10 Things you may not have known about Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a beautiful island getaway off the coast of Tanzania. Various people from all over the world venture off to this island for the ultimate beach, snorkeling and seafood experience.

But few know the following interesting historical and cultural facts about the small oasis.


One way or another, we have all heard of the famous monsoon winds. These gusts that blew across the Indian Ocean acted as a navigator and allowed contact between Persia, Arabia, India and the coast of East Africa.

It was through these winds that Indians, Arabs, and Persians found Zanzibar as they were guided there. This has been happening for over 2000 years!


Much like any other place in the world during the 19th century, various people were fighting on who would control and inhabit Zanzibar. The Persians, Portuguese, Omani and British had many battles before Oman finally won control of the important island. Zanzibar was seen as an important hub, as it provided access to the East African mainland.

It was Oman that became the first to trade slaves, cloves, and ivory from the East African Mainland. Since this business proved to be profitable indeed the Sultan of Oman, Sultan Said, decided to move his royal court from Muscat to Zanzibar. So the island became an Arab state and an important hub for trade and politics in the region.

Bonus fact: Where did Zanzibar get its name? Well, “Zanzibar” was adopted during Arab rule and translates in English to mean the “coast of black people”.


Islam is the dominant religion in Zanzibar and is actually practiced by most Zanzibaris. During the holy month of Ramadhan, visitors are encouraged to dress more conservatively and the island, in general, is much more peaceful, quiet and calm.

Although there are various mosques in towns, villages etc. There are still churches and temples from other religions even though they make up a small percent.

The total population of Zanzibar comes to a small figure of 800,000, which is normal for most islands. But Zanzibar city contains only 100,000 of these people, meaning majority live in smaller towns and villages


Zanzibaris rely heavily on fishing and farming to sustain the economy; this is because Zanzibar is home to various cloves such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. Which is why the island is also sometimes warmly referred to as The Spice Island due to its abundant spices, specifically the one’s mentioned above.

From the early 19th century to the late 1970’s, Zanzibar was a major global exporter of the world’s cloves in general.

During this time, the economy mostly depended on this only. Some diversification has occurred since then, but cloves are still a major export, along with coconut products and other spices, however, tourism is believed to be the ‘money maker’ as more people come to Zanzibar every year.

Also because of the growing popularity of sushi, there is no surprise as to why seaweed has also become an important export commodity.


Several islands combined together is what makes up Zanzibar, the two larger ones –  Pemba and Ugunja, are often mistaken by several foreigners and sometimes locals!

Ugunja is the largest one and is wrongly called Zanzibar, while the former is Pemba.


Zanzibaris love peace so much, that they hold the world record for the shortest war ever recorded! 38 minutes, that’s right, the Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted a few minutes past half an hour. You could still be running the treadmill and the War would have been over.

According to history, the British bombed the Beit al Hukum Palace and shortly after, 38 minutes to be exact! A ceasefire was declared.


Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the legendary rock and roll band Queen, was born in Zanzibar in 1946. His birth name is actually Farouk Bulsara.


Zanzibar was the very first country in Africa to introduce colour television. However, the first TV services on the mainland of Tanzania weren’t introduced until 1994, due to the presidential opposition.


Zanzibar’s most famous global event would be the Zanzibar International Film Festival, also known as the Festival of the Dhow Countries. But locals like to call it ZIFF.

Every July, this event stages the finest of the Swahili Coast arts scene, incorporating Zanzibar’s favorite music, Taarab.


Although Zanzibar is an island state within the United Republic of Tanzania; it actually has its own semi-autonomous government made up of the Revolutionary Council and House of Representatives.

Some Tanzanian locals and foreigners are not aware of this and assume that the president of Tanzania is also Zanzibar’s president. The island’s President Ali Mohamed Shein leads the present government.

Visitors are welcome

It is common knowledge, or should be by now, that Zanzibar has a booming tourist industry that it heavily relies on. But contrary to popular belief, the numbers show otherwise. According to the country’s statistics, 100,000 people come to visit the island annually.

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