Zanzibar: Spices, slaves and the spirit of independence - Street Food (youtube.com)
The Indian Ocean is one of the world's oldest and largest free trade
zones. For centuries, trade and migration have marked the history of the
many communities living along its shores.

But the name of one
place on the coast of Africa has long captured people's imagination:
Zanzibar, also know as the spice island.

For centuries, merchants
of of all colours and creeds came to the island off the Tanzanian
mainland on wooden vessels - and each of them left their own mark on the
island.

As a result, Zanzibar has one of the richest and most
diverse food cultures in East Africa encompassing influences from
Arabia, India and Europe.

Street food is a term often interpreted
literally as food served on the streets, but in Zanzibar the real roads
are the ocean, dhows are the link between sea and the land, and the
presence of seafood is everywhere on the menus.

The island's wealth was largely founded on the spice trade.

Zanzibar's
original settlers were Bantu-speaking Africans. But Arabs, especially
Omanis, had a huge influence. They set up trading companies in Zanzibar
in the 17th century, ending 200 years of Portuguese dominance on the
island.

In 1832, the Sultan of Oman moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar, which had become a major slave-trading centre.

He
encouraged the commercial farming of cloves, so when the slave trade
was abolished in 1873, the spice trade continued to flourish - giving
Zanzibar wealth and prestige as well as its legendary name, the spice
island.

As anti-colonialism spread across Africa, Zanzibar gained
independence in 1963. The following Zanzibari revolution, which aimed
to give power back to Africans, became one of the bloodiest chapters in
the island's history.

"Most of the Omani people were killed, more
than 14,000 people were killed, tortured, cut into pieces, murdered,
butchered," says Nassor Mazrui, a businessman.

Professor Abdul
Sherif from the Zanzibar Ocean Research Institute explains that Arabs
were targeted in particular because "they were the big land owners in
the 19th century, who also owned slaves, so the ideology of slavery was
revived to serve in the politcal struggle of the 1960's.... If something
like that would happen now, we would call it ethnic cleansing."

The
island's Indian community also suffered during the unrest.The aftermath
of the revolution saw an exodus of the Asiatic community, but the
trading port lost not only its traders, its whole identity was under
threat too.

In 1964, after the bloody revolution, Zanzibar
hastily entered a union with Tanzania. The union was designed to prevent
the spread of chaos in the region, but for many in Zanzibar, this was
the beginning of Zanzibar's decline as one of the most prestigious
trading ports in East Africa.

In the last four decades,
Zanzibar's spice trade has gone into sharp decline. Today, the spice
island, once the world's largest clove producer, is more of a tourist
resort.

Its cultural heritage has given Zanzibar a rich and
varied cuisine, and it continues to inspire the islanders in their
struggle for greater autonomy and a new identity.

Al Jazeera visits the island to discover its turbulent history, its culinary heritage and the changes taking place.

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