Who are the people of Zanzibar?

The people of Zanzibar have a population of totaling just over 1.3 million. Most of them are Africans and people of mixed African-Persian ancestry, and there are Shirazi and Arabs. At independence, Arabs constituted less than 20 per cent of Zanzibar’s population but were economically and politically dominant. Much of the Arab population left in 1964. Nearly all Zanzibaris are Muslim.

Islam in Zanzibar is nearly universal, whereas on the mainland only around a third of the population is Muslim. In recent years, the ruling party has moved to establish controls over Islamic institutions.

The islands of Zanzibar, Unguja and Pemba, were initially inhabited by African people from the mainland. They were joined later by Arabs and Persians, many of the latter from Shiraz, who engaged in the trade of slaves, ivory and spices. Portuguese explorers arrived at the end of the 15th century, and Portugal maintained control for nearly 200 years. In 1698 the islands fell to the Sultanate of Oman, whose reach extended along the mainland coast of East Africa. During 130 years of

Omani control and subsequent rule by one line of the Sultanate, Zanzibar’s wealth concentrated in the hands of the Arab community. While there was little mixing among Arabs and Africans, inter-marriage between Africans and Persians was more common. People of African and mixed ethnicity became known as Shirazis.

Many tourists that visit Zanzibar for the first time, don’t really know what to expect to find here. They may be even visiting the African continent for the first time. Most of the tourists are amazed by the friendliness of the people. Yes, Zanzibari are extremely friendly, but conservative and proud to show you their beautiful island. But it’s good to know and understand how the people of Zanzibar live and how to keep their respect and friendliness along the holiday.

traditional clothing Zanzibar
traditional clothing Zanzibar

Specially the older people do not like it if tourists are not properly dressed. It is good to know that, specially while visiting Stone Town, the people expect you to cover your shoulders and knees. This also concerns if you visit a local village, a school or any other public place or office. When you are at the beach or in your resort, you can wear your tourist outfit. Please you have to keep in mind that topless sunbathing or nudity is prohibited all over the island.

There are many children on the streets and around the beaches. It is very tempting to make pictures and give them goods. They are even asking for ‘pen skuli‘ (pen for school), ‘pipi‘(sweets) or even ‘pesadalla‘ (money, dollar)

To not stimulate this behavior it is best to not give anything. If you would like to do something for these kids, go to the nearest school or ask for the Sheha (the responsible of the village) and ask what they would need the most. Then you can go to a local shop, buy the items they are asking for and hand it over to the responsible person. It will be handed out to the families that are struggling the most. This way you support a family as well as a local shop owner. This is much better that bringing goods from your home country.

Always ask permission if you want to make a picture of local people and/or children. When in your home country, you don’t want people randomly taking pictures of you. So why would you do it here? But again, don’t give money as a gratitude for taking the picture.

It is not usual for the Zanzibari to show affection to each other in public. Many times you will not see interaction between men and women. The Muslim women are always veiled and will be dressed from head to toe. The women often don’t have a job, but take care of the family. Muslim men go visit the mosque up to five times a day, even during their job at daytime. It is not aloud to make any pictures of religion sights like mosques or churches.

As said before, the Zanzibari are proud of their islands. Yes there are more than one, but the main islands are UngujaPemba and Mafia. Zanzibar’s nature reserves are very well protected. Therefore, you will have to pay a conservation fee. This can be for Jozani forest, Marine conservation or the musea in Stone Town. Buying sea shells or taking them from the beach to your home, is also strictly prohibited. All regulation of the do’s and don’ts can be find here in the Code of Conduct.


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