ZANZIBAR The “Spiced Island”


Thirty-five kilometers off the coast of east-central Africa lies the island Zanzibar. Surrounded by the warm blue waters of the Indian Ocean,lined with white beaches and adorned with undulating hills and palm trees that sway in the trade winds, Zanzibar is truly a picturesque island. While relatively small–85 kilometers at its greatest length and 39 kilometers wide–it has played a large role in Africa’s history.

For centuries Persians, Arabs,Indians, Portuguese, British, Asians, North Americans and of course, mainland Africans have visited Zanzibar. The main attraction then was that lucrative slave trade. It was also were traders and explorers obtain supplies. Indeed most of the European explorers of Africa in the 19th century passed through the isle! Little wonder that it came to be called th Gateway of Africa

Cloves and Their Uses

The Sultan of Omar, Sayid Said, left his home land on the Persian Gulf and settled in Zanzibar during the first half of the 1800’s as the ruler of this isle, he made the Arab plantation owners stop growing coconuts and instead plant a far more profitable crops: cloves. By the end of his life, cloves profit were exceeded only by the slave and ivory trade. So when the slave trade was abolished, Zanzibar became known as the spiced island. Today it is the worlds chief source of cloves.

Cloves are actually the dried flower buds of a tropical ever green. The scientific name of the tree is Eugenia caryophyllata. In Zanzibar, the average tree is about 9 meters tall. The flower buds are generally harvested when they are reddish brown in color and are about 1.3 centimeter in size. A heavy tree can produce up to about 34 kilograms of the buds. After been harvested, they are laid out to dry in the tropical sun.

Because of their fragrant odor and sharp taste, cloves are primarily used in cooking . The taste of meat and vegetable dishes is often enhanced with cloves. Or you can lightly crush four or five buds, add them to boiling water and make a spicy tea! And on a cold winter day, red wine can be turn into a refreshing beverage by heating it and adding a few cloves. Some use cloves to freshen up their bathroom by inserting about 20 cloves into an orange and hanging it up for about a week. Dentist have used the oil of cloves as a local anesthetic to relieve tooth pain. Cloves is also used in mouth washes and perfumes. Little wonder that this tiny island is famous for its spice cloves!

The People

The real spice of Zanzibar is the local people. The moment you set foot on the island you are warmly greeted by the Zanzibaris. They seam quite relax and take for one another. While engaged in conversation, they may repeatedly shake hands, maybe three or four times in a span of ten minutes. This is the way they spontaneously react to anything said that is humorous.

If you visit one of their homes, you will be treated to their well known hospitality. A visitor must always be given the very best. If he arrives unexpectedly during meal time, their is no question about it: He must join in and eat to satisfaction. Such hospitality is reminiscent of Bible times –Compare Genesis 18: 1-8

The Zanzibaris are also colorful and exotic in appearance. The women wear the Buibui a cape like gown covering them from head to ankles when out in public. Interestingly, this may cover a western-style dress. As for the men, they are seen dressed in a Kanzu, a white or pastel-colored robe. They wear the Kofia, a breaded cap.

Walking through the history section of the city of Zanzibar called stone town a person feel as though he has been transported back in time. The maze of streets and alleys has no side walks. The doors of the numerous shops opened right into the street! Then there are many street vendors, such as the ones who sell Kahawa, a sweet Arabic coffee, spiced with ginger.

However, neither words or photograph adequately describe the beauty of Zanzibar. Its reputation as a spiced island is well deserved in more ways than one.



Taken from Awake! February 22 1995


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