Looking Up In Zanzibar ~ From The Old Africa Album



…a gateway to Africa. Through its portals passed not only slaves, spices and ivory, but also missionaries, explorers and conquerors.

Abdul Sheriff, Professor of History, Dar es Salaam University


In the last of our eight years in East Africa I was taken to Zanzibar as a birthday treat. I can’t imagine a more wonderful gift.  It was the end of October, the beginning of the hot season on the Indian Ocean. But there was an air of quietness too. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s revered first president had just died. He had done his best by his nation while being shunned by western powers. This was because he said things like:

“No nation has the right to make decisions for another nation; no people for another people.”

And: “We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our past – in the traditional society which produced us.”

And: “You cannot develop people. You must allow people to develop themselves.”

And also: “Democracy is not a bottle of Coca-Cola which you can import. Democracy should develop according to that particular country”.

In the days before independence he also told his British rulers: “In Tanganyika we believe that only evil, godless men would make the colour of a man’s skin the criteria for granting him civil rights.”

A man who got right to the point then.

We arrived mid way through the thirty days of national mourning, but even so, and despite being the descendant citizens of the former colonial power in question, we were treated with gracious hospitality as we wandered the shadowy alleys of Stone Town.

Here’s more about the island and Swahili culture from an earlier post:

Zanzibar  – it’s all in the name – the Indian Ocean shores where Arab merchants met with African farmers and created a new people: the Swahili. In the Arabic Kilwa chronicles of the Middle Ages, the word Zanj denotes non-Muslim black people, and the word bar means coast, and the term back then referred to much of the East African seaboard – to wherever the dhow traders seasonally put in to haggle with Bantu farmers for ivory, leopard skins, rhino horn, iron, ambergris and mangrove poles.  These, then,  are the shores of the Sindbad (Sendebada) tales, but today the term ‘coast of the blacks’ survives only in the name of the Zanzibar archipelago (Unguja and Pemba Islands), now part of Tanzania.

These days too, Zanzibar Island, more properly known as Unguja, is seen as the heartland of Swahili culture, and the place where the purest form of KiSwahili is spoken. Once, though, there were many other powerful Swahili centres – independent city states that included Manda, Lamu, Malindi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Sofala far to the south in Mozambique. Such states, with stone towns built of coral rag, began evolving from at least the early 800s CE (Manda),  by which time KiSwahili was already a fully developed language, albeit with many regional forms.

You can see the rest of this post HERE


Roof Squares 19

51 thoughts on “Looking Up In Zanzibar ~ From The Old Africa Album

  1. Some of these photos would make for a great painting.
    ps. we had ( he just recently pass ) a friend who learned to speak Swahili while in the Peace Core years ago.

  2. oh goodness – – you have lived such a richly diverse life Tish. Love visiting and reminiscing with you through these wonderful images and words – and appreciate knowing the origins of the names too – words that echo down the colonial years and in my stamp book and boarding school friends from the African continent!
    ” We Must Run While Others Walk.” – Nyerere’s slogan speaks volumes

    1. I think I need to find out more about him. It’s such a shame that the West threw spanners in his works whenever they could. And thank you so much for your lovely comment, Laura.

  3. Great quotes there Tish, and love the old look to those “old” photos. Can imagine late October somehow, even if that’s when it gets warm, there.

  4. The validity of Zanzibar’s first president’s words is strengthened by the fact that the truth of his words are now obvious and commonly accepted, whereas fifty years ago it was recognized by only a few people with a vision for the future. Great post supported by great photos, Tish!

  5. A place I never got to, though I once wanted to. I fear it’s probably over commercialised now.
    And I love the quote “You cannot develop people. You must allow people to develop themselves.”
    How very true.

      1. There can’t be many places in the world where Debbie hasn’t been! I wouldn’t want to spend that much time in airports and planes though.

      1. Mm. He is definitely beyond a joke. One of Nyerere’s pithy comments went to the effect that as decisions made in Washington were clearly more important than those made in Dar es Salaam, it was only right that Tanzanians should have a vote in the US elections. My own thoughts exactly, although I would tout for a full global vote.

  6. I agree with Laura, Tish. You’ve lived a fascinating life and you remember and pass on so much of it. For those of us unlikely to get to these places or when the places are now very different, it’s a joy to read your remembrances.


  7. I am always amazed by what we see when we take time to look up.
    Lovely buildings: thank you for sharing your memories of Zanzibar; I don’t know much about this part of the world so am glad for the peek.

  8. I always look forward to your African reminisces and photos Tish and you give such an insight to a country that I’m sure is now quite different

    1. Many thanks, Pauline. One of the very excellent things to happen in Zanzibar lately was the current Pres of Tanzania decided to pilot the giving of old age pensions by starting with the island’s elders. Being entrepreneurially minded, the elders apparently used the unexpected bounty to start off small businesses.

      1. I think there’s a general media consensus that good news is not news, and that African good news certainly does not fit with the images of that continent that newspaper owners and their backers prefer to project.

  9. Oh what a treat to be taken here by you. Thank you so much for sharing. Wonderful rooves and fascinating history. Learnt lots today

    1. I’d like to go too. Ages ago Graham was there for 2 years – in Tabora, as a VSO agricultural assistant. He had a v. interesting time too, including accidentally running over a big snake on his little motor bike, and scaring his Tanzanian passenger almost to death as said snake reared up at him.

  10. This post really opened the window to understanding your enthusiasm for Africa. I’ve been reading your posts for years… but somehow, this one gave me a very special taste. Thanks.

    1. I’ve often puzzled over my sense of connection/fascination. It’s a paradox – since by race and culture I cannot be connected. My sister felt the same though when she came to visit us; it rather up-ended her. Maybe it’s got something to do with being at the equator. It affects the nature of one’s apprehension. Of course, being in Israel, you are on the northerly end of Africa’s Great Rift.

      1. I think we have a certain feeling of closeness to both to Asia and Africa because we’re at the crossroads so to speak.

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