Films, sea sports, music: Isles culture of excitement year round

17Feb 2020
Michael Eneza
The Guardian
Films, sea sports, music: Isles culture of excitement year round

VIRTUALLY every three or four months there is a cultural gathering that is either starting, taking place or drawing to a close in Zanzibar, not just out of someone’s unique imagination but having a population, a cultural environment suited to this situation.

A section of Tanzania’s actors and actresses participate in a play at a recent edition of Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), which took place in the Isles. PHOTO; COURTESY OF ZANZINEWS

When one looks at the situation one idea that comes to mind is that as a small island nation, Zanzibar is making full use of its tourist potential by adding festivals, sea cruises and even films to add to the package. Then it comes around that it isn’t that easy, that these aren’t just packaged products but a cultural state.

A scan of the list of events and festivals that Zanzibar hosts annually and unfailingly is likely to water the mouths of tourism marketing managers across the channel, but it hasn’t been possible to imitate the Isles scenario. One doubts if anyone ever thought of it, as it would be unsuccessful even then, as it isn’t possible to adapt the features of those festivals to the scene on this side. In contrast, other festivals have come up which are held periodically, and they are scattered across a wider territory, belong to specific groups and especially the youth; aren’t national events per se.

There are signs that even on the Mainland one may see cultural events that seem to approximate Isles festivals, but only at limited zones especially in enclaves of Dar es Salaam and Coast regions. It is the ‘ngoma’ phenomenon. It occasionally comes up during transition events in a house or neighbourhood, for instance in relation to marriage or initiation ceremonies, though a minimum of closeness to that culture is necessary to actually say who decides that it should be a community-level festival instead of limiting itself to a family reception. That is how the coastal zone differs from others, as they have gradually lost week long tribal festivities existing earlier.

Still there is a measure of wildlife tourism in the Isles, on spots that hardly feature in the wider marketing drives say of the Tanzania Tourism Board (TTB). Relevant brochures available online for instance direct attention at wildlife viewing classified as fauna. It says the verdant dynamism of Jozani National Park, the rainforest endemism of Ngezi and the coastal profusions of some endangered mangrove ‘offer a compelling experience to our visitors. Indeed there is a wide variety of birdlife, and a large number of butterflies in rural areas that make Zanzibar a unique destination in the world.’ On the Mainland birds and butterflies aren’t part of the standard scene of tourism but fall close to horticulture - exotic products to breed, or catch in the wild for export.

Sea Safari is a popular activity offering an ideal opportunity to view diverse marine species. A Sea Safari across the coast of Zanzibar, journeying through the famous  Mnemba Marine Nature Reserve, cruising close to the Pemba Channel and much more, is a leaflet entry that would to some people on the Mainland appear to be talking about some picturesque Caribbean island rather than right at our doorstep.  So the issue there isn’t the product per se but the state of mind that produces the product, the number of people devoting their energies to it, the friends they seek after, and consequently the sort of environment arising from it. It’s the service, stupid…!

Equally non-habitual in Mainland tourism packages is an entry that says Zanzibar food tells much about the history of Zanzibar, reflecting a number of different influences from many different places around the world. It says that ‘in Zanzibar you will enjoy the diversity of our cuisine whereby spices, fruits, and sea foods are 100% fresh. There are several restaurants serving special cuisine: Indian cuisine, Chinese cuisine and Swahili cuisine ‘ It is hard to say that there is any such imagination across the channel, and thus without this basic enthusiasm, scant ideas of food tourism commerce don’t add up to a thriving business but for isolated hotels, etc.

Then comes an entry devoted to festivals as such, which says that ‘Zanzibar is never short of festivals and celebrations,’ while the next part of that entry is a bit of an understatement, that Zanzibar ‘is one of the countries with highest number of celebrations/festivals in East Africa.’ It ought to have said the highest or record holder for such festivals, if not for their number then for the manner in which it draws a significant part of the population, creating a unique environment. Listed on that entry are the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), Mwaka Kogwa, “Sauti ya Busara,” Cultural Festivals, Mangapwani Festival and Makunduchi Food Festival. The entry noticeably underlines that these features ‘are among events that showcase the best of Zanzibar culture,’ which is precisely what makes it different; a visitor tells this upon arrival, by feelings.

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