Who knew all this time I was walking among a plethora of spices and fruit trees? I was amazed by the variety of spices and fruit trees that grew both wild and cultivated. Zanzibar has a long history of cultivating and trading in the spices. Several of the spices were actually brought over by the Dutch East India Company since the climate matches that of Indonesia.
On my way to Stone Town, I stopped and toured one of the local villages and spice farms. As I was on the tour, I realized how little I know about which spices and fruit come from trees, vines, shrubs, and roots. You can often identify a spice just by crumbling up some of the leaves and smelling them. It is easy to forget all of the other benefits that come along with spices rather than just flavoring our food. There is basically a spice that will improve every possible medical or cosmetic concern we might have. Just think if more of us had the knowledge to identify these plants and the ability to walk out into our village and harvest something to address our needs.
At the end of the tour, you are treated to a huge table of fruits that grow locally. It probably took us 20 minutes or more to sample all of the fruits. I took this opportunity to begin restocking the spice cabinet that I completely emptied before leaving the States.
From there I continued onto Stone Town. At Stone Town, I was struck by how cosmopolitan and crowded the city is. I often found myself exploring the narrow alleyways of the old city to escape all of the people and the heat. The architecture is incredible, especially the wooden shutter doors. Like many historical sites, the city is struggling to figure out how you preserve the history but also address all the needs of the locals. Understandingly, despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, history is losing out.
The other thing I noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be the same interest in preserving the eco-diversity or marine life as there is in preserving the animals on the mainland. My perception is that the Tanzanian government has made some significant and important strides on the mainland in the protection of the animals and their habitats (largely because of the money tourist dollars bring in). I didn’t see that concern being applied in Zanzibar to the water or marine life. Despite this, the water was still pretty amazing even near the main port in Stone Town.
Some of the other interesting tidbits I picked up on (Note some of the historical stuff is based on what I learned on tours and can remember. No writing any school papers based on anything in this post 🙂 )
- The local government still refers to itself as the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar. Although it united with Tanzania in the mid-1960s it is semi-autonomous.
- The current sultan has been living in exile in the UK since the 1960s.
- Back in its day, and actually even today, Zanzibar was the place to be. The Omani sultan (Al-Busaid family) moved the sultanate to Zanzibar between 1830s-40s. There is debate on the exact date.
- The U.S. was one of the first countries followed by the Brits to set-up trade agreements with the country.
- The shortest war in history (38 minutes) took place in Zanzibar when the Brits bombarded the Beit al Hukun palace because the death of the pro-British sultan led to the succession of a sultan the Brits did not support.
- The “House of Wonders,” as it became known, was a real draw for tourists throughout Africa and the Middle East in the early 1900s. It was the first building on the island to have electricity and an elevator. Good old Otis elevator.
- The first president of Zanzibar was assassinated.
- The prevalence of trade led to a thriving slave trade and a diverse population of Arabs, Indians, Europeans, other Africans, and locals living and building the city together. Zanzibar was the center of the Arab slave trade. The second and third sultans worked to abolish the slave trade.
- The Old Fort was erected around 1700s by the Omani Arabs after expelling the Portuguese in 1699.
- Door shutters are male and female. The one with the chain lock is considered the male door. The female door has a decorative center post allowing the male door to fit in while at the same time preventing its partner from being opened. They are supposed to symbolize partners working together.