Zanzibar is an archipelago made up of Unguja and Pemba Islands, and several islets. It is located in the Indian Ocean, about 25 miles from the Tanzanian coast. Generally tourism concentrates in Unguja, where there is the capital Stone Town. The island spreads 90 km from Ras Nungwi, a fishing village on the northern tip of Zanzibar, to Ras Kizimkazi in the south. Its width is about 40 km.
Zanzibar is a tropical paradise with brilliant white beaches lapped by turquoise water, but also a country with an original culture, resulting from the combination of disparate elements of different cultures and populations that have taken possession of the territory both for its strategic position off the East Coast of Africa, and because of its fresh water, fertile soils and temperate climate.
The first conquerors were the Persians, who joining the local indigenous population originated the Swahili culture, then strongly influenced by the Muslim culture.
After the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope and the route for India, the Portuguese conquered the east african coasts, Zanzibar included. Under the Portuguese empire cities and trade slowly declined.
Portuguese domination ended in 1652, when Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. The Omani Arabs came and conquered Stone Town, they rebuilt the city and developed the commerce through the slave trade.
In 1811 the famous Sultan Seyyid bin Said inaugurated the largest slave market in Zanzibar, where in 60 years over than one million human beings were sold in order to provide labour to the European spice plantations in the Indian Ocean. By the mid 19th century, the archipelago became the world's largest slaving warehouse.
At the same time he introduced cultivation of cloves and intensified the foreign trade with the West world. Zanzibar became the departing place for the European explorers on the discovery of Africa, such as Livingstone and Stanley, who contributed to the suppression of slavery.
Political disorder, natural disasters and diseases caused a big slump in the island, so that in 1890, during the European partition of Africa, control came into the hands of the British Empire and Zanzibar was declared a Protectorate of Britain.
After the Second War World, the discontent towards the political power of Arabs and English and towards the economic power of Indians grew more and more, so that Zanzibar got the independence after a blitz revolution in 1964 and the Republic of Zanzibar was established. The new government was ruled by Abeid Amani Karume, the leader of ASP the nationalist African party, inspired by the left wing political thought.
The economic consequences of independence were nevertheless negative, and Karume had to accept the union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964. Nyerere became the first president of Tanzania. Zanzibar kept part of its independence, its president, its constitution and its judicial system.
The economic policy of the island passed from nationalization of properties – introduced by Karume to create plantations for public running – to liberalization wanted by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, a more tolerant and democratic politician. Foreign investors were attracted by the policy of the President Salmin Amour, but in 1995 during the first multi-parties elections tension between the two main parties CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, Revolution Party) and the CUF (Civic United Front) peaked; the economic aids were stopped and Amnesty International took part in defence of the activists accused of high treason.
In spite of renewed efforts at dialogue, the political elections of 2000 took place in an atmosphere of tension.
In October 2001 the CCM and CUF have restored a tenuous peace with the Muafaka Treaty.
Music is very important in Zanzibar, and you can understand it through the commotion you see in the eyes of a Zanzibari, when he listens to his favourite song. Several music genres are played with typical African instruments. The traditional music with percussions and voice is called Ngoma ya Kiasili - literally music from the past - and it is played during important personal celebrations such as weddings, births and magic. A kind of Ngoma that can be danced is the Chakatcha.
Special percussions dumbak together with violin are played in the Kidumbak during parties.
Taarab music was born in the East Coast of Africa. Characteristic are its sounds that remind the Arabic world. The solo voice is typically feminine and accompanied by a great orchestra with violins, cellos, Arabic lutes, Egyptian zithers, clarinets and percussions.
The traditional Culture Taarab by Bi Kidude has been followed by the Modern Taarab, with electric guitar and synth.
Jazz music is played by a large orchestras, nearly twenty persons on stage, and its rhythm makes the people dance.
And then there is the Bongo Fleva, Hip Hop music in Swahili version, which is driving crazy the young generation in East Africa. In the discos it is the new trend together with the Raggeaton.
Every genre is characterised by a specific rhythm and movements connected to the African tradition. It worth to be seen and to be danced!