1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Zanzibar (sultanate)

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ZANZIBAR, a sultanate and British protectorate of East Africa. The sultanate, formerly of much larger extent (see below, History), was reduced in 1890 to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, some adjacent islets, the nominal sovereignty of the coast line—for ten miles inland—of the protectorate of British East Africa (q.v.), and the possession, also nominal, of five ports on the Benadir coast, leased to Italy. (In 1905 the sultan of Zanzibar sold his sovereign rights to these ports to Italy. See Somaliland: § Italian.) The islands of Pemba and Zanzibar have a collective area of 1020 sq. m. and an estimated population (1909) of 250,000.

Topography, &c.—The political and commercial, as well as the geographical, centre of the state is the fertile and densely peopled island of Zanzibar, which lies at a mean distance of 20 m. from the mainland, between 5° 40′ and 6° 30′ S. Pemba (q.v.) to the north and the more distant Mafia (to the south) form with Zanzibar an independent geological system, resting on a foundation of coralline reefs, and constituting a sort of outer coast-line, which almost everywhere presents a rocky barrier to the Indian Ocean. All three are disposed parallel to the mainland, from which they are separated by shallow waters, mostly under thirty fathoms, strewn with numerous reefs dangerous to navigation, especially in the Mafia channel opposite the Rufiji delta. (For Mafia, see German East Africa.) Some 6 m. N. of Zanzibar and forming part of the coral reef is the small, densely wooded island of Tumbatu. Its inhabitants are excellent sailors.

Zanzibar island is 47 m. long and 20 broad at its greatest breadth. It has an area of 640 sq. m. The island, called Unguja in Swȧhili, is not exclusively of coralline formation, several heights of a reddish ferruginous clay rising in gentle slopes 400 to 450 ft. in the centre and double that in the north. There are several tolerable natural harbours, used only by Arab dhows, the port of Zanzibar sufficing for the general trade. The forests which formerly covered the island have largely disappeared; the eastern half is now mostly covered with low scrub. The western part is noted for the luxuriance and variety of its flora, notwithstanding the absence of timber trees. Among fruit-trees the coco-nut palm is conspicuous. Each tree yields 100 to 120 nuts a year. In places there are extensive groves of these trees, elsewhere the palms grow indiscriminately among other trees, which include the mangrove (in swampy districts), lemons, sweet and sour limes, the bread fruit, papaw, pomegranate, tamarind, the orange and mango trees. The two last-named and plantains and bananas are abundant. The mango trees attain a great size. Many of the fruit-trees and plants have been introduced from India and Malaysia, such as the mangosteen, guava, durian, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, all of which thrive well. The soil seems specially suited for the clove, which, although nearly destroyed by a terrible cyclone in 1872, completely recovered from that disaster.

Although the fauna is almost exclusively continental, Zanzibar till recently possessed a distinct variety of monkey (Colobus kirkii), which appears to be now extinct. Other varieties of monkeys are fairly numerous. Hippopotami have occasionally swum to the island. Wild boars and servals are common, pythons are found in the swamps. Camels and bullocks are used as draught animals.

Climate.—The great heat and the excessive moisture of the atmosphere render the climate very trying, especially to Europeans. The year is divided into two seasons, according to the direction of the monsoons. The north-east monsoon sets in about the end of November, the south-west monsoon in April. The “hot season” corresponds with the north-east monsoon, when the minimum readings of the thermometer often exceed 80° F. In June to September the minimum readings drop to 72°, the mean annual temperature being about 80°. Rain falls in every month of the year. December, April and May are the rainiest months, August to October the driest. The average annual rainfall (18 years' observations) is 65 in. (In 1859 as much as 170 in. were registered.)

Inhabitants.—On the east side of the island the inhabitants, a Bantu-speaking race of low development, probably represent the aboriginal stock. They are known as Wahadimu and are noted as good fishermen, cattle raisers, and skilled artisans. In the west, and especially in the capital (for which, see below), the population is of an extremely heterogeneous character, including full-blood and half-caste Arabs, Goanese, Parsis, Hindus, Comoro Islanders, Swahili (q.v.) of every shade, and representatives of tribes from all parts of East Africa. The Arabs number about 7000; Asiatics (mostly British Indians), 20,000; whites (chiefly British), 250. Besides the port of Zanzibar there are no large towns. Chuaka is a pleasant health resort on the eastern shore facing the Indian Ocean.

