Zanzibar History


Figure 1.--Arab traders reached the cioast of East Africa (8th century). Trading pots on the mainland were vilnerable to attack. Zanzibar offered a more secure location as the Arabs dominated the sea. Oman gained control over the island and eventually the regional slave trade. The island would develop into the center of the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade. This photograph is indated, but was taken by A.G. Gomes et Co. on Zanzibar, perhaps in the 1880s.

Modern Tanzania is the union of Zanzibar and Tanganika. Zanzibar was an Arab emirate which for centuries was a key port in the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade. Zanzibar has a long colorful history. The Assyrians and Sumerians were some of the various people to have traded with the ialand. Many other notable civilizations have traded with the island, including the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, Portuguese, Dutch and English. Particularly importat were the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs who not only trades, but seized control of the island. As a result, the population od the island is predominately Muslim--as much as 97 percent. Arab traders soon after the Arab outburst following Mohammed's foundation of Islam reached Zanzibar (8th century). The oldest surviving building is the mosque at Kizimkazi (1107). Arab traders, especially those in Oman, mastered the Monsoon winds to trade in ivory, slaves and spices. Given the value of the trade, the Onanis established a permanent base on the two islands which make up Zanzibar: Unguja (the main island often called Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. Here the Arabs who were at first small in number defend themselves. From this base the Omani Arabs and their fleet eventually gained control of 1,000 miles of the mainland coast from what is now Mozambique to north to Somalia. Zanzibar became the center of the Indian Ocean slave trade. The wealth of Zanzibar and the African coiastal areas it controlled eventually led Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid Dynasty, to transfer is capital from Muscat to Zanzibar (1832). Here the Busaid Dynasty would to continue to rule into the 1960s. While the Omanis were principal foreign group, there were others of some importance. The first were the Shirazi Persians (975). Shiraz is a city in Persia/Iran. A group migrated from Shiraz ad settled along the East African coast. The Shirazi had more interaction with the Africans and are believed to have been Intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans evolved into a coastal community with a variety of distinctive features, most importantly a language derived in part from Arabic--Swahili. The name Swahili comes from the Arab word 'sawahil' meaning 'coast'. Indian traders primarily interested in the spice and ivory trade also settled in Zanzibar. They became shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans, and professionals. Political contro, howeverm remained in the hands of the Omani Arabs. Finally in the 19th century, The British arrived in East Africa. They were primarily involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa and soon began atempting to suppress the slave trade which was centered in Zanzibar. Zanzibar became a British protectorate (1890). Britain while suppressing the slave trade did not intervene substantially in domestic matters like education.

Pre-history

The first inhabitants of Zanzibar were African (Hadimu, Tumbatu and Pemba peoples who managed to reavh Zanzibar from the mainland. The lush vegrtstion, fertile soil, and abundant fresh water were a string attraction. These people lived in small villages without any centralized political organisation.

Ancient History

Zanzibar has a long colorful history. The Assyrians and Sumerians were some of the various people to have traded with the ialand. Many other notable civilizations have traded with the island, including the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Romans.

Shirazi Persians (10th century)

Shirazi Persians in a kind of surealtic event reached Zanzibar (about 975 AD). The Shirazi were the first group of foreigners to reach Zanzibar. Shiraz is a city in Persia/Iran. A group migrated from Shiraz ad settled along the East African coast. The sultan of Shiraz took his dreams seriously. He departed Shiraz with his family and retainers in seven dhows. The dhows were separated in a storm. The dhow with the Sultan landed on Zanzibar. The The Shirazi over time inter-married with the local people. They left a very small ethnic imprint, but a powerful cultural impact. This included a new language--Swahili. This is based on the Arabic word “Sawahil” for coast. There was at the time no common language in East Africa, but a multuitude of tribal languages. Wahili developed as a trading language with components from both Arabic and the various African tribal languages. Their base was Zanzibar, but intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans evolved into a coastal community with a variety of distinctive features.

Omani Arabs

It is unclear when the first Arab traders after the Arab outburst following Mohammed's foundation of Islam reached Zanzibar Arabs from Oman arrived shortly after the Shirazi Persians. The Omanis arrived in much larger numbers than the Shirazi and became the principal foreign group in Zanzibar. The Omani Arabs were traders, but seized control of the island. As a result, the population od the island is predominately Muslim--as much as 97 percent. They introduced Sunni Islam to the Island. It continues to be the religion of most of the people of Zanzibar today. The oldest surviving building is the mosque at Kizimkazi (1107). Arab traders, especially those in Oman, mastered the Monsoon winds to trade in ivory, slaves and spices. Given the value of the trade, the Onanis established a permanent base on the two islands which make up Zanzibar: Unguja (the main island often called Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. Here the Arabs who were at first small in number defended themselves. From this base the Omani Arabs and their fleet eventually gained control of 1,000 miles of the mainland coast from what is now Mozambique to north to Somalia. Zanzibar became the center of the Indian Ocean slave trade.

