Zanzibar Island Local Customs

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    by DAO
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    by DAO

Most Recent Local Customs in Zanzibar Island

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    UNGUJA

    by DAO Updated Feb 11, 2008

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    Unguja is the ‘Official’ name of Zanzibar. I am sure that somewhere on an administrative map this beautiful island is labelled with this hideous name. Forget it. The whole world calls it Zanzibar, especially the local people. Just take a look at some of my pictures. ZANZIBAR. Come on, say it with me. This complaint of mine should almost be in the ‘Annoyance’ category. Please do not use the official name trying to fit in here. Zanzibar. Just saying it relaxes you. Beside, this tip is another excuse to post 5 great pictures of the island.

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    THE 'BEACH BOYS'

    by DAO Updated Feb 11, 2008

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    PROTECTING THE INNOCENT

    Street Touts are often called ‘Beach Boys’ even when they are 40-50 years old. The local name for them is ‘Papasi’ the Swahili word for ticks. So what do they want? Most are friendly, definitely persistent and can be downright helpful sometimes. They will approach you just about anywhere. If you truly do not want any service of any kind, then be prepared. Here is what services they provide:

    • Tour of Stone Town
    • Other tours (Jozani Forrest, Spice Tour, Prison Island, etc.)
    • Souvenir shops/crafts
    • Taxi
    • Hotel
    • Help with bags
    • Directions to a specific place (they walk you there)

    Be polite. If you tell them ‘I already have’ and list several of the items above, they start to realise that you know how things work. I ‘hired’ one, or he hired me and I paid $7 for a 2 hour tour of Stone Town. I was shown everything and had a fascinating explanation of local life. They work on a commission. So if you go to ‘my brother’s shop’ and you buy something they get paid a small amount by the shop owner later. Always keep some small coins on hand. If you get lost or really need help you be able to give them a small reward for their assistance.

    If you are here for a short period of time or just off a cruise ship, size them up first. Persistent, but polite is ok

    On the other hand.

    I did have an older one who kept talking to me in a bar. I am pretty sure he had a substance and/or mental health issue. The next day he saw me and was convinced that I had agreed to pay him for a tour of Stone Town. I had done this with another Beach Boy 2 days before. I even tried to hide in a shop who told me the obvious problem with our little friend. I ended up having to have a security guard running him away. Other than that episode I had good relations with these guys and they would always shout ‘Jambo’ at me when I was out and about.

    Please note: This tip is also on the ‘Warnings' page just because of one strange man.

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    Cover up and kissing

    by eli034 Written May 18, 2007

    98% of the population at Zanzibar is muslims. This means that you have to show respect to the religion and the people living here. Cover your shoulders and dont walk around in mini shirts. You should know that even kissing is nearly forbidden. The imam has made a proposal to make a law which forbid kissing in public.

    When you go out of Stone Town its the same rules, but if you are going to the beach you can of course wear bikini and beach clothes, but dont go around in the village like you go to the beach. I have seen bad examples in my "own" small village, Michemvi. This village are a new tourist target and not used to foreigners. One day I saw a lot of italians walking around in the village with bikinis with nearly nothing to cover. This is not nice. So try to take care. Remember your a guest in their culture.

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    Be respectful and patient !

    by maharaja_joe Updated Mar 29, 2007

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    It is always annoying to see foriegners looking down upon the locals or patronizing them. East Africans are very particular about showing respect, and this is more so among the Zanzibarians. Here are a few tips to get the locals to like you:

    Asking for something: If you are asking a local Zanzibarian for directions, please start off by greeting him/her with hello or Salaama. Most of the locals, especially in Stone Town, speak English. Ask them how they are doing either in English or Swahili. Lonely Planet or any other guide book has a few pages of basic Swahili words. Even the minutest attempt to learn swahili will be appreciated by the locals. Then ask them for whatever you want. While thanking them, you can say thanks or Asante Sana (thanks a lot).

    Showing respect is more important in the rural parts. On a bicycle ride from Kizimkazi to Uzi, the local people sitting under the trees would stare at me as I bicycled toward them. Their body language would change the instant I smiled and yelled "Salama". There would be smiles as they yelled Salama in return. Arab culture dictates that the person passing by should be the first one to greet.

    Touts: The local touts, called papasi in swahili, are a friendly bunch. When you say no, please do it with a smile on your face. The touts in Zanzibar are nothing compared to some in other parts of the world ... if you dont believe me, try the ones in India :) Infact, I miss the all-too-familiar "Ooooye Rafiki"

    Dress Code: Its best to dress conservatively if you want to get along well with the locals. This is especially true for women. Try to cover your elbows and knees. This can be quite challenging in the hot and humid Zanzibarian weather. For guys, please try to cover your knees too. Africans in general are quite well dressed, and looks matter to them.

    Most importantly, you are in Zanzibar to chill out .. enjoy the experience, and let the locals help you do it. Sorry for the long tip, but I felt this was important.

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    Do the dress

    by kixon Updated Jan 7, 2007

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    When me and my sister were walking with my mother on the streets, dressed in a normal tshirt, shorts/skirt men were staring at us. First of we weren't accompanied by a man and second of all we were not wearing long sleeves or long skirts. It is their culture that all women should not be seen without a man and they should at all times outside the house waer the burka, like almost all muslimwomen do. I even had my shoulders bare which they looked at very disapprovingly. Some men even followed us for some quarters. So do think about what you are wearing. It's very very very hot in zanzibar around december so you need to find a long sleeved shirt, lika a tunika, but very very thin, and same goes for the skirt.

