National Geographic : 1952 Feb
Clove-scented Zanzibar On a Lush African Island an Arabian Nights City Thrives on Spice and Copra BY W. ROBERT MOORE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author A FLATLY as if repeating "One, two, three, four, testing," the plane dis patcher at the Dar es Salaam airport in Tanganyika announced: "Passengers to Zanzibar, Tanga, and Mombasa, please board the aircraft." Historic Zanzibar, I thought, rated at least a lilt in the voice! Within minutes after our take-off I eagerly watched that green island swell from the sea haze and take shape. Soon a sapphire-and jade fringe of coral reefs, then feathery coco nut palms and clove plantations spread close beneath us. Swinging in a wide arc before gliding to the airstrip, we sped over closely packed Zan zibar town, dazzling white on a jutting triangle of coast (page 274). History of Zanzibar "Written by Winds" Out in the blue waters of the roadstead clustered a fleet of Arab dhows. Zanzibar's history has been "written by the winds" that belly the lateen sails of such craft from the coasts between the Red Sea and India. As far back as A. D. 60, when a Greek mer chant living in Egypt wrote the first known sailing directions to the Indian Ocean, the Periplus of the Erythrcean Sea, ships already were riding the monsoon to Zanzibar. They came, says the Periplus, bringing lances, hatchets, daggers, awls, glass; also "a little wine, and wheat, not for trade, but to serve for getting the good will of the sav ages." They took back ivory, rhinoceros horn, tortoise shell, and coconut oil. Today high-pooped Arab dhows still come to Zanzibar. Like migratory birds, they sail down on the northeast monsoon with cargoes of dates, incense, dried shark, Persian carpets, and brassware. Waiting until the winds change, they return home with mangrove poles, tea, coffee, sugar, and maize.* In market places, at Arab coffee shops, and down by the water front, I met many of the crew members of these dhows-suntanned, bewhiskered men clad in long-skirted gowns, turbans, and sandals. Hilts and ornamented silver sheaths of wicked J-shaped daggers pro truded from their waist sashes (page 262). No concealed weapons here! Most of the crews had shipped from Arabian shores-from Muscat (Masqat) and Sur on the coast of Oman. Among them were lean, fiery-eyed men from the sun-scorched Hadhra maut.t Sultanate under British Protection Zanzibar island lies only 25 miles off the East African coast (map, page 264). In early days the island was ideal as a trading center. Near the mainland, it still was far enough away to afford security from warlike tribes. It had a plentiful water supply and a safe harbor. The island attracted Arabs, Persians, and Indians (some say even the Chinese). Por tuguese, following Vasco da Gama, had trading ports here from the early 1500's until they were ousted by Arabs nearly two centuries later. In 1832 Seyyid Said, Sultan of Oman, moved his capital here from Muscat. Late in the last century, when European powers began to take feverish interest in Africa, they sliced away virtually all of Zanzi bar's mainland possessions. To stabilize his interests, the Sultan in 1890 arranged for a British protectorate. Today the Sultanate is limited to Zanzibar, Pemba, and the tiny islands that surround them. The red flag of the Sultan also flies over old Fort Jesus in Mombasa, but that, with the 10-mile-wide strip of Kenya coast line which is included in the protectorate area, is leased to the Government of Kenya.$ The ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam have captured much of the growing commerce of East Africa. Old Araby-with Telephones Although Zanzibar has lost some of the trade prestige it once enjoyed, it seems un concerned over the loss. Prosperous in its own quiet way, it has time for friendliness and retains an Old World charm. Here is one spot where you can pick up a telephone-if you must use one-and ask "Central" for your party by name! The town and its people seem to have been * See "Sailing with Sindbad's Sons," by Alan Villicrs, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1948. t See "Into Burning Hadhramaut," by I). van dcr Meulen, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1932. $ See "Britain Tackles the East African Bush," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1950.