Zanzibar And Other East African Islands
( Originally Published 1904 )
OUR trip from Majunga to Zanzibar is made in a French trading vessel bound there for a cargo of ivory. We first sail north, passing the Comoro Islands, belonging to France, noted for their sugar and vanilla plantations, and then turning west go northward not far from the African shore, and skirt the lower side of the island of Zanzibar, finally coming to anchor in front of its capital, Zanzibar City, about midway up the west coast.
The island of Zanzibar is about fifty miles long, and so narrow that one could walk across it in less than a day. It is just about equally distant from the Suez Canal, India, and the Cape of Good Hope, and it is only thirty miles from Africa, having a favorable situation for a great trading place. Just opposite on the mainland is the town of Bagamoyo, whence caravans start out for different parts of Africa, and where vast quantities of native products, including ivory, are brought for shipment to Europe by way of Zanzibar. Zanzibar City is about the largest town on the African coast, if we except Alexandria and Tunis on the Mediterranean Sea. It has more than one hundred thousand people, and, though ruled by a sultan, it is under the protection of Great Britain, which also governs the rich little island of Pemba just north of it, and Sokotra still farther north.
In the harbor we find numerous ships, and also many native boats which are engaged in carrying goods and passengers between Zanzibar and the mainland. We go ashore and take one of the black-faced guides with us for a stroll through the streets. Many of the buildings are white, made of brick or stone covered with stucco. Some have roofs of galvanized iron. In the suburbs are many thatched huts, the homes of the poor.
The streets are very narrow, and the only ways of getting about are on foot, in chairs carried by men, or on ponies. We go on foot, pushing along in and out of a motley crowd of people from all parts of the world, and especially from Africa. There are black-skinned men from the mainland doing all sorts of work, and black boys who stare at us as we ride by. There are Arabs in turbans and gowns, yellow Parsees with high hats, and brown-skinned Hindus who have come here to trade. Parts of the city given up to the Hindu shops make us think of Ceylon, and the market with its great throng of blacks reminds us of Tananarivo.
We call upon the sultan at his palace, and then spend some time in going from one store to another buying curios from Africa to show to our friends. We take carriages and drive out into the country under the shadow of sago and cocoanut palms and other tropical trees, stop-ping now and then to eat oranges and pineapples, or to have a drink of cocoanut milk. We see many clove orchards which look not unlike those of the Moluccas, and bite into one of the flowers to see if the green cloves are as hot as the dried.
Coming back to the city, we find men loading steamers with cloves and also bales and boxes of copra from the islands about. Others are shipping tusks of ivory brought in by the caravans from interior Africa and sent across the channel for export to Europe.
The tusks are just as they were when torn out of the heads of the elephants, only rough, dirty, and battered by their long voyage out to the coast. Some are eight or ten feet long, and at the root as big around as our heads. They are hollow far up from the roots, but nevertheless are so heavy that we try in vain to lift one. They are sold by weight, and a single tusk will often bring as much as five hundred dollars. Most of the ivory is taken to Antwerp and Liverpool, and thence sent to factories where it is made into knife handles, buttons, and various ornamental articles.
Zanzibar is a regular port of call for steamers going to the Cape of Good Hope from Europe via the Suez Canal. We might take ship for the north, visiting Pemba and Sokotra. They are, however, of but little importance, so we decide to sail south to Cape Town and thence to the islands off the western coast of Africa.
Our steamer calls at Mozambique on the way. This island is close to the African shore, and is important only through its connection with the large provinces on the continent belonging to the Portuguese. The little island is covered with houses, most of the buildings being old and quaint. It gets all its supplies from the mainland by boats which move back and forth. It has only eight thousand people upon it, although it is the seat of government for several million natives who live across the channel in Africa. The people are mostly Africans and Asiatics, with a few Portuguese. Our vessel stays but a few hours, and then goes on to the Cape of Good Hope.