Hello, visitor!
Welcome to my page where I have attempted to chronicle the early years of my life on the wonderful island of Zanzibar. For those of you who know me and the island, I'm sure this article will bring back fond memories. For those of you who stumbled onto this website accidentally, well I hope reading this commentary will give you a taste of the spice island of Zanzibar.

(Hover your mouse over the images to enlarge them).

It was in the early hours of the 4th of August 1950 that I came into this world, crying at the top of my lungs to announce my arrival. I was born in a small Maternity Ward, one of many situated on the island of Zanzibar. Even though there was no birthday party for me, the whole country was celebrating nonetheless. This was the time of the year when the "Mwaka Koga" (Mwaka Kogwa) festival was taking place. It is the traditional Shirazi, or Persian, New year celebrations that takes place in Zanzibar annually in the months of July-August. Together with the usual singing, dancing, feasting, and drumming that goes with all East African festivals, Mwaka Kogwa includes specific rituals destined to bring good luck in the new year.

Initially my parents named me Zainab which was my paternal grandmother's name. But later my mum had a change of heart and decided on Parviz. Then in the same Maternity ward, a lady also gave birth to a baby girl and she named her Mumtaz. So my mum once again changed my name and finally settled on Mumtaz, which is derived from Arabic meaning "Excellent". Quite a name to live up to, wouldn't you agree? An interesting thing to note is that I share my birthday with the late Queen Mother of England and President Barack Obama.

I have been blessed with three wonderful sisters, Naaz, Nargis (famously known as "Miss World" among her friends) and Naina. The four of us together with our parents lived in the area known as Mwembetanga. I had seven paternal aunts, all of whom lived at Mlandege. As a child, I loved to play the local game "Nage" and shoot marbles with my friends. I was quite the "Marble Champ" back then!

One's school days are often considered to be the best days of one's life. Mine were no different. I began my academic journey at the Aga Khan Girls' School and then we were transferred to Aga Khan Boys' School to introduce us to the idea of co-education. This was our first experience of sharing a classroom with members of the opposite sex. It was quite a transition for both sides and while we girls were still trying to overcome our shyness, the boys had found a new past-time of pulling our pony tails.

I studied there until Standard Eight and then enrolled in Hindu Union Secondary School to begin my O-Level studies. Here I studied for three years, from 1965 to 1967 and after completing Form 3, I had to leave Zanzibar and come to Dar-es-salaam. These were probably the best three years of my life. Back then I used to style my hair in a "Fringe-cut", a hairdo made famous by Sadhna, a prominent Bollywood actress of 1960's. She had adopted her trademark hairstyle in movies like "Mere Mehboob" and "Rajkumar", to name a few. This "Sadhna-cut" of mine accompanied by the fact that I was the only girl in whole of Zanzibar who rode a bicycle to and from school, made me into quite of a celebrity!

I had many great friends at Hindu Union such as Doreen D'souza, John D'silva, Saida Iddi, Kawthar, Kanti Pattni, Kanti Shanghvi, Ashwin Rabheru. Ashok Pattni, Ramesh Pattni to name a few. I lost touch with most of them over the years but thanks to the miracle of the E-mail, I did manage to get back in contact with some of them. I hope this webpage will help me to get in touch with the rest of them as well.

One of my favourite past-times was going to the cinema. My father used to work at the Zanzibar Port Authority before becoming an operator at the Sultana Cinema (re-named CineAfrique in 1964) so admission for me and my sisters was always free. Almost all my afternoons were spent there. The theatre showed a wide variety of movies of all genres including Bollywood films like "Junglee", "Teesri Manzil", "Sangam", "Ghoonghat" and Hollywood productions such as "For A Few Dollars More", "Purple Noon", "Viva Las Vegas", "Summer Holiday", and "The Nutty Professor" to name a few.

Apart from being entertaining, movies also helped us to keep abreast of the latest trends in fashion. The cinema was a portal which transported us from the real world and into the realm of fantasy. How often we used to imagine ourselves as being the girl in Cary Grant's arms or the inspiration for Elvis Presley's serenades. Day-dreaming was very much a part of our lives in an otherwise plain town.

