Intelligence and Strength, Beauty and Style;
these are some of the attributes assigned historically to the women of Zanzibar.
Of their strengths and intelligence it is best for them to speak for
themselves. Zanzibar women have always found ways to make their voices heard and
as they become more computer-literate we will hear more from them on the
internet as well. In their own voices they will speak for themselves, to all the
Of their beauty and sense of style however I feel I can give a few examples
and speak for myself. One
cannot visit Zanzibar without noticing the incredible women who inhabit these
The Images below show Zanzibari women of the past. Through differing times,
modes of dress and roles in the community, they all show
that fire of life, that style and attitude that for me typifies the women of Zanzibar.
- Even one hundred years ago Zanzibari women had no problem appropriating the
styles of others, and often would enhance their own status by showing how well
they could carry themselves in any fashion.
- Zanzibari women learned the importance of appearance from an early age.
- The Swahili are an urban people, as they grow to adulthood
many Zanzibari girls,
like their Lamu cousins, learn city ways and can take on a streetwise attitude.
- What is a Zanzibari? This is a question with many answers. The
multitude of origins of the populous of Zanzibar defies counting. The women of
Zanzibar are just as diverse.
- Creativity, status and attitude are all on display with the ever changing
fashions of Zanzibar today, just as they were at the turn of the 1900's.
- The hardest working people on Zanzibar are the women and even while working
they display their individuality and style.
- The biggest stars of Taarab music have always been women.
Siti Binti Saad, the mother of stars.
All Taarab musicians who came after her shine in her light.
A remarkable women, self-made and able to reinvent herself in a time before
those terms had any meaning for African women. She also wrote poetry of great
grace and wit.
For more information on her amazing life story see:
Over 90 years of Zanzibar music and history reside in this Doyen of Taarab .
She still performs, most recently at the Dhow Film Festival.
For more information see:
- Some western men have found Zanzibari women irresistible. There are at least two tales of a Princess of Zanzibar eloping with a European
Sayyida Salme, one of those remarkable Zanzibari women who took their destiny in
their own hands. Through many life altering choices she remained steadfast in
her love for Zanzibar.
For more information on this important historical figure see the following
websites or write to the Princess Salme Institute in London.
Lady Henderson? Wife of Scottish lord Sir John Henderson of Fordel. Said to
have eloped from Zanzibar in about 1625, accompanied by her maid.
For the full
story click the following link:
- The veil while controversial in some areas, has come and gone in fashion in
Zanzibar. Today many Zanzibari women choose to veil. Even when covered,
Zanzibari women can make a statement with their appearance.
- Through war and peace Zanzibari women have held important positions
- Modern Zanzibari women continue to work hard, and often
help care for extended families.
- Like their ancestors, Zanzibari women today still occasionally gather
together and dance. Together they seem to find and share the wisdom needed to deal with the
world they and their families have inherited.
by Barghash 2002, dedicated to my wife.