Although I’ve visited Zanzibar several times, it was my first visit to Jambiani coastal village and I was intrigued to see many women heading for the shallows at daybreak, leaving their children playing nearby on the beach.
This inspired me to discover more about community activities by enlisting for the ‘Eco and Culture Village’ tour. Long before the Imam calls for prayers, colourfully dressed figures make for the water’s edge, buckets balancing on their scarf-clad heads. The rising sun’s haziness mystifies the scene, making the ‘seaweed harvester’ (I later learn) merge with the morning mist. The silhouettes busily cram their crops into heavy duty bags as if to finish farming to beat the day’s heat. This unfailing women’s work, reaping seaweed, is a labour-intensive livelihood.
Our tour guide, Rama Issa, informs me that this Malaysian-strain weed is used for medicinal, cosmetic and culinary purposes. Men have long since abandoned this traditional practice owing to the fall in yield prices in recent years and have turned to the more profitable, fishing. Young boys help their role-model fathers with more manageable shallow fishing of octopus at low tide.
Bent-over bony folk are seen packing coral stones into neat piles along the Jambiani shoreline. Coconut husks are buried beneath the coral to soak between the changing tides. This traditional rope-making skill only occupies the older generations.
After soaking, excess seawater is squeezed out and once sundried, the husks are beaten to release the soil which is used as fertilizer. By rubbing the strands in a rolling action along the upper thigh, the twisted fibres create a strong rope. Coir, for stuffing mattresses is another by-product. The coconut still remains the Island’s number one mainstay providing shelter, soaps, skin protection and food products for the community.
Only when eating Swahili food do you understand the creativity that goes into the preparation of local culinary flavours and textures. Coconut-crusted fish or peanut-coated pan fried fish are just a few of the traditional flavours. Rama recommends we try the Sweet Beach Restaurant for village food.
Locally mined coral stone-built houses appear antiquated yet alluring as the coral weathers in the humid atmosphere. Limestone quarries are among the natural resources found in Jambiani’s landscape. Mined limestone on the village outskirts is used for cementing houses, paving and decorating; it’s a hard graft, as tools to penetrate the rock are far from adequate. I am told about the abandoned-looking half-finished houses that are purposely left, giving the limestone time to cement. Traditional homesteads follow a fortress fashion where rooms face inwards. A protective solid outer wall surrounds the passages, sleeping quarters and kitchen where cooking takes place.
The medicine man, Kassim, lurks close by, his crinkled face and big smile animates his herbal wisdom. From lowering blood pressure to relieving arthritis to increasing libido, you name it and there’s herb to help.
Community plantations are being encouraged and any fruit or vegetable hardy enough to embed itself in the crevices of the Jambiani’s coral floor and survive, are the ones to nurture. Limes, oranges and pomegranates are thriving. Coral gardens, as a sustainability project, are taking root.
Spin-offs from tourism in Zanzibar is largely geared towards small business development such as is this eco-friendly tour; a community initiative encouraging locals to buy-in and showcase their skills, albeit home cooking, traditional trade skills or massaging. For around $35 per person the tourist learns and the community earns, often using modern technology to advertise their abilities.
So it’s not unusual to see fishermen, farming women, Masai or the lodge gardener, networking or advertising their produce and services on social media.
About Jambiani Village: Jambiani with its population of 6,000 is on the South East coast of Zanzibar. It is situated 55 kilometres from Stone Town and can be accessed by taxi or hotel shuttle.
The Eco and Cultural Tours: With 75% of the population consisting of youth, the funds gained from the project are ploughed back and provides language education to children and finances a local Kindergarten. http://www.ecoculture-zanzibar.org/jambiani-cultural-village-tour
Where to Stay: We stayed at Jambiani White Sand Beach Bungalows: http://jambianiwhitesands.com.