Over the last few decades, Zanzibar, an archipelago located 25 miles east of Tanzania, has become something of a paradise vacation destination. With all inclusive resorts along its shorelines, unique reefs to be snorkeled, and views found nowhere else on Earth, it’s no wonder why, according to the Zanzibar Association of Tourist Investors, the country now pulls in close to 200,000 visitors every year: by all accounts, Zanzibar is the foremost paradisaical retreat in East Africa.
As Zanzinet, a website dedicated to spreading knowledge about Zanzibar, suggests, it isn’t just the incredible views, beautiful beach resorts, or natural entertainment that bring tourists to the island; one of the main draws is the history of Zanzibar. Indeed, in the late 80’s, the government of Zanzibar began leveraging its historical importance for marketing, a strategy that has paid huge dividends. As you will see, if you’re a lover of world history, then there are far worse places to start your search for knowledge than in the beautiful holiday resorts of this historical jewel.
The Trade Networks of Old
Most historians agree that Zanzibar has been an important center of trade for East Africa and Southeast Asia for at least 2,000 years. In fact, according to Zanzibar.net, most agree that the Phoenicians and other early Arab and Greek cultures began trading spices from the archipelago in the first century CE. Trade from the islands boomed again in the early 19th century as cloves were introduced to Zanzibar, adding to the cinnamon, cumin, and other highly fragrant spices that would come to define cultures across East Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. It’s for this reason Zanzibar retains the nickname “The Spice Islands.”
Imperial Protectorate State
Starting in the 16th century, according to History World, Zanzibar became increasingly exposed to foreigners. First, it was the Portuguese, then the Omanis, and finally the Germans and British in the 19th century. It was the latter who would win out, occupying and declaring the archipelago a protectorate in 1890. During this time, the Brits used the archipelago to increase trade revenues, ensuring complete Zanzibari subservience by instigating distrust between different ethnic and religious groups. Many of those tensions exist to this day.
In 1963, the British granted Zanzibar its independence. Merely a month later, in January of 1964, a violent coup took place, destroying the sultanate and transforming the government forever. Over the next 20 years, the Zanzibari people began to find their way to a multi-party government. Luckily, from the 1980’s onward, the government focused on unity and reaching out to the international community.
During this 30 year period, the first hotels in Zanzibar were built, offering tourists a place to stay in an increasingly beautiful, increasingly unified paradise archipelago. It could easily be argued that without the events of the 1980’s and 90’s, the all inclusive resorts the island is so well known for would be non-existent and the people of Zanzibar still entrenched in ethnically-divided politics and violence.
It shouldn’t be too hard to see why Zanzibar is often thought to be one of the most historically interesting places in the world. From a land of traders to a land of imperialist rule to, finally, a land of luxury resorts and all inclusive resorts, the country has metamorphosed into something wonderful, for historians and world-weary travelers alike.