Zanzibar fought the world’s shortest war against the British Empire – and lost after 38 minutes. Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini had been cooperation 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 by Britain. 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!
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. Z A N Z I B A R. 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.
Many of the oldest houses and building in Stone Town are falling down! Before the 1830’s most of the building were built from mud and other materials and were not built to last. With the rise of Colonialism and international trade, buildings were begun to be built from ‘Stone’, giving Stone Town its name. Stones, corals and just about any solid matter was mixed with earth, sand and cement to build the house that you see today (see picture 4). Many houses unfortunately took on flat Omani-style roofs from the days of Arab influence. Unfortunately these trap the water during the rainy season and the sheer weight and/or erosion can cause these building to collapse suddenly. There have even been fatalities recently (see picture 3). UNESCO became alarmed and declared Stone Town a World Heritage Site in December 2000. They set up the STONE TOWN Conservation and Development Authority (STCDA) to try and shore up these historic buildings. They have identified over 500 of historic significance.
If you would like to contact them, look at the website listed below or write to them at:
Stone Town Conservation & Development Authority, Zanzibar, Tanzania (East Africa)
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
• 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, seize 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
Traditional Zanzibarian Beds are essentially very large 4 poster/canopy beds. The canopy holds your mosquito net (essential), where is can be pulled back during the day. The head board and foot board are very high and have decorative panels. Most of the panels have paintings of simple objects like fruit. These beds are truly original and their history goes way back. I found 2 workshops in Stone Town who were restoring older ones and they estimated that they are about 200 years old. Given their depictions of inanimate objects, it is reasonable to assume that they are derived from Omani Arabs who practiced Islam when they occupied Zanzibar. This would also explain why they are not found on the mainland
You will most probably get away with USD, but I did find it very useful to have Tanzanian Shillings as well. At smaller shops, which is not very tourist orientated the local money comes in handy.
There is an ATM in Stone Town where I was able to draw money.
We tried 4 different local beers during our visit to Zanzibar. The beers we tried were Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Safari and Tuskers.
Off the lot, I definitely preferred Kilimanjaro.
We paid anything between 3500 - 6000 TZ Shilling for a beer.
I noticed that the local people were not as friendly as they were in Dar es Salaam. They didn't want to be disturbed, and turned their back to me. Was it because I had a camera, or maybe they are too used to tourists in Zanzibar?
OK, try to hide your camera. Self-criticism to me for beeing to ignorant....
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 in Stone Town – they are trying to sell you something.
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. ***
You may not need to buy any chickens from the Market while you visit, but if you did...Well you have come to the right place. The chicken market is inside a somewhat dark wooded building inside the sprawling Darajani Market. They have live chickens and rabbits in cages. Cages are marked with numbers and often the names of the sellers. Buying a live chicken is the cheapest option and presents the least storage issues for the buyer if they do not own a refrigerator. If you want a ‘ready meal’ you can buy a plucked chicken near the south entrance to the building. It does not get any fresher than this!
Zanzibar is a predominately Muslim culture and men go home to eat with their families at lunch time. What about single men? They have a small section of the Darajani Market just outside of the indoor chicken market. I did not take a picture of these gentlemen out of respect, so the picture is of the chicken market right next to where the men eat. They have several market traders that cook them full meals and if you are a male tourist, you are welcome to join them. You can get a very large and varied meal at a very reasonable price. I was greeted by the men eating there every time I walked by. It is an interesting look into their culture.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS FOR BUDGET TRAVELLERS, NOT SOMETHING AGAINST LOCAL PEOPLE. You have to haggle EVERY price in Zanzibar, except some restaurants. So, you can play the money trick to make sure you always get a good price. Tanzanian Schillings are weak against the U.S. Dollar, which everyone will take. Make sure you take some single $1 notes for emergencies. You get about 1100 to 1200 Schillings to 1 dollar. Agree a price and take in units of 1’s so it sound like you mean dollars. Some people will even say $1 or 1000 Schillings. They would say 10 meaning 10,000 Schillings. Schillings are cheaper for you. Go to any good exchange in Stone Town have some Schillings with you when you haggle. You agree ‘10’, hand over 10,000 Schillings, not $10. Too late, they know you know and they have just given you a 10-20% discount! I did this with a hotel and agreed ‘30’. I saved $10 over a 3 night stay. It makes your money stretch! You can also agree the price, leave to get Schillings and come back. The deal has already been done. Remember – if you do agree a deal, you have to stick with it.
**PLEASE NOTE ** Watch out for anyone trying to agree Kenyan Schillings, they are much more valuable than Tanzanian and only con artists would say this. $1 only gets you about 69 Kenyan Schillings. So 10,000 Kenyan Schillings would be $143!
The Big Tree is a local meeting place. This ancient giant is on Migingani Road in the area where the modern port starts to give way to the ocean front of Stone Town. When taxis bring you past the modern high-rise tower blocks of the newer Zanzibar Town, you know you are in Stone Town when you see The Big Tree. It is also a good place for a quick break in the cool shade if you are walking around
Every evening just before dark, a lot of local boys appear from nowhere and take over the main pier in the harbour. You can watch some very acrobatic diving and some not very coordinated jumps.
If you click the pictures for a close-up you will see several in mid-air!
Zanzibar best-kept secret are its wonderful doors, usually made of massive teak or mahogany. Old or new, they all are true jewels. But what's behind their intricate patterns?
The brass studs - are purely decorative. Their origin is Indian (more precisely Punjabi). Studs used to act as a defence against war elephants, used to batter down fortified doors.
The design - was personalized. Each door informs you of the social position, religious practices and occupation of their owner. Most patterns are abstract, since the Muslim faith does not allow the depiction on living things.
The doorframe - is generally carved with a chain or rope to trap evil spirits who want to enter the house.
The Arab inscriptions - are carved in the stone frieze above the lintel. Very often these are verses from the Quran, sometimes it also contains the name of the house owner.