1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zanzibar (seaport)

ZANZIBAR, an East African seaport, capital of the island and sultanate of the same name, in 6° 9′ S., 39° 15′ E. The town is situated on the western side of the island, 26 m. N.E. of the mainland port of Bagamoyo, which is visible from Zanzibar in very clear weather. Zanzibar is built on a triangular-shaped peninsula about a mile and a half long which runs from east to west, forming a safe and spacious roadstead or bay with a minimum depth of water exceeding five fathoms. Ocean steamers anchor in the roadstead and are loaded and discharged by lighters. The harbour, frequented by British, German and French steamers, warships and Arab dhows, affords a constant scene of animation. Viewed from the sea, the town presents a pleasant prospect with its mosques, white flat-topped houses, barracks, forts, and round towers. The most prominent buildings are the Sultan’s palace and the Government offices (formerly the British consulate), the last-named situated at the Point, the south-west horn of the bay. To the left of the palace—viewed from the sea—is the “stone ship,” a series of water tanks (now disused) the front of which is cleverly carved to resemble a ship. The town consists of two quarters—Shangani, the centre of trade and residence of the sultan, and the eastern suburb, formerly separated from the rest of the town by the Malagash lagoon, an inlet of the sea, now drained. For the most part Zanzibar consists of a labyrinth of narrow and dirty streets, in which live the Banyans, Singalese, the negro porters, fishermen and half-castes. There are numerous markets. In Shangani are the houses of the European merchants and the chief Arabs, and the headquarters of various Protestant and Roman Catholic missions. Characteristic of the streets are the carved and massive wooden doors, whose blackness contrasts with the white stone of the houses, and the bright red of the acacias in the garden enclosures. Ndia Kun or Main Road extends from the Sultan’s palace to the (new) British Agency at Mnazi Moja, a castellated building situated in beautiful grounds. Along this thoroughfare are the custom house, the post office buildings (an imposing edifice) and several consulates. In a turning off Main Street is the residence of Tippoo Tib (now an hotel). Next to this house is the English Club, and in the same street are the law courts (built 1909–10). The Anglican cathedral (built 1873–79) a semi-Gothic coral building, occupies the site of the old slave market. The Roman Catholic cathedral—in the Renaissance style—is one of the finest buildings in East Africa. On the outskirts of the town at Mnazi Moja is a public park, a golf course and cricket ground. Zanzibar is well supplied with pure water brought from the neighbouring hills.

Submarine cables connect Zanzibar with all parts of the world; whilst lines of steamships from Europe and India make it a regular port of call. It was not, however, until 1910 that direct steamship communication with London was established. The average annual value of the external trade for the five years 1902-6 was: imports, £1,075,580; exports, £1,084,224. In 1907 the imports were valued at 1,232,957, the exports at £1,070,067. The figures for 1908 were: imports, £969,841; exports, £977,628. Many of the imports brought from the neighbouring mainland also figure as exports. Of these the most important are ivory, and rhinoceros horn, gum copal, hides and skins. Cloves, clove stems and copra are the chief exports, the production of the island. The bulk of the articles named, with the exception of copra, are sent to the United Kingdom; India, however, has a larger trade with Zanzibar than any other country. From it are imported food stuffs (rice, grain, flour, ghee, groceries) and piece goods. The copra is sent almost exclusively to Marseilles. The most valuable articles of import are piece goods and rice. The piece goods come chiefly from the United Kingdom, India, America and the Netherlands, the rice entirely from India. Other imports of value are building material, coal, petroleum and sugar.

The motley population of Zanzibar is indicative of the commercial importance of the city. Its geographical position has made it the key of East Africa from Cape Guardafui to Delagoa Bay. “When you play on the flute at Zanzibar” (says an Arab proverb) “all Africa as far as the lakes dances.” From the time (1832) when Seyyid Said of Muscat fixed on the town as the capital of his empire, Zanzibar became the centre of the trade between the African continent, India, Arabia and the Persian Gulf, as well as Madagascar and the Mauritius. It also speedily obtained a large trade with Europe and America. The Americans were the first among white merchants to realize the possibilities of the port, and a United States consulate was established as early as 1836. The name Merikani, applied to cotton goods and blankets on the east coast, is a testimony to the enterprise of the American trader. Zanzibar is to a greater degree than any other city the capital of negro Africa; made so, however, not by the negroes but by Arab conquerors and traders. The aspect of the city has changed since the establishment of the British protectorate, the suppression of the slave market and of slavery itself, and the enforcement of sanitation; but Professor Henry Drummond in Tropical Africa (1888) aptly sketched the characteristics of Zanzibar in pre-protectorate days when he wrote of it as a “cesspool of wickedness Oriental in its appearance, Mahommedan in its religion, Arabian in its morals . . . a fit capital for the Dark Continent.” Nevertheless Zanzibar in those days was the focus of all exploring and missionary work for the interior, the portal through which civilizing influences penetrated into the eastern section of equatorial Africa. The growth of the British and German protectorates on the neighbouring shores led in the early years of the 20th century to considerable trade which had hitherto gone through Zanzibar being diverted to Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam, but Zanzibar maintains its supremacy as the great distributing centre for the eastern seaboard.