Dar es Salaam: The Cultural Village Museum

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Natasha and I spent our last full day in Dar es Salaam visiting the Cultural Village Museum! The National Museum of Tanzania has five component institutions, but the only two institutions in Dar es Salaam are the museum we visited yesterday and the Village Museum. Visiting Zanzibar had given us a great perspective on how the Arabs and specifically the Omanis had shaped Tanzania, but Natasha wanted to understand better the indigenous chiefdoms that existed here before and after Zanzibar became a sultanate.


A 2005-2007 Toyota Spacio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 9:30 AM for our journey to the Cultural Village, wait for us at the site, and then drive us back to our hotel (for a cost of 60,000 shillings = $27.00 USD). Happily, the taxi arrived about ten minutes before the scheduled time. He was driving a Toyota Spacio, which confused me since it looked very like a Prius V that didn’t shut off its engine at traffic lights! As we moved north from downtown, we reached Ocean Road, a road curving along the shoreline. I felt a little tingle to realize that the road had been renamed “Barack Obama Drive” in the aftermath of the President’s visit to Tanzania in 2013. We saw some lovely beaches, though the sight was marred by quite a lot of rubbish. Soon we passed the old U.S. Embassy compound, closed since the terrorist attack of 1998. The new one is considerably more substantial and more secure.


A tuk-tuk, courtesy of Getaway.co.za.

As we continued to the northwest, we passed into an area under extensive construction. It seemed that every block had a sizable office building or apartment tower underway, with a large sign naming the construction company (frequently in Chinese lettering). The driver said that Chinese firms had been hugely involved in construction for quite some time. Our route on Bagamoyo Road separated Oyster Bay (a very wealthy area) from the middle-class Kinondoni area. After a while, our progress slowed considerably, and a fair amount of pooled rain water had gathered on the shoulders. Through the night, we had heard several rain storms pass through the area. Insufficient drains in this area had nearly rendered the road impassible! Just the same, three-wheeled tuk-tuks were trying their best to create their own lane on the shoulder. Our taxi pushed through a large, submerged area to reach the muddy and rocky Cultural Village parking lot.

The Cultural Village Museum


Yao homes


The migrations that proliferated Bantu languages

How many ways can you make a hut? It turns out that there are plenty of different materials and designs to choose from, and the chiefdoms of Tanzania have sampled an impressive variety. The groups who had structures represented by the museum included the following: Sukuma, Zanaki, Washambaa, Swahili, Haya, Yao, Makua, Kwere/Doe, Iraqw, Rundi/Ha, Wamwera, Zaramo, Chagga, Gogo, Ngoni, Pimbwe, Fipa, Hehe, and Nyakyusa. Almost all of these groups can be described as “Bantu-speaking,” but it’s worth noting that Bantu is a highly diverse family of languages (both Zulu and isiXhosa languages from South Africa fit this category). Swahili is a widely-known African language in the world at large, but in fact it represents a combination of several Bantu languages with Arabic; it became a widespread trade language across several nations in East Africa.

I would highlight the Yao as a chiefdom that played a key role in the historic slave trade in East Africa; additionally, their commitment to Islam made this group a stalwart against European powers’ domination. The Ngoni are a group that migrated up relatively late from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa in the aftermath of the Zulu Wars. I mentioned the Fipa in connection with a one-piece carved wooden door that we saw at the museum yesterday. Depending on the type of farming, the climate of the regions they occupied, the contact they enjoyed with other groups, and so on, these chiefdoms turned to rather different approaches for home construction.


Fipa iron-smelting furnace

I would emphasize that the Bantu-speaking chiefdoms spread to cover a huge fraction of Africa because they developed iron-working technologies and had a rich and diverse agriculture to keep their populations fed. Many of the movies about African populations in the last century stereotyped them as bloodthirsty savages, but this image has little to do with reality– these groups were actively participating in international trade back in the fifteenth century and before! That’s why I was delighted that the cultural village included a smelting furnace in connection with the Fipa people. The smelting furnace, constructed almost entirely of clay, reflects that the Fipa were producing iron as far back as the seventeenth century. This process combined iron ore, charcoal, and flux (various types) at a temperature approaching 1000 degrees Celsius (~1800 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce liquid iron which could then be smithed.


The Hawa hut is an example of the “Mushonge” type.

The huts that we observed were large enough to be subdivided into several spaces, in some cases by internal walls. I particularly liked the Haya homes, called the “Mushonge” type. These banana and coffee farmers use bamboo, sticks, and grass to build round huts with an entry hall that can be divided into storage, cooking, and sleeping spaces.


The Gogo people of the Dodoma region are pastoralists.

Structures for the Washambaa, Sukuma, and others featured internal ceilings that left room for storage (or children!) above and work and sleep space below. The complexity of these homes definitely stretches well beyond what we think when we say “hut.” By the time we examined the clay walls and verandas of Mwera houses, it was clear that only a small step in complexity differentiated it from a Swahili house with plastered coral and lime walls.


The matrilineal Mwera community built homes with clay walls on wooden pole frames.

As we finished our tour of the village, Natasha and I were treated to a rousing music and dance performance by a troupe of six. They put their all into the show, even though their audience numbered only two! At the close, the group sang a local song including the words “hakuna matata” (not the Disney one), and a dancer enticed Natasha and me to join them. Each of us was adorned by cowrie shells and headdress to join them dancing.


Some of our musicians

On the drive back to our hotel, I was startled to feel a roach crawling across my neck. I shrieked and swatted it into the air. Sadly, it was flung in Natasha’s direction. She responded with greater aplomb. When we reached the hotel room, the roach scuttled out of her backpack. I smote it with my flip-flop.

Our excellent adventure in Dar es Salaam had come to a close.  The next morning we were on a flight back south to Johannesburg and Cape Town!



Dar es Salaam: the National Museum of Tanzania

An index to this series appears at the first post.

