Zanzibar – Spice Island, honeymoon destination and an Aladdin’s cave of exotic antiques brought over by the Arab and Indian traders who were carried here 200 years ago by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean. Bazaar traveller Brianna Barnes explores Zanzibar’s streets in search of great and rare objects of desire.
In the heart of the Capital, Stone Town, Brianna visits an art gallery selling Tinga Tinga paintings – canvases painted in the style of the famous 1960s Tanzanian artist, Edward Said Tinga Tinga. Brianna discovers that the gallery’s artist is none other than the grandson of Edward Tinga Tinga who throws interesting light on this iconic style of art which has permeated East Africa.
From art to antiques, Brianna parades Stone Town’s curio shops and checks out a collection of classic Persian chests at ‘Al Tamimi’s’, an antiques store run by an Arab merchant family who settled in Zanzibar generations ago. The chests were not only wardrobe closets of the travelling 19th century traders but also bank vaults, storing family treasures in secret compartments built into the mahogany framework.
Zanzibar is above all an attractive holiday destination and its transformation from back-packer’s tropical paradise to lavish refuge of the rich in the 1990s has led to a rise of exclusive resorts. With this in mind, Brianna checks into the ‘Baraza’, a hotel designed to resemble the Sultan’s palaces which once occupied the island.
Brianna’s second day sees her touring Zanzibar’s most renowned treasure – its giant, carved wooden doors. The Zanzibar door, as her erudite guide SAID points out, was once the business card of the trader and his family who resided within, and its carvings gave cryptic signs as to his wealth and standing – a palm tree which symbolised abundance; a lotus which evoked fertility and a shoal of fishes which communicated a fruitful trade.
It appears that these prized antiques have been raped by collectors over the years, so local craftsmen have taken to renewing the tradition. Brianna visits a workshop in Jambiani where a ten year apprenticeship delivers highly skilled carpenters who reproduce the classic Zanzibar door in all its ornate, ancient glory.
Taking a break from her sightseeing excursions, Brianna enjoys a ‘Singo’ body scrub in Stone Town’s ‘Mrembo’ spa. The Singo is a traditional bridal wash enjoyed by Zanzibari women before nuptials and it involves a therapeutic treatment of cloves, sandalwood and three aromatic flowers: jasmine, kilua and ylang ylang.
Brianna’s final day sends her to the fishing village of Nungwi, where skilled local craftsmen build the classic Arab trading boat – the dhow – out of traditional tools like the bow drill.
Returning to Stone Town, Brianna seeks out local fashions in the Darajaani market. She finds thekanga – a traditional East African cloth worn like a sari and loved by Zanzibari women.
Rectangular in shape and printed with a medley of vivid colours and designs. Its fashion potential has inspired Tanzanian designer Doreen Mashika to set up shop in Zanzibar and she has taken the kanga into the 21st century, combining this cloth with other African raw materials like Kitenge fabrics and Masaai beads to create a truly unique look.
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