After having our fill of movies, my friends and I would often head to Forodhani to satisfy our taste-buds by having a big bowl of "mix" (Batata-Rojo) mixed with roasted cassava and wash it down with a glass of whichever local juice was in season. One of the best mix was available at a restaurant known as Capital Tea Room near the seaside. There was also a very famous "Halwa" seller situated at Mtendeni. Halwa is often regarded as the traditional sweet dish of Zanzibar and is usually eaten with black coffee (Kahawa). The coffee-sellers with their bronze colored kettles would always "clink" the empty coffee cups to announce their arrival. Another unique aspect of Zanzibari cuisine was cooking food in Coconut milk, especially "Majimbi" and "Shelisheli". I haven't had a bite of these dishes since I left my hometown some forty years ago but their taste still lingers strongly in my mouth. And of course, how can a discussion about Zanzibari food be complete without mentioning fruits like Doriani, Shokishoki and Matufa?

Another location that we teenagers frequented was Nawlla's Lending Library where one paid only TShs. 3 per month to be a member. Members were then allowed to borrow upto four books per day. Apart from stocking a variety of novels and story books, the library also had a large collection of comics like "Dandy", "Beano", "Topper", "Beezer" etc. In fact, most of the pranks we played on each other were inspired by the tomfoolery of "Dennis the Menace" and "Minnie the Minx".

My great-grandfather was known as Peera Dewjee (Dewji). The son of Dewjee Parpia, Peera was born in 1841 in Kera, Kutch, India, where he was educated. He moved to Zanzibar in his early teens.Although almost forgotten today, Peera is a very important figure in the history of Zanzibar. Starting off as barber and lamp cleaner to the Sultan, Seyyid Barghash, Peera eventually rose to become his right-hand-man. He controlled the Sultan's finances and the running of his household and stables, negotiated for him in delicate matrimonial matters and masterminded his spy-network. After accompanying the Sultan on his famous visit to London in 1875, Peera was sent back to Europe on a number of occasions to purchase everything from warships to livestock.

On the death of Seyyid Barghash, Peera carried on as advisor to Seyyid Khalifa who was then attempting to keep Zanzibar and the coast of East Africa out of the control of European powers – principally Britain and Germany. Knowing that Peera was influencing the Sultan against Britain, the British Consul deported him to Bombay for six months in 1889, after which Peera returned to Zanzibar. Khalifa died shortly after and Britain effectively took control of the island. Peera assisted a number of later Sultans and was especially famous for organising massive banquets at the Palace – on one occasion for 8,000 people.

When H.H. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, visited Zanzibar for the first time in 1899, at the age of 21, Peera pulled his rickshaw through streets that were too narrow for carriages and, to celebrate the visit, he obtained permission to give a feast to the entire Zanzibar jamat.

Alongside his service to the Sultans, Peera ran his own successful business, importing, amongst other things, foodstuffs, decorative plates and cotton cloth. He died on his way home from his office on August 28, 1904, leaving a daughter, Fatma (my grandmother), and five sons, Abdulhussein, Abdulrasul, Abdulrub, Abdulali, and Abdulhamid. Some of his children remained Ismaili, others became Ithna'asheri. His descendants now live in East Africa, Canada, Britain and probably several other parts of the world.

A book about Peera and his times is currently being written by author Judy Aldrick, who has already written several books about East African personalities. If anyone knows any further information about Peera or any of his descendants, please do send me the information so that I can relay it to Miss Aldrick.

My grandmother was famously know as "Fatupira" in Mwembetanga. She and my mum (Shirin) were well known for making "KIKUBA". A Kikuba is a small bouquet of intricately designed rosettes which local women wear on their hair as an adornment. It is made by carefully arranging, intertwining and tying the petals and leaves of sweet smelling flowers together into a radial shape. The sweet smelling leaves were those of Pachoris, Pakangas, Rehanis, Pompiya, and the petals were of flowers like Langilangi, Kiluwa, Jasmine, Rose, and Nargis. Kikubas were a hot item especially during the wedding season when they would sell out faster than my granny and mum could make them. People from as far as the Middle East (Dubai) used to come to purchase these bouquets. Sadly though, after my granny died and my parents left Zanzibar in 1972, the Kikuba business stopped altogether.

