Zanzibar (loosely translates to “Land of blacks” in Arabic), affectionately known as Spice Island, is a semi-autonomous region of the United Republic of Tanzania (“Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania” in Swahili). It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago some 25 – 50 kilometers off the coast of mainland Tanzania. It consists of many small islands and two large ones; Unguja (the main island, erroneously referred to as Zanzibar), and Pemba island.
Zanzibar is rich in history, the discovery of microliths suggest that Zanzibar has been home to humans for at least 20,000 years, which is the beginning of the later stone age. It is believed that the Bantu-speaking communities were first settlers at the outset of the 1st millennium. However, it is also believed that traders from Asia visited Zanzibar for at least 900 years prior to these settlers arrival.
Trade is an intrinsic part of the islands culture and has shaped its history for millennia, however, an association with slave trade gave the archipelago a more sinister reputation.
There is evidence of limited engagement in long-distance trade, but similarities in contemporary sites indicate the coastal towns had been engaged in Indian Ocean and inland African trade at this early period. Trade rapidly increased in importance and quantity beginning in the mid – 8th century CE and by the close of the 10th century CE, Zanzibar was one of the central Swahili trading towns.
Persian, Indian, and Arab traders used Zanzibar as a base for voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa. Unguja, the larger Island, provided a protected and defensible harbor.
During the medieval ages, Zanzibar and other settlements on Swahili coast were advanced. These towns grew in wealth as the Swahili people served as intermediaries. This interaction attributed, in part, to the evolution of the Swahili culture, which developed its own written language. Although a Bantu language, the Swahili language as a consequence today includes some elements that were borrowed from other civilizations, particularly loan words from Arabic.
In 1498, Portuguese arrived in East Africa and ruled over Zanzibar for 200 years with the aid of tributary Sultans. This system lasted until 1631 when the Sultan of Mombasa massacred Portuguese inhabitants. For the remainder of their rule, the Portuguese appointed European governors. However, diminished trade and local power led to the Swahili elites in Mombasa and Zanzibar inviting Omani aristocrats to assist them in driving out the Europeans.
In 1698, Zanzibar came under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman. Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British empire, greatly influenced by the 19th century movement for abolition of slave trade orchestrated by the British. In 1890, Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain after the 1890 Heligoland – Zanzibar treaty. This status meant it continued to be under sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar.
On December 1963, the protectorate that existed over Zanzibar was terminated by the United Kingdom. Just a month later, on January 1964, Sultan Jamshid Bin Abdullah was deposed during the Zanzibar revolution. In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika. This united Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.
1. The island is home to the almost extinct Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey, the Zanzibar Servaline Genet, the endangered Aldabra giant tortoise that have found sanctuary in Prison island, once a prison for errant slaves just about 5.6 km off the coast of Unguja, and the Zanzibar leopard.
2. Capital of Zanzibar is called Zanzibar city and not Stone town – Zanzibar city’s famous historic quarter.
3. Apart from tourism, the other economic activity in Zanzibar is spice growing hence fondly referred to as Spice island.
4. The shortest war ever recorded in history is the Anglo-Zanzibar war in which, amazingly, a cease fire was called after 38 minutes.
5. Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the band Queen, was born in Zanzibar in 1946. His birth name was, Farouk Bulsara.
6. Zanzibar was the first country in Africa to introduce color television in 1973.
7. Zanzibar is a prime dive destination with living reefs surrounding the islands. The water temperature is warm, visibility is usually excellent, and there’s an abundance of colorful fish.
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