Zanzibar, the center of the world

This article is also available in: Italiano

Today we are talking about a place known to most as a maritime destination but which preserves an incredible culture. Zanzibar, a magical island capable of attracting Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans

Bantu, Arabs and Portuguese

Historically, the first to arrive on this island were the Bantu, an African people who, with the passage of time, colonized all of southern Africa, reaching as far as today’s South Africa. With the passage of time, Zanzibar became an island more and more interesting for the Arabs, thanks to its position, in fact, it was a fundamental crossroads for trade with India.

Zanzibar
Kilwa

With the arrival of the Arabs and Persians, the Bantu language developed a lot, eventually incorporating many words and then forming Swahili. Influences of these two languages are evident already banally in the words: “Zanzibar”, which derives from the Persian zanj and which means “Land of the Blacks”, and “Swahili”, which derives from sawahil or “coastal” in Arabic. In 1499 the island was conquered by the Portuguese with the aim of supplanting the Arabs in trade. Their domination, however, had a disastrous effect on the local civilization which entered a period of incredible economic-cultural decline.

Pearl of Oman

In 1698 the Sultans of Oman conquered the archipelago, making it flourish again in a very short time. Around 1830 the current capital Stone Town was founded by the Omanis, the city quickly became so rich and flourishing that it became the capital of the sultanate in 1840. During this period the Swahili civilization lived one of its most prosperous periods ever, arriving to be a real hegemon in southern Africa and attracting more and more distant civilizations.

Zanzibar
Beit Al Amani

In fact, the first settlement on the island of Indian merchants dates back to this period, who contributed to making this place even richer. Unfortunately, it should also be remembered that one of the reasons for this prosperity was a flowing slave trade; in fact, it is estimated that around 50,000 were sold on the island a year. In particular, one of these slavers, known by the name of Tippu Tip, became so influential and rich that he de facto replaced the sultan, managing to expand his influence as far as the Congo.

English and today

Starting from 1890 the island returned to be coveted prey by Europeans who, with the treaty of Helgoland-Zanzibar, entrusted it to the English. They ruled the island until 1963, forcing the abolition of slavery in 1897. Once the British left the island, it joined with Tanzania, forming the state we know today.

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