Zanzibar 'House of Wonders Museum' reopens

July 2005 -

The national museum 'House of Wonders' in Stone Town, Zanzibar, was reopened on 2 July 2005. The opening was the conclusion of an international cooperative project for the protection and maintenance of cultural heritage. The Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT) played an important part in the project as advisor and initiator. The project did not opt to use resources and people from the West but continued the work already done by the museum staff. Training courses were provided by the Programme for Museum Development in Africa in Kenya, with museum experts from Botswana, Kenya and Zambia.


The new expositions reflect the island's rich culture and history. Because of its unique location, for centuries Zanzibar was the economic centre and meeting point of Arabian, Indian and African cultures. The expositions explain the history and habits of the Swahili as well as Stone Town's rich history. The layout centres around a replica of a Mtepe: a traditional Swahili boat.

The museum is fully bilingual (Swahili and English), ready to welcome the thousands of tourists that visit Zanzibar each year. However, the reopening of the museum is at least equally important to the island's inhabitants. Special educational programmes about their ancestors' rich cultural history are now available to the children of Zanzibar, for example.

Plans to professionalize the House of Wonders Museum existed for a long time, but internal political unrest obstructed their effectuation. The KIT was asked to advise in 2002 through the embassy of the Netherlands in Tanzania. As a result, inventory was taken of the state of museum affairs on Zanzibar, and plans were compiled to improve the protection and maintenance of the local cultural heritage. The festive reopening of the House of Wonders marks the tentative highlight of this process.

The Zanzibar International Film Festival was held in the same week as the opening. The reopening of the House of Wonders was included in the festival programme.