After a long bus journey from Usambara Mountains to Dar es Salaam, we had one fitful night sleep in the oppressive heat before heading to Zanzibar. We camped along the beach in the largest city in East Africa with a population of roughly 6 million people.
The island of Zanzibar is a two hour ferry ride from Dar es Salaam. It was once its own country, but joined Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964. It is 98% Muslim, not surprising given its close geographical location to the Arabian Peninsula. There are 50 mosques in Stone Town alone.
Zanzibar is known as “spice island,” as it was the main trading hub for spices, ivory, and slaves. Currently, the government runs the spice trade and dictates what farmers can grow. Cloves are the most profitable spice, but unfortunately the government takes all of the profits for it.
Zanzibar was previously a Portuguese colony, but given the slave trade, it is a conglomerate of many different ethnicities and influences from Arabic to Italian to African. There are 1.6 million people that live on the archipelago of 50 islands. At one time, the Sultan of Oman lived in Zanzibar at the peak of the slave trade.
We had two days in Stone Town and two days along the northern beaches.
Stone Town had very interesting architecture and narrow alleyways filled with shops and restaurants.
The famous mint green building across from the main port in Stone Town is the dispensary, built by a wealthy Indian merchant.
The House of Wonders boasts the largest carved doors in East Africa.
We stopped at the hamams, or Turkish baths. The baths were introduced by the Sultans in the 19th century.
The most influential stop in Stone Town was the Former Slave Market now turned into a museum. The information and photographs in the museum were very informative and we learned quite a bit. In the 19th century, ivory was in high demand in both Europe and the United States. The slave trade expanded to meet the needs of the growing industry. It is estimated that five Africans died or were enslaved for every tusk that reached the coast. The United States was unfortunately Zanzibar’s largest ivory exporter, with up to 75% making its way to Connecticut. Muscat and the Persian Gulf procured large numbers of slaves from Zanzibar. Slavery was abolished in East Africa in 1873, but it still persisted in Zanzibar until 1909. Ironically, it was Britain who led the abolition movement although it was the country that initiated the Atlantic slave trading system. Although the slavery became illegal in 1873, it wasn’t until 1909 that concubines were given freedom. Although slavery is illegal, there is still modern day slavery today around the world. There are more slaves today than during the entire African salve trade with 21 to 36 million estimated people in slavery today. Sixty one percent of those in modern day slavery are in India, China, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan with 26% of slaves under the age of 18. The facts are incredibly sobering.