In many ways, the National Museum of Tanzania is the obvious tourist destination for Dar es Salaam.  Natasha and I were especially excited to see the controversial “Nutcracker Man” remains housed there.  We were somewhat uncertain what we would find, though, since we could not find a responsive web server for the museum!

The National Museum and House of Culture


This is the street-facing side of the museum, not the more ornate House of Culture!


Al Qaeda killed many Africans in its quest to defeat Western powers.

After photographing some historic buildings along the waterfront, we strolled northeast along Sokoine Drive.  We spotted two or three casinos within a mile on our walk.  The National Museum complex has greatly expanded since it originally opened its doors in 1940.  The main museum building has an open structure lining Shaaban Robert Street.  Our two tickets cost 13000 shillings ($5.85 USD).

When we entered the courtyard, my attention was immediately drawn by a display of thoroughly wrecked vehicles.  I wandered closer, and my attention was transfixed.  I was looking at a memorial remembering the 1998 al-Qaeda attack on the United States embassy in Dar es Salaam.  It combines three destroyed vehicles (a bicycle, motorcycle, and a light truck) with a sheet of shattered bulletproof glass and a statue of a woman without arms.  It’s important to remember that the first al-Qaeda attacks (this one was simultaneous with another in Nairobi) cost many Muslim lives.


The brownish structure behind the Sacred Fig houses most exhibits and classrooms for the National Museum.


This door from Ufipa was carved with iron tools.

The courtyard also features a truly massive Sacred Fig tree.  This specimen was planted in the early 20th century by the Germans as part of the botanical gardens (just across the street to the Northwest).  It’s the same kind of tree that Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath in the 6th century B.C. as he became the Buddha.

With that, Natasha and I climbed the stairs to the exhibit hall of the museum.  She and I both returned several times to examine a door that had been carved from a single tree trunk by the Ufipa in southwestern Tanzania.  By contrast a bed frame created in the 18th century for the grandfather of Sheikh Hussein of Kilwa was a sublime example of both woodcarving and joinery.  Many of the photographs and maps emphasized the history of Kilwa, an East African coastal city that played a substantial role in the slave and other trade networks leading to Zanzibar from the 13th century to the 15th century.  The World Heritage Site comprising the ruins at Kilwa is far off the beaten track, though, so it seems unlikely I shall ever see it!


Master-work from Kilwa

I was glad that the museum covered the history of Kilwa, but more about the history of Dar es Salaam would have been nice.  For example, why were the British so powerful in Zanzibar during an era when the Germans were dominant on the mainland (“German East Africa“)?  I appreciated a bust of Dr. Richard Hindorf, who introduced sisal as a drought-resistant crop (of 1000 bulbs sent from Florida, only sixty-two arrived safely).  The museum also featured a 1951 radio transmitter used to launch Radio Dar es Salaam!


Hindorf: some Europeans were able to contribute to the growth of this area.

Three art galleries complemented the art collection.  The first featured prehistoric and historic rock art, to Natasha’s delight.  A second, contemporary, gallery featured a variety of art from modern Tanzania.  Julius Nyerere, the first president of the modern state, featured prominently.


President J.K. Nyere: two 1970 paintings from B.N. Desai

We saw another example of the banana leaf art we had first observe at Zanzibar’s art museum.  This gallery had several carved ebony pieces including one titled “socialism,” in which each level of figures supported the one above it.


The House of Culture occupies the original building of the National Museum.

The third gallery, over in the original building for the museum, was largely photographic, detailing traditional methods for food preparation, iron smelting, and for crafting dance masks.  I came back to the contemporary gallery to photograph a few of the masks for Mapiko dance.


These Mapiko masks are for dance, not candy-gathering!

What can I say about the museum’s star exhibit, Louis Leakey’s discovery of “Nutcracker man?”  On this front, I must say I was profoundly disappointed.  The museum exhibit was being renovated, and the fossils were not available for view.  The front desk reported that it was expected to reopen in February, 2018.

As the sun lowered in the sky, we ventured over to the Bibi Titi Mohammed loop to find Mnazi Mmoja Hospital and Park.  Amongst the street hawkers and some child pick pockets-in-training, we found the eternal flame of the Uhuru Monument.  This word, meaning “Freedom” in Swahili, is commemorated by a flaming torch.  Well, the flame looks a bit like red plastic.  I liked the fact that Lieutenant Uhura’s character on Star Trek was adapted from this term!


Uhuru for all!

Natasha and I celebrated freedom by eating barbecue chicken at Mamboz Corner BBQ again.

Dar es Salaam: peaceful harbor, thriving city

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Just as we cannot tell the history of St. Petersburg without Peter the Great, to tell the history of Dar es Salaam without Majid bin Said, first Sultan of Zanzibar, would be impossible.  In 1862, Mzizima was a fishing village beside an extensive harbor, populated by Swahili who had moved down from Somalia and Zaramo inhabitants who had come from further inland.  By 1879, many partially-completed city blocks had been constructed along the waterfront to form the nucleus of Dar es Salaam, the “harbor of peace.”  What would inspire the Sultan to invest so heavily in constructing a city from scratch?

From village to city


Sultan Majid bin Said, from the British Library

Zanzibar’s economy thrived on two sources: transit trade and plantation agriculture.  The area that became Dar es Salaam incorporated the largest natural harbor in close proximity to Zanzibar.  The Sultan saw that a well-developed port could further boost the flow of goods from Sub-Saharan Africa into Zanzibar.  As his reign progressed, the attractions of a second home away from the constant strain of the court at Zanzibar also became apparent.  Sultan Majid passed away in 1870, however, leaving the sultanate to his brother Barghash, who had contested Majid’s selection as Sultan.  The second Sultan of Zanzibar was much more interested in developing the infrastructure of Zanzibar than he was in building a city on the continental coast.  A French missionary visited the city site in 1886 and had this to say:

Situated on the shore of its harbour, like an Arab woman in rags in the home of her former husband, Dari Salama appears to mourn its isolation and poverty. To the left, the palace of Said Majid is still to be seen, half concealed by mass growth… (Brennan and Burton, pg. 18)

Because Natasha and I had found a hotel close to the ferry terminal, we were quite close to the oldest structures in Dar es Salaam.  The “Old Boma,” constructed in 1866-1867, stands just opposite the ferry terminal.  Many British colonies in Africa constructed bomas as a single building housing government offices and police startions.  The building currently houses an organization dedicated to architectural heritage.  When I see the walking tours they made available, I really wish we had signed up for one or more!  Sultan Majid’s palace has been demolished, but an ancillary structure, possibly built to house his harem, evolved in time to house the “White Fathers” organization in 1922.


