Last weekend, a group of friends and I went to explore Tanzania’s famous semi-autonomous region: the beautiful island of Zanzibar.
A brief background and history: As early as the 1st century AD, Zanzibar was a trading post between Africa, Arabia and India. It fell under Portuguese rule in the 16th century but in the 17th century was controlled by the Sultanate of Oman. Arab rule brought the rise of spice plantations and another, more malicious trade — by the 19th century Zanzibar had become the largest slave market in East Africa, with as many as 50,000 slaves passing through the port each year. The United Kingdom sought to end the slave trade, and in 1896, they fought the Zanzibar Sultanate in what is considered the shortest war in history (lasting all of 38 minutes), establishing an era of British rule. The year after, Zanzibar abolished slavery — 32 years after its abolition in the US with the 13th Amendment. Zanzibar gained a short-lived independence under the Sultan again in 1963, which quickly gave way to the bloody Zanzibar Revolution, in which African insurgents overthrew the Arab government. Thousands were killed, and in the face of the resulting instability and aftermath, the new president Abeid Karume agreed to unite the island with the mainland colony of Tanganyika. So, in April of 1964, the modern republic was formed (hence, Tan-Zan-ia). But Zanzibar’s semi-autonomous status remains an issue to this day — just earlier this month, a new Tanzanian draft constitution was unveiled suggesting a three-tiered government with separate Presidents and parliaments for the mainland, Zanzibar, and the union. More on modern Tanzanian history later!
Zanzibar is a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland on a good day. Over 99% of the island’s population is Muslim (compared with 35% in Tanzania as a whole) and it clearly has its own culture and feel. It is a gorgeous place to vacation and travelers come from all over the world to visit its pristine beaches (particularly on honeymoon!). I cannot recommend it enough — will let photos do the rest of the talking.
[Scenes of Zanzibar: Stone Town alleys, bustling markets, port and fortress]
[The gorgeous Mtoni Palace Ruins; a Friday night must featuring traditional taarab music, a historical tour and delicious home-cooked feast at the site of the old Omani Sultanate’s palace]
[Markets galore: cotton khanga cloth, dhow boat paintings, mancala games, henna tattoos, fresh green oranges, dried octopus and fresh coconuts]
[The endangered Aldabra giant tortoises of Prison Island]
[Utterly pristine beaches]
[A fantastic weekend with friends!]