Zanzibar is an archipelago off the coast of East Africa. It is a semi-autonomous part of the country, Tanzania (Zanzibar formed a union with Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania). The largest and most densely populated island in the archipelago is Unguja, and often when people talk about Zanzibar they are referring to Unguja. This is the case in the film: when we refer to Zanzibar we are just talking about the island of Unguja. The film is set in Zanzibar's largest town, Stonetown, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Zanzibar has a unique history; the island has long been a center of trade from Africa to the Middle East and Asia. In the 14th century, Persians settled in Zanzibar along with the indigenous African population. During this time a unique Swahili culture developed in Zanzibar. Eventually the Portuguese conquered the island at the beginning of the 16th Century, only to be replaced by the Omani Sultanate who moved the capital of the Omani Arab empire from Muscat to Stonetown in the 1830s.
Ever since forming a union with the mainland, there has been a latent independence movement in Zanzibar. The union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika in the 1960s formed during a politically fraught moment in Zanzibar's history. A revolution on the island displaced the Arab rulers, causing concern among British and American intelligence that Zanzibar would be the "Cuba of Africa." Though Zanzibar joined the mainland, revoking independence, the island has long been a stronghold for Tanzania's political opposition, often protesting and rioting during elections. In 2013, during a constitutional referendum, the independence movement in Zanzibar surfaced with renewed force, led by religious leaders on the island. However, the protests were quelled by moderate politicians and police.
Unlike the mainland of Tanzania, where Christianity and Islam are both practiced, Zanzibar is 99% Muslim. Islam is central to Zanzibari identity, and the island's identification with Islam is deeply tied to local politics and culture. Religion dictates most experiences for Zanzibaris based on sex. Boys and girls study at separate religious schools, and boys have more opportunities to play in public spaces, while girls tend to cover themselves in public and spend more time in the home.
In Zanzibar, the only thing as prevalent as Islam is soccer. Every morning and evening you can see people playing soccer on the many fields that dot the island, as well as Stonetown's alleyways and beaches everywhere. Zanzibaris watch the European premiership and have loyal ties to teams.
However, it is rare to see women play soccer in Zanzibar. Most Zanzibaris believe that women's soccer is uhuni, which is the Swahili word for immoral. When questioned further about the immorality of women's soccer, people tend to object to the clothing (shorts) and the exposure to men. For those bold women who do play soccer in Zanzibar, they tend to play against male teams as there is limited female competition. This only makes critics more uncomfortable with women's soccer.
Organized women's soccer in Zanzibar has persisted in small ways for more than 25 years, and there is reason to believe that it is growing. In 1988 a Swedish team visited Zanzibar and helped to form the island's first women's soccer team. For years there was only one women's team on the island but in 2013 several new teams formed and there is now a women's soccer league in Zanzibar with 6 teams. Through soccer Zanzibari women have the opportunity to experience being on a team and to take pride in their own strength: building confidence and impacting their lives in immeasurable ways.