Woman and Empires ―From the World of Princess Salme
12/31/2015 Chizuko Tominaga
All rights reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced without the prior written permission of the author.
Chapter Ⅰ Encounter with Memoirs
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess
Love with a German Merchant
Chapter Ⅱ The year 1859：Grief-Stricken Salme
“My Mother’s Death：A Palace Revolution”
Chapter Ⅲ A Fresh Look at Princess Salme
Journey to Hamburg from Aden
Ethnic Origin of Salme’s Mother
Renunciation of Islam
Emergence of Arab Consciousness
Portrait of Heinrich Ruete
Migration, Nationally and Internationally
Chapter Ⅳ Travel to Holland in 2008
Aboard the Plane：Thinking of Salme as a Research Theme
At Ohlsdorf Cemetry, Hamburg
At Leiden University：Conversation with Dr. Donzel
Chapter Ⅴ Two Empires and Salme
Approach to the German Empire
Support from Royalty and Aristocracy
Sultan Barghash’s Visit to England
A Letter to Sultan Barghash,1883
Germany’s Launch of East African Policy
First Homecoming, 1885
Departure for Palestine
Salme’s Views on Nation States and Empires
Chapter Ⅵ Between Islam and Western Civilizations
Case 1 Education and Civilization
Case 2 Married Couple：The Orient and the West
Case 3 Slavery in the Orient and Militarization in the West
Appendix ① Reigning Period of Sayyid Said and His Four Sons
Appendix ② Legal Wives and Concubines （list of only those whose ethnic origin could be traced）
List of References
Chapter Ⅰ Encounter with Memoirs
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess
In my hand is a book of about 300 pages titled Memoirs of an Arabian Princess. On the sepia cover, there’s a picture of one lady in Arabic attire and accessories. She is the author of this book named Emily Said-Ruete, born Salme bint Said.
Salme was born in 1844 and raised in a small island called Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa as one of the princesses of Sultanate of Oman.
Why was the princess of Oman in the Middle East born on an African island? The reason is simple. Her father Sultan Sayyid Said had shifted his court to Zanzibar from Oman as the ruling base of his vast territory, including the Eastern coast of Africa, because of its geopolitically advantageous location. This is the reason why Salme has been called an “Arabian Princess” in spite of her birthplace in Africa.
Considering this historical background, it is not surprising that my first encounter with her name was in the book of East African history.
After a while in the late 1980s, I heard that Salme had published her memoirs in German, and I obtained its English translation. This is the book Memoirs of an Arabian Princess I have just mentioned above. An Introduction was written by Freeman-Grenville, one of the pioneers of East African history.
Now in holding the book again, I recall when I first read the short introduction on the folded portion of the cover as follows:
“Originally published in 1888 , this is the first known autobiography of an Arabian woman, and the only known autobiography of an Arabian princess . Set in mid-nineteenth century Zanzibar, where Arab and African cultures met, it provides a view no official account could possibly reveal, into the intrigues of court life, the struggles for political power, and the world of the harim.
For the love of Heinrich Ruete, a young German consulate official , Princess Salme bint Said chose to forsake, at the risk of death, her privileged place in a Muslim society. In 1866 they fled to the West, where tragically, three years later he died. She remained in Germany with their three children, and there, in a characteristically lively style, wrote of her experiences.”
I was impressed very much by some phrases such as “the only known autobiography of an Arabian princess,” “love of Heinrich Ruete,” “the risk of death,” “fled to the West.” This book is set in an Islamic society in the 19th Century when women could not choose their spouses freely. Women’s seclusion must have been strict. How did Salme who was born into a royal family manage to meet and get together with a German youth? I really wanted to know the accurate details of these stories.
To get a clear picture, I looked for relevant chapters in her book. After the Editor’s introduction it starts with the author’s preface, followed by 31 chapters with titles like “Bet Il Mtoni,” “Bet Il Watoro,” “A Day at Bet Il Sahel,” “Our Life at Bet Il Watoro and at Bet Il Sahel,” “Removal to Bet Il Tani,” “Daily Life in our House,”・・･･･and then “Great Changes” in the 29th chapter. THIS is what I’m looking for, I thought. Yes, in this chapter Salme writes about her love affair and its aftermath as follows.
Love with a German Merchant
“While all this bitterness prevailed in our family I was made happy by the affection of a young German, who lived at Zanzibar as the representative of a Hamburg mercantile firm. A good many untrue reports have been published with regard to these, to me, important events, and I feel it incumbent on me to briefly mention them here. During the reign of my brother Madjid the Europeans enjoyed a very respected position; they were often and gladly received as guests at his house and on his estates, and were always treated with marked attention on such occasions. My step-sister Chole and myself were on most friendly terms with all foreigners in Zanzibar, which led to various courtesies, such as the custom of the country admitted. The European ladies of Zanzibar for the most part called only upon Chole and myself.