Atiman House may have begun life as a harem, but now it houses missionaries.

Rebirth at the close of the 19th century


A mission stands near St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral.

These older buildings were subsequently joined by two substantial churches that were for years the tallest buildings in the city.  A building that was once a mission has been repurposed as some sort of government building.  Quite close by we found St. Joseph’s Cathedral.  The foundation stone was laid in 1898, and the construction was completed in 1902. Just a couple blocks away one finds a rather different kind of church.  German missionaries constructed a Lutheran church at roughly the same time… and they used a Bavarian Alpine style!  It’s quite a striking departure from the Catholic design.


The Azania Front Church was constructed starting in 1898.

Carl Peters, violent colonizer

If the Sultan of Zanzibar had turned his back on Dar es Salaam, what led to this growth boom at the end of the nineteenth century?  At this point we must introduce Carl Peters, a German colony builder who was largely responsible for the creation of “German East Africa.”  Representing his “Society for German Colonization,” he toured what is now Tanzania through 1884 securing “treaties” with leaders throughout the region.  He returned to Germany to found the German East Africa Company. He attempted to convince an initially unwilling Otto von Bismarck to grant him an imperial charter to transform these pieces of paper into an actual German colony.

The influence of Carl Peters on German East Africa was highly aggressive, first in the sense that he single-mindedly pursued more “treaties:” “most of [the Society’s] funds were absorbed by financing treaty-gathering expeditions” (Perras p. 113).  In the second sense, Carl Peters actively advocated for the use of violence to maintain control of the local citizenry.  He was apparently fond of asking “Haven’t you shot a negro yet!?”  It was in connection with Carl Peters’ efforts to achieve leverage in this region that Emily Ruete (sister of Sultan Barghash) returned to Zanzibar with a German fleet.  Peters’ heavy-handed aggression led to a late 1880s rebellion against the German East Africa Company which was overcome through use of the German military.  After that involvement, it was clear that the colony would be officially supported, and an 1890 treaty swapped territories between British and German areas in East Africa to reduce the tension between the two (Perras p. 168).

In other words, the last decade of the nineteenth century brought the “Scramble for Africa” to what is now Tanzania.  What the Sultan of Zanzibar had started at Dar es Salaam would be expanded upon by the Germans.  The church buildings I showed above reflect this area passing from Sultanate to German control.  World War I, however, brought a substantial shift in power.  The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of its African colonies, and France and Great Britain were the recipients (apparently returning the inhabitants to self-rule wasn’t a popular idea– that would wait until the independence movements long after World War II).

Today’s Dar es Salaam

In 2009, the World Bank estimated the population of Dar es Salaam as 2.7 million.  Tanzania has become the second most populous country in East Africa (after Ethiopia) with 40.4 million people.  The city is the economic centre of the country, even if the capital is the much smaller Dodoma.  In 2012, Tanzania’s national bureau of statistics reported that Dar es Salaam had reached 4.4 million out of 45 million; people continue to migrate to the city from the countryside to find work.


The Port Authority (left) and twin towers (right) dominate the area near the ferry port.

The Dar es Salaam skyline has been changing dramatically in recent years.  The Tanzania Ports Authority (2015) and PSPF Commercial Twin Towers (2014) are the only buildings in Tanzania to exceed 150 meters in height.  The PSPF is the Public Service Pensions Fund for the country, while the Tanzania Ports Authority is a parastatal organization to manage the busy port of Dar es Salaam.  These are just the most visible examples, though; the tallest seven buildings in Tanzania were all constructed since 2010, and all were in Dar es Salaam!


Dar es Salaam: Botanical Gardens

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Today was our big return to the mainland part of Tanzania, returning to Dar es Salaam by ferry. Since mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar in many respects are separate countries operating in union, I was unsure how our experience in “Dar” would compare.  Happily, we had a light schedule, thinking we would see the botanical gardens.

In transit

Frustratingly, though, the day dawned with heavy rain showers, ruling out our walk to the ferry with my roller bag (besides disrupting our sleep).  We said our farewells to the staff of the Riverman Hotel, and one of them drove us over to the terminal by 8:15 AM.  As we passed the Old Dispensary, I realized that I had missed getting a photo of its lovely woodwork.  Natasha and I breezed through the accesses; our passports and paid tickets got us into the terminal, we completed our immigration forms to leave Zanzibar, and waited in the posh VIP departure lounge, with leather recliners and extending foot supports.  In another half hour our group was boarded, and Natasha’s heavy backpack and my roller bag were packed onto a luggage cart.  We read novels for most of the two hour ferry ride back.  Natasha’s Stugeron prevented her nausea from the bouncing seas.

When we were reunited with our baggage, some twenty minutes after arriving at the Dar es Salaam terminal, we exited the terminal with baited breath.  Once again, the scene was a maelstrom of shouting people.  Porters looking for tips kept grabbing at my roller bag. Taxi drivers continually interrupted us with demands that we ride with them.  The flow of people clamoring for tickets or waiting to enter the terminal and cars depositing more humanity on the site made for a highly charged situation.  Natasha,  however, was a trooper, and she led us away from the terminal like an infantryman charging the line of battle.  She led us southwest along Sokoine Drive, then away from the waterfront on Railway street.  We parked in a barred driveway for a moment to get our bearings, then turned northeast along Samora to walk directly to our hotel.  Her planned course worked like a charm!

