Places to visit

Zanzibar: From slavery to luxury holiday resorts  

Centuries ago when the winds of the Indian Ocean blew, Asians made use of the monsoon winds to sail across the Indian Ocean to land on the great Island of Zanzibar, this was around the 12th century.

Zanzibar, derived from the Persian zang-bâr meaning ‘black coast’ is one of Tanzania’s great Islands.

The island, also known as Unguja, offered a convenient trade point that later became a base for traders travelling between the African Great Lakes, Arabian Peninsula, and the Indian subcontinent.

Trade at the coast mainly dealt with gold, ivory, iron, cotton and silk among other items. The island however is also known for its considerably darker historic roots since it was also a trading point for slavery.

From the earliest times, slaves were one of the many commodities exported from Africa to Arabia, Persia, India and beyond. In the 18th century however the demand increased considerably and Arab trading caravans from Zanzibar penetrated Africa in search of slaves.

Of all the forms of economic activity on this Island, slavery was the most profitable.

The people

Zanzibar was settled by Bantu-speakers at the outset of the first millennium. Archaeological finds at Fukuchani, on the north-west coast of Zanzibar, indicate a settled agricultural and fishing community from the 6th century.

Houses of the island’s inhabitants were originally built with timber and later in mud with coral walls. By the 13th century, houses were built with stone, and bonded with mud, and the 14th century saw the use of lime to bond stone.

Only the wealthier patricians would have stone and lime built houses. The strength of the materials allowing for flat roofs, while the majority of the population lived in single-story thatch.

History

Vasco da Gama’s visit in 1499 marked the beginning of European influence. The Portuguese explorer became the first known European to reach the African Great Lakes coast. It was in 1505 that the Portuguese captured the island of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire when Captain Ruy Lourenço Ravasco Marques demanded and received tribute from the sultan in exchange for peace.

The island remained a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries. Their rule lasted until the early 18th century when Arabs from Oman established a foothold in the region.

Backed by Omani Arabs, the native coastal occupants succeeded in driving out the Portuguese.

In 1698, Zanzibar became part of the overseas holdings of Oman, falling under the control of the Sultan of Oman.

Omani Sultan Seyyid Said moved his capital to Zanzibar City in 1840. He focused on the island and developed trade routes that stretched as far as Lake Tanganyika and Central Africa.

In 1890, Zanzibar became a British protectorate. The death of one sultan and the succession of another of whom the British did not approve later led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War, also known as the shortest war in history.

The island later gained independence from Britain in December of 1963.

The safari Blue Island

Zanzibar’s unwavering beauty has always been the one part that has turned it into an outstanding island.

In 1856, British explorer Richard Francis Burton described it as ‘Earth, sea and sky, all seemed wrapped in a soft and sensuous repose...The sea of purist sapphire, which had not parted with its blue rays to the atmosphere...lay looking...under a blaze of sunshine which touched every object with a dull burnish of gold.’

Call it magical but the Island has swept many off their feet. Zanzibar has become synonymous with glamour, its white sandy beaches and green-blue waters have won the hearts of many. To date it’s still regarded as one of East Africa’s top destination.