Thursday, July 7, 2016

ON THE SPICE ROUTE


Amidst the pleasant chaos of Zanzibar’s  little towns, lie hundreds of tumoli of very fertile lands – massive and pristine. Driving past their chaotic roads, the repelling smells of fuel and the confused noises, become very shortly overlaid by the exotic aromas of their spice farms, hidden perfectly under their very long palm trees. Supposedly boasting of the sweetest pineapple in the world, we could not wait to arrive and be dazzled by all these exotic fruits and spices.


On arrival at the Jambo Spice Farm, we met Yussuf, who together with his brothers grew up grazing these farmlands.


He started guiding us through his farm, explaining thoroughly how to recognise the aromas by smelling through each tree and plant. Yusuf and his family still believe about their usage as natural remedies to improve well being and general health issues. I had always been fascinated by the myths, history and facts of the spices from the Indies. As a child I had once read that back in the 2600BC, Egyptians would feed spices to their labourers building the great pyramid of Cehops, to give them strength…” As I walked past the many trees, following Yusuf steps, I could not help but feel a bit dizzy. The very strong direct sunlight seemed to have heightened the scents of these exotic trees, leaving us wandering hazily amongst the bursting nature.
He mentioned that back in the colonisation era, these plants were valued as much as gold. People gambled on their future value even while they were still underground. This soon became an object of speculation around Europe. Scarcity and lack of favourable conditions for growing them very soon led the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English vessels, commissioned by the European Crowns, to set sail towards these faraway oceans. Some of these vessels arrived gloriously, and others were washed ashore on these exotic coasts, shipwrecked, leaving behind many lives. The ones that made it through, brought very dark imminent days to the locals, shadowed by sickness, hard labour and for some, even death!


Yusuf seemed to be very interested in recounting to us about this history of the spice trail as it had serious implications on Zanzibar’s future. He mentioned that Europe soon had  gained control of this commerce during the time the Spice Trade was blossoming all over the Indian Ocean. In this land of newly-made merchants and tradesman – spices became more and more valuable even though goods from Indonesia, Malaysia and India had been arriving on the coast of East Africa for centuries and Spice was blossoming ever since around the Indian Ocean.

Having such a profound effect on health, locals have ever since used them as remedies for their sicknesses apart from their most obvious function in flavouring their recipes. For instance, what seemed to be the guide’s favourite, Turmeric spice, is one of the most powerful herbs on this planet, with a very rich compound; curcumin having many medicinal properties for curing: toothache, bloody urine, menstrual pains, chest infections and other inflammations. Yusuf mentioned that his grandma used to use it simply as a medicine for throat and mouth pustules, and as a dentifrice to strengthen her gums.

We continued walking amongst the trees, each one of it having its own fascinating story to tell.



Amongst the various spices, we looked for and found:
  • Vanilla vine
  • Anotto, or lipstick tree, cultivated for its seeds which produce a very particular reddish colour used for colouring food and cosmetic industries. I did in fact tried colouring my lips with it and I must say that it was the most beautiful red hue I have ever saw.
  • Nutmeg, cacao and pepper tree.
  • Turmeric plants, which roots are harvested for the spice
  • Cardamom tree, a very sweet aromatic herb used for teas, beverages and desserts
At the end of the visit, we were offered to taste various exotic fruits which were exquisite. I also bought some soaps made from spices by the local women.

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