A Dosa Lunch


A streetside view of our hotel (from Jumia travel service)

The organization of Harbour View Suites Hotel is a little odd since its registration desk is on the eleventh floor.  Our hotel room, however, is ridiculously comfortable, with a kitchenette, private bathroom, and wraparound floor to ceiling panoramic window. Unfortunately, the window faces toward a plebian district of construction among aged apartment buildings.  We didn’t enjoy it for long before we headed out for lunch.


The view from the tenth floor

Natasha found an Indian restaurant named Chapan Bhog just seven blocks north and west of our hotel (see the red star at the top left of the attached map– our hotel is at the bottom).  We had barely gone a block before we picked up a straggler.  He claimed to be a refugee from Ethiopia whose family of 28 members were murdered by Al-Shabab.  Since he was going in the same direction, he joined our stroll.  He demonstrated that the way to cross a road was simply to hold up a hand toward traffic in the “stop” gesture and walk confidently.  Natasha received his full life story (much of it in excellent Afrikaans), and when we reached Chapan Bhog, of course he asked for help toward bus fare.  By the time we were in the restaurant, it was after 13:00, and we demolished our masala dosa and paneer masala dosa in record time.  Chapan Bhog is essentially Indian fast food, but it’s the best grade of fast food!


While we were out, we thought we would preview the neighborhood we will visit tomorrow for the National Museum.  We strolled down Jamhuri Street until it became Garden Ave.  As we continued on our route, the noisy neighborhood markets gave way to nice roads lined with embassies and consulates.  I visited another ATM (this country devours currency), and the machine shut itself down after refilling my wallet.  Natasha ran inside a Native American-themed Spur restaurant to acquire two cold half-liters of water.  We continued for a couple more blocks and then entered the Botanical Gardens.

Dar es Salaam Botanical Gardens


Although the gardens are formally closed on Saturdays, the gate was open, so we wandered in.  The botanical gardens definitely have seen better days; weeds have grown tall on the lawns, and plenty can be seen poking their way between cobbles and gravel paths.  Many of the walkways are just dirt, at this point.  We were surprised by swarms of moths that scattered from the flora as we passed.  Natasha and I passed through the garden and then settled near a massive tree with many birds nesting in its upper branches.  At this point, a kindly gentleman approached and changed our trajectory through the gardens.


Herons in the crown of a tree

Mr. Shabaan has worked at these gardens for twenty years, so he knows every plant as an old friend.  He explained that those were herons nesting in the the tree, and he reported that the teak tree had been growing there for 200 years!  The heron chicks each year struggle to fly for the first time, and he showed a couple mounds of feathers for hatchlings that had died in the attempt.


The gardener is also an artist! This ebony was grown in the garden.


Happily, the monkeys only return at nightfall.

The gardens at Dar es Salaam were originally created by Arabs, then were developed by Germans (who built the now-empty flower greenhouse, among other structures), were further shaped by the British, and now are maintained by the Tanzanian government.  He was happy to show us trees from which quinine can be isolated (cinchona tree), soap can be manufactured (sabuni tree), or even trees that can help asthma (sounds like mukuyu).  The gardens featured many trees from Polynesia and India, and the garden is distinctive for featuring examples of the “coco de mer” tree from the Seychelles.  He laughed at the monkeys for preferring the mangoes from the Indian tree when the Tanzanian mango tree produces such tasty fruit.  He pointed to a massive jacaranda tree that had stood for more than 150 years.  Each night around dinner time, the monkeys return from their adventures around the city to their home in that jacaranda tree!  Of course we paused to snap a photograph of Natasha next to her favorite tree, the baobab.  I also liked the ahoka tree; its branches were all wrapped closely down the trunk, so the whole tree looked like it had been grown inside an inverted test tube.


Might one of these be the coco de mer?

Askari Monument


On our walk back to the hotel, we paused at the Askari Monument. The site along Samora Ave has an interesting history.  It originally held three statues celebrating the German triumph in establishing “German East Africa” by sending its fleet to the region in 1885 (this is the same fleet that carried Princess Salme back for her only visit to Zanzibar). When the British claimed this region during World War I, they pulled these statues down.  In the aftermath of the war, they honored the contributions of Askari soldiers (soldiers from British colonies who served in that nation’s forces during the war) by erecting statues here in Dar es Salaam, in Mombassa, Kenya, and in Nairobi, Kenya.

Brilliant Barbecue

Natasha and I decided to head back out for dinner after some time in the hotel pool (outdoors, on the ninth floor).  We were unsure how safe it would be to walk the streets of downtown after sundown, so we opted for a nearby Indian restaurant called “Sheesh Mahal.” Unfortunately, this restaurant is no longer open!  We struck west along Jamhuri Street since it has lots of restaurant options, but all of them seemed to offer many menu items containing a lot of gluten, so we continued on our way.  We ran out of street as the road intersected the Bibi Titi Mohammed highway, so we looped back through a night market to find a corner barbecue with smoke rising from the cookers.


Mamboz Corner Barbecue

We had arrived at Mamboz Corner Barbecue.  Natasha was able to confirm that the cooking would not give much gluten exposure to the meat, and we happily placed our orders.  I went with “Dahi Lasooni Tikka,” a dish I hadn’t heard of but which would feature chicken chunks in a creamy garlic sauce, and Natasha ordered “Chicken Sekela.”  When the food arrived, we both dug in with a passion. Many people know that barbecue is not my first love, but I am reconsidering that judgment after this meal.  The spices, the sauce, and the delicately grilled meat was probably the best meal I’ve experienced on this trip.  Natasha was enraptured, and after twenty minutes, she pushed back and groaned, “I cannot believe I just ate half a chicken!  This has never happened before!”  We may need a return visit.


