, under the threat of a British naval bombardment, to sign an edict which made the sea-borne slave trade illegal, and the slave market in Zanzibar was closed, with the Cathedral Church of Christ erected on the site. But the trade continued, particularly on the mainland. Slaving was illegal, but it existed openly until Britain took over the mainland following their defeat of the Germans in the First World War. Zanzibar became an independent sultanate in December 1963 and a republic after an uprising in January 1964. In April 1964 it joined Tanganyika to form a new republic that was renamed Tanzania in October 1964.
The capital of Zanzibar, Zanzibar City, where we stayed, is located on the island of Unguja, and its historic centre, known as Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site.
On our first afternoon, we strolled around the city and through a fascinating maze of alleyways and narrow streets. We were later to learn that the government had confiscated the buildings when the country of Tanzania was formed, but is now trying to sell them back to the original owners because it can’t afford the maintenance and repairs. Many are falling into ruin and most are just dilapidated. Some still had their elaborate carved doors.
There are a lot of tourist shops that sell the usual stuff, but it was also interesting to look into doorways and see tailors at work, people making things out of wood and doing a varied set of things through which to make a living.
On our second morning, we had a three-hour tour of the old city and learnt more about many of the buildings that we had seen earlier. We visited the Cathedral and saw the memorial to the slaves and walked around the busy spice market. There is a great reluctance on behalf of the local people to be photographed. A few gave us their permission, but mostly we had to be very surreptitious. One little girl proudly showed us her henna decorated hands.
To get around the no alcohol policy of our hotel, we visited the Livingston Cafe (next door) for lunch and in the evening, we went around the beach to the African Club for a cocktail in the Sunset Bar. This building used to be the British Club and only British people and Arabs were admitted – no black Africans! It still has many of the hallmarks of the days of the Raj, but is now open to everyone. We had booked a table at the rooftop restaurant as it looked to have all the merits of a fine dining establishment. Instead, the service was very slow and the food was ordinary. At least, we could buy a glass of wine.
We sent our last two days in Zanzibar at the Blue Ocean Resort on the eastern side of the island. It was very pleasant to be able to sleep in after all the 6:00 am safaris of the previous two weeks. We spent most of our time sorting out photographs. On the way to the resort, we had an interesting visit to a spice plantation. Some of the spices were not familiar to us, although it was was to identify the two big ones that make a major contribution to Zanzibar’s economy – Nutmeg and Cloves.
I’m now in Dar Es Salaam waiting to catch an ungodly early flight tomorrow morning to Johannesburg and then to home via Sydney.