Production.—Cloves and copra are the chief products of the island. There are also extensive chilli and rubber plantations. The muhogo (cassava), the tobacco plant and vanilla are cultivated on a smaller scale; experiments in cotton-growing proved unsuccessful. The shambas (plantations) are mostly the property of Arabs. The labourers are chiefly Swahilis, and were formerly slaves. The labour available at harvest time is often inadequate, and year after year a large proportion of the clove crop has remained unpicked. As its prosperity depended much more on its transit trade (Zanzibar being the entrepôt for all the East African ports as far south as the Zambezi) than on agriculture the resources of the island were somewhat neglected; but when in the early years of the 20th century the competition of Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam was felt, efforts were made to increase the number and productiveness of the crops and also to decrease costs by providing better means of transport. Good roads were made by the government, and an American company built a 3-ft. gauge railway from Zanzibar town to the north of the island, where are the chief plantations. Rice is imported in large quantities from Rangoon and Bombay. Besides rice, cassava, grown on the island, and fish (which is abundant) are the chief foods of the natives. The pigeon pea (cajanus Indicus) is commonly grown, and the Wahadimu and Watumbata cultivate the betel-nut creeper.

Revenue and Currency.—Custom duties are the chief source of revenue. Other sources are registration and market fees, hut tax (one dollar per hut) on government ground, post office receipts, &c., and the produce of crown shambas. A sum of £17,000 a year is paid to the government by the British East Africa Protectorate for the right to administer the mainland portion of the sultanate; the Zanzibar government also receives some £10,000 a year interest on the purchase money paid by Germany and Italy for the part of Zanzibar territory acquired by those Powers. In 1900 the revenue was £123,000 and the expenditure £131,000. In 1902 the sultan, on the advice of the British government, appointed a financial adviser, under whose care the finances steadily improved. In 1906 the revenue was £191,000, the expenditure £156,000. In the last-named year there was a public debt of £88,000. The principal items of expenditure come under the heads of administration, public works, civil list and military police.

The coinage system is somewhat complicated. The Maria Theresa dollar (equalling approximately 3s. 9d.) is used as a standard of value in price quotations, but the coin is not in circulation. The Indian rupee is in universal currency and the British sovereign is legal tender at the fixed rate of 15 rupees to £1. The division of the rupee into annas and pice was abolished in 1908 and the rupee divided into 100 cents. In the same year the government issued notes of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 rupees. British weights and measures are used in wholesale transactions, with the exception of the frasila, which equals 35 ℔ avoir.

Religion, Education and Justice.—Mahommedanism is the dominant religion. Most of the inhabitants are Sunnis of the Shafi school, but the sultan and his relatives are schismatics of the Ibadhi sect. There are several Protestant and Roman Catholic missions with branches on the mainland. These missions maintain schools. The government supports kuttabs in which elementary education is given in Arabic and the vernacular, and more advanced schools in which English, geography and arithmetic are taught. In December 1892 the sultan delegated to the British agent and consul-general his right to try all cases in which a British subject is plaintiff or accuser, and the defendant or accused is a Zanzibar subject. The British court also tries all cases in which other Europeans (and Americans) are concerned, the consular jurisdiction exercised by other Powers having been finally abolished in 1907. Cases between natives are tried by Moslem tribunals. There is a military police force under a British officer.