Zanzibar: the Victoria Garden Museums

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Our last full day on Zanzibar gave us a chance to visit a pair of museums grouped around the Victoria Garden.  They don’t get much attention in the guide books, but we enjoyed our look at the Zanzibar Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.  Just what would we find beyond the archway at the southern traffic circle of Stone Town?

Rather than scurrying about as our time on the island drew to a halt, Natasha and I relaxed with a bit of light shopping during the morning.  We began with a couple of women’s collective arts stores in the Hurumzi district at first.  We liked some appliqué pillows, though they were priced a bit higher than we thought appropriate.  We saw some shirts and shorts that might look nice for me, but again their prices were high (going to $30 USD for shorts seems excessive to a frugal mind).  We enjoyed a couple of antique shops.  At one, Natasha found a box with pivoting lid intended for salt and pepper; she acquired that for holding earrings.


A coin minted in India features a British monarch but is used off the cost of Africa…


The High Court of Zanzibar

At another, I spotted an Imperial British coin from India featuring Queen Victoria. I think my brother might use that with his students to show that Africa and India were actively trading with the rest of the world around the time of the American Civil War.  I also found a Quran in Arabic that I wanted for my brother’s classroom.  We returned to a T-shirt shop near our jetty from last night to purchase some T-shirts for little ones in the family.  It was a good run!

From there, we took the road south past the High Court and State buildings (photos of government buildings are not permitted, though I snapped the High Court without realizing what it is).  The way ahead was blocked, so we headed away from the coast, and happily that course led next to the Victoria Gardens. This park, also called the People’s Gardens, was dedicated to the people of Zanzibar by Sultan Hamoud in 1899 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  A 1996 renovation has produced a park that still looks a bit ragged, but some of the trees there are still rather pretty.  A large house adjoining the garden that was originally constructed as the British Residency now serves as the State House: the official residence of the Zanzibari president.

Zanzibar Museum of Art


The Peace Memorial now houses the art museum.

The park adjoins a complex of two museums that we both enjoyed.  For 6000 Tanzanian shillings ($2.70 USD), we gained access to both the Peace Memorial Museum (now the Zanzibar Museum of Art) and the Natural History Museum.  The Peace Memorial building dates from 1920 during the reign of George V.  It was constructed in honor of those who lost their lives in the “Great War,” commemorating the “victorious peace.”  Why would Zanzibar have cared who “won” World War I?  As it turns out, the British used the island as a repair base for its navy.  The “Battle of Zanzibar” saw the German cruiser Königsberg sink the British cruiser Pegasus during 1914.  The Peace Memorial building looks quite unlike other World War I memorials that I have seen, such as the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.  One might easily mistake it for a mosque, with its high dome surrounded by six smaller domes!


The minaret of the Mnara Mosque may date to the seventeenth century.

As I mentioned, the building now houses an art museum.  Visitors are not going to see long galleries full of oils flanked by a massive sculpture garden, though.  I would highlight a few items as worth seeing.  The first is a set of miniatures.  Since Stone Town has dilapidated quite a bit, it can be hard to imagine this city in its prime.  The minaret for the Malindi / Mnara Mosque, is one of the oldest structures standing in Stone Town, though it is now matched to a mosque below that was constructed in 1834/5 (Sheriff pg.51).  It now abuts buildings on almost all sides, so the miniature version at the museum is the only way to see the mosque as a separate structure.  “Zanzibari mosques are very plain and unobtrusive, hardly distinguishable from domestic buildings.  They normally form a continuous line with neighbouring domestic houses…” (Sheriff pg. 5)


The Old Dispensary (1899) incorporates a strong Indian influence.

The Old Dispensary is a major landmark in Stone Town.  Its story revolves around a fabulously wealthy Ismaili businessman of the late 19th century named Tharia Topan.  As one measure of his wealth, a tract of land he owned in the Ng’ambo (the other side of Creek Road) was so large that it contained 1300 huts (Andriananjanirana-Ruphin pg. 101).  When he decided to create a hospital to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, he spared no expense.  He chose a plot of land that would be prominent on the coast (though the extension of the port later blocked its view), and he brought architects and craftsmen from Bombay to create a building better suited as a palace than as a hospital.  The building uses teak imported from India throughout its structure.  He crafted a golden trowel for the ceremony of laying the building’s foundation stone and shipped it to London for exhibition.  Unsurprisingly, he was knighted in 1890, but a year later he was dead.  He never got to see the completion of his triumphant creation (Battle pg. 91-99).


This evocative statue is displayed without details.

Next, the museum gives a corner chamber to the topic of ceramics, mostly a set of pots and vases.  On a shelf, though, stands a small statue of a chained female slave, looking down but not defeated.  I was really moved by the work, especially since our visit to the Slave Market Museum had reinforced the importance of female slaves in the role of “concubine” or “second wife.”  Many of these women decided against accepting freedom since it would mean separation from their children and other violations of dignity.  I had noted that the Slave Market Museum relied heavily on photographs and text; incorporating this statue could add depth to their presentation.  As it stands, the statue is presented without annotation of sculptor, date, or even title.

Natasha called my attention to Mr. Naaman‘s brilliant recreation of an 1840 photograph by Gillian depicting Stone Town from above.  What makes it brilliant?  The artist made it entirely by pasting together fragments of different banana leaves in 2005, using different species to achieve different shadings.


Stone Town, executed in banana leaves

Everywhere Natasha and I have gone in Zanzibar, we have been greeted with Jambo (“Hello”), Karibu (“You are welcome”), or Hakuna Matata (“No worries”).  I learned another phrase from a museum piece showing a woven fish trap.  It reads “kuingia demani,” which means getting into problems that one doesn’t know how to solve.  I think we can all relate to that!

Natural History Museum


Natural History doesn’t get a dome.