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    English Lesson

    by Waxbag Written Nov 19, 2005

    Every night eager young students look to practice their English with the tourists at the waterfront. One night we were approached by a group of boys. They politely asked us our names and if we would talk with them for a few minutes. They were especially enthusiastic about speaking with us as they long to speak with the American accent they hear in the movies. They were very interested in our culture and why we came to Zanzibar. The asked, “Who shepherded you to Zanzibar?” and “Why do white couples who are not married travel together?” They also asked, “What is the best way to learn English?” and “How long would it take to get to America by ship?” When they learned that John was a math teacher, there was a groan followed by an explanation about how bad they are in ‘maths’. They find our culture strange but intriguing. They invited us to their school to speak to their class about America, however, we had already booked a taxi to the beach.

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    Colourful locals

    by Ferreira Written Aug 4, 2005

    90% of the circa population of Zanzibar are Islamic and the local ladies are rarely seen during the days. The exception is just before sun set, every day of the week when the fisherman are pulling up their nets for the day. The ladies, dressed in beautiful colourful clothes, as you can see, gather on the beach in the shade of the rocks waiting for each boat to come towards shore. It seems just as much a social event as a practical exercise, since the old and young are together waiting, chatting, sometimes singing, sometimes chatting to the tourists and when a boat comes towards the shore, they all run like a race and even in to the sea fully clothed, bidding for the fisherman to fill their bucket full of small whitebait-like fish. Only a handful of women are successful each time, but the show continues for each boat every evening.

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    Masaii in holiday

    by Ferreira Written Aug 4, 2005

    Actually the title is misleading... they were really security employed by the hotel to 'patrol' the beach. What stuck me is how far away they were from home, and the way they strolled along the beach reminded me of a pair on holiday.

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    Basic swahili

    by nora_yusuf Updated Jul 16, 2005

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    The swahili language.

    The most used words (in my opinion) are:
    Mambo - How are you?
    Poa - Good

    There also is the tourist version which is commonly used. You greet someone with “Jumbo”, and the reply is “Jumbo”. Something like saying hello, or something like it. I was told if you say these words in the lesser touristy areas, the locals wont understand it.

    And of course there is the most famous saying “Hakuna ma tat a”, meaning ‘No worries’, or ‘No problem”. I guess everyone who has watched Lion King will know this one.

    Numbers:
    1 - Moja
    2 - Mbili
    3 - Tatu
    4 - Nne
    5 - Tanu
    6 - Sita
    7 - Saba
    8 - Nane
    9 - Tisa
    10 - Kumi

    Other:
    Asante sana - Thank you very much
    Mizuri sana - You’re welcome very much
    Habari ya subui - Good morning
    Habari ya mchana - Good afternoon
    Habari ya jioni - Good evening
    Habari ya usiku - Good night
    Kwa heri - Good bye
    Lala - Sleep

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    Other Muslim considerations

    by SanguiniA Written Jul 6, 2005

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    It is considered extremely rude to eat in public (in the streets) during the Ramadan, whilst everyone is fasting.

    Also be careful of not drinking alcohol in public, remember the Muslims are not allowed to touch any alcohol. Do not be surprised that many establishments refuse to serve alcohol, so be careful of the restaurant or bar you pick to hang out in :)

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    Be modest!

    by SanguiniA Written Jul 6, 2005

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    Zanzibar women are very conservative

    In Zanzibar Island, especially in Stone Town, the people are very conservative Muslims. Everywhere you go you should show respect in the way you attire - avoid shorts and exposing your shoulders in Stone Town and no topless bathing or tangas by the beach. Cover up with a sarong to go to the bars.

    Apart from showing respect to the locals, you could be saving yourself some hassle as there are stories of women travellers being harassed because they were exposing a bit too much flesh.

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    beweare of taking photos!

    by serenat Written Aug 30, 2004

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    Here people is muslim and they do not want to be photographed. It is good custom to ask if is possible to take a photo but most of the time you will get a no. I heard two reason of this deny, one is because they believe you steal theyr soul, other thinks that foreign wants to take photos to then sell them in their country...this happend because some of them found their faces on postcards!

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    Dug-out canoe or ngalawa

    by sachara Written Aug 17, 2004

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    ngalawa

    At the beach of Kizimkazi we saw a lot of the traditional dug-out canoes, the so-called ngalawa. This type of canoes is used by the by the Swahili fishermen allready for centuries.

    We were lucky not only to see these ngalawa at the beach with playing kids around, but we saw also some of those authentic boats, sailing in front of the Kizidi Restaurant.

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    • Sailing and Boating

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    Dhows

    by sachara Written Aug 17, 2004

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    dhow sailing along the coast of Zanzibar Island

    The traditional dhows became the maritime symbol of East Africa. The art of sailing was allready known for two millenia to the east Africans. The main dhow building centre was at the north coast of Zanzibar Island, where the teak forests were.

    In Stone town you can book an one-day cruise at a dhow, visitng a sandbank, a reef and two islands. Also common are the 8 M long mashua dhows, that shuttle between Zanzibar and the mainland. I didn't sail with a dhow myself, but enjoyed to see them sailing at the ocean.

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    Zanzibar independence

    by Saagar Updated Jun 2, 2004

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    Zanzibar is in a political union with Tanzania, but people there are very independent-minded and consider Zanzibar a separate country. Therefore there is passport control at departure from Dar Es Salaam and upon arrival in Stonetown (Zanzibar). There will be both passport stamping and customs control upon landing there for all foreigners. Easy, just follow the current when you arrive in Stone Town.
    There is also a liberation movement of sorts, but the violence is mainly politically directed at the mainlanders who seek to keep an upper hand on island affairs.

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