The original inhabitants of Zanzibar were the Bantu, who probably migrated from the mainland across an ancient land bridge. Zanzibar, Pemba and Kilwa were then colonized by Arab traders beginning in around AD 700.
These traders quickly drove trading routes into the Tanzanian mainland in their quest for ivory and gold. Around AD1200 the Arab traders were joined by the Shirazi, who were descended from the inhabitants of Shiraz in Persia and had spent time in Oman before sailing down the coast to Zanzibar. They intermarried with the local tribes and gave birth to a new people and culture - Swahili. Between the arrival of the Shirazi and the influx of the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century, the Swahili culture enjoyed a golden age. It attained a degree of civilization unmatched by most of the medieval world.
The Swahili or Shirazi Peoples
The Swahili are not a ‘tribe' but the product of centuries of inter- marriage between indigenous East Africans and incoming waves of Persian, Portuguese and Omani conquerors. First, around the 7th century, came Arab traders from the Persian Gulf, who plied the Tanzanian coast in their dhows and gradually intermarried with the local people. Next, in the 16th Century, the conquering Portuguese arrived, establishing an empire, and intermarrying with the locals. Finally, in the 18th century, the Sultans of Oman took over as rulers, and their people intermarried with the locals just as their predecessors had done. The result was a colourful mix of ethnicity and language, which came to be known as ‘Swahili', which literally translates as ‘of the coast'. Although the majority of Zanzibar's people are Muslims, their relaxed way of life is worlds away from the stricter Islamic practices of the Middle East. Enjoying a colourful culture, they excel in literature, art, and architecture while the Swahili craftsmen are famous for their beautiful triangular-sailed dhows. Swahili cuisine, meanwhile, is a glorious mix of cultural influences; exuberantly spiced, steeped in coconut and cooked with fresh lime and coriander.
A Swahili Proverb
NDOVU WAWILI WAKISONGANA, ZIUMIAZO NI NYIKA
When two elephants jostle, what gets hurt is the grass!