The Zanzibar Archipelago has a total area of 1,000 square miles distributed over 50 islands, the largest being Unguja and Pemba, and it has a total population of over half million people. Although small in size, Zanzibar has played a significant role in the history of the East African coast.

From the beginning of the Christian era, populations along the coast developed a farming and fishing civilisation that included commercial exchanges with other Indian Ocean markets and, marriages of traders from the Arabian Peninsula with local women were common. As a result, a cosmopolitan society evolved along the coast and islands over the centuries.

By the 10th century A.D., Islam had spread along the coast and islands. This process is considered to be the origin of the Swahili Civilisation. ‘Swahili’ was the name given to the coastal peoples by the Muslim traders - a word that means ‘coast shore’ (sahel, in Arabic). Thus, Waswahili are the people of the coast.

The Swahili civilisation prospered until the arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the 15th Century; the Portuguese took political and economical control of the coast by force, the Swahilis fought them for 200 years.

Zanzibar became the main centre of East African economic and cultural life from the end of the 18th century, when the Omani Arabs joined with the coastal towns to drive the Portuguese from the coast. The Omanis decided to settle: In 1840 the Al Busaidi ruling dynasty of Oman situated the base of his East African operations in what at that time was just a small fishing village in Unguja island, and which later became Stone Town. they created a vast trading empire, and a large number of Omani families moved to Zanzibar.

From Zanzibar the Al Busaidi family gradually created and extended their empire, Zanzibar’s economy at the time was based on growing cloves and coconuts on the islands using slave labour, and also on the East African transit trade for which Zanzibar was virtually the only port. thus the archipelago became the centre of a vast trading empire. during the 19th century The demand for the total suppression of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century led Great Britain to progressively increase their influence over the sultan. And in 1890 Zanzibar became an official Protectorate of the British empire.

In 1879, Bawe Island was given by Seyid Barghash bin Seyid, 3rd Omani Sultan of Zanzibar, to the Eastern Telegraph Company to be used as the operations station for the underwater telegraphic cable linking Cape Town with Zanzibar, Seychelles and Aden. The agreement was extended ten years later, in 1889, by the next Sultan, Seyid Khalifa bin Seyid. To accommodate the Cable & Wireless staff, Bungalows were built on the island, which were used also to host weekend parties when other town-based staff would visit and enjoy the beach with their families.

Click here to view a copy of the document on the extension of the telegraph line from South Africa to Aden via Bawe (126kb)

The Protectorate lasted until 1963, when Zanzibar gained its Independence as a kingdom, with the sultan as the head of the State. But only one month later, on January 12th 1964, a revolution transformed Zanzibar into a Republic. Three months later, a Union Treaty between the Government of Zanzibar and Tanganyika formed the United Republic of Tanzania.