Saturday, 17 September 2011

Zanzibar - Mambo, vipi?

We're not travelling terribly far this time, a mere 1500 miles (2400 kilometres) south from Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, to Stone Town on the island of Unguja, aka Zanzibar.  Zanzibar is also, culturally, not that distant from Arabia and it's an interesting place because of its history, the diversity of the people who have called Zanzibar home - Arab, African, Persian, British, Indian and many others.

The Basics

The first thing I've learned about Zanzibar is that it's not one island, but two.  The bigger island is called Unguja and has its capital at Stone Town or Zanzibar city.  The slightly smaller island is called Pemba and has its capital at Chake-Chake. Putting their total land masses together, they are slightly smaller than Luxembourg or Dorset in England and around the same size as Delaware, the second-smallest US state. 

History and Today

Zanzibar has a unique culture and, in more recent history has gravitated towards the African mainland.  The islands joined with their mainland neighbour Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern-day country, Tanzania. 

Zanzibar by Koffiemetkoek
My first impression of Tanzania is that it's an incredibly fascinating and complex place.  The relationship between Zanzibar and the rest of the country seems to be especially tense right now, due to the rival political factions in Zanzibar, ie. those who believe in the Tanzanian union and those who want independence for Zanzibar.

For a long time Zanzibar's history was dominated by the southern Arabian state of Oman.  Zanzibar was at the centre of the thriving Indian ocean slave trade between Africa, Arabia and India.  I guess it was inevitable that the islands would attract the attention of the British, who had interests in nearby Kenya and Uganda.  Whilst the Germans colonised Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi (aka German East Africa), the British established a protectorate over Zanzibar and kept the islands remote from German influence. 

The German colonisation of East Africa was brief and, like German Togoland (see my earlier blog posts about Togo) ended with Germany's defeat in the first World War.  Unlike Togoland, there was no French interest in East Africa, so Britain continued to support the League of Nations mandate and 'protect' Tanganyika until it gained its independence in the 1960's.  I can already see parallels with Togoland in that the Europeanisation of Tanganyika seems to have been less intense than in other parts of Africa and I think this resonates in the modern-day politics of Zanzibar and Tanzania as a whole. 


Photo by Koffiemetkoek
The only thing I knew about Zanzibar before I started researching for this blog was its location and the fact that Freddie Mercury was born there!  Since I've started my research, I see a few other themes emerging, namely the Slave Trade in the Indian ocean, the trade in Cloves, Islam in an East African context, the birth of Swahili and Zoroastrianism.

I've bought a collection of the distinctly Zanzibari Taarab music.  I've also got a few cooking options to choose from, I have two books lined up and I've ordered a couple of movies that were set in Zanzibar. 

I'm sure other themes will emerge as I eat, read, listen, watch and learn about Zanzibar.  I hope you'll join me on my learning journey over the next 4-6 weeks. 

Image credits:

To start us off this time, I've chosen the highlight the photography of flickr member Koffiemetkoek aka Carola, who is from Overijssel in the Netherlands.  You can see more of Carola's photos at her photostream.  Thanks Carola for sharing these images with us, using the Creative Commons license.  

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