Visitors to the Art Museum are also encouraged to visit the small natural history museum next door.  We were both worried that the chamber would be filled with dusty Victorian taxidermy animals. While some stuffed animals were indeed present, we encountered a few things that kept our attention.  For me, the first was a partial skeleton in a glass box locked in a wire cage on the wall.  The description indicated that the skeleton represented the bones of a dodo bird from Mauritius (a gift of W. Harold Ingrams, Esq.).  This might not seem so remarkable, but remember that the last accepted dodo sighting took place in 1662!  These bones are either fakes, or they are more than three and a half centuries old.

We puzzled over a really large vertebra standing on a small table. It must have been a foot across on the central column.  At first we thought it might be from an elephant when Natasha snapped her fingers and realized it was from a whale.  My attention was also grabbed by the jaws of a largetooth sawfish (Pristis microdon) and a common sawfish (Pristis pristis).  They look something like a chainsaw blade with inch-long teeth sticking out on either side. Outside the building, Natasha noticed that the museum was once home to giant tortoises.  Gladly, the animals have been moved to nearby “Prison Island,” where we hope they have more room to maneuver.


Sawfish teeth

Abyssinian Maritim Restaurant

For dinner, Natasha and I decided to break from Tanzanian food (which we like) to enjoy an Ethiopian restaurant we had spotted near the SW corner of Stone Town.  The restaurant had large posters of sites in the country to tell some of the nation’s history.  Because we started accumulating insect bites the moment we sat down, we decided to move to a more internal table; sadly, the insect bites continued.  We realized from the menu that our dinner was going to cost substantially more than we had been spending.  A normal lunch at a local food joint might cost 12 or 13,000 shillings.  We opted for a vegetarian entrée for me and a chicken entrée for Natasha, and we added a bottle of water and a spiced Ethiopian tea on top.  The total bill came to 49,000 shillings ($22 USD), so ultimately it was “much of a muchness.”

We wandered north toward the tourist area when Lady Hellen appeared at her shop door.  Where had we been?  Didn’t we know she was waiting for us?  Laughing, we stepped inside.  Natasha found two refrigerator magnets, and I bargained for a watercolor of a Zanzibar door that would form a nice triptych with our dhow and street paintings.  She seemed nonplussed at the small purchase, but she still showed good grace.


Our three watercolors: town, dhow, door

Our efforts to get back to our hotel produced an unusual result.  I headed for the southeast corner of the Old Arab Fort, and then I marched us into the maze of alleys.  The Friday evening crowd on the streets had collectively decided to close up the shops.  Somehow I got us entirely turned around, and we popped back out near Freddie Mercury’s house!  This time Natasha took the fore, and she charged us back into the maze.  Once again, we took a wrong turn, and we bounced out of the maze near Lady Hellen’s art shop!  We decided to play it safe with our last effort.  We headed south and east along the belt road, and then we walked northeast along a familiar track back to our New Mkunazini Road, bought one last bottle of water, and then collapsed into our room at last!


Zanzibar: chasing Princess Salme and dialing up a dhow

An index to this series appears at the first post.

In just moments, today’s itinerary changed from loose and open-ended to complex and fascinating.  Natasha and I had bestirred ourselves from bed with little notion of how we would spend our day.  I wanted to capture some photographs, but after that?  Who knows!  Instead, we tackled three tourist goals in a single day.

The Hamamni baths

The warren of pathways through Stone Town are starting to seem familiar to us after five days in the area.  Still, the maze to the west of the Darajani Market is challenging.  After I misdirected us all the way south to New Mkunazini Road, Natasha took the helm to guide us to an Arts Collective in the neighborhoods north of that road.  We liked the paintings and shirts, but we didn’t make a purchase.


The antechamber has a fountain to wash your feet.

We were happy to discover that the Hamamni Baths were directly opposite the collective.  These baths were constructed for public use by the Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said, between 1870 and 1888.  Hold on to that name, since he figures into another story from today.  The Bath complex is quite large, featuring a foot-washing fountain, changing rooms, both hot and cold baths, shaving areas, and other spaces.  Constructing these baths was considered a key service expected of a Muslim ruler, since believers are occasionally obligated to perform a full bath by their religion.


Hungry cats are a common sight in the streets of Zanzibar.

After we became lost in the winding alleys again, Natasha was able to steer us to Hurumzi street, where we had found the offices for Eco and Culture Tours of Zanzibar.  Our goal was its neighbor, the Princess Salme Museum at the Emerson Hotel.  Sadly, its doors were still closed.  We decided to take the opportunity to check in with Eco and Culture again to make plans for that evening (see below).

The Princess Salme Museum


Emily Ruete (image from Wikimedia Commons)

As we stepped back into the road, we saw a gentleman dismount his bicycle to open the front door of the Princess Salme Museum.  We were in luck!  At first, Natasha and I were inclined to simply pay the admission to enter the museum, but when we realized that the gentleman, Said el-Gheithy, was the founder of the museum, we opted for the guided tour instead.  Along the way, we learned that he had consulted in the process of establishing a room to Princess Salme’s memory in the Palace Museum that we had seen two days before.  He was delighted that we had so many questions about his favorite topic!  The museum is not a large one, but it is packed with information on Princess Salme that helps to explain why she was such a lightning rod for the Sultans of Zanzibar:

  • She intervened in a succession struggle, allying herself with the losing side.
  • She left court without requesting permission.
  • She converted to Christianity from Islam.
  • She married without requesting permission (and changed her name to Emily).
  • She allied herself with German interests even though the Sultans favored the British.

When the original Sultan of Zanzibar died in 1856, a succession crisis followed because inheritance of his title was not based on birth order but rather perceived ability to rule.  His son Majid eventually won out over his son Barghash, and Barghash went into exile in India.  His brother would rule as the first Sultan of Zanzibar until his death in 1870.  Their sister Salme was one of very few women in Zanzibar who could write, having taught herself by copying text from the Quran on a camel scapula.  Barghash had enlisted her aid in the succession crisis, so she was hardly favored by the brother who won.


