About Jambiani

Jambiani is a rural fishing village (population 8,000) located on the south east side of Zanzibar. Distance from Stone Town, due to greatly improved road, about 1 hours. Bicycles are the main means of transport in the village and along the beach.

A Flavour Of Zanzibar

This extended video gives a real flavour of the beach culture of Jambiani, Zanzibar. Fishing, beach combing and seaweed farming are all daily activities.

Daily Life in the village

The village is long and narrow (about 5 km), and the two main thoroughfares are a sandy main street and the beach itself. It faces a beautiful tidal lagoon, protected by a sadly depleted coral reef. At low tide, the wide beach provides for the local industry seaweed farming which is entirely worked by the women and children. Racks like low washing lines are staked out on which the workers peg the young weed. The seaweed takes approximately 3 months to mature before it is harvested by hand, loaded into heavy sacks and carried up the beach to dry above the water line. It is then sent for processing in a nearby factory and made into many products for export. The woman's work is back-breaking and exhausting, but the money they earn (a pitifully small and fluctuating amount) is crucial to the maintenance of their families.

For the most part, the men fish; in their beautiful and practical dhows - known locally as 'ngalawas' and carved out from a mango tree, with sugar sacks for sails - they set off each day for the reef. Octopus are quite plentiful, and a precious bargaining commodity, but other fish are scarce; these they either consume for a special treat, or more likely sell for a few shillings. In times of bad weather, or when prices are low, neither fishing nor seaweed farming provide enough income for sustaining the family let alone paying for medical treatment or education.

The villagers have another important resource the coconut palms that are such a feature of Zanzibar. Every scrap of the coconut palm is used from the leaves, which are woven into walls and roofs, to the husks (buried in mounds on the seashore to mature, and then processed into hemp for ropes etc.) and of course the nut itself which is a valuable source of nutrition. The young men swarm up the lofty trunks to harvest the coconuts in time-honoured tradition.

Beachcombing is a common sight, and little families gather at low tide to scrabble in the sand for cockles and small shellfish. Beach traders try to tempt tourists with shells, home-cooked doughnuts, or samosas and Jambiani is famous for its many masseuses and ladies who will paint visitors with traditional henna. Children swarm around tourists clamouring for 'penny school' it sounds as if they are begging for money, but in fact their sing-song chant is asking for 'pens' and not coins! With the slightest encouragement, the little ones embark on long 'question and answer' sessions with passers-by; though they have no toys, or even balls to play with they are very inventive, and construct push-along cars with beer cans, hoops from car tyres and swimming floats with empty water bottles.

Elsewhere in the village, valiant attempts have been made to grow limes and other productive trees and shrubs (such as the iodine shrub!), by excavating among the sharp coral rocks. Villagers travel long distances to gather firewood too, though this is a rapidly dwindling source of fuel.

The Future for Jambiani

Although not in the most popular tourist area, Jambiani has a unique and seductive charm which has begun to attract more visitors the front line of buildings on the beach consist of several hotels and privately owned or rented houses, all constructed in the local fashion with open terraces and steep reeded roofs. So there is a growing demand for cooks, waiters, and administrators and particularly for skilled building contractors of all kinds. At present, so few village people are skilled in these trades that most labour is 'imported' from Stone Town, or further afield.

We need to change this, and our vocational projects do just this. ZAP has funded the training of 9 young men as electricians, plumbers, mechanics, carpenters and a refrigeration/airconditioning engineer at technical colleges in Stone Town. Our innovative Jambiani Fundi Workshop is now a base for their new trades. Our first students, a chef and a waiter have good jobs in hotels, and we are proud that one of the nurses whose training we helped to fund is now working locally. (click here for more info on ZAP Projects). In time, this will affect the economy of Jambiani in a very positive way. As one of our students puts it 'Whatever I learn I can pass on to my children, my wife and brothers and sisters; perhaps I can even give them work, and better wages will pay for the future education of my family'.

Jambiani Friendships

A feature of Jambiani is the easy and natural integration of Africans and Europeans. Zanzibar has had a wide mixture of races and cultures for many centuries. The principal religion is Muslim and it is practiced in the traditionally peaceful and inclusive way. As one local Imam told us: 'We are all brothers here, and each person looks out for their neighbour, no matter where they come from'. Family ties are extremely strong, and there is a cheerful stoicism in the face of hardship which makes the people very appealing, and easy to help.

Two sides of Jambiani

Outwardly, then, Jambiani is a tropical Paradise! But the reality is shocking malaria is an ever-present threat, particularly among young children, though this has improved enormously due to excellent Public Health measures taken at a local level. Mortality in childbirth is high, and the treatment of serious diseases limited, both through lack of drugs and equipment and the financial difficulties faced in travelling to the hospital in Stone Town where, in any case, facilities are extremely limited and variable.

Ironically, the growth of tourism can be a threat as well as an advantage. More tourists mean more money, but this pushes the price of food and other essentials higher, and government wages do not keep pace. In real terms, therefore, the average villager is worse off than he or she was a few years ago. An interesting statistic illustrates this: five years ago, the price of a kilo of rice was roughly a quarter of the selling price of a sack of dried seaweed. Now it is four times greater. In the modern idiom, 'you do the math!'


ZANZIBAR ACTION PROJECT is a Registered Charity in the UK No. 1108030