History.—From the earliest times of which there is any record the African seaboard from the Red Sea to an unknown distance southwards was subject to Arabian influence and dominion. Egyptians, Chinese and Malays also appear to have visited the coast. At a later period the coast towns were founded or conquered by Persian and Arab Mahommedans who, for the most part, fled to East Africa between the 8th and 11th centuries on account of the religious differences of the times, the refugees being schismatics. Various small states thus grew up along the coast, Mombasa seeming to be the most important. These states are sometimes spoken of as the Zenj empire, though they were never, probably, united under one ruler. Kilwa (q.v.) was regarded as the capital of the “empire.” The seaboard itself took the name of Zanquebar (corrupted to Zanzibar by the Banyan traders), the Balid ez-Zenj, or “Land of the Zenj” of the Arabs, a term which corresponds to the Hindu-bar, or “land of the Hindu,” formerly applied to the west coast of India. By Ibn Batuta, who visited the coast in 1328, and other Arab writers the Zenj people are referred to in a general way as Mahommedan negroes; and they are no doubt still represented by the semi-civilized Mahommedan Bantus now collectively known as the Swahili or “coast people,” and in whose veins is a large admixture of Asiatic blood. The Zenj “empire” began to decline soon after the appearance of the Portuguese in East African waters at the close of the 15th century. To them fell in rapid succession the great cities of Kilwa with its 300 mosques (1505), Mombasa the "Magnificent” (1505), and soon after Malindi and Mukdishu the “Immense” (Ibn Batuta). The Portuguese rule was troubled by many revolts, and towards the end of the 16th century the chief cities were ravaged by the Turks, who came by sea, and by the Zimbas, a fierce negro tribe, who came overland from south of the Zambezi. On the ruins of the Portuguese power in the 17th century was built up that of the Imams of Muscat. Over their African dominions the Imams placed valis or viceroys, who in time became independent of their overlord. In Mombasa power passed into the hands of the Mazrui family. The island of Zanzibar, conquered by the Portuguese in 1503–8, was occupied by the Arabs in 1730, and in 1832 the town of Zanzibar, then a place of no note, was made the capital of his dominions by the Sayyid Said of Muscat, who reconquered all the towns formerly owning allegiance to the Imams, Mombasa being taken by treachery in 1837. On the death of Said in 1856 his dominions were divided between his two sons, the African section falling to Majid, who was succeeded in 1870 by his younger brother Bargash ibn Said, commonly known as sultan of Zanzibar. Bargash witnessed the dismemberment of his dominions by Great Britain, Germany and Italy (see Africa, § 5), and in March 1888 left to his successor, Sayyid Khalifa, a mere fragment of the territories over which he had once ruled. The Sayyids Majid and Bargash acted largely under the influence of Sir John Kirk (q.v.), who from 1866 to 1887 was consular representative of Great Britain at Zanzibar. By Sir John’s efforts a treaty for the suppression of the slave trade throughout the sultanate had been concluded in 1873. In the negotiations between the Powers for the partition of Africa the supremacy of British interests in the island was acknowledged by Germany and France, thus rendering a treaty made in 1862 between France and Great Britain recognizing the “independence” of Zanzibar of no effect. On the 4th of November 1890 the sultanate was proclaimed a British protectorate, in conformity with conventions by which Great Britain on her part ceded Heligoland to Germany and renounced all claims to Madagascar in favour of France.[1] Sultan (Sayyid) Ali, who had succeeded his brother Sayyid Khalifa in February 1890, in August following issued a decree which resulted in the liberation of large numbers of slaves. Sayyid Ali was succeeded in March 1893 by Hamed bin Thwain, on whose death in August 1896 his cousin, Sayyid Khalid, proclaimed himself sultan, and seized the palace. The British government disapproved, and to compel Khalid's submission the palace was bombarded by warships. Khalid fled to the German consulate, whence he was removed to the mainland, and Hamed bin Mahommed, brother of Hamed bin Thwain, was installed sultan by the British representative (27th of August 1896). The government was reconstituted under British auspices in October 1891, when Sir Lloyd Mathews[2] was appointed prime minister, and the sultan made virtually a crown pensioner, with a civil list of 120,000 rupees. In 1897 the legal status of slavery was abolished, compensation being given to slave owners. In July 1902 Hamed bin Mahommed died, and was succeeded by his son Ali bin Hamud, born in 1885. The British government is represented by an agent and consul-general, without whose sanction no important steps can be undertaken. This officer also administered the East Africa Protectorate, but the dual appointment was found to hamper the progress of both protectorates, and in 1904 when Mr Basil S. Cave was given charge of the Zanzibar protectorate another officer was appointed for the mainland. In 1906 the British agent assumed more direct control over the protectorate and again reorganized the administration, Capt. (locally general) A. E. H. Raikes being appointed prime minister. These changes, together with the abolition of foreign consular jurisdiction, led to many reforms in the government and the increased prosperity of the Zanzibari.

Authorities.—J. L. Krapf, Travels . . . in Eastern Africa (London, 1860); Précis of Information concerning . . . Zanzibar (War Office, London, 1902); W. W. A. Fitzgerald, Travels in . . . the island of Zanzibar (London, 1898); H. S. Newman, Banani, the Transition from Slavery to Freedom in Zanzibar (London, 1898); Sir C. Eliot, The East Africa Protectorate (London, 1905); R. N. Lyne, Zanzibar in Contemporary Times (London, 1905), a useful historical summary, with bibliography of British Blue Books; Drumkeys’ Year Book for East Africa (annually since 1908); and the annual reports to the British Foreign Office.

  1. By the Zanzibar Order in Council, 1906, the protectorate of Zanzibar was limited to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, including the territorial waters thereof and any islets within those waters.
  2. Sir Lloyd Mathews (1850–1901) was a British naval officer. He served in Ashanti 1873–74 and went to Zanzibar in 1875 as lieutenant on a ship engaged in the suppression of the slave trade. In 1877 he was selected to command the military force being raised by Sayyid Bargash and thereafter devoted his services entirely to the Zanzibar government. He was made a K.C.M.G. in 1894.