Well the good news is that Pongwe Beach Hotel is open again and the rainy season is over. So why am I sitting here all alone, staring over my laptop at a breathtaking sunrise on Pongwe beach, feeling like a complete misery guts?
Zack left Zanzibar for Prague yesterday and I can’t believe how much I miss him. We’ve been thick as thieves for two months doing absolutely everything together. I’ve completely lost my sense of at-oneness I had before Zack arrived. I can’t remember who wrote this old adage: “Loneliness is the absence of another; Aloneness is the presence of oneself”, but it is so true. Before Zack I felt alone, but good. Now I feel damn lonely. It will take me a while to start writing again and feel strong but there is much to do and I can afford to stay here for a while yet. Zack says he will come back in September but we’ll see…
I drove Zack to the airport yesterday in a little jeep we hired for a few days. We had the whole day to play with, as his flight to ‘Dar’ wasn’t till evening so we parked up at the Old Fort in Stone Town and went souvenir shopping. First we dropped off Zack’s case at the Emerson and Green Hotel. I had been dying to visit this place as it was once an Omani palace and has been beautifully restored keeping all the grandeur of the past. On display in the lobby are the paintings of Hassan Kadudu who is the most happening artist in Zanzibar. He paints life in Zanzibar in thick colourful oils in the style of impressionists. After admiring the lobby and squeezing in a cheeky G&T in the lavish Kidude restaurant we began our mission to stock Zack up with gifts for all his friends back home. I thought it would be fun to tell you something about each typical Zanzibarian souvenir we bought and a little bit of the history behind them.
First up is the Khanga, the Kiswahili name for what we’d call a ‘sarong’ in the UK – a length of colourful cloth to wrap around your body. Khanga is the Kiswahili word for the guinea fowl. The material is reputedly named after the bird because the busy pattern resembles the bird’s speckled feathers. Khangas are decorated with a profusion of patterns and vivid colours. They used to be worn as a functional item of clothing by locals but now they have become fashion statements in their own right. Khanags are thought to have originated from the large handkerchiefs that were always carried by the Portuguese colonials in the 19th century. Swahili women began buying the scarf like material and sewed the various pieces together to wear over their shoulders and round their waists as large colourful wraps, usually with matching head gear. They soon became central to Swahili culture as traditional wear so much so that the Khanga is often referred to as the national dress of Zanzibar. The most obvious features are the distinctive patterns but less obvious are the short inscriptions that appear along the edges of most khangas. Usually written in Swahili, these were apparently introduced by the famous Mombassa trader Kaderdina Hajee Easak in the early 1900s as a way of boosting sales. They were usually sentiments from a husband or loved one who gave the khanga as a gift. Today they are proverbs and mottos about life in general like ‘Once you taste a pineapple, you will never go for any other fruit.’
Next is the game of Bao. This is the most popular board game on the island of Zanzibar. Playing Bao is as popular as playing football in many villages. The basic rules are simple but it can become incredibly complicated. The Bao board is carved from wood (traditionally mahogany or ebony) and has 32 holes arranged in four rows of eight. The game involves placing 64 seeds into the holes in an ongoing series of tactical moves. The aim is to clear your opponents front row= of seeds by capturing them, or to make it impossible for him to move. Positions can change rapidly as players gain the upper hand and it often looks like it would be far to fast to follow if you see a game being played by the road side. Bao is thought to have been derived from a game brought to the East African Coast by Persian traders. It is one of the mancala board games that all originate in either Africa or Asia.
And finally the ubiquitous tinga tinga art. Back in the 1960s, painting as an art was virtually unheard of in Tanzania. Because of this, West African artists had moved across the continent to claim the tourism market, successfully selling their works to the burgeoning number of foreigners visiting the country. It was these artists that inspired Eduard Said Tingatinga. Born in the far south of the country in 1937, Tingatinga moved to Dar es Salam after school and began painting impressions of village life in his spare time while he worked as a doctor. One day he was asked to paint the outside walls of his employer’s home and he painted a bright collage of animal and human figurines inspired by his village upbringing. His work received much praise and his career as an artist flourished, his style influencing a whole new generation of artists in Tanzania. Today, thousands of painters make a living from tinga tinga art and their paintings still show the brimming colours and unaffected style developed by Tingatinga. Their subject matter is still confined to three broad themes: a single animal, village life and the spiritual world.
Zack bought me a beautiful Khanga as a farewell gift. The inscription means ‘Your lovely scent soothes my heart’. Well that’s what the shopkeeper told us, and I’d like to believe him!