Interesting Facts about the History of Zanzibar - Part 2
Updated: Aug 20
Zanzibar is known for its numerous innovations and progress throughout the centuries. From the early days of cinematography to the advent of automobiles and railways, and the advancements in healthcare, Zanzibar's journey towards modernity is genuinely remarkable. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating efforts of the population to develop the island.
1. The Glorious Era of Zanzibar Cinemas
Zanzibar's passion for the silver screen began in the early 20th century. The first cinema, a white tent located in Stone Town, was established in 1916, showcasing mainly British films. Over time, more cinemas popped up across the island such as the Empire Cinema, the Sultana Cinema, and the Majestic Cinema. These venues entertained Zanzibari audiences with a diverse range of English, Arabic, and Hindi action films, as well as popular musicals.
H.M. Sayyid Khalifa bin Harub, the Sultan of Zanzibar at the time, was a regular patron at both the Majestic and Sultana cinemas, often enjoying Arabic films from the Royal Box. The Government decided to operate a “Mobile Cinema” that traveled to small towns and villages, offering free entertainment through newsreels.
2. Zanzibar: Pioneers in the World of Automobiles
In an era when the automobile was a rare sight, Zanzibar made history by being the first country in East Africa to introduce cars. A photo was found, dating back to around 1913, showcases H.M. Sultan Khalifa bin Harub, Sultan of the Island seated in his Italian-manufactured "Isotta Fraschini" car, alongside his young son Prince Abdalla. Isotta Fraschini, an Italian car firm, was renowned at this time for its luxury vehicles.
Before the automobile, horse-drawn carriages were the primary mode of transportation on the island. However, the arrival of Isotta Fraschini and other famous brands marked a significant advancement in Zanzibar's transportation history.
3. The innovative Zanzibar Railway
Zanzibar holds the distinction of having had the first railway in East Africa, constructed 138 years ago. In 1879, the Sultan of Zanzibar, commissioned a seven-mile railway connecting the House of wonders in Stone Town to his Palace in Chukwani. This line consisted of two cars pulled by mules. In 1881, the Sultan acquired a locomotive from the UK, marking the first locomotive-powered railway in East Africa.
Although the Chukwani railway service ended with the Sultan's death in 1888, it paved the way for the famous Bububu Railway line, established in 1904. This railway, built by the American firm Arnold Cheney and Co., served as a popular means of transportation for locals and even featured a first-class coach for tourists wanting to explore the island.
4. Healthcare in Zanzibar: A Model for the Region
Zanzibar's healthcare system was renowned for its excellence and advanced medical care in East Africa. Apart from hospitals and medical centers, the country had a dedicated department for community health services to prevent and eradicate communicable diseases. The collaboration between the Zanzibar Government and UNICEF trained local health inspectors and midwives allowed the establishment of a Maternity Center in Makunduchi in 1950.
In 1955, the modern "Hassanalli Karimjee Jivanjee Hospital" opened in Stone Town, providing exceptional medical care to the Sultan and his family. Zanzibar also had a team of highly trained and specialized doctors and nurses, offering excellent medical services across the islands.
The dedication to healthcare extended to public health initiatives, including efforts to eradicate malaria and other communicable diseases. Thanks to a close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Zanzibar achieved the remarkable feat of being declared "Malaria Free" in 1963.
Zanzibar's history of innovation in cinematography, transportation, and healthcare is a testament to its pioneering spirit. From the early days of cinemas in white tents to being the first country in East Africa to introduce the automobile and the railway, Zanzibar has always been at the forefront of progress. Its commitment to healthcare and public health initiatives set a high standard for the region, making it a beacon of excellence in East Africa. As Zanzibar continues to embrace the future, the island is proud of its past achievements.