The Ghosts of Zanzibar: Ghost Tractors and Spooky Ladies

When many of us think of ghost stories, we envision White Ladies haunting spooky Queen Anne style houses in England, the United States, and possibly Canada. In Mexico and the American southwest, you might hear about La Llorona or La Planchanda. But every culture has its ghost stories, and some of the most interesting ones come from far-flung places that many of us never get to visit.


a map of the Zanzibar archipelago
Image: CC BY-SA 4.0 by Oona Räisänen, via Wikimedia Commons

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania. It consists of a number of small islands off the Tanzanian coast in East Africa. Zanzibar was and is a very important player in the international spice trade. Much of the world’s cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and cloves come from this area. It was also an important center of slave and trading routes for the Arab world, between the middle ages and the beginning of the twentieth century. As such, it was a point of cultural interchange between the Islamic world and the local cultures. And then Britain inserted itself.

As any ghost hunter can tell you, these factors — the not-always-peaceful overlapping of numerous cultures, a history of avarice, war, and revolution, combined with the trauma and misery of the slave trade — make fertile soil for unquiet spirits — and for stories about them. But Zanzibar’s ghosts come in a lot of different flavors, from the ancient to the timeless to the thoroughly modern.

The People’s Palace

Zanzibar's Sultan Palace
Image: Public Domain, by Vitopuntocom at it.wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

The People’s Palace (also called the Sultan’s Palace) in Stonetown was built in the late 19th century for the Sultan’s family. The British destroyed it in 1896, during the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Interestingly, the war lasted only 40 minutes, making it the shortest one on record. However, it was enough to take out the palace, and I suppose the British felt they’d made their point, and their favorite took over as Sultan. In 1963, Zanzibar became independent from Britain. The very next year, local revolutionaries successfully revolted against the Sultan. As a result, the new government renamed the property The People’s Palace.

Today it’s a museum and the site of numerous hauntings. People have reported hearing babies cry, seeing blood spill out of the palace’s front door then disappear, and yes, the obligatory Woman In A Spooky Veil.

Scary Ladies

A ghostly woman in white, with blue lighting
Image: CC0 by AdinaVoicu, via Pixabay

Speaking of Scary Ladies, the tradition of the Spooky Woman in Flowy Clothing exists in Zanzibar as well. They have their share of White Ladies, like the one Abbas Darjani saw on Malindi Street one night. The encounter so frightened him, that he reportedly fell seriously ill. His illness later caused him to go blind.

More commonly, though, the European “Lady in a White Veil” is replaced by a woman in flowing, black Islamic garb. A builder, for example, went to a local spring to fetch water to mix cement. There, he saw what he took to be a Muslim woman washing clothes. He greeted her, but she ignored him. As he drew closer, she looked up at him and hissed, her face a mask of fury and evil. The builder realized she was an evil spirit. He tried to escape, but found she had sucked all of his energy away. He finally did manage to stagger away, but reported feeling weak for months afterward.

Another black-clad Scary Lady haunts the Stonetown High Court, Mnazi Mnoja Hospital, and Victoria Park. She hasn’t threatened anyone, but, just like European ghosts flee from the Cross, this Lady in Black runs away when people recite verses from the Qu’ran.

Which is the really interesting part of that story, in my opinion.

You can read more about these ghostly women and other apparitions in Zanzibar Ghost Stories by the historian Mohammad A. Amir.

Ghost Vehicles

an abandoned and rusty tractor
Outside of Quartzite, which does, actually, have supernatural meaning for me. But that’s another story for another time. Image CC0 by TraveLink, via Pixabay

One thing that Zanzibar has that the West seems to lack is undead vehicles. Samuel Lwelela of the Zanzibar Resort in Pogwe told the Fortean Times about the phantom vehicles that haunt his village of Malita in mainland Tanzania. These vehicles appear to be limited to tractors, and numerous witnesses have reported seeing them. They have also been reported to kidnap people. Tanzania’s phantom flying tractors didn’t make this list of ghostly vehicles, but they sound pretty cool anyhow.

But Where are the Ghosts, Really?

One of the villains in my novel, The Left Hand of Justice is a police inspector who spent his whole life waiting to have a supernatural encounter, but never did. He’s very bitter about it, and it drives him to evil acts.

That was a bit of author self-insertion. I’ve always loved ghost stories, and whenever I visit a new city, I always try to book a reputable ghost tour. These tours are always full of stories of other visitors who see orbs, hear voices, or feel “a presence.” But no matter how “open” I am to the experience, it never happens. It hasn’t turned me evil, but it has turned me slightly cynical.

I remember sitting in the dark in the bowels of the Queen Mary at midnight, for example, chanting nursery rhymes, waiting for the famous little girl ghost. Nothing happened except a stiff back and a bout of feeling silly. The midnight tour of Chillingham Castle scared the bejeezus out of me, and a couple of my co-ghost-walkers even showed me “orbs” that they’d captured with their digital cameras. Le Sigh. But maybe one day.

What about you? Any ghost vehicle or Scary Lady encounters you’d like to share?



#ghost #lefthandofjustice #left_hand_of_justice #jessfaraday #ghostvehicle #phantomvehicle


Featured Image: CC0 by djp098, via Pixabay

Published by jfaraday

Jess Faraday is an award-winning author of historical suspense.

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