Zanzibar Islands: Luxury Beach Holiday and African Cultural Tours
Although Zanzibar is recognized internationally as a land of romance, the archipelago is also a premier cultural safari destination in East Africa. Cultural safaris to Zanzibar cover important areas around this island including the streets of the old stone town, the house of wonders, peoples palace, Dr Livingstones house and the Arab fort among others.
Zanzibar culture has been largely influenced by the many traders and invaders who came to the Island in the course of its history. The Omani Arabs, the English, and the Portuguese are some of the communities that have influenced the culture in Zanzibar. Some festivities in the Island – such as Mwaka Kogwa (celebration of the Persian new year), Sauti za busara, and the Zanzibar international film festival – portray this mixed cultural heritage.
In Swahili, Sauti za Busara literally means sounds of wisdom. The festivals showcase the best of the Swahili speaking world’s music, and is probably the greatest musical event in the Swahili speaking world. It is held every February in Stone town’s old fort, which comes alive with the festivities. The invited artists range from bongo flava (a music genre popular across the entire East Africa) stars, drumming troupes, taarab musicians, and African ngoma dancers.
In Zanzibar Island’s recent efforts to market itself as a global cultural tourism destination, Sauti za Busara is one of the key highlights. The event is popular with the local community as well as the many international visitors who attend. The festival accords local artists opportunity to meet and interact with each other, and in the process exchange ideas that trigger artistic creativity. The sixth edition of the event held from February 12th to 17th saw artists from many parts of the world attend. Performers came from as far as West Africa, Australia and Europe.
The Zanzibar international film festival (ZIFF) is the other large cultural event held in Zanzibar. Conducted every July, the festival (the largest cultural activity in East Africa) presents a variety of international films and videos, art exhibitions, music and dance. ZIFF celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2007.
As ZIFF gains international fame, the attending crowd gets larger with every passing year. ZIFF provides an unrivaled opportunity for promoting and preserving cultural understanding across the dhow countries of India, Oman and Tanzania.
The last week of July sees the village of Makunduchi celebrate Mwaka Kogwa, the Persian New Year. The festival is a riot of colour, filled with rituals and fun. During this festival, men are given the chance to mock fight each other with banana stems to clear any past dispute for the new year. Women on the other hand dress in their best clothes and sing songs about family, love and life.
Traditionally, the key event of the festival is when participants burn down a hut to mark the end of the old year, and the beginning of a new one. The people believe that this guarantees the village’s safety from fire throughout the year. It also purges evil amongst the land and its people. Much feasting, drumming, dancing and singing till dawn follow this ritual. The locals then extend great hospitality to everyone. It is believed that any resident who does not entertain a guest at that time will attract bad luck upon their household.
The above cultural festivities have earned Zanzibar an international reputation as a center for African cultural heritage. Getting to Zanzibar can be by sea or by air. Several international airlines operate flights to Zanzibar, including Air Mauritius, Ethiopian Airlines, Gulf Air, and KLM (with Kenya Airways). Visitors can get scheduled and charter flights from Dar es Salaam, as well speed boats for a sea trip to Zanzibar.
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