A few of the books that emerged from Emily Ruete and her children

Princess Salme continued using her pen throughout her life, taking controversial stands about the equivalence of extreme poverty in the developed world with slavery in the world where she had come of age.  Her three children who lived to adulthood each continued in prominence, and her descendants now live throughout the world.  I was very glad to see her memory detailed in such vivid terms by Said el-Gheithy.

Sunset in a dhow


Dhows can also sail upwind.

We had returned to Eco and Culture to schedule a sunset cruise in a dhow, the type of sailing vessel that launched Zanzibar to such economic importance for Indian Ocean trade.  The tour guide met us at 4:15 outside our hotel.  Rather than leaving from the port, our dhow met us at a stone staircase just below Tippu Tip’s ruined mansion.  Our boat, named the “Cimiya,” was a smaller model since our cruise would involve only two crew and two passengers.  It had been constructed just three years before.  It is essentially identical to the smaller boat in image above, using a single “lateen” sail.  Natasha and I scrambled over its metal ladder, and the captain powered up its outboard motor to push us into the channel.


Ahoy there!

I must admit I was a little frustrated at first to learn that the boat’s course would take it south, so I would not be able to acquire a “magic hour” photograph of the famous buildings of Stone Town.  The course, we took, though, gave Natasha and me a look at the government complex (High Court of Justice and State House) for the island as well as its chief medical complex, the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital.  From there, we mostly saw public beaches and a rent-controlled apartment complex (in nice condition and an easy walk to the beach).  Despite the presence of some threatening clouds in the distance, the winds were pretty light during our transit, but the sail stayed full-bellied (the captain had killed the engine once the sail was up).

I enjoyed the peace of sailing.  I am reminded of the sense one gets when riding in a hot air balloon, that the balloon is holding still while the world moves by at a stately pace.  Our little snack of nuts, bananas, and cassava chips seemed like the right mix in the gathering dusk.  The first mate was very talkative, so some of the potential romance of the cruise was a bit diminished.  Just the same, it was highly enjoyable, and I’d recommend it to others.

Natasha and I were dropped off at the same place we had boarded, so we set off on foot through the maze of Stone Town passageways.  This time we found ourselves on Hurumzi Street, where we briefly considered a tourist restaurant before realizing we hadn’t brought much cash onto the boat (and the credit card machines were out of order again).  We stopped by the hotel and then ate at Lukmaan’s, the diner where I never skipped a hot cup of chai tea.  We had a lovely chat with the Patton family, YouTubers who have been teaching their three daughters about the world by visiting it, one country at a time!  With that, we were off to bed.


Zanzibar: turtles in the Jozani Forest and tradition in Jambiani village

An index to this series appears at the first post.

Natasha and I were really excited about our tour of the southeast coast of Zanzibar today.  We contracted with Eco and Culture Tours Zanzibar for their South East Coast Day Trip with emphasis on the Jozani Forest, the ancient mosque at Kizimkazi, and the Jambiani village.  This tour company started life as a non-governmental organization to build job opportunities and to retain cultural memory in the the town of Jambiani Village.  I had read about it as part of our 2009 Bradt Tour Guide to Zanzibar; even the Introduction mentions the hopes that Kassim Mande, who organized citizens of Jambiani Village for this effort, has for the future of Zanzibar. Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned that Kassim Mande himself would be our tour guide!  He was accompanied by our driver, Ali “Hakuna Matata” and Kassim’s tour guide-in-training, Maryam.  We all left from our hotel at 8:30 AM and struck out to the east in an air-conditioned mini-van.

Driving out

Creek Road had been the eastern boundary for our activities on the island, except for the spice farm visit.  As we passed through the rest of Zanzibar City, we got the chance to see how the non-tourist sector lives.  A fair bit of it resembled the sprawl of other cities.  We passed the Kariakoo theme park, reminding me of Cape Town’s Ratanga Junction, but looking a bit more like the rides one sees at a state fair.  In a particularly densely populated area, Kassim pointed to the new Mwanakwerekwe Market, built to serve the larger city.  The highway we were driving had been built for one lane of traffic in each direction, but we frequently zoomed around mopeds and other travel vans.  The island has an informal system of trucks and buses called “dala dalas,” and we saw several groups of pedestrians waiting at benches or half-buried tires beside the road for the next dala dala.  The drivers of the dala dalas seemed to place the same value on human life that the shuttlebus taxis in South Africa do.


The soursop

Kassim urged us to stop the van at Tunguu, where we visited a spice garden intended to support the village rather than the export market.  He gave us a unique fruit called a “soursop” or “graviola,” but he cautioned that it would be four or five days before this one would be ready to eat.  He plucked a small, pale green fruit from a tree for each of us.  Its taste was extremely tart at first, but Natasha and I both came to like the taste quite a lot!  It is called a “kamias” or “bilimbi.”  We continued south on the highway to a stretch where magnificent, century-old mango trees lined either side of the road.  These trees are associated with the Bi Khole ruins, a country house for one of the princesses during the time of the Sultanate.

Jozani Forest


A 2017 population census revealed that more than 5800 red colobus monkeys remain in the wild.

From there, we were only a short distance away from the entrance to Jozani Forest.  Kassim handed us over to a younger fellow for a tour of three key attractions to the area: the red colobus monkeys, the tropical forest, and mangrove swamps.  Our group walked a half kilometer down a road when suddenly we were standing below trees filled with a family of monkeys.  The guide helpfully explained that we should not interact with them or stand directly below one, and the reason for the latter became apparent very quickly!  They were beautiful little critters, and they seemed to tolerate the presence of the tour group without fright.


You would not have to dig far to reach the water table!

