“What is the history of Zanzibar? We have an exam tomorrow!”

[vc_row type=”vc_default” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”5″][vc_column][vc_column_text]Last week eight class-six (sixth grade) primary school students came to our museum to ask if we could tell them what impact the British had on the islands of Zanzibar to help them prepare for their history exam the next day.   Though very last minute, we were encouraged that these students thought to come to us for help in their history classes. I knew a few facts about Zanzibar and some rough dates and they knew the names of a few sultans, but overall we were unsure. Since they were on their lunch break we said we’d like to help them, but we needed some time to do some research on the internet. They agreed to return in the afternoon. So, off they went back to school, and we to the Internet (things have changed a lot since 2003 when I arrived in Tanzania. Back then there was no Internet or mobile phones).   It was very interesting for us to learn more about the British impact on Zanzibar – and even more exciting to consider how we might help students with their studies.

After the students left, I realized it might be best to speak with their teacher to understand what was being taught and what would be on the test – versus what we might learn in our research in case there was discrepancy. For example, the students said Zanzibar had been colonized by Great Britain, but we learned it was never a colony but a British protectorate – but did the teacher know that? One cannot assume anything. So our museum manager, Saidi Chilumba, went to meet the history teacher. While at the school he also spoke with the Head Master. They had both passed our museum but never visited. Because the exam date for the kids was that afternoon (not the next day as they had thought – poor kids) there was no rush to review Zanzibar’s history that afternoon.   The Head Master and history teacher were very interested to meet with us, and so we have arranged a meeting that will include three additional teachers. As for the students, despite having already taken the exam, they came back still requesting a Zanzibar lesson (so that will take place soon).

Our ultimate hope is that our meetings with teachers might reveal possible collaborative opportunities to either improve their subject matter knowledge and/or provide a place of subject review for students.

For a bit of background, teachers in Tanzanian face several challenges. One is that the majority of teachers are selected from Form Four – “O” Level – students (similar to the USA 10th grade) who do well, but do not pass the national exam that leads from “O” (ordinary) Level to “A” (advanced) Level which can lead to university and professional jobs. Additionally, for secondary level teachers, “O” level class textbooks and exams are in English, but the majority of “O” level teachers don’t speak English – neither do their students. Lack of English or any other global language makes Internet research near impossible for all levels of teachers (even if they have access to it).


FYI – Here are important dates we found related to British engagement in Zanzibar:

  • 1856 – British exploration company Burton and Speke sets up office in Zanzibar
  • 1870 – British government establishes consulate with John Kirk as consul. Kirk traveled with David Livingston across East Africa.
  • 1873 – Slave Trade in East Africa ended through the efforts of John Kirk advising the sultan to replace slave trade income with the sale of natural resources from the mainland, particularly ivory and rubber.
  • 1884 – Germany sends battleships into Zanzibar harbor giving the ultimatum to the sultan to concede mainland domains or face the consequences. English diplomacy replaces German gunboat-diplomacy tactics with conversations in Europe that ultimately lead to the 1885 Berlin conference where Africa was formally divided into European colonies. Though initially the sultan was granted holdings along the Indian Ocean coast to 10 miles inland, by 1890 they were all lost to the German and British colonies.
  • 1890 – Zanzibar becomes a British protectorate under Sultan Hamad bin Thwaini.
  • 1896 – Sultan Hamad bin Thwaini dies – Khalid Bin Bargash declares himself sultan. Great Britain objects stating that, per governmental agreement, Britain would be a part of the sultan selection process. Bargash refuses to step down – Great Britain declares war. The Anglo-Zanzibar War is the shortest recorded war in history (38 – 45 minutes). Bargash flees to German East Africa (the mainland), Hamoud bin Mohammed is placed as sultan in a puppet government.
  • 1913 – British takes full control of government with a British representative (governor). Sultans remain as figureheads.
  • 1960 – Great Britain prepares Zanzibar to become an independent constitutional monarch (with a sultan as the head).
  • 1963 – Great Britain returns Zanzibar to Arab rule. This was soon followed by the Zanzibar Revolution (1964) which pitting the majority African population against the Arab minority, resulting in mass killing of Arab and Indian Zanzibaries. The People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba was founded.

In 1964 the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba unites with the Republic of Tanganyika to become The United Republic of Tanzania. (Get it? Tan+Zan+ia)


Thank you – Asante Sana – Ashe Oleng

Douglas – Kupikita – Oloikurrkurr


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