Local traditions and culture in Zanzibar Island

  • Local Customs
    by DAO
  • Local Customs
    by DAO
  • Local Customs
    by DAO

Most Viewed Local Customs in Zanzibar Island

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    by DAO Updated Jan 31, 2014

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    Zanzibar fought the world’s shortest war against the British Empire – and lost after 38 minutes. Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini had been cooperating with the British when he suddenly died on 25 August 1896. His nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized power at the expense of another would-be pro British Sultan. Khalid was ordered to step aside. He did not. On the 26th, 5 British warships began the shelling of the Palace at 9:00 am. They quickly sank the H.H.S. Glasgow, the Sultan’s only warship, and the Sultan fled to the German Consulate. The war was over in 38 minutes and the British installed their own candidate who they then promptly billed for the expense of the shells used.

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    by cafank Updated Mar 3, 2010

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    Unfortunately this is often overlooked when in Zanzibar. We are tourists looking at local cultures, but should we behave as if we are walking through a human zoo? This was really overlooked at times and we found it quite confronting, and disturbing, that tourists would blatently stare at the men and particularlr women wearing Muslim garb. If you want to take pic's ask people - they will usually say yes.

    The Muslim population also expects and appreciates men and women alike to keep their knees and shoulders covered while in the streets. In hotels, restaurants it's okay to show shoulders, but consider a shawl or button-up shirt to cover up with while on the streets.

    Likewise in the beachside areas, cover up when walking around the villages, don't walk around in your bikini or swimmers.

    During Ramadan tourists should avoid eating and drinking in public during the daytime. Also, be sure not to smoke in front of people, nor chew gum. It is also polite to not talk about the nice lunch you had. I was in Zanzibar at Ramadan - it wasn't too bad - and we did carry water as it was so hot but did avaoid eating and smoking in public before sunset.

    kids loved being photographed..but we asked first
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    by DAO Written Oct 12, 2006

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    Basic Swahili

    As you walk down the road, your conversations will go like this:

    You will hear (shouted at you) – “Jambo!” (Hello)
    You reply – “Jambo!”
    ”Habari?” (what is the news or how are you?)
    ”Nzuri” (I am fine)
    You usually hear “Karibu” (you are welcome here) sometimes the name of the village is said as well. I often heard “Karibu Jmbiani.” OR “Karibu Zanzibar”!
    Always reply “Asante Sana!” (Thank You very much)

    Sometimes after you have spoken to someone a little longer or purchased something from them you will be called “Rafiki” which means friend. This is heart felt and you rarely hear it unless you have become friends – in the village.

    If the word “Rafiki” is shouted at you as a greeting – they are trying to sell you something, usually in Stone Town.

    A Few Basics Words/Phrases:
    Yes = Ndiyo
    No = Hapana
    Okay = Sawa
    Maybe = Labda
    How are you? = Habari Yako?
    Good = Nzuri
    Thank you = Asante
    Hello = Jambo
    I am fine = Sijambo
    Please = Tafadhali (the dh is pronounced like a th)
    Goodbye = Kwaheri
    What is your name? = Jina lako ni nani?
    My name is ...= Jina langu ni ...
    I don't speak Swahili = Sisemi Kiswahili

    Bia = Beer
    Bia baridi = Cold beer
    Daktari = Doctor
    Duka = Shop
    Hakuna matata No problem
    Karibu welcome

    Rafiki Friend

    A young person to an older one: "Shikamoo!" (originally it meant "I touch your feet" as a sign of respect) and the greeted answers, "Marahabaa!" (I acknowledge your respect!).

    *** Please note that as this is a Muslim Country – never greet a woman in conversation outside. You may respond if they greet you first. ***

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    by DAO Written Aug 20, 2006

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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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    by DAO Updated Aug 4, 2006

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    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.

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Zanzibar Island Hotels

  • Ras Nungwi Beach Hotel

    Nungwi, Tanzania

    Satisfaction: Excellent

    Good for: Business

    Hotel Class 4 out of 5 stars

  • Zanzibar Palace Hotel

    Kiponda Street, 831, Stone Town, 3392, Tanzania

    Satisfaction: Excellent

    Good for: Solo

    Hotel Class 3.5 out of 5 stars

  • The Z Hotel Zanzibar

    , Nungwi, Tanzania

    Satisfaction: Excellent

    Good for: Business

    Hotel Class 4 out of 5 stars

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Zanzibar Island Local Customs

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