Sunday, 20 November 2011

Zanzibar - Kwaheri

So, the time has come to say kwaheri (farewell) to Zanzibar.  As usual, it's been a fascinating (virtual) journey and, as usual, I'm left with a burning desire to go and see this part of the world for myself!

A summary of the themes

Outside the blogosphere, I've been incredibly busy recently, so Zanzibar has taken me a bit longer than expected, almost two months in fact!  During that period I have learned about the History of Zanzibar, its connections with Oman and the Arab world and its bloody revolution in the 1960's.  I've also learned about the cultivation of cloves and how this spice made Zanzibar wealthy.  I learned how to cook Octopus and the traditional Zanzibari dish pweza wa nazi.  I learned about Emily Reute, aka Salamah bint Said, the Arabian princess who left Zanzibar and went to live in Germany.  I discovered that Zanzibar is the home of KiSwahili - both the language and culture.  I read Abdulrazak Gurnah's enchanting novel Paradise and I learned about Zanzibar's thriving slave trade, which dominated the East coast of Africa. 
Freddie Mercury by Virginia Mayo Garcia

Other Themes

As usual, there were many other themes that I touched upon during my research into Zanzibar, but didn't have time to explore fully.  I'm listing some of them below, which might be worth looking into, if you have time:

- the life of Freddie Mercury, who grew up in Zanzibar
- the influence of Zoroastrianism on Zanzibari culture
- the ornate doors of Zanzibar
- the practice of swaddling
- the life of Tibbu Tib, East Africa's most notorious slave trader
- the Sufi mystic Rumi
- Dhul-Qarnayn - the 'Green man' of Islam
- Iblis, Shaytan and Islamic interpretations of the Devil
- Sir John Kirk, the Scottish botanist

Still from Road to Zanzibar
As part of my research, I watched a movie called Road to Zanzibar starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.  It was a silly, rambling movie, with a thinly-held together plot and unexplained intervals of song, but I enjoyed the experience of seeing a movie I would otherwise not have bothered with.  It was part of a series of Road to . . . movies starring this trio and some of the scenes from the movie are captivating.  Its depiction of Africa might be considered racist nowadays (ie. a place full of savages), but I guess we have to take it in the context of its era.  It's a movie which has dated and offers little entertainment to a modern audience used to more sophisticated formulae, but I'd imagine it was fairly popular at the time of its release in 1941.

Dinner party trivia

During my research into Zanzibar, I also discovered lots of little tidbits of information, which you can use as dinner party trivia.  I learned that:

- the Chinese sent a diplomatic mission to Zanzibar in the 15th century, which is interesting, as we often assume that China's interest in Africa is a more recent phenomenon
- the leader of Zanzibar was called the Mwinyi Mkuu or 'great lord'
- Dr Livingstone said he was going to Africa to spread civilisation, commerce and Christianity
- Europeans didn't enter the hinterlands of Africa until the mid-19th century, when they 'discovered' Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria.
- An estimated 13,000 people of Arab descent were killed during Zanzibar's 1963 revolution
- the father of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere spent three years studying Economics and History at the University of Edinburgh
- The shortest war in history was fought in 1896 between Zanzibar and Great Britain.  Zanzibar surrendered after just 38 minutes!
- Traditional Swahili beds are high enough for a slave to sleep underneath.
- William Thackeray's cousin, Caroline, spent the last 25 years of her life working in Zanzibar as a schoolmistress
Kirk's Red Colobus by woodlouse
- Kirk's red colobus is an endangered species of monkey.  It was isolated from other primates for a period of 10-15,000 years, which means it has developed unusual features, such as the four stomachs it needs to digest food.  It's called 'poison monkey' in Swahili.
- There are lots of superstitions in Zanzibar related to different animals, such as chameleons, land crabs and plate lizards.
- Zanzibar's stunning white sand beaches are created by parrot fish, who chew up coral and spit it out  as a white dust
- Modern Zanzibar is an incredibly popular destination for honeymooning couples

Taarab - the music of Zanzibar

Another aspect of my research that I didn't have time to blog about is the music of Zanzibar, known as Taarab.  I bought an album of Taarab music, which has provided me with a soundtrack for my blog.  Traditional Taarab music sounds much more like the music of Arabia than the music of Africa and different types of Taarab owe their influences to the music of Egypt, Yemen and India.  After the revolution, more African rhythms and styles were incorporated into the existing repertoires, so that modern Taarab music, like the Swahili language, is an interesting fusion of African, Indian and Arabian cultures.

Taarab is all about the musical clubs, rather than the individuals and a lot of the most famous Taarab groups have been supported by the revolutionary government and provided with an official 'seal of approval'.  This is really apparent in lots of the names, like Ghazzy Musical club and Royal Air Force musical club which show that these groups belong to the official government cultural music clubs.  Women sing Taarab even more frequently than men, but the musicians tend to be exclusively male.  Some of the female ensembles like Sahib El-Arry also function like co-operatives and have vegetable plots which help support the group's members. 

Although Taarab is all about the clubs, rather than the individuals, one notable exception is Bi KiDude, one of the world's oldest singers.  As you will see in the YouTube video below, she certainly has stage presence and, although she's more than 100 years old, her voice seems to be as strong as it ever was.  She's definitely one of Africa's greatest singers and a legend in her own time. 



Up next month, we're moving around the alphabet again from Z to A . . .

Image credits:

The drawing of Freddie Mercury is by a Spanish artist called Virginia Mayo Garcia.  Virginia's artwork can be seen on the Artelista website, where you can also purchase copies of her work.  She has shared this image using the Creative Commons license, as a way of promoting her work. 

The still from the movie Road to Zanzibar is from a photo taken by me. This still is being used to illustrate this blogpost and promote the movie. By publishing this image, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of this image on the Internet or anywhere else. This image is not meant to bring the actors or studio into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blogpost, but is meant to promote the performances of these actors in this movie.

The still shows Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as they sit in the jungle and try to work out the scheming of the two female characters (played by Dorothy Lamour and Una Merkel).

The image of Kirk's Red Colobus is from flickr member woodlouse who is a web editor from Brighton.  You can see more of her images of her photostream
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