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 world.

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 islands.

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.


Photographed by A.R.P. DeLord apx 1905



  •  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.


Lamu women apx. 1900
Gomes apx. 1900



  •   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.
From Harpers Magazine, 1869
Harpers 1869
de Lord apx 1900


Shaw family? 1962


  •   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.


Gomes apx.1901
Gomes apx. 1905


from Comoros?






  •   The hardest working people on Zanzibar are the women and even while working they display their individuality and style.


March, 1901 Scribner's










  •  The biggest stars of Taarab music have always been women.


Siti Binti Said

               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: 


Bi Kidude

                 Bi Kidude.

Over 90 years of Zanzibar music and history reside in this Doyen of Taarab .

She still performs, most recently at the Dhow Film Festival.



  •  Some western men have found Zanzibari women irresistible. There are at least two tales of a Princess of Zanzibar eloping with a European visitor.


Princess Salme apx. 1868

  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.


Frier 1731,

  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.


September 1956
Gomes date unknown


  •  Through war and peace Zanzibari women have held important positions in society.


Apx. 1965
Legislator during a boycot.


  •   Modern Zanzibari women continue to  work hard, and often help care for extended families.


UWZ 1999
Feldousi 2000


  •  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.


Gomes & Son apx. 1905



J.Jafferji. 2000 Best Photographer in East Africa.


by Barghash 2002, dedicated to my wife.

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