Zanzibar, A Tale Beyond Fiction

Ania Gruca

2010 - Ongoing


The name “Zanzibar” conjures up a certain image in Western public imagination ­– fragrant spices, Arab nights romance, and Indian Ocean exoticism. Once described as the Metropolis of “Eastern Africa”, because it was a distinctive place of economic power, religious knowledge and cultural pride, Zanzibar today is vulnerable.

Everyday living conditions are at stake in an archipelago where the majority still lives in great poverty without access to basic services like schools and hospitals, socio-economic inequalities dramatically increased, and the political power rules by force and arbitrariness.

Since 2010 I have been consistently documenting life in Zanzibar, hoping to advance both an understanding and an appreciation of this complex society. Exploring social and economic lifestyles alongside major political events and religious celebrations, I strove to capture the archipelago’s ongoing search to redefine itself through new ways of expressions, increased commitment to Islam and emerging political consciousness in a fast-changing environment. But in the background lays the story of an archipelago in the wake of its independence, forced to build itself within the country of Tanzania rather than as a fully-fledged nation, and increasingly overwhelmed by rapid development and foreign influence resulting from the growth of the tourism sector.

In this project, I am concerned with the social construction of Zanzibar as a result of its effort to adapt to global integration and with crafting a body of work that reflects this society’s own reality and vision both of and for itself.

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  • Zanzibaris are attending the commemorations of Zanzibar Revolution at Amani Stadium in Zanzibar City, January 12th 2011. Zanzibar Revolution occurred in 1964 and led to the overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government by local African revolutionaries. Zanzibar Revolution marked a radical shift in the politics of the Archipelago and remains a sensitive and controversial theme among Zanzibaris.

  • Zahra Ali Hamad, representative at the Ministry of Education in Zanzibar is sensitizing delegates from the Civic United Front (CUF) women's group JUMUIYA ya Vijana na Wanawake one week before Election Day in Nungwi, a municipality in the north of the main island of Zanzibar on October 18th 2015. The Civic United Front, party of the opposition in Zanzibar, has been leading a dynamic presidential campaign throughout the Archipelago. The ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has been at the head of the country for 51 years, a strong argument for the CUF encouraging Zanzibaris to vote for a change.

  • Zanzibari students are attending a class at Tumekudja state secondary school in Stone Town, February 2010. Primary and secondary education is provided free by governmental schools but a number of private schools have lately been introduced into the educational system. The level and quality of education in state schools, considered too weak, is a major issue in Zanzibar. At the same time gender discrepancy persist, although the enrollment of girls and boys is equal in primary schools, the number of girls dropping-out in secondary school is higher than for boys. Reasons for dropping out include socio-economic issues, cultural barriers, early marriages and early pregnancies.

  • A pool party is held in a middle-class family on the second day of Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations after the Holy Month of Ramadan in Bububu, Zanzibar City, August 2013. As a result of a fast-changing economic environment since the trade liberalization in the 80's a middle- class has been emerging in the past few years, however income inequalities remain prevalent among the population.

  • Group of young men socializing in the streets of Stone Town, March 2010.

  • Women are playing Pachisi, an ancient indian board game, in an Indian household, Stone Town, January 2013. Indians have a long history in Zanzibar where they came to gradually control the trade. Today most Indians still live among themselves in family circles while being integrated in the multicultural social mosaic.

  • A young bride is waiting for her future husband to join her to conclude their union at their wedding ceremony, Bongo, Zanzibar City, March 2011. As part of the traditional culture, arranged marriages are still a common practice on the Archipelago.

  • A young man jumps in the Indian Ocean from the harbour wall at Forodhani Gardens, Stone Town, February 2010. A common late afternoon scene on the sea walk at Forodhani Gardens. Forodhani Gardens were renovated in 2009 and became a popular social center in the evening for locals and tourists.

  • Ashura and Rufeya, two nurses specialized in women’s health, have provided an ultrasound to a patient in a medical facility in the municipality of Fuoni, January 2013. Aside from their work in hospitals in reproductive health services they are working part-time with an ultrasound mobile service providing ultrasounds to women living in remote areas on the main island of Zanzibar. As a result of a deficient health care system most women in Zanzibar still don’t have access to basic reproductive heath services.

  • A group of fishermen is counting and selecting fishes caught during the night off the East coast of the main Island Unguja, Paje, January 2013. Whereas small-scale fishing helps many families make ends meet, fishermen are facing many challenges such as illegal fishing by industrial trawlers or price fluctuations.

  • A group of women is collecting water from the local pump in the neighborhood of Michenzani on the outskirts of Stone Town, January 2010. A power cut due to a damaged cable between Zanzibar and Mainland left the Island without water and electricity in homes for three months in 2010. The blackout that hit Zanzibar caused an economic and social depression. The government of Zanzibar plans to generate its own power to minimize its dependency.

  • Kamilya, 17, is washing dishes in her family home. Based on a traditional patriarchal model, women are in charge of most household tasks, Stone Town, February 2010.

  • Chinese noodles are being hanged in a steamer, Kariakoo, Zanzibar City, July 2013. Highly appreciated by Muslim families at Iftar diners, those Chinese noodles called 'tambi' have their production double during the holy month of Ramadan. Most workers who come to the main island to work for Chinese families established in Zanzibar are from Mainland.

  • A woman feeds her son the first bite of his birthday cake, Kiembe Samaki, January 2013. Zanzibar is a complex environment for women, who are caught between a desire to be active, educated and part of the political world, and the pressure to fulfill traditional female roles. They are eager to preserve Zanzibar’s culture, which is mostly based on Islamic traditions and enhance the traditional culture with new elements imported from the western world.

  • A promoter from the tourist industry is offering his services to a European tourist on a resort beach in Kiwengwa, March 2011. Seen as the most dynamic sector of Zanzibar's economy, the fast growth of tourism is consistently vividly contested. It is said to employ mostly people from Mainland and blamed for introducing trends at odds with local customs.

  • Two men are uncovering a board at the inauguration ceremony of a futur building complex in Michenzani during Zanzibar's Revolution 50th anniversary month of celebration, Zanzibar city, January 2014.

  • Students from the State University of Zanzibar are receiving gifts and are greeted by their families after their graduation ceremony, Tunguu, February 2011.

  • Early morning banana auctions at Mwana Kwerekwe market in Zanzibar city, November 2015. The political impasse in November 2015 due to the cancellation of Zanzibar's results on October 28th led to an uncontrolled increase of prices, which raised tensions and financial difficulties among the population.

  • Thousands of supporters are attending the last political meeting of the Civic United Front during 2010 presidential campaign, Maisara field on the outskirts of Stone Town, October 2010.

  • Mussa Said, 25 years-old is adding hair extensions on a customer in his hair saloon named "Kiroho Safi Saloon" in Michenzani, Zanzibar City, November 2015. Youth unemployment remains high throughout the Archipelago. Mussa Said consider himself lucky, after working as a DJ and being able to save he opened his own business on the outskirts of Stone Town.

  • Militaries and policemen are looking for the remains of a handmade bomb that was neutralized by experts on Darajani road in Stone Town, 29 October 2015. The political impasse has raised tensions and uncertainties among the population.