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ZanzibarMagic is an online marketplace for Tanzania Safari Tours and exotic island beach extensions specializing on Zanzibar and Tanzania.

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swahili culture

swahili culture

swahili culture

swahili culture

People, Religion and Language-

The local people are an incredible mixture of ethnic backgrounds, indicative of her colourful history.

Islam is the dominant religion, and practiced by most Zanzibaris, although there are also followers
of Christianity and Hinduism.

Zanzibar's population is estimated at 1,000,000, with the largest concentration being Zanzibar City which has approximately 100,000 inhabitants.

zanzibar swahili culture

Zanzibaris speak Swahili (known locally as Kiswahili), a language which is spoken extensively in East Africa.

Many believe that the purest form is spoken in Zanzibar as it is the birth place of the language.

Music- Taarab, the prevalent indigenous music in Zanzibar is taarab. The primary influences are certainly Omani and Persian.

swahili culture

swahili culture

The word taarab itself is from the Arabic, meaning 'joy, pleasure and entertainment brought about by an artistic combination of lyrics, poems and music'.

Another source of influence is the local African style, along with overtones of 20th. century Western music, both from the time of the British Residency and from more modern music.

Taarab is a unique mixture of musical styles, and is played with an incredible array of instruments from the ancient udd, quanun and nay, to violins, accordions and organs to modern electric guitars and drum kits.

The resulting sound is almost indescribable, borrowing as it does from so many sources.

To Western ears the phrase 'a pleasant wailing' perhaps conveys a reasonable impression.

To add further cultural confusion to taarab, the orchestra wear full evening dress, complete with tails and bow ties.

Performed at weddings and celebrations by an orchestra of up to 50 musicians and one or more singers.

Ladies at taarab wear long flowing dresses or 'gowni', with bright colours and as many frills as possible, whilst the gentlemen put on their finest suits.

Taarab romantic songs, which will be typically requested by a male member of the audience for a lady of his affection.

The gentleman will 'make a donation' to the singer, strutting up to the stage, showing off his fine clothes to their best advantage and perhaps joining in with the singer for a few lines before retiring.

Also grievance songs are requested by a member of the audience and dedicated to a specific purpose, usually to accuse or make public some indiscretion such as infidelity or greed.

Mostly these accusations pass off with a great amount of hilarity and fun, but true feelings are often just under the surface.

Taarab music is unique to the East Coast of Africa, it has become increasingly popular overseas, notably in Europe and in Oman, with modern exponents traveling to play in international music festivals.

Zumari- Other types of local music include the 'zumari' - a clarinet type of instrument which is sucked and blown and combined with native drums at weddings for women to dance to.

Chakatcha- 'Chakatcha' is another local style comprising usually of just five native drums, popular for dancing.

An Internet Cafe in the Stone Town of Zanzibar.

Freddie Mercury- One of Zanzibar's most famous sons is Freddie Mercury...

swahili culture

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on September 5th 1946 in Zanzibar, to parents & Jer Bulsara,
who were Parsees - members of the Zoroastrian faith.

swahili culture

His father worked in the House of Wonders as a civil servant for the British colonial government on the islands. The Parsees had a great affinity with the British, and Mr Bulsara Sr. was a cricket enthusiast, spending much of his leisure time at the cricket ground.

swahili culture

When he was 9, Farrokh was sent to boarding school in Panchgani, just outside Bombay, India, and he never subsequently returned to the place of his birth.

Whilst there he began his piano lessons, reaching Grade 4 in practical and theory.

The family, with the addition now of younger sister Kashmira, moved to England in 1963.
freddie mercury queen at Mnazi Moja.

In 1970, while studying graphics at Ealing College, he joined up with some students at London University‘s Imperial College of Science and Technology.

He changed his name to Freddie Mercury and they formed the musical group Queen.

The influence of his Zanzibar background is expressed in the lyric of Queen’s best-known song "Bohemian Rhapsody" with ‘Bismillah will you let him go’.

Bismillah means ‘the word of God' in the Islamic faith. Freddie Mercury died in 1991, his body was cremated at a Zoroastrian funeral ceremony in London.

Festivals- Takes place around the 23rd or 24th of July, the Mwaka Kogwa is the celebration of the Shirazi or Persian.

swahili culture

Mwaka Kogwa- new year.

It is a flamboyant demonstration of Zanzibar passion and style, with the biggest single event
being held at Makunduchi in Southern Unguja.

As well as the chaos of dancing, singing and drumming, the festival includes some ancient rituals:

a mock fight, in which the men beat each other with banana stems in an effort to vent any ill-feelings or frustrations built up over the year (previously these fights were carried out using real cudgels and even now they can get quite violent).