The tropical forest was lovely.  The mix of trees and underbrush seemed familiar to me from my visit to the tropical forest in Puerto Rico, but there were some key differences.  The screwpine plants seemed like enormous yuccas to me; I don’t think I could touch the tops of its leaves.  I was also surprised to see the proliferation of mahogany trees.  The guide pointed to a eucalyptus tree and explained that these obviously were not endemic to Zanzibar, but some of them had been intentionally planted in order to reduce the water table in the area, which can lead to swamp-like conditions and flooding.  This area has very little risk of forest fire, happily.


Mangroves help cushion intertidal zones.

The last of the three areas highlighted for the forest was the mangrove swamp.  I had encountered mangroves before in the lagoons near Fajardo on Puerto Rico.  The ones in Jozani were pretty remarkable.  The tree roots run down into the water of the marsh, with the trunk suspended a couple of feet above the water’s surface.  The trees propagate themselves by sending straight shoots down into the mud.  Natasha really loved the little crabs climbing around on the roots.


“Move along! Nothing to see here!”

Turtle Sanctuary


These sea turtles couldn’t wait for their next snack!

On our way back from the mangroves, Natasha spotted the sign for a turtle sanctuary, and we decided to make it part of the tour.  Our tour guide brought us into the facility, another example of community engagement to create new job opportunities to preserve the environment.  The site featured a pond full of green turtles keeping company with a hawksbill sea turtle; all of these spend almost all their time in the water. Natasha got to feed them, and they were soon trying to swim their way past each other to eat the salad she sprinkled into the water. They were really lovely animals, though that hawksbill was a piece of work!  The facility was also home to a monitor lizard, a python, and their prime attraction: four Aldabra giant tortoises.  We walked into the tortoise enclosure and soon found the two males eating leaves.  Natasha and I both got the chance to stroke their necks. The two female tortoises were smaller, and Natasha didn’t get too close since they can be a bit testy.  I love the fact that in Afrikaans, the word for a little tortoise is “skilpadjie,” which literally means “little moving rocks.”


Even a giant tortoise needs a snack from time to time.

As we shot south along the highway, Kassim stopped for some mangoes, since he learned we loved the fruit.  He promised that the farmers in that area produced the best mangoes in the world.  We would taste the evidence at lunch.  Soon, we hit the traffic circle at Kufile that led to the first Arab settlement on Zanzibar.  Kizimkazi (it’s fun to say out loud) is home to the oldest Mosque in East Africa.  A lintel inside the mosque records the original construction took place 1107 A.D., and the structure was rebuilt in 1770 A.D. Unfortunately, nobody was available to open the mosque for our tour, but we were still able to touch the original wall.  Natasha thought that its ribs suggested that the original mosque had been on grander scale.


The 18th century mosque incorporates elements of a 12th century mosque.

We passed on to Makunduchi, a district capital at the southeast corner of the island.  We paused to acquire more bottles of water. Ali “Hakuna Matata,” our driver, was concerned about the rate we were burning gasoline.  Unfortunately, fuel stations all over the island had been running short of petrol.  He checked a local station but was turned away empty-handed.  We continued on our course to Jambiani Village.

Jambiani Village

I was unsure what to expect of Jambiani.  It appears that the village is of two minds: resorts and hotels seem to have acquired large stretches of the beach, and the traditional village forms an additional layer of town just inland of the hotels.  The village itself is a mix of two-story foreign-owned houses and one-story shops and homes for locals, some of which use old-style construction of woven plant fibers and some of which use cinder block construction.  We noticed quite a lot of half-finished cinder block buildings, and Kassim laughed that Swahili culture is pragmatic; people build when they have the money to do so, not when they have saved enough for the entire project.

Our slow progress through the tour (with an added stop at the turtle preserve) had thrown off our arrival time at the village.  Just the same, we got the chance to see traditional rope manufacture.  The fibers came from coconut husks, pounded and soaked in sea water. These were twisted together into strands, and those strands were then braided and rolled into rope.  The other demonstrations were to demonstrate the grating of coconut or the production of lime from coral rock.  The ladies had given up on our arrival, since they expected us before noon!


Coconut is a versatile building material.

We did, however, have a lovely lunch at the Okala Restaurant.  I could hardly take my eyes off the surroundings since the building is constructed of woven coconut leaves and timber.  It seems that weavers assemble panels of woven leaves and then these panels are assembled into buildings on a frame.  Our chairs, too, were constructed of timber frames with cowhide lashed into place (I must say they were comfortable, too!).  Our meal was a familiar one, rice pilau with tuna in a coconut curry and spinach stewed in onions.  We were delighted by the flavors.


I am a natural for the beach.

From there, Natasha and i were left some free time to enjoy the lovely beach at Jambiani.  Kassim explained that it was one of the top ten beaches in the world.  We rather liked it.  We found a shady spot beside a restaurant building and looked out to sea.  In the distance, we could see waves breaking on a ring of coral.  The beach was nearly empty, but a few Masai did come by to ask if we wanted to buy bracelets or necklaces.  Sand crabs scuttled in and out of their holes, bringing a bit of sand up with each passage.  It was ridiculously beautiful.  Natasha took a turn walking in the surf, and then I got my chance to dip my hands in the Indian Ocean.  I would recommend the experience to anyone.


Happily, this ghost crab did not object to our towel’s location.

With that, it was time for us to head back home.  Kassim had a special treat for us.  Knowing that Natasha loves baobab trees, we drove to a really massive specimen at the corner of the village.  I think it would take ten adults to form a ring around its base!  After a brief tree-hug, we headed back north.  Ali, our driver, kept looking nervously at the gas gauge.  When no cars were in front of a gas station, he ignored it, but when he saw other cars, he pulled in.  In two or three cases, we were disappointed; no fuel was for sale.  When we got closer to Zanzibar City, we saw petrol stations with lines of cars in front, but they didn’t want to keep us waiting while they managed the fuel situation.  Ali dropped us off at the Darajani Market, and Maryam walked us back to our hotel.  Our adventure to the Southeast coast of Zanzibar was at an end!


Jambiani baobab