Zanzibar – even the name sounds impossibly exotic – conjuring images of spices and palm trees. Flying on a domestic flight we still had to pass through immigration, a nod to the fact that Zanzibar has always been apart from the mainland.
Setup as a trading post and ruled by the Omani sultanate until the British took it over as a protectorate – after what is dubbed the quickest war, 38 minutes of naval bombardment.
Zanzibar remained separate to German East African Tanganikya until both eventually gained independence from Britain and after a few years separate joined with Zanzibar accounting for the ‘zan’ in Tanzania.
One thing the British did bring was a missionary abolitionist fervour and they closed down the slave market which was the hub of the East African slave trade to Arabia and Persia. For good measure they built an Anglican church on the site of the old market
The altar was laid where the whipping post was with red marble around a white circle – a very forceful statement of intent about abolition.
We visited the underground holding cells where slaves were held prior to being sold. It was completely airless and oppressive with even three persons let alone the 40 or so slaves who would be kept there.
It was a very small glimpse into what must have been an abhorrent scene – one which moved David Livingstone to petition the British government to put an end to.
The East African slave trade doesn’t have the same hold in our consciousness as the West African largely, according to our guide, because many of the slaves were for domestic work or concubines in Arabia and not for agriculture so there isn’t a large community of descendants to bear witness to this history.
The rest of the old quarter of Stone Town are old winding streets, dotted with mosques, tourist shops, old churches and old wooden buildings with peeling paint from the tropical humidity.
The islands are almost completely Muslim in marked contrast to the mainland which is majority Christian and this lends itself a very different air with the call to prayer and women veiled in the narrow alleys.
Down by the waterfront is the ‘House of Wonders’ where new inventions such as electricity and light bulbs were first seen in the times of the Sultanate.
Around the corner from the House of Wonders was the house of comfort of the Park Hyatt which became a preferred spot for afternoon cocktails and sundowners, with the local boys jumping from the rocks into the sea and the dhows against the sunset.
In the waterfront gardens each evening is a food market with each stand sells much the same selection of Zanzibar style crepe pizzas with filling – with a name of Mr Big Hat and motto of ‘Happy Our Time’ who could resist!