Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download or CD-ROM. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
At a very remote unknown period the eastern coast of Africa was colonized by Asiatic nations, notably Persians and Arabs, who intermingled with the native blacks and produced the race known as the Swahilis (Arabic, Sahel, coast). The best known political, commercial, and religious centre of this colonization, was, besides Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, and Kilwa, the island and town of Zanzibar, situated a little south of lat. 5° S. The neighbouring coast from Somaliland to Cape Delgado was often called Zanquebar. The two names are identical, being derived from Zendj, a word of Persian origin, meaning "blacks", and bara, "country". The old Arabic writers spoke of Zendjibar, the "country of the blacks", as they called the land across the ocean Hindubar, the country of the Hindus.
The little Island of Zanzibar called by the natives Ungudya has an area of only 570 sq. miles, and a population of about 100,000, of whom more than half reside in the capital. It is comparatively healthy and well cultivated, and contains the usual intertropical flora, its plantations of clove trees and coconut trees being especially remarkable. As a rule these belong to Arabs and Swahilis; the commerce, centralized in the town, is in the hands of Hindus, Banyans of Katch and Bombay, Parsees, Goanese, and, for some years past, of Europeans. The natives are of the Bantu race, like the tribes of the adjoining portions of the mainland; they speak Swahili, a language kindred to the idioms of Equatorial Africa. In former days Zanzibar received from all the ports of the Great Land, especially Bagamoyo and Kilwa, the exports of ivory, copal, skins, grain, and slaves, especially the latter, who, after sale in the public markets, were dispersed all over the Muslim territories bordering on the Indian Ocean. There also were formed the caravans that penetrated into the distant interior, as far as the Great Lakes, and even beyond, bearing the produce of Europe and Asia, cottons, glass, steel, and copper wire, pickaxes, hatchets, knives, salt, powder, guns, etc. Here and there little colonies were established on the coast or in the interior, centres of Muslim propaganda, which was carried on by every means, commerce, slavery, war, intrigue, unions, and alliances. In that way, little by little, the vast regions of Eastern Africa were falling under the influence of the sultan of Zanzibar, when suddenly, the European powers came upon the scene, seeking to divide them up between themselves. It was towards the close of the fifteenth century that the first whites appeared upon these coasts. Vasco de Gama, sailing from Lisbon on 8 July, 1497, doubled the Cape of Good Hope and east anchor before Mozambique in March 1498. He proceeded thence to Kilwa and Mombasa, then flourishing cities, and set out for Malindi, from which port a pilot conducted him to Calicut in India (28 May, 1498). In 1499 Gama returned and took possession of Zanzibar, where he established an Augustinian convent. These religious settled at Paté and Mombasa, while the Dominicans settled at Mozambique and the Jesuits in the valley of the Zambesi.
The Portuguese were not destined to long retain the immense stretch of coast; after varying fortunes they were definitely expelled in 1698 by the Arabs of Maskat. In 1858 Seiyd Medjid, Sultan of Zanzibar, declared himself independent. However, explorers and missionaries were beginning to attract attention to these regions: we may mention in particular the names of Krappft and Rebmann, Father Horner, Livingstone, Speke, and Grant, Burton, Baker, and later Cameron and Stanley. After the foundation of the Association Internationale Africaine by Leopold II, King of the Belgians, Germany and England decided to divide up these lands, leaving France to assert its ancient claims over Madagascar, and Italy to attempt a settlement on the Somali coast. At present, British East Africa (or Imperial British East Africa), comprises the Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, British protectorates, and the portion of the continent lying between the River Djuba on the north and on the south a line running from Vanga, round the northern base of Kilima-Ndjara, to Victoria Nyanza about 20° N. lat. South of this line lies German East Africa, extending to the River Ruvuma. The chief port in the British section is Mombasa, the terminus of a railway running through the high plateaus of Kikukyu to the north of Victoria Nyanza, thus connecting the Indian Ocean with the basin of the Nile; and in the German, Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam, the termini of two railways, one running through the regions of Sambara, Paré, and Kilma-Ndjaro, and the others towards Tanganyika. European cultivators are gradually arriving, plantations extending, industries developing, and the face of the country changing year by year.