While the men fight, the women parade around in their best finery, singing of love, family and happiness. Next there is the ritual burning of a hut.

A local waganga (witchdoctors) sets the fire and the assembled crowd watch intently to see which way the smoke will go in order to determine the the fortunes for the year ahead.

After this a huge feast is held,

zanzibar local transport

where all visitors are welcomed - in fact it is said to bring bad fortune on any villager who does not have at least one guest.

Once everybody has eaten and drunk their fill, the music begins.

The taraab bands and each drum ngomas playing well into the night as the die-hard revellers turn out

onto the beach to sing and dance until dawn.

The Pemba Bull Fight- One of the few obvious signs of the Portuguese presence on these islands is the Pemba Bull Fight.

This version of the Iberian tradition is far removed from those of Seville or Madrid.

In Pemba the affair is far more light-hearted and spontaneous with unarmed matadors being chased by
specially trained bulls, to the sound of the tandaa clarinet.

Idd-el-Fitry- Of the Moslem festivals, the Idd-el-Fitry is the most important, marking the end of Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting.

For a month people have gone from dawn to dusk without food or water passing their lips and for days all eyes have been watching the horizon for a sight of the new moon which will mark the end of Ramadan.

After prayers the next morning start four days of festivities during which children are showered with gifts (as well their parents can afford) and everybody comes together to feast and celebrate.

Other Moslem celebrations include the Idd-el Haj, celebrating the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca and Maulid, which commemorates the birth of Muhammad.


Traditional weddings are passionate and colourful affairs. Most of the dancing is done by the women,
often attired in heavily frilled dresses, who perform traditional dances such as beni, unyago, bomu and
lelemama, some of which take place in separate ceremonies to which the men are not privy.

Participants may partake of a strong hallucinogenic nutmeg - "kokomanga" preparation, often leading to
crazed, frantic affairs.

Men traditionally wear full dress suits.

Zanzibar Music Festival-

 This festival is a relatively recent introduction which usually takes place in the first week in July.

Traditional music - taarab, ngoma, African, Arabian and Asian - can be heard at a number of different
venues, most notably in the Old Fort.

Zanzibar International Film Festival- Z.I.F.F

Now into its 10th year, the Festival of the DhowCountries is a cultural extravaganza of cinema,music and
arts from all over Africa, the Gulf States, Iran, India, Pakistan and islands of the Indian Ocean.

The next event takes place in Zanzibar from 28th June - 13th July.02 and will feature around a hundred
films, with awards forthe best feature films and documentaries.

Fifty music groups will be performing in a variety of historic and magnificent locations around Zanzibar’s

Stone Town, along with dance and theatre acts, poets and other artists from the region.

swahili culture


As always the Festival will feature seminars and workshops, special activities for women and young people as well as mini-festivals many of the villages and rural areas.

The Festival has grown rapidly and become very popular in its four years existence, attracting many thousands of local people as well as international visitors.

To keep the event accessible for the population of Zanzibar, admission prices are minimal (about USD$0.60).

zanzibar festivals

All over Zanzibar, on street corners, in shady clearings, in bars and on verandahs small groups of men can often be seen clustered around in intense circles, watching excitedly as two protagonists execute the game of bao. To the novice, play seems random.

Sixty-four round seed pods, the size of marbles, being moved often at great speed around a board of thirty-two bowls.

swahili culture

A closer look reveals the clockwise or counter-clockwise rotation of each move and the obvious capture of opponents pieces, but there is clearly a more complex set of rules that governs the play. Getting to know these rules can be a challenge.

The best way is by the time-honoured manner of patient observation through countless lazy evenings. But the learning of bao does not simply involve the learning the rules.

This is a tactile game. A game in which the player needs to be stylish and nonchalant if he is to win.

Hand movements are eloquent rather than deliberate, often so fast as to be difficult to follow and embellished by the more accomplished with the flourished movements such as the 'three piece throw', where pieces are simultaneously tossed into three adjacent bowls.

Bao and its variations are played throughout S.Africa and it is thought to have proliferated over the centuries with the Bantu expansions, although its origins could equally well be Arabic, Egyptian or even Chinese.


Another game played on the streets of Zanzibar is 'keram', which looks like a poor relation of

modern 'pool' and was probably imported from British India. Instead of baize and slate, the

table is home-made out of wood and instead of cues and balls, draught-like pucks are

cannoned onto one another. Despite the inferior quality of the keram table, nobody ever had
more fun playing pool.

swahili culture