Zanzibar


ZANZIBAR

Pure blue waters, breaking surf, romantic dhows with curved white sails landing on pristine white beaches, veiled women, ancient ruins and exotic spices take you back hundreds of years. Zanzibar (from the Persian Zendji-Bar meaning ‘land of blacks’) comprises of the main island of Unguja (also known as Zanzibar); the island of Pemba, which is located about 50 kilometres north of Unguja and famed for its deep-sea fishing and scuba-diving; and a number of smaller islands. As ninety per cent of the population is Muslim, visitors here are advised to dress modestly in public places. Zanzibar is warm almost all the year round with heavy rains from March to May and lesser rains during October and November. Zanzibar is known throughout the world as the jewel of the Indian Ocean and has a romantic, colourful history of seafarers and explorers, of riches and tragedy, and the dark stain of slavery which over the centuries attracted Sumerians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Chinese and Malays. The great explorers, Burton, Speke, Livingstone and Krapf continued their journeys from these shores.

The city of Zanzibar consists of Stone Town and Ngambo. Walking the narrow twisted streets of Stone Town with houses with pure white walls and stunning carved doors, with ornate latticework on balconies is a must do activity. The houses are over 150 years old and are constructed from the island’s coral stone. Built by Arab and Indian merchants, in the 19th century, this is the only functioning historical city in East Africa and is a reminder of the not too distant a past. The slave trade in Zanzibar accounted for nearly 200,000 slaves that were sold to the world and the ¬†Anglican Church of Christ stands on the site of the old slave market – the altar occupying the spot where the whipping block used to be.

The people of Tanzania are share a cultural diversity. With a population of over 26 million with 120 African ethnic groups, none of which represent more than 10 per cent of the population, the Sukuma representing the largest group live in the north-western part of the country, south of Lake Victoria. They are fairly commercial oriented and have prospered with a mix of cotton farming and cattle herding. The Hadzapi of northern Tanzania have built a society based on hunting and gathering food, while the Iraqw live in the central highlands of Mbulu and are known for their statuesque, immobile posture and sharply delineated features. They grow their own food and tend cattle. The Masaai, who are perhaps the most well known of East Africa’s ethnic groups, are pastoralists whose livelihood and culture is based on the rearing of cattle, which are used to determine social status and wealth. They dominate northern Tanzania but only occupy a fraction of their former grazing grounds in the north, much of which they now share with national parks and other protected areas. They are easily recognised by their single red or blue garments and their ochre covered bodies. North of the Masaai steppe, on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, live the Chagga, who farm the mountain side. Through cooperative farming they have achieved a fair standard of living. The Gogo live near Dodoma and have developed slowly due to lack of water. The formerly warlike Hehe live in Iringa District’s highland grasses. The Makonde are internationally famous for their intricate wood (ebony) carvings (sold over much of East Africa). They live along the coast on the Makonde plateau and their relative isolation has resulted in a high degree of ethnic self-awareness. The Nyamwezi, whose name translates into “People of the Moon”, were probably so called because of their location in the west. The Nyamwezi, now cultivators, were once great traders. The 19th century European explorers regarded them the most powerful group in the interior. The Haya, located along the shores of Lake Victoria, to the north-west of the Nyamwezi, grew and traded coffee long before the arrival of the Europeans and today have established tea and coffee processing plants. Haya women produce excellent handicrafts. In an area of forest and bush live the Ha who retain a deep belief in the mystical. They live in relative solitude with their long-horned cattle and wearing hides or fibres of bark. They are well known for their artistic expression, especially their dances and celebrations. The reason for the relative harmony between the various ethnic groups is that virtually everyone speaks Swahili in addition to their native tongue.

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