A Short History Of Spices In Tanzania : The spice islands of Tanzania: A thousand years ago, spices were introduced to Tanzania and the lush, productive soils of Zanzibar. Since then, they have played a vital role in shaping its population, history, and economy.

 East African traders from Persia arrived in the eighth century, establishing the first stone settlements on Zanzibar. The first mosque in the southern hemisphere was built on Unguja Island in 1107 AD as a result of the introduction of Islam to the area. The Persians preferred the coast over the interior of Africa because of the protected harbors there. They started exporting goods like ivory, gold, tortoiseshell, and rhino horn.

Additionally, they discovered that Tanzania’s tropical weather and fertile soils were ideal for cultivating a variety of spices, such as clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Garlic, cacao, and chili were later introduced by the Portuguese and Chinese.


Spice production grew over time, elevating the colonial significance of Zanzibar’s “spice islands” and Tanganyika (the mainland of Tanzania) in turn. They had integrated themselves into the crucial and fiercely competitive spice trade.

 Globalization essentially started with the spice trade. Spices were regarded as one of the most valuable commodities in the world, even surpassing gold. From perfumes and incense to curing and preserving fresh meat and cooking, spices are used in a variety of everyday and upscale products. Spices were a symbol of wealth, privilege, and power, and demand quickly outpaced supply.


The spice trade was thriving in Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Arabia, and Persia between the 12th and 15th centuries. These regions evolved into the main trading hubs for spices, gold, and ivory. Those in charge of trade and production amassed enormous wealth and power.

Vaso da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, visited Zanzibar at the end of the 15th century in search of cheap and abundant spice production. He returned to Europe with tales of Zanzibar’s potential for growing spices.

 Following the Portuguese conquest of Zanzibar, the Spice Islands were a part of their empire for nearly 200 years. Portuguese forts against the Arabs were built on the islands of Unguja and Pemba by the famed builders of stone structures. After the Omanis drove the Portuguese out in 1698, Zanzibar joined the Sultanate of Oman.


With a focus on cloves, the spice trade flourished once more on the Spice Islands. All over Zanzibar, large-scale clove plantations were created. Native Africans on the island were sold into slavery and used as free labor on the plantations.  

Seyyid Said, the Sultan of Oman, chose Zanzibar as the new location for his empire’s capital in 1840. He started growing cloves all over the archipelago, but especially on the Pemba and Unguja islands. The archipelago rose to become the top producer of cloves globally.

A Short History Of Spices In Tanzania
Zanzibar Cloves


In Zanzibar, the slave trade resulted in enormous wealth at the expense of human suffering. Early in the 1820s, the British started negotiating with Oman to put an end to the transatlantic slave trade. Eventually, it was abolished in 1876, and Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890.

The Zanzibar Revolution established the archipelago as an independent republic in 1963, and it later joined Tanganyika in a union in 1964. Today, the United Republic of Tanzania (URT) includes the Spice Islands as a semi-autonomous region.

By this time, spice farming had spread throughout mainland Tanzania and developed. They were significant cash crops and had a significant impact on the economy. Many different spices and aromatic plants are still grown today due to Tanzania’s favorable agricultural climate and soil conditions.

 The Eastern Arc, a chain of mountains that stretches from north to south along the coast, is the main production region on the mainland. Both the highland and lowland regions of the Eastern Arc have unique microclimates of their own. Rainfall is frequent, there are natural forests, and there is a wide variety of wildlife.

Tanzania ranked third among Least Developed Countries (LDCs) between 1995 and 1999 and exported roughly 5% of LDCs’ overall spice exports. The General Agricultural Foods Exporting Company, a government agency, was in charge of marketing and exports at the time. Since the company’s dissolution in 2000, the private sector has taken over management of this position.

book a safari