Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Story of Harambe Part Two; A Quick Look at the History of Tanzania

Gearing up for our in-depth look at the history of Harambe, the mythical East African port in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we continue our discussion on the history of the real East Africa.  When Imagineers began the planning stages for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the “blue sky” phase if you prefer, they embarked on a journey of discovery to East Africa.  In particular, they visited Tanzania and Kenya.  Today, we look back at the influences and struggles the Imagineers found in Tanzania which helped to form Disney’s interpretation of Africa.

Sultan's Palace in Zanzibar
Throughout much of 19th century, European explorers began reporting back to the continent on the riches and wonders of Africa.  Imperialism followed close behind.  France, Germany, Belgium, Great Britain and others began taking over control of African states, a period referred to as the “Scramble for Africa”, and turning them from territories into colonies.  Often times these claims were disputed by other European countries, leading to the brink of war.  In 1884 the chancellor of Germany convened the Berlin Conference, aimed at dividing up Africa and attempting to set down some guidelines for the scramble.

Those of us in the US familiar with the history of our native people will have a pretty good idea of how european governments invaded, conquered and ruled in Africa.  In Tanzania, it was the Germans who first seized control from Omani Sultan of Zanzibar.  Along with areas that also make up present day Rwanda, Burundi and mainland Tanzania, Germany formed a huge colony called German East Africa.

Mount Kilimanjaro
The German explorer/colonizer Karl Peters is credited as the man to begin the process of colonizing what is now mainland Tanzania, called Tanganyika.  He formed what we would call today a “lobbying group” called the Society of German Colonization and a company called the German East Africa Company to set up the funding and organization for his efforts into East Africa.  He managed,without the official backing of the German chancellor, to procure dubious “treaties” with native tribes.  In 1885, very much after the fact, Germany granted Peters an official charter thus making the area a colony.  Over the coming years, the German government took over control from Peters and his company.

It wasn’t long before African resistance began, as the German ruling government agitated the situation by forcing locals onto plantations and trying to extinguish African religious customs.  A series of often brutal campaigns of violent resistance to German rule erupted, the most famous of which being the Maji-Maji Rebellion of 1905.  The Rebellion was a hideous and bloody period, with almost “scorched-earth” results from all out war on civilians and participants alike.

Arab control continued on the island of Zanzibar up until the 19-Century, as sultans turned Zanzibar into a hub of the African Slave Trade with Asia and the Middle-East.  During the later part of the 1800’s, Zanzibar came under British rule, as Great Britian moved aggressively to end the slave trade, of which Zanzibar was a major hub.

Julius Nyerere (left) with US President Jimmy Carter (right)
World War I brought the end of German rule in Tanganyika, and much of the mainland territory was handed over to the British as part of the League of Nations agreements.  British rule continued until the mid-20th Century, when a teacher name Julius Nyerere formed a political group called Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and began pressuring Britain for independence.  Nyerere was successful and the British pulled up stakes and left Tanganyika in 1961, and Zanzibar in 1963.  Nyerere became Tanganyika’s first Prime Minister.

The British turned over Zanzibar to a constitutional monarchy under the Sultan.  But Africans revolted and the violent Zanzibar Revolution pushed Arab and Indian influences off the island in a genocidal horror.  Nyerere moved quickly and managed to achieve a merger of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, forming the nation of Tanzania of which he became its first president.

Recent history has been predictably rocky, especially economically.  Like most African nations, the post-colonial era was difficult as most european powers left while leaving little behind to help grow a nation.  Tanzania has dealt with poverty, economic struggles and difficulties with its neighbors, including a famous military clash which helped to oust Uganda’s dictator Idi Amin.  But Tanzania has maintained a relative internal political peace, with Nyerere staying in power until 1985.

The home of Mount Kilimanjaro is now also popular tourist destination, and not just with Imagineers looking for ideas for a theme park.  From the stunning beaches of Zanzibar to the expanse of the treasured Serengeti, it’s not hard to see how this country filled Disney’s creative team with so much inspiration.  Tanzania is filled with national parks and reserves home to a diverse wildlife population, including Seregeti National Park, home of the great wildebeest migration which should be on any bucket list.

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