A couple of friends and I were invited to a gorgeous wedding in Zanzibar. The secular ceremony, between my Afrikaans friend, Annerie and her Turkish groom, Ekin, were held at the Mbweni Ruins while the big festival was on the beach at Mtoni Marine. As a symbol of their journey through life, the couple sailed 45 minutes on a dhow from Mbweni to Mtoni Marine.
The Mbweni Ruins were originally a school for freed slave girls, built by the UMCA on the 30 acres of land called Mbweni Point Shamba which was bought by Bishop Tozer and Dr Edward Steere on September 8th, 1871. It was called St Mary’s school for girls. A “colony” or village of slaves freed by the British dhow-chasing ships was set up around it, each family having a plot of land big enough to build a house with a small vegetable garden. Eventually there were over 250 people living at Mbweni Mission. On the other hand Matoni Marine was called Beit el Mtoni. It was a magnificent palace where Zanzibar’s famous princess, Sayyida Salme, the daughter of Sultan Said and Jufidan, a Cirassian Concubine was born.
During our stay two woman inspired me so much that I need to mention them. During the bachelorette (we named it a henna party being a famous craft in Zanzibar) we were introduced to probably one of the most famous celebrities and ambassador of Zanzibar. Bi Kinude, the Taraab ensemble singer that won a world music award in her lifetime. She came walking into the ruins, barefoot and with a cigarette in her mouth. Her 18 piece band followed her. Kinude sat in her chair that overlooked the crowd of young women, eager to be part of the nightly celebrations. Kinude is said to be 106 years old, but her age is still a mystery to everyone. The exact date of her birth is unknown, giving her an almost mythical status.
Everyone stood in awe as she took the microphone to do what she does best – sing. This frail old woman with iconic slender East African face is recognised as the ‘Miriam Makeba‘ of Zanzibar.
As a child, she was singled out for her fine voice and, in the 1920s, sang locally with popular cultural troupes, combining an understanding of music with an equally important initiation into traditional medicine. At the age of 13, after a forced marriage she fled Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania. This remarkable women toured the mainland of East Africa, visiting the major coastal towns and inland as far west as Lake Victoria and Tanganyika. She walked the length and the breadth of the country barefoot in the early 1930’s fleeing another unhappy marriage. In the 1930s she ended up in Dar es Salaam where she sang with Egyptian Taarab group for many years. In the 1940s she returned to Zanzibar where she acquired a small mud hut to be her home. She is known for her role in the Unyago movement which prepares young Swahili women for their transition through puberty. She is one of the experts of this ancient ritual, performed only to teenage girls, which uses traditional rhythms to teach women to pleasure their husbands. She also lectures the adolescents about the dangers of sexual abuse and oppression. In 2005 Bi Kidude received the prestigious WOMEX award for her outstanding contribution to music and culture in Zanzibar.
The other woman that made an impact on me is princess Syyida Salme, princess of Zanzibar and Oman. She was the daughter of the sultan of Zanzibar and Oman. Salme wrote the book, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar (first published in German in 1886). It gives the reader insight into the sultan’s harem structure and early living conditions in Zanzibar. While she moved to Stone Town she met her neighbour, a German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete, and became pregnant by him.
She fled her country and settled in Hamburg where she was known as Emily Ruete (1844-1924). After 19 years, Emily went back to visit her old country and relive the remembrances of her rich past. However, the noble princess died an ordinary women at the age of 79 in Jean, Germany.
In 1992 the book Arabian Princess Between Two Worlds was published about her life.
These mystical figures, including Freddie Mercury, roamed the earth of a wonderful island.
Article Written by Sophie Te’ blance