Magnet of Mystery
By: Andrew Muigai
|Those who have not been to Zanzibar will be
surprised that despite its big name, it is only a small part of
Tanzania. Zanzibar encompasses the main island of Ugunja and its
twin Pemba and several small islets. A shallow channel 37km across
at the nearest point separates it from the African mainland. As the
crow flies, it is 73 km from Dar es Salaam and 219 km from Mombasa
Zanzibar is referred to as the Spice Islands with good reason. The fragrant scents of cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla hung in the warm tropical air. To this day sailors claim that they can recognise the aroma of the islands even when far out at sea. Surely, not even die-hard fans of the Spice Girls can claim anything similar. But the spice business is relatively recent, less than 200 years old. It is the fascinating history of the islands that evokes the image of magic and romance in the minds of visitors.
|The charms of Zanzibar have at one time or
another lured a vast array of adventurers, men-of God, explorers,
traders and conquerors. The diligent time traveler will sight
footprints of Bantu Africans, Phoenicians, Persians, Assyrians,
Sumerians, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Malays, Portuguese, English,
Dutch and Omani Arabs. That is why a visit to Zanzibar leaves a much
more lasting impression than your usual island destination.
The first people to settle on the islands were Bantu Africans from the continental mainland. The assistance of the trade winds eventually brought in Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs from about AD 700. Then commencing early sixteenth century, the Portuguese dominated the East African coast including Zanzibar for nearly 200 years. Sensing the decline of Portugal as a world power Omani Arabs invaded and subdued the Islands. The Omani Sultan was so excited about the prospects of riches from the Islands that he actually relocated here. The magnet was ivory and slaves.
The slave business was thoroughly unwholesome as you can well imagine. Zanzibar was the transit market of slaves coming over from raids in the interior. David Livingstone, the missionary and explorer had traveled extensively in the interior and was greatly offended by the practice and impact of the slave trade. This man-of-God managed to provoke liberal opinion in Britain, which led to action by the Royal Navy. For the sake of humanity, Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890. And for the sake of smooth administration, power was finally transferred to the gentle hands of the King of England in 1913.
As a modern day explorer, Zanzibar welcomes you to peek at the rich heritage whose testimony is in the architecture and culture of its people. The cultural heart of Zanzibar is Stone Town, which is little touched by the hand of time. It is here that the association with “a thousand and one nights” comes alive. You will find narrow winding streets, bazaars, mosques, fortresses and a Persian style public bathhouse.
There are also palaces and grand houses whose magnificent proportions and extravagant decor does justice to the term “oriental splendour”. Remember to pay homage to Dr. Livingstone by visiting the house named after him where he stayed for 3 months in 1866. The Cathedral Church of Christ, on the site of the open slave market, is of historical interest and for the devout is the appropriate place to pray for the souls of those who
perished in the slave trade.
For an all-in view of Zanzibar, a “Spice Tour” is recommended. This will include ruins of palaces and ancient mosques’, a Sultans harem, the Mangapwani slave caves and of course the spice plantations after which Zanzibar takes its trade name. Nature lovers may also want to take in Jozani Forest located 35 km from the city. This area of thick forest is one of the few remaining sanctuaries of the red colobus monkey.
|Zanzibar is after all an island and the
usual delights of a beach destination are available. Break your
sight seeing by relaxing at the brilliant white beaches and soak in
the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The islands have a good number
of well-developed hotels and resorts. There are also plenty of
opportunities for fishing and watersports. Pemba Island has its own
unique attractions and snorkeling and scuba diving are particularly
good here. The Pemba channel across from the main island is reputed
to have some of the best game fishing anywhere in the world.
Mnemba Island, off the north coast of the main
island is very exclusive. Condé Nast Traveller has picked it as one
of the three most romantic ocean destinations in the world. That
super model Naomi Campbell and her beautiful friends have been here
is proof enough for me. I also think the earlier Sultan’s would be
much pleased to know that the Sultan of Software, Bill Gates has
been on holiday in this very island.
About the author: Andrew Muigai is editor of AfricaPoint Insider online newsletter. It is part of Africapoint.com - the Africa travel website that has helped thousands of travelers discover Africa. You can view more info on Tanzania safaris at the website. www.africapoint.com/tours1/tanztour.htm
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