"I've seen a lot of the world, A hell of a lot of it!
But there's something special about this island. Something that I haven't met anywhere else. Do you know what is the most familiar sound in Zanzibar?-laughter! Walk through the streets of the little city almost any time of day or night, and you'll hear it. People laughing.
There is a gaiety and good humour about them that is strangely warming to even such a corrugated, corroded and eroded heart as mine and this is the only place that I have hit upon where black and white and every shade in between 'em appear to able to live in complete friendliness and harmony, with no colour bar. It's living proof and a practical demonstration that it can be done.”
― M.M. Kaye, Death in Zanzibar (1958)
Geography and Culture
The Zanzibar Archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean and is composed of many small islands and three larger ones: Unguja (the main island and often simply referred to as ‘Zanzibar’), Pemba Island and Mafia Island . The capital is Zanzibar City, which is located on the main island Unguja and at the heart of which lies the historic Stonetown – a World Heritage Site.
Zanzibar is positioned 6 degrees south of the equator. Summer (Dec-Jan) is usually very hot but cooled by the strong sea breezes on the east coast; the Kaskazi in Kiswahili. The island is usually warm all year round but does know a rainy season in March, April and May.
The climate is generally humid.
Zanzibar is a true melting pot. The first to settle on the island were of Bantu Hadimu and Tumbatu descent, arriving from the African Great Lakes. The close ties to the Indian, Persian and Arab world manifest in a largely mixed population.
Language & Religion
The main spoken language is Kiswahili and many local residents speak English, Arabic and sometimes French and/or Italian.
Zanzibar’s population is almost exclusively Muslim but there remains a small Christian minority and many of the mainland Tanzanians living on Zanzibar are also Christian.
Zanzibar is likely to have been visited by Arabian traders even before the 11th century, but such a bold claim has yet to be definitively proven. What is certain is that until that time, Bantu-speaking peoples from the mainland first travelled across the Zanzibar and Pemba channels. In the 8th century Persian traders first set foot in Zanzibar and Pemba, where they established settlements.
Between the 12th and 15th century the trade ties with Arabia and Persia flourished, leading the archipelago of Zanzibar to become a powerful player in the region. This golden age was interrupted by Portuguese rule in the 16th century, which was first challenged by the British and consequently the Omani Arabs. Early 19th century the Omani Arabs had eliminated all competition and were the sole settlers in Zanzibar, bringing trade back to its high days and focusing primarily on slaves, ivory and spices. The ties between Zanzibar and Oman were so close, that the Sultan relocated his court to Zanzibar from the Persian Gulf.
By mid-19th century, Europe had started to take an interest in East Africa and the slave trade was abolished. Omani rule began to weaken and Zanzibar became independent from Oman yet was still ruled by an Omani sultan under a British protectorate.
Zanzibar acquired independence on 10 December 1963, which was followed by a bloody revolution in which the sultans were overthrown. The ASP, the political force behind the revolution, assumed power and in April 1964 president Abeid Karume signed a declaration of unity with Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania). Both regions were then known as the United Republic of Tanzania.