Although the majority of Zanzibar’s inhabitants are Muslim, the island has a history of respect and tolerance for other religions, resulting in a colourful calendar of religious occasions and cu

Zanzibar Event Calendar 2013

Although the majority of Zanzibar’s inhabitants are Muslim, the island has a history of respect and tolerance for other religions, resulting in a colourful calendar of religious occasions and cultural festivals throughout the year. The Islamic Eid-el-Fitr (at the end of the holy month of Ramadan), Eid-el-Hajj (to mark the annual pilgrammage to Mecca), Maulid (honouring Prophet Muhammed’s birthday), the Christian festivities of Christmas and Easter, the Hindu Diwali and the Persian New Year Mwaka Kogwa, are all celebrated in style.


The Jahazi Literary & Jazz Festival is the first festival of its kind in Zanzibar. Attracting Tanzanian, East African, and international writers to discuss a wide range of issues such as globalisation, conflict resolution, the environment, wildlife, fiction, local culture and history, through a combination of talks, workshops, forum and literary dinners, the Jahazi Litereary and Jazz Festival aims to inspire youth through literature and music. It is hoped that the festival will become a forum which will promote the notion that literature, music and the media can achieve positive social change. The festival also runs a schools programme, a festival art work, and an architectural and historical walk of Stone Town. It takes palce each year at the beginning of September.


The Kizimkazi Cultural Music Festival takes place each year at the end of December. The festival aims to establish a ‘kambi ndani ya kambi'(“a village within a village”) which houses artists, performers, volunteers, backpackers and other travellers while offering a multitude of activities including musical instrumentation instruction. batik painting, environmental exhibitions, and an eco-tour—all with a scenic view of the beautiful beach. Celebrate the New Year and enjoy the culture of Zanzibar, and the music of East Africa.


A four-day celebration, Mwaka Kogwa is best observed at Makunduchi, a village in the south of Zanzibar. The origins of this holiday are Zoroastrian (a Persian religion older than Islam). It is a celebration of the New Year and some of the events include huge bonfires and mock fights. These fights are between men who defend themselves with banana stems, and this fighting, in which everyone gets a chance, is said to let everyone air their grievances and so clear the air as the new year rolls in. As the men fight, the women stroll through the fields singing songs about life and love. They are dressed in their best clothes and are taunted by the men — and hurl good-natured insults in return — after the fight is over. All are welcome for the festival because it is a local belief that anyone without a guest for this holiday is unhappy. The Mwaka Kogwa festival takes placeat the end of July.


A weekend bonanza of fundraising for the Zanzibar Mental Hospital is capped off with the grand finale, the world renowned Ngalawa Boat race, which sets off from Zanzibar Serena Inn Hotel. Thousands of spectators line the shore and watch the traditional Zanzibar small Ngalawa’s race each other on the Indian Ocean. Held every August, this is one event not to be missed.



The Sauti za Busara music festival is a six-day cultural extravaganza held annually in Zanzibar in the middle of February. Immensely popular with Tanzanians as well as visitors to the region, the festival offers a rich and vibrant mix of styles including traditional ngoma, taarab, kidumbak, mchiriku, rumba, “muziki wa dansi”, Swahili hip-hop “bongo flava”, r ‘n’ b, mystic and religious music, theatre, film, comedy and dance. Sauti za Busara has firmly established itself as an unmissable event on the African cultural calendar and “the friendliest festival on Planet Earth.”


ZIFF (Zanzibar International Film Festival) presents the annual Festival of the Dhow Countries during July each year. The festival celebrates the arts and cultures of the African continent, the Gulf States, Iran, India, Pakistan and the islands of the Indian Ocean, collectively known as the Dhow Countries.

The centrepiece of the festival is an international film programme consisting of both competition and non-competition screenings. Fiction and documentary productions compete for the festival’s Golden and Silver Dhow Awards. Other activities and events include music, theatre and dance performances and exhibitions. The festival’s world music programme features artists from Tanzania alongside international acts, and a literary forum offers a platform for international writers and publishers.


The fasting of Ramadan is meant to remind people what life is like for their less fortunate brethren and the alms giving at Eid—el-Fitr (the festival at the end of the month) is a continuation of 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 differs from the Gregorian calendar of Europe, the dates for Ramadan and Eid change every year by about II days. In 2013, the beginning of Ramadan will fall in ]uly, lasting approximately 30 days. Ramadan is a holy month in which drinking, smoking, and eating is prohibited during daylight hours. Some restaurants are closed during this month and outside town it can be difficult to get any food at all during daytime hours during Ramadan. During Eid 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 and is followed directly by Eid, which lasts for four days.

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