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Festivals in Zanzibar

Image - Zanzibar's Mwaka Kongwa Festival

Mwaka Kongwa Festival

The last week of July sees the village of Makunduchi celebrate Mwaka Kogwa, the Persian New Year. The festival is a riot of colour, filled with rituals and fun. Men are given the chance to mock fight each other with banana stems, to clear any past disputes for the new year, women dress in their best clothes and sing songs about family, love and life.


The highlight of the festival is the traditional burning of a hut, said to signify the passing of the old year and the start of the new. This ritual is thought to ensure the safety of the village in case of fire during the year and to purge evil from the people and the land. After the fire and fighting, there’s song, dance, drumming and feasting. Hospitality is extended to all people as the locals believe that any villager without a guest will be the recipient of bad luck and the party goes on till dawn.

Zanzibar International Film Festival

The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) is one of East Africa’s largest cultural events and usually takes place each year in July. ZIFF presents an exciting and varied programme of international films and videos, music, dance, drama and art exhibitions. In 2007, ZIFF celebrated its 10th anniversary, the festival attracting larger and larger crowds each year and gaining international prominence, giving a platform for artwork from across the Dhow Countries of Tanzania, India, Oman etc, giving a unique opportunity to preserve and promote understanding of culture from across the Dhow Countries.

ZIFF is centered in the historic Stone Town of Zanzibar with events taking place in the House of Wonders, The Palace Museum, Victoria Gardens and the old Fort. Festival-goers step out of the magic of the movies into the wonders of Zanzibar whose cultural diversity is expressed in crafts, dance drama, music and Swahili cuisine.

Children Panorama

An event for all the school children of Zanzibar Town takes place during the week of the festival. This is a festival for the children combining education and entertainment. They are able to view high quality entertainment films from the Orient and Africa, where filmmakers have exploited a rich cultural tradition of myth making and story telling. These films screened will be made accessible to the young Zanzibaris through Swahili voice over.

Workshops take place giving the children a chance to look behind the screens and create their own productions, illustrations, story writing or music, and another workshop looking at the ways and methods for special effects.

Village Panorama

The Village Panorama is a chance for all Zanzibaris to participate in the ZIFF. A panorama of films is taken out to the villages of Zanzibar combining an assortment of educational and entertainment films. A mobile video unit van tours the villages creating an evening in each where the whole community is able to watch a program of films. The panorama visits 25 villages, 15 on Unguja and 10 on Pemba which are well distributed, both inland and coastal in an attempt to reach as much of the Zanzibar population as possible.

The Village Panorama has been planned in close collaboration with the local villagers themselves, to discuss the types of film that they would want to see. The events turn into a festive occasion with the villages planning their own entertainment to accompany the films such as local ngoma, football games, local plays or singing prior to the film showing to create a memorable event.

ZIFF provides the inhabitants of Tanzania and East Africa a rare platform to watch cinematographies related to their cultural background; for the international audience, it is an opportunity to look into the cultures of the countries around Africa and the Indian Ocean, as projected by the excellence of the film art.

Religious Festivals - Eid ul Fitr

Eid-ul-Fitr is the festival at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Also known as Eid or Sikukuu (days of celebration, festival or holiday), this festival is a time of giving charity. The fasting of Ramadan is meant to remind people what life is like for their less fortunate brethren and the alms giving at Eid (known as zakat-el-Fitr) is a continuation along the same idea. Both fasting and the giving of alms are two of the five pillars of the Islamic faith. Because the Islamic calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Ramadan and Eid change every year by about 10 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you're looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid. Ramadan is a holy month in which drinking, smoking, and eating during daylight hours for Muslims is prohibited. Dress codes should be strictly adhered to. Some restaurants are closed during this month and outside of town it can be difficult to get any food at all during daytime hours during Ramadan. All discos are closed during Ramadan.

Eid is a joyful experience and everybody is out and about celebrating. In Zanzibar the partying continues for four solid days and many open areas around town and in the villages turn into festival venues. It is a great time to see all the little girls in their new dresses and the boys in their new sneakers/trainers. The girls wear kohl around the eyes regardless of age, and the boys run around firing cap guns. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend taarab concerts and discos at night. Ramadan lasts for one full cycle of the moon (29-30 days) and is followed directly by Eid, which lasts for four days. In town, the festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Kariakoo fair grounds out by the Main Post Office.

Religious Festivals - Eid ul Hajj

Eid ul Hajj (also known as Eid-al-Adha or Eid al-Kabir) is the high point of the hajj season when many Muslims go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The second celebratory feast of the Muslims is this feast of sacrifice, and Zanzibaris celebrate this three-day event with fervour. As the name implies, the importance of this festival lies in the sacrificing of certain animals as a commemoration of the prophet Ibraham (Abraham).

The marking of Eid al-Adha celebrates Ibrahim's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his own son. Told by God to sacrifice his most valued possession, he came to realise that the dream meant he had to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. When told of the dream, Ishmael said he must do as commanded. When the blindfolded Ibrahim took up a knife and made the sacrifice a voice from heaven told him to look down, and he saw that instead of Ishmael lying in front of him there was a ram. Ibrahim and Ishmael had both survived their test of faith.

Eid is a joyful experience and everybody is out and about celebrating. In Zanzibar the partying continues for four solid days, with many open areas around town and in the villages turning into festival venues. There is a general feeling of celebration as people go from house to house visiting friends and relatives and attend taarab concerts and discos at night. In town, the festivities can be seen at the Mnazi Moja grounds across from the National Museum or at the Kariakoo fair grounds out by the Main Post Office. Because the Muslim calendar is different from that of Christians, the dates for Eid change every year by about 10 days so check a local Islamic calendar if you're looking to visit Zanzibar during Eid.

Sauti Za Busara Swahili Music & Cultural Festival

The main venue for this year’s festival is again in historic Stone Town: the grassy side of Zanzibar’s Old Fort (“Mambo Club”) facing Forodhani Gardens and overlooking the Indian Ocean. Fittingly described by Ian Anderson in fROOTS magazine as "the big club venue most world music festival organisers would die for". Freshly grilled prawns, octopus, squid, fish kebabs are all prepared on site, with a bar and stalls selling local crafts.

Last Updated on Tuesday 9th March 2010

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