“Earth, sea and sky, all seemed wrapped in a soft and sensuous repose” - mysterious - Spice Island of Zanzibar.
The visitor to Zanzibar treads a path that has been worn by generations of travellers and sea adventurers for many centuries.
Zanzibar comprises of Unguja and Pemba and other smaller islets within the territorial waters. The islands cover land area of around 2300sq.meters. Zanzibar is the second largest island on the East African coast and is roughly 53 miles long by 24 miles broad (maximum measurements) with an area of 640 square miles. It lies in latitude 6*, S. longitude 39* E. and is separated from African continent by a channel 22.5 miles wide across at its narrowest part.
The highest point in Zanzibar is only 390 feet above sea level at Masingini-Dole, also known as the “Pink Terraces”.
Pemba, the smaller of the two islands, lies about 25 miles to the northeast of Zanzibar and 30 miles from the mainland. It is some 300 yards long by 170 yards broad and is only about 10 feet above tide level.
Zanzibar town is 135 miles from Mombasa, 45 from Dar es Salaam, 78 from Tanga, 1,607 from Durban and 6,323 from London.
Though there are few records concerning Zanzibar, it is surmised that ancient races such as Sumerians, Assyrians, Hindus, Egyptians, Phoenicians and Southern Arabians must have visited the East African Coast from earliest times.
It is probable that the indigenous tribes of Zanzibar (Wahadimu, Watumbatu, Wapemba) are descended from Bantu peoples of the East African, the Shirazis (a generic term applied to all non-Arab people of the Persian Gulf) and Arabs, Swahili is a term originally applied by Arabs to those of themselves who settled on the African coast, and means of a man of the coastal region who is more African than Arab. The conversion of the coastal peoples to Islam probably dates from the beginning of the 10th century. Towards the end of the same century people from the Persian Gulf and Southern Arabia established a number of outposts on the coast.
Vasco ad Gamma visited Zanzibar in 1499 on his return voyage from India. Early in the 16th century the Portuguese made themselves masters of the East African coast, and in 1503 Zanzibar itself became tributary to Portugal. In the latter part of the same century, with the consent of the local ruler of the island, the Portuguese established a trading post, and later still erected a church of the peninsula where the town of Zanzibar now stands.
In the early years of the 17th century Portuguese domination was seriously threatened by the capture of Ormuz by the Persians and the capture of Muscat by the Arabs of Oman in 1650. In East Africa the coast towns and Island of Pemba rose in rebellion in 1631 and, though that rising was ruthlessly suppressed in the course of the next few years, the Portuguese never really recovered from its effects. In 1698 the Arabs of Oman captured Mombasa, where the Portuguese had built a fort. Thereafter the whole of the East African coast as far south as Cape Delgado, including Zanzibar and Pemba, passed from Portuguese hands into Arab hands.
Seyyid Said bin Sultan, the ruler of Oman and the founder of modern Zanzibar and of its clove industry, transferred his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1832. It was during his reign that Zanzibar became both politically and commercially the principal town in East Africa.
By the middle of the 18th century, as a result of a demand for plantation labour in the French colonies of Ile de France (Mauritius) and Bourbon and the Spanish colonies in South America, Zanzibar had become a considerable depot for the great African slave trade, but when, early in the 19th century, public opinion in Britain began to demand the suppression of the trade, Seyyid Said entered into agreement with the English for its restriction in his dominion. He also signed commercial treaties with the United States of America, Great Britain and France, for which country consulates were opened in the Island in 1833, 1841 and 1844 respectively. In 1861, by an award of Lord Canning, then Governor-General of India, the Imam’s possessions in Africa became independent of Muscat and from that date Oman and Zanzibar have remained politically separate.
The next year Seyyid Barghash agreed by treaty with Great Britain to prohibit the export of slaves from East Africa and to close all public markets in his dominions. Thereafter, the great slave market of Zanzibar (Mkunazini) was abolished.