Besides Kikuba, my grandmother also used to sell home-made perfumes, known as "Tarbizuna". It consisted mainly of a mixture of two different types of perfume essences ("Chin Chin" and "Pompiya") with water. This concoction was then filled in small bottles and sold. My granny also used to make home-made Eye Liner ("Aanjari") or "Vanja" in Swahili. She made this by lighting cottonwool and the soot formed was collected and mixed with ghee. This paste was then sold in small sea shells, which we used to collect from the seashore. Normally, half a teaspoon was stuffed in a small shell and sold. The application of this paste to the eyes not only enhanced their beauty but also gave a very cooling effect to them.

My mother was famously known as "Shiri-Sa-Bha" which is a short form of her maiden name Shirin Suleman Bhanji. It was a common habit of ours to shorten the names of our friends and family in this manner. My father's full name is Badrudin Banadali Rawji Patel however, In the long run we dropped "Patel" and used "Rawji" as surname. My father used to tell me that he and my grandfather were all farmers and they used to have a big farm (shamba).

In 1964, the infamous Zanzibar Revolution occurred which changed the lives of all Zanzibaris including ours. Zanzibar Revolution was overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar and his mainly Arab government by the Ugandan John Okello and his men. After overthrowing the Sultan and hisgovernment, the revolutionaries then attacked the Arab and South Asian civilians in the country. Because of the unstable political situation that ensued, many people decided to leave the island and head to the mainland city of Dar-es-salaam. My aunts were the first from my family to depart, in 1965, and since my sister Naaz was also living with them, she also accompanied them to Dar-es-salaam. I followed in February of 1968 and came to live with my uncle Amirali Bhaloo and his family comprising of his wife, Gulshan and daughter Naaz. Finally in 1972, my sisters Nargis, Naina and my parents also bid farewell to Zanzibar and came to Dar-es-salaam.

In Dar-es-salaam, I joined the Kinondoni Muslim Secondary School to resume my education. Here I completed the last remaining year of my "O"-Level education in 1969. Kindondoni was a very popular school during those days and my made many great friends here including Nasim Jinah, Salim Bharwani, Sushila Raja, Anar Haji, Nazir Arab (who is now a consultant surgeon at Apollo Hospital-DSM) and Murad Jamal to name a few. One of my teachers was Professor Issa Shivji who used to teach us Mathematics. Currently he is residing in Dar-es-salaam and is the Chairman of the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT).

After completing my secondary education, I enrolled in a Secretarial Course class. Back then, there weren't many career opportunities especially for women. The following six months were spent learning Shorthand and Typing on Manual Typewriters as computers hadn't been invented yet!

In 1971, I landed my first job at R.O. Hamilton which was located along India Street (the same building which now harbors Dr. K. K. Khan's Clinic). I worked there for only two years as the company closed down in 1972. I then joined a government office known as Registrar of Corporative Societies where I worked in the Audit and Supervision Department until 1980 when my second son was born.

After my parents came to Dar-es-salaam, we managed to get a house in West Upanga along Mathuradas Road and we all moved in to our new abode. Two years later, in 1974, I got married to a Bohora fellow named Adam Akberali. We have two boys Akil (born 1974) and Azim (born 1980). Adam was working with VOIL (Vegetable Oil Industries) Company since 1966 and in 1985 I also joined the same company where I worked as a secretary for 13 years before finally retiring in 1997, on my own accord, and became a full-time homemaker.

Adam was very popular cricket player in Dar-es-salaam. He played cricket from the 1960s until the late 1980s. He played at the local and natioal level as well. Even after retiring from cricket, his love for the game continued. He followed the sport avidly and really enjoyed chatting with friends about matches past and present. Sadly Adam passed away on May 28th after a brief illness. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Amen.

