Zanzibar has a most romantic, old and fascinating history which
emanates from long interaction with many cultures. As
early as AD 60, Zanzibar was first mentioned by the Periplous of the
Erythraen one of the famous Greek sailors of that
time, in his writings. This suggests that residents and traders from
other continents must have visited Zanzibar. The
earliest travelers came from Persia, India and North Africa.
Then the arrival of Shirazis, Omanis, Portuguese and the British
exposed Zanzibar to the rest of the world. Legendary Portuguese
explorer Vasco da Gama visited Zanzibar in 1499 on his way to India.
The British warship, Edward Bonaventure anchored at the Zanzibar
port in 1592 lead by James Lancaster. British colonization of
Zanzibar begun later and ended in 1963.
After ousting the Portuguese, the Omani Arabs ruled over Zanzibar.
Their influence wasnt really felt until 1804, when Seyyid Said bin
Sultan arrived from Oman and fell in love with this lush tropical
island. He made Zanzibar the capital of the Omani empire and moved
his court and palaces to the island in 1832. In 1818, he introduced
cloves to the islands and they flourished in the sunshine and
fertile soil on the west coasts of both Unguja and Pemba.
During the nineteenth century, clove mania hit the islands and the
archipelago became the largest producer of cloves in the world.
Coconuts, cloves, ivory and slaves powered Zanzibars economy,
making it a centre for trade. In 1860, cloves made up 22% of
Zanzibars exports, with the royal family receiving a hefty 25%
export tax on all clove exports, despite the stagnation of the
market caused by overproduction.
The royal family owned several plantations, manned by slaves,
picking, drying and sorting cloves in the baking sun. Over time,
other spices were introduced from Asiaand South America, including
cinnamon, ginger and cardamom, which have come an ingrained part of
Zanzibari life. The archipelago became known as the Spice Islands
and it was said that sailors were greeted by the scent of cloves on
the wind as they sailed into port in Zanzibar.