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Zanzibar People and Culture

The Arab influence on Zanzibar and Pemba islands is evident in the people, who are a mix of Shirazia (from Persia), Arabs, Comorians (from the Comoros Islands) and Bantu from the mainland, though the latter predominate.

Asians are a significant minority especially in the towns and cities. Europeans (either by descent or expatriate) are a smaller minority.

The island of origin of the locals pretty much determines what tribe they belong to. The Waunguja would emanate from Unguja Island, with Wapemba tribe from Pemba Island and Watumbatu from Tumbato Island.

The Hadimu and Tumbatu tribes were the indeginous people of Zanzibar, most Hadimu live in the southern part the Island while the Tumbatu are predominantly found in the North.

The official languages of Zanzibar are Kiswahili and English. English is spoken by most of the islanders, and many have a working knowledge of Italian and Arabic

It's extremely useful for the traveller to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.

97% of Zanzibar's population practices the Islamic faith. The remaining mix is a combination of Hindu and Christian.

Sauti za Busara music festival
Features a rich variety of African music from the region with more than four hundred musicians participating over five days in historic Stone Town.

Festival of the Dhow Countries July
East Africa’s largest cultural event, takes place in Zanzibar in magnificent, historical venues along the waterfront of Stone Town. The festival celebrates the unique cultural heritage of the "Dhow" countries: the African continent and the Indian Ocean region and their global Diaspora.

Mwakakogwa Festival - July/August
a traditional festival to celebrate the local New Year. It is mainly practiced in the Southern Unguja, particularly in Makunduchi. Originating from Persia and brought here by early, Immigrants, Mwakakogwa is marked by sacrifices, dances, and the actual field fighting. In addition to the tourists from abroad, it draws participants from the whole of East Africa.

When the wind blows in the right direction, the fragrance of spice is deliciously strong, and you know you are in Zanzibar, the Spice Island, with its cloves and cinnamon, lichee nuts, cocoa beans, and coconut. A tiny island, it is a part of Tanzania, the name deriving from a combination of the names of the two formerly separate states, Tanganika and Zanzibar.

Staple foods include; Ugali, rice, bread, chapati (fried paste of wheat powder) Meat: Beef, chicken, goat, etc. Fish: Tilapia (a freshwater fish) and other fish Vegetables

Zanzibar's most world famous musician is Freddie Mercury ...
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5th 1946 in Zanzibar, to parents Bomi & Jer Bulsara, who were Parsees - members of the Zoroastrian faith. (The Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Zanzibar is located on Nyerere Road to the east of Zanzibar Stone Town, near Kilimani cemetery.)

Zanzibar is at the heart of the distinctive Taraab, or sung poetry, tradition. The goddess of this haunting style is Siti bint Saad, the first East African singer to make commercial recordings, way back in 1928.

Tarabu, also called taarab or tarab, is the African-Islamic music popular in the coastal towns of Tanzania and Kenya, and the island of Zanzibar. Tarab is popularly known as Swahili wedding music, since tarabu musicians and music are an essential part of these multi-day festivities.

Musical Instruments

Instruments used include; Violins, Accordion, Double Bass, Cello, Tambourine, derbouka

Art lovers will find paintings by several Zanzibar artists, including the popular Tinga Tinga painting style, and contemporary views of Stone Town.

Zanzibar is famous for its' carved chests and doors (each carving has a meaning).

During the 1800's, special craftsmen in Zanzibar achieved a style and tradition of carving wooden doors that can be found nowhere else in the world! Their special style combined methods used in west India with Islamic decorative elements with Swahili tradition. When a house was built in Zanzibar, the door was traditionally the first part to be erected. The greater the wealth and social position of the owner of the house, the larger and more elaborately carved his front door. Many doors are studded with brass spikes.

At last count, there were 560 carved doors in Zanzibar. The oldest door discovered in Zanzibar is dated AD 1694.

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