Indians

Indian traders primarily interested in the spice and ivory trade also settled in Zanzibar. They became shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans, and professionals. Political control, however, remained in the hands of the Omani Arabs.

Portuguese (16th century)

The Portuguese led the European effort to trade with the east by sea. Vasco da Gama finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1498). He was also the first European to reach Zanzibar (1499). This set in motion a struggle to control the Indian Ocean. Since the Arab Outburst (7th century), the Indian Ocean for nearly a millenia had been an Arab lake. Arab control of the Indian Ocean was broken by the Portuguese at the Battle of Diu (1509). One of the Portuguese objectives was to obtain spices for trade. The Portuguese negotiated Mwinyi Mkuu, the Great Chieftain who ruled Zanzibar. They erventually seized the islsnd. The Portuguese ruled Zanzibar for a while. They were overthrown by the local population aided by Seif Bin Sultan, the sultan of Oman. The Portuguese did not settle the island with colonists and left little ethnic or cultural imprint.

Transfer to Zanzibar

The wealth of Zanzibar and the African coastal areas it controlled eventually led Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid Dynasty, to transfer is capital from Muscat to Zanzibar (1832). Here the Busaid Dynasty would continue to rule into the 1960s. Sultan Seyyid set up clove plantations on Zanzibar and Pemba, forcing most of the Hadimu people to work on the plantations or to move to the eastern part of the island.

Slave Trade

Zanzibar was the Arab emirate which for centuries was a key port in the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade. Trade contacts between the Middle East, India, and East Africa date back to antuquity. Trade with Africa was for slaves, gold, ivory, and wood. After the Arab expansion (7th century AD), armed Arab merchants set up bases in Indian Ocean islands for sectirity reasons. Zanzibar became the most important. It was not only a secure base for trade with East Africa, but it also was a source for spices, a particularly valuable trade commodity. Zanzibar became the world’s most important source of cloves and the most important slave trading center in East Adrica. Zanzibar was at the center of a trading network extending deep into East Africa. The Omanis organised caravans into the interior of East Africa. The trade was in large measure financed by the Indian community on Zanzibar with backing from Bombay interests. The slave and spices trades were related. Slaves were used for growing and harvesting cloves. Slaves were shipped from Bagamoyo to Zanzibar. The cloves and slaves were ssold in ports throughout the Indian Ocean. The peak of the slace trade was reached when sugar and clove plantations were founded on Mauritius and Reunion (18th century).

Britain (1890)

The British suceeded in defeating the French in the competition over India (18th century). And with control of India, the British with the powerful Royal Navy became the predominate regional power. The competition with the French continued with the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The British signed a treaty with the Sultan of Oman to protect Zanzibar in exchange for Omani support against the French (1792). After the Napoleonic Wars, British, German, and American traders were active on Zanzibar. The British involvement in East Aftrica significantly expanded (19th century). They were primarily involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa. Zanzibar was the most important port in East Africa. With European consulstes, Zanzibar became a gateway for missionaries and explorers headed into East Africa. The missionaries were not welcomed on Zanzibar itself withis Muslim population. The geography of East Africa including the source of the Nile was unknoen to Europeans as late as the mid-19th century. The expeditions of David Livingstone, Richard Burton and John Speke began in Zanzibar. Their reports fascinated the British public. A major British interest became supression of the slave trade. After the Napoleonic War, the British assigned the Royal Navy the task of ending the Indian Ocean slave trade. An of course this meant in large measure ending Zanzibar's role in the slave trade. The East African slave trade was centered in Zanzibar. The British used both naval patrols and diplomacy to send the slave trade. The British began using diplomacy even before he Royal Navy had an effective presence in the Indian Ocean. They largely imposed the the Moresby Treaty (1822) and the Hamerton Treaty (1845) on the Sultan to limit the slave trade. These treaties were, however, only partially effecive. The British consul on Zanzibar took the lead in the anti-slave-trade movement in East Africa. The British offered guarantees of continued protection to the the Sultan if he would limit the scope of the slave trade (1850s). Finally Said's son, Barghash (1870-88), fearing that the British might simply seize his Empire agreed to a limited form of abolition (1873). This did not, however, end domestic slavery or slavery on the mainland coastal area controlled by the Sultan. Zanzibar became a British protectorate (1890) and after considerable agitation, authorities abolished slavery on the island. The slave owners, mostly Arabs operating spice plantations, were compensated. Britain while suppressing the slave trade did not intervene substantially in domestic matters like education.

Tanzania

Modern Tanzania is the union of Zanzibar and Tanganika.

Sources









HBC





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Created: 2:40 AM 9/15/2010
Last updated: 5:35 AM 10/19/2013