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Here is the golden crown of the Sultan of Banten. Manufactured around AD 1700, the crown is made of gold and silver filigree with non-faceted precious stones (presumably rubies, spinels, and garnets). The foliate design of the piece are typical of the Islamic goldsmithing and sculptural traditions of Java.

Straddling the western tip of Java and the south eastern end of Sumatra, the Sultanate of Banten was one of the most important of the Indonesian Islamic kingdoms which the Dutch worked so hard to subaltern and ultimately conquer. You might note that Indonesia’s contemporary capital Jakarta (assuming they haven’t moved it yet) is located in what was once Banten territory. The sultans of Banten derived their wealth and power from trading, and they were initially eager to trade with the Dutch and the English (whom they played against each other). Unfortunately for the Bantens, the Dutch destroyed Jayakarta and built a fortified town, Batavia on the ruins. Throughout the 17th century, Banten influence and wealth waned as the Dutch grew in power. A disastrous fight between father and son rivals for the sultanate allowed the Dutch to seize power and reduce the once powerful sultanate to a puppet kingdom.

Tanzania

Tanzania…oh my goodness is that pretty…

In past weeks this blog has been slowly traveling on a meandering path through sub-Saharan Africa, concentrating especially on the flags of these lands.  We started in Madagascar, moved across the channel to Mozambique, visited Malawi (on the edge of its great lake) and today we travel further north to Tanzania. Tanzania is a beautiful land of mountains, rain forests, lakes, vast arable fields, and beaches. Africa’s tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, can be found in the north of Tanzania. The country is bounded by three of the great rift lakes of Africa (Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Victoria). To the east lies the Indian Ocean and the Zanzibar archipelago stretches out into the sea.

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The mainland portion of Tanzania was originally known as Tanganyika. It was a German colony until after World War I when control shifted to the British. Tanganyika had an easy transition away from British colonial control to independence in 1961. The islands of Zanzibar however had a much darker and sadder history—they were the center of the great Swahili-Arab slave trade until the British navy shut the wicked industry down. Even then the Sultanate of Zanzibar continued slave trading on the sly until Britain finally annexed it after a 38 minute long war! Zanzibar obtained independence from the British in 1964, after which the newly liberated citizens committed genocide against the Arabs and Indian Moslems who had so long dominated the islands. After this murderous rampage, the islands of Zanzibar turned away from the Arab world and joined together with Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964 (although Zanzibar remains semi-autonomous).

The Flag of Tanzania

The Flag of Tanzania

The flag of Tanzania is likewise a combination of the earlier (and oddly similar) flags of Zanzibar and Tanganyika. When the two standards merged into one Zanzibar’s blue field joined Tanganyika’s green one. The main difference was the central black stripe which moved from horizontal to diagonal (although it kept Tanganyika’s narrow yellow stripes around it.  The colors are symbolic—although the symbolic meanings are not hard to guess. The green stands for the fields and forests. The blue represents lakes, rivers, and the ocean. The gold bands represent wealth and, most importantly, the black band represents the Tanzanian people. It’s a pretty flag for a pretty land…but I can never remember it at all. Whenever I look at the flags of the world, it is one of the few I always get wrong. Maybe now that I have written a miniature essay about it, the flag of Tanzania will henceforth stick in my head.

The Flag of Tanganyika

The Flag of Tanganyika

The Flag of Zanzibar

The Flag of Zanzibar

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