Helen McFadden

Zanzibar Doors
Hedda Print Portfolio Competition 2014


Zanzibar, part of Tanzania, is a small island off the east coast of Africa. Situated where the trade winds meet the coast, it has long been inhabited by traders, and over the centuries has experienced wealth. Arab slave traders made Zanzibar their capital, sourcing slaves from all over the African continent and sending them to the Middle East, India and the rest of Asia via the silk route. Luxury goods made their way back in return. After slavery was abolished Zanzibar became wealthy from the cloves that grew in its balmy land. For a while the Sultan of Oman made Zanzibar his capital and over the years the Portuguese and English have ruled there. David Livingstone and other famous explorers of the African continent bought their supplies and launched their expeditions from Zanzibar.


The doors of Zanzibar are very old: some, those with flat tops are of Arab origin. In some you can see the chains running around the outside, denoting a wealthy slave owner once lived in the house. Doors with an arched top show Indian influence, including imposing spikes used (in India) to deter elephants in times of war.


Zanzibar’s doors are now a little worse for wear, even though StoneTown is a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, the doors retain a mystery and a charm, and are still solidly utilitarian. If only they could speak - who knows what tales they could tell?