The Fifth Festival of the Dhow Countries (June 28 -July 14) celebrated the dhow cultural heritage of the peoples of Africa, Asia, the Gulf States and islands of the Indian Ocean, with ZIFF -the Zanzibar International Film Festival – as its centrepiece. A multitude of events took place daily at historic waterfront venues, on the green at Forodhani Gardens, at the House of Wonders, the outdoor Mambo Club and the amphitheatre of the Old Fort and other locations in Stone Town and in several villages of Nguja.

Under the stars at the amphitheatre you could see films such as A Question of Madness -the story of a man born of a black mother but classified as white in South Africa; Mishoni – about a young Tanzanian girl’s circumcision; the French film An Account of a Catastrophe Foretold -how the world’s top decision makers failed to prevent the spread of AIDS; Long Nights Into Day -about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and the prize-winning, artistically excellent and socially relevant Lumumba, among the 47 films shown from 21 countries.

Whatever your music and dance preferences, they too were there. You could choose Egyptian contemporary dance or a Zanzibar ngoma troop, Maasai wedding and war dances or the Parapanda performers of traditional Tanzanian music and dance. And, yes, there was taarab music side by side with Zanzibar hip-hop. Among the art exhibits was Twilight of the African Dhow – stunning photos of life on the historic dhows that capture their grace and practicality, by British-born photo journalist Marion Kaplan. Tara, theTrust for African Rock Art, had an exhibit of prehistoric rock art of Africa from the Sahel to the Southern tip. You could take lessons in Arabic music, traditional pottery or documentary film-making. The women’s panorama at the Old Dispensary attracted men as well to dances, hadithi sessions, and an exhibit of the history of the khanga. The children’s panorama included banner design, riddles, photography and festival song. A lively evening celebrated African song and dance and the chance to meet hundreds of locals and foreign visitors nightly at the outdoor MamboClub.

All that in addition to the simple pleasure of strolling the bustling narrow, winding streets of Stone Town, luxuriating on the unspoiled beaches, or sipping a cool drink on your hotel balcony, watching a pair of graceful dhows pass silently across a fiery ocean sunset.
Peg Snyder

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