My sisters Naina and Nargis are also married and both have been blessed with a son. My sister Naaz has been working at the Aga Khan Hospital, DSM for the past 35 years now and she is currently the Head of Patient care at the facility. Sadly my mother passed away on the 21st of March, 2008, a date which also happens to be the Ismaili and Parsi New Year ("Navroz"). My father passed away a year later. Both my parents died due to old age. Even though they are physically not present, I feel their blessings are always with me. I miss them very much. May their souls rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Both of my parents lived to be over 80 years old. This longevity of many Zanzibaris can probably be attributed to the stress and pollution free environment in which they used to live. Back then, life was devoid of all the modern gadgets and gizmos like cellphones, computers, and as a result people used to do all their work manually on their own keeping them active and fit. Compare that with today, when folks have to take time off their inert lifestyles to exercise. Even cars were a rarity during that time as walking and cycling were the main modes of transportation. It was quite an enjoyable way of getting around too as it would give us a chance to adore and appreciate the unique architecture of Zanzibar Stone Town and its endless maze of narrow streets. In fact, the narrowest street in Zanzibar was near the Fruit Market, behind the Auction Mart. It was so narrow that only one person could pass at a time!

My father's monthly salary during that time was TShs. 400 only. With that amount, we could pay for food, clothes, medical expenses, school fees and various other expenses and still have money left over. Today, TShs. 400 isn't enough to even buy one roasted cassava!

Below is my Family Tree. Click on the thumbnail to open the large image.

Photo Gallery

Old Family Photos from Zanzibar


Near our house in Mwembetanga (1960) L to R - Nargis, Naaz, Mumtaz, Naina.


My mother at playground in Mwembetanga. (1956)


My Form 3 Class of Kinondoni School in DSM with the teachers. (1968)


My Std 5 Class of AK Primary Girls School in Znz with Headmistress.


My Std 5 Class of AK Primary Girls School in Znz with Headmistress & teachers.


My teachers at Kinondoni School. L to R: Mr. Feroz Khaki, Mrs. Nanda,
Mrs. Khaki,Mr. Mberege and Prof. Issa Shivji (1968)


My uncle Shamshu playing "Tabla" at a music party.


My father's best friend, Babu Fox, outside Sultana Cinema.


My father.


My parents' wedding photo.


My grand uncle Abdulhussein Peera Dewji when he was at
Brentwood school in England in 1894.


Five of my seven paternal aunts.
From L to R: Saker, Baby Noor, Khatoon,
Sultan, Fatma and Noorjehan.


My father inside the Sultana Cinema Projection
room where he worked as the operator.


My father inside the Sultana Cinema Projection
room where he worked as the operator.


My father inside the Sultana Cinema Projection
room where he worked as the operator.


My father inside the Sultana Cinema Projection
room where he worked as the operator.


My father inside the Sultana Cinema Projection
room where he worked as the operator.

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Photos from my 1982 trip to Zanzibar with my two sons


Enjoying a bowl of mix at Forodhani.


Outside my old school, Hindu Union Secondary School.


Outside my old home in Mwembetanga.


Outside CineAfrique Cinema formerly known as Sultana Cinema.


Outside the Ismailia Jamat Khana.


Near the fountain at Forodhani.


Forodhani.

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Random Photos





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Random Old Zanzibar Photos (not mine)









Links

  • Link 1 - My son Akil's photos with famous cricketers taken in South Africa during the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy.
  • Link 2 - My son Azim's art website
  • Link 3 - An article about my sister Naaz's love for cricket
  • Link 4 - My late husband Adam's cricketing photos

Well I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with me. Coming back to the real world of today, my full time job currently, is looking after my home and my family, trying to be the quintessential homemaker. A lot has changed around me but I've remained pretty much the same little girl who came into this world some fifty years ago, kicking and screaming. Though I've had to cut back on the kicking due to old age catching up with my kneecaps!

I would like to specially thank Audrey Dewjee for the information about Peera Dewji as well as his and his son's photo that she kindly contributed to this site.

If you have any comments of suggestions, please feel free to email me at mumuznz@gmail.com. I would love to hear your feedback.

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