Zanzibar: The Spice Island in the Sun

By Chase, Hank; Burch, Bob | The New Crisis, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Zanzibar: The Spice Island in the Sun


Chase, Hank, Burch, Bob, The New Crisis


The first word you hear when you arrive at Tanzania is karibu-Swahili for "welcome. "Karibu nyumba-welcome home. For here is the cradle of humanity! Americans proudly measure history in a few centuries, and we are proud of our heritage. Tanzanians measure theirs in millions of years, because this is where renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey found 2-million-yearold Nutcracker Man in the Olduvai Gorge. Two decades later, she discovered footprints at nearby laetoli on the slopes of Sadiman volcano and pushed our origins back another 2 million years. And here, deep in the Rift Valley, surely more bones of our earliest ancestors lie buried. Perhaps these remains will reveal that deep down inside our DNA we are all Tanzanians. Karibu nyumba.

Zanzibar-The Spice Island

Three islands lie in the Indian Ocean near the coast. Pemba and Mafia offer their own special charms-from an abundance of gardens to a fisherman's paradise. But it is Zanzibar that tugs at the traveler's heart. Fewer than a million people live on this archipelago, which is an island state with its own semiautonomous government within the United Republic of Tanzania. For visitors not content with only the safari experience, Zanzibar serves up a different Africa. It was once the commercial center of East Africa and the last place to abolish the slave trade. Ancient ruins and noble Islamic architecture mix with miles of white sand beaches, creating an island paradise.

In 1818, cloves were introduced and flourished in the tropical climate and fertile soil. Over time, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, pepper, and cardamom became popular as well, giving rise to the name "Spice Islands"-synonymous with Zanzibar.

History records that Arabs sailed to Tanzania as early as the eighth century. But it was the Persians who established a foothold in the late 10th century with the arrival of Abi Ben Sultan Haasan. Now renovated, the oldest mosque on the fishing island at Kizimkazi dates from a.d. 1107. Unlike the Arabs, who followed the Shirazi, Persians intermarried with Africans-a union that gave birth to the Swahili tongue, which contains many elements of Arabic Over time, the Muscat Dynasties came to rule these African isles. The Busaid

Dynasty was established in 1832 by Sultan Seyyid Said

from Oman and lasted 130 years. In an era of slavery and piracy, and trade in spice, ivory, and slaves, the wealth of the sultanates was legendary. Tribal rulers brought slaves in battle to Zanzibar, where they were auctioned to Arabs and Europeans alike. But the slave auction was not a prisoner's worst fate. If success in battle led to a glut of captives, the Doe tribe on the mainland north coast had a gruesome habit of eating the slaves. …

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