The Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar lies off the east coast of Africa, comprising two large islands and a series of smaller islets. The bigger of the islands is officially called Unguja, though it’s commonly known as Zanzibar. While crystal-clear waters lap its idyllic beaches, the island’s bustling trade centre is a diverse melting-pot of Swahili, Arab and Indian influences.
Around four kilometres from this bustling hub is the fishing village of Maruhubi, and a former sultan’s palace; another must-see for anyone visiting the island. In the village, locals enjoy a traditional way of life, with the men crafting fishing boats by hand. London-based photographer Christopher Wilton-Steer recently found himself on this beautiful part of the island, having visited Zanzibar as part of a local assignment. “I’m fascinated by other cultures and interested in photography that educates, demystifies, and challenges perceptions”, he tells Lonely Planet. “Ultimately, I hope my work inspires others to take the road less travelled, and encounter new people, places and cultures.”
Christopher was immediately enchanted by Zanzibar. “It’s a beautiful and culturally rich tropical island, with an unusual history that includes slavery, colonialism and revolution”, he says. Unguja and Pemba are home to an abundance of tropical fruits like mangoes, coconuts and breadfruit, as well as a great variety of spices like pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. The main town, Stone Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to an amazing collection of doorways. The people are super friendly.”
In Maruhubi, Christopher met and photographed some of the local fishermen. “I was amazed to see that the boats, even the big ones, were all hand-made”, he says. “They typically take about six months to construct, with between one and four people working on each boat using hand-driven drills, chisels and rustic mallets. They’re usually made from mango or mahogany wood, of which there’s an abundance in Zanzibar.” Did he take away any learnings from the villagers’ way of life? “I think we could all benefit from putting more energy into doing fewer things well.”
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Meet the traditional wooden boat-builders of Zanzibar
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