ZANZIBAR | THE HEART OF THE SPICE ISLANDS
ZANZIBAR | THE HEART OF THE SPICE ISLANDS
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.
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. 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. 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.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT ZANZIBAR
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 areas.
The combined population of Zanzibar including Pemba is approx 1,000,000.
SUMMER – November to May Hot, some humidity with some rains in November, May and June.
WINTER – June to October Warm with rains in June, otherwise sunny.
BEST – December to March and July to October
Power system is 220-240 volts AC. Plugs 13amp usually square pin.
Note that Zanzibar has a history of power cuts. Red Monkey Lodge has a backup generator to ensure the water supply and the cooling for food/drink items but in case of prolonged blackouts we don’t run the generator 24 hours.
3 hours ahead of GMT
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. Please behave respectfully towards the local culture and avoid showing drunk behaviour, walking through the village in bikinis, and during Ramadam avoid eating/drinking/smoking in public places.
The unit of local currency is the Tanzania Shilling (TSh). However, USD, Euro in cash are usually accepted. For using credit cards there is usually a surcharge of 5-10%. Negotiating prices is common in Zanzibar although Hotel, restaurant and tour operator prices are generally fixed. Please note that ATM machines can only be found in Stone Town and that the best exchange rates are also found in the capital.
A variety of locally produced crafts can be found in the shops and bazaars of Stone Town. Buying such goods benefits the local community so we encourage you to look out for such goodies.
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.