M. Walsh. Journal of Humanities (JH), Volume 1(1) 2009, 23-33
© JH, The University of Dodoma ISSN 1821-707924
Portuguese, Omani Arab, and British, and is now a semi-autonomous territory within the United Republicof Tanzania. The British abolished slavery but retained the sultanate that had built its success on the back of slave trading and slave labour. When the British departed they handed power over to an Arab-dominated government which was overthrown the following month in a bloody revolution, the defining event of Zanzibar’s modern history. Zanzibar became a quasi-socialist state ruled by President Abeid Amani Karume and his Afro-Shirazi Party, originally named for the islands’ mixed indigenous and ex-mainland (including ex-slave) population.Shortly after the Revolution Karume agreed to the union of Zanzibar with Nyerere’s Tanganyika,establishing what some Zanzibaris see as colonialism. But Karume and his immediate successors retaineda tight grip on the internal affairs of Zanzibar. The islands remained largely closed to outsiders (including foreign researchers) until economic liberalisation began to take effect and the government started to welcome significant numbers of western aid workers and tourists in the 1990s. Zanzibar’s economic andpolitical transition has, however, been a troubled one, and the islands remain deeply divided betweensupporters of CCM, the “Revolutionary Party” that has ruled all of Tanzania since the one-party era, andCUF, which dominates Pemban politics and is now the nation’s main opposition party.Published sources make muddled reference to different episodes of diabolical terror and panic in post-Revolutionary Zanzibar. There have been at least five Popobawa panics, the most widespread of which was the 1995 episode described in this paper, others rather more localised. Table 1 shows these panics inthe context of other notable events in the recent political history of Zanzibar.
Table 1: Popobawa panics in historical context
mid-19th century heyday of Omani Arab rule1890 British Protectorate declared1897 slavery abolished10 December 1963 independence from the British12 January 1964 Zanzibar Revolution26 April 1964 Union with Tanganyika to form Tanzania
Late 1960s or early 1970s? first Popobawa panic on Pemba
7 April 1972 President Karume assassinated1984 economic liberalisation begun1992 multiparty politics introduced
February-May 1995 major Popobawa panic on both islands (with episodesalso in Dar es Salaam and other mainland towns)
22 October 1995 first nationwide multiparty elections9 June 1999 Commonwealth-brokered accord (‘Muafaka’)
October 2000 minor Popobawa panic on Pemba
29 October 2000 second multiparty elections27 January 2001 mass protests and violence
July 2001 minor Popobawa panic on both islands
10 October 2001 second ‘Muafaka’ accord between CCM and CUF30 October 2005 third multiparty elections
February-March 2007 minor Popobawa panic on Unguja (and in Dar)3.0 The development of the 1995 panic
In early February 1995, during the first week of Ramadhan, the Muslim month of fasting, men and womenin and around the southern Pemban port town of Mkoani began to complain of nocturnal spiritualassaults. The culprit was subsequently identified as a spirit (Swahili
) and given the namePopobawa, a label which people remembered from a similar panic in the years following the Revolution.