Print E-mail
Tumbatu Cultural Heritage
Tumbatu is an island in the North-East of the Zanzibar archipelago. There are around 12,000 people living in Tumbatu an isolated and impoverished life, dominated by conservative Islamic traditions. Still today, everyone who is not from Tumbatu – even people from the neighbouring island of Unguja – need a written permit by the village eldest to enter the island. The island is meagre and not very fertile for agriculture, therefore food supplies such as rice or cassava (manioc) have to be bought from the other islands. Although most islanders are fishermen, they hardly eat fish but rather sell it on the fish market of Mkokotoni on Unguja Island (Zanzibar’s main island) to buy rice or cassava from the revenues. As a consequence, many people of Tumbatu are under- or malnourished. The medical care is insufficient and there are only very basic schools. Until today, there is no electricity on the island and many people live under alarming sanitary and hygienic conditions.

However, the Watumbatu, how the habitants of Tumbatu are called, are proud people who believe that they are the direct ancestors of the kings of Shiraz, who probably arrived on the island in the 10th century from Persia. On the Indian Ocean the Watumbatu have an excellent reputation as sailors. Today ruins of a mighty palace from the early 13th century can be found and it is almost sure that the first stone-built city of the Zanzibar archipelago existed in Tumbatu. There are numerous remains of this big city to be found - today overgrown by the tropical rain forest.
In December of 2006 two Watumbatu, Mr. Haji and Mr. Hamza started the inception of the new NGO “Tumbatu Cultural Heritage” which has the aim to find out more about the history of the palace and the city, to restore the ruins and to make them accessible for tourism. The organisation which in the meantime has 35 members in Tumbatu expects new perspectives through tourism on the impoverished island. However, most Watumbatu are doubtful about such plans. They fear that their culture might suffer from the influence of tourists. Therefore, the approximation of the Watumbatu to the topic of tourism on the island must take place in a socially responsible way. This process will certainly take several years and is also linked to the NGO „White Star“, which has been founded by Mr. Haji and Mr. Hamza, too. "White Star" regularly brings foreign doctors to the island and is after initial resitance today generally accepted by the islanders.
Tumbatu Cultural Heritage is looking for volunteers with expertise in archaeology, history and/or social responsible tourism. Tasks which have to be tackled are to locate historically relevant scripts from the city archives of Zanzibar and to analyse them with the help of historics and translators. The project is supported by the archive authorities and the authorities for the protection of historical monuments of Zanzibar. Excavations and clearings of the vegetation have to be done and parts of the ruins have to be reconstructed. A further task consists in developing a plan how the ruins can be used for tourism in a way from which the islanders will benefit and which at the same time does not have considerable changes of their lifestyle and culture as a consequence. Also an educational concept needs to be developed about how the information found at the archives can best be communicated to visitors.
As the Watumbatu don’t allow foreigners to stay on their island, volunteers will live in Mkokotoni. Simple accommodation will be provided there which however disposes of all basic installations such as toilets and a shower. The trip with a fishing boat from Mkokotoni to Tumbatu takes around 30 minutes.

Volunteers of this project need a strong personality, because they will not be kindly received by all Watumbatu. Many islanders take white people categorically for Christian missionaries which come with the goal to destroy their Islamic traditions. The NGO "Tumbatu Cultural Heritage" tries to intermediate in this conflict and will assist volunteers.


Link 1

Link 2 

Info box:

Place: Tumbatu/Zanzibar, Tanzania

Duration: 2 - 12 Months

Special qualification required: Yes 

Costs: free of charge (trouble-free package for € 500 is optional)

Accommodation: Included, in Mkokotoni

Meals: Not included

Included: Placement in the project; if you opt for the trouble-free package the whole range of services which is part of the trouble-free package is included

Not included: Travel, health insurance, visa, work permit

Book this placement now!