The old Portuguese religious do not seem to have worked among the natives; at least no trace of their influence survives. They were chaplains to the European garrisons rather than missionaries: one hundred and thirty years after their disappearance, Father Fava, Vicar-General of St-Denis (Réunion) was sent by his bishop, Mgr. Maupont, to take up the interrupted work. Accompanied by two priests, a physician, and six nuns, he arrived at Zanzibar about the end of 1860; the first Mass was celebrated at midnight on Christmas, in a large Arab house, where the beautiful cathedral now stands. Three years later the house was confided to the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, and Father Horner took possession of it. His first work was the repurchasing of slaves in the market where from fifty to sixty thousand were sold annually and the education of children. The missionaries soon went to Bagamoyo, on the opposite coast, and began to establish from year to year, in suitable localities, little Christian colonies, which spread their influence around, in proportion to the number of catechists that could be supported. In 1883 the mission was erected into a vicariate Apostolic, with Mgr. R. de Courmont as first titular. It extended originally from Cape Guardafui to Cape Delgado, with a coastline of about 1500 leagues, and no limits in the interior. But in 1880 the lake district had been confided to the Missionaries of Notre-Dame d'Afrique (of Algiers) the White Fathers; by a Decree of 16 Nov., 1887, the southern region, from 7° S. lat. to Cape Delgado, was detached and entrusted to the German Benedictine Congregation of Ste-Odile, with its headquarters at Dar-es-Salaam (see below); in 1904 the Prefecture Apostolic of Benadir was erected for the Trinitarians; in 1905 the Mission of Kenia was separated, being recently made a vicariate Apostolic and entrusted to the Italian missionaries of the Instituto de la Consolata (Turin). Finally, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost divided its original mission of Zanquebar into three vicariates: Zanzibar, under British protectorate, except the enclave of Kenia and the interior missions; Bagamoyo, erected in 1906; and Kilima-Ndjara, established in 1910.
These newly-created vicariates show the relatively rapid development of the Catholic missions for some years past in this part of Africa, with Zanzibar as its centre. At the same time Protestant missions were being established and multiplying. At Zanzibar the Universities' mission, whose beautiful church is erected on the site of the ancient slave-mart, dates from the same time as the Catholic mission: its influence extends towards Nyassa and the Usambara. At Mombasa and its environs the Church Missionary Society has been well established since 1840. Other English societies are spread through the interior. But it is especially in German East Africa that different German Protestant societies are found in large numbers, displaying a jealous and too often aggressive activity. After all, Catholics and Protestants have in all these regions a common enemy, Islamism, the spread of which has been facilitated rather than retarded by the European conquest, especially in the German territory. In face of all these elements, the native fetishism is bound to disappear rapidly, not doubtless in all its practices, but as a distinct religious element. East Africa in a comparatively short time will be partly Muslim, and partly Christian. At present there are between thirty and forty thousand Catholics in the five Vicariates Apostolic of Zanzibar, Kenia, Kilima-Ndjaro, Bagamoyo, and Dar-es-Salaam. The latter, called also Southern Zanquebar, comprises about a million inhabitants; in 1912 there were 3967 Catholics, 2600 catechumens, 14 missionary priests, 18 lay- brothers, 56 catechists, 11 principal stations, 36 secondary posts, 66 schools, 2577 pupils, 15 orphanages, and 464 orphans.
RECLUS, Nouvelle Geographie Univeselle, l' Afrique Meridionale (Paris, 1888); Handbook of East Africa (London, 1894); REICHARD, Deutsch East-Africa (Leipzia, 1892); PIOLET, Les missions catholiques fracaises au XIX siecle, Missions d'Afrique (Paris, 1902); Missiones catholicae (Rome.)
APA citation. (1912). Zanzibar. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15750c.htm
MLA citation. "Zanzibar." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15750c.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the Catholics of Zanzibar/East Africa.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.