Soon after my removal from Bububu I made the acquaintance of my future husband. My house was next to his; the flat roof of his house was a little lower than my own. He held his dinner parties in a room opposite to where I could watch them; for he knew that this display of a European festivity must be very interesting to me. Our friendship, from which in time sprang love, was soon known in the town, and my brother Madjid also was well aware of it, but he never showed any displeasure, much less made me suffer imprisonment on this account, as the gossips had it.
I was, of course, desirous of leaving my home secretly, where our union was out of the question. The first attempt failed, but a more favorable opportunity soon presented itself. Through the mediation of my friend Mrs. D., the wife of Dr. D., the British Vice-consul at the time, I was one night taken on board by Mr. P., Commander of the British man-of-war, Highflyer; and everything having been in waiting and preparation for me, we started at once and steered to the north. We reached Aden all safe, where I was received by a Spanish couple, whom I had known at Zanzibar; and there I was going to wait till my affianced husband could join me; for he was as yet detained at Zanzibar in winding up his affairs.
In the meantime I had been instructed in the Christian religion, and was baptized in the English Church at Aden with the name of Emily, and married immediately after according to the English rite. After our marriage we left for Hamburg, via Marseilles, where I was received in the kindest manner by the parents and relations of my husband.” [Said-Ruete 1981:270-71]
Judging from this account, the title “Great Change” of Chapter 29 surely denotes the love affair and elopement with the young German. Conversion to Christianity also must have been a great change. Both of her deeds deserve capital punishment according to Islamic Law. The phrase “the risk of death” written on the cover surely meant this punishment.
However, Salme writes that her brother Sultan Madjid was generous about her love affair. She also recalls that royal family members could communicate rather freely with Europeans. Moreover, Salme converts to Christianity after leaving Zanzibar. Yet why did she take such a big risk? What drove her to this option? I remember these questions came to my mind when I read her account for the first time.
Chapter Ⅱ The Year 1859：Grief-Stricken Salme
Around the same year I encountered Salme’s Memoirs, I happened to come across a book titled Trade Wind at a bookshop in Heathrow Airport. This title attracted my attention because it reminded me of Zanzibar. It was written by M.M.Kaye , reproduced from the 1963 Longmans version by Penguin Books in 1982. I read a short notice about its content on the back cover:
“The year is 1859 and Hero Hollis, beautiful and headstrong niece of the American consul, arrives in Zanzibar. It is an earthly paradise fragrant with spices and frangipani; it is also the last and greatest outpost of the Slave Trade .
A passionate opponent of slavery, Hero is swept into the turmoil of royal intrigue, abduction, piracy, smuggling and a virulent cholera epidemic. There in Zanzibar, the most cruelly beautiful island of the Southern Seas, she must choose her love and unravel her destiny.”
Obviously this novel was set in Salme’s contemporary Zanzibar. Quickened by this short notice, I turned the pages and found the name Salme in chapter13—vividly alive in the novel, talking with people, quarreling against brothers, and contemplating by the window facing the Indian Ocean. She was apparently involved in a court intrigue which seemed to me like a historical fact. I tried to find this incident in Salme’s Memoirs. I took a guess at Chapter 26 titled “My Mother’s Death：A Palace Revolution.” This was it!
What kind of “Revolution” was it? Salme’s memory goes back to 1859, exactly the same year Hero Hollis landed on Zanzibar, and for Salme, three years after her father Sayyid Said died on his return voyage to Zanzibar from Oman. It would be 6 years before she would meet the young German Heinrich Ruete. Here is the digest of the chapter.
“My Mother’s Death： A Palace Revolution”
“Since my father’s death I had lived with my mother and Chole at Bet il Tani, happy in their friendship and love, for about three years, when suddenly a fearful cholera epidemic spread over the town and the whole island, and snatched away many people in our house. It was during the hottest season, and finding it impossible to get any rest in bed, I had one night got a soft mat spread out on the floor to lie down upon, but was not a little shocked, upon waking in the morning, to find my dearly beloved mother writhing with pain at my feet. To my anxious questions she replied that she had been there half the night already, and that feeling herself attacked by cholera, she wished to die near me at least, if it was so decreed. I was well-nigh distracted at seeing my dear mother suffer from the malignant disease without being able to help her. For two days longer she withstood its attacks; then she was taken from me forever. I was now barely fifteen years old, an orphan, a ship without a rudder tossing in the sea.
It was just as if my father’s death had been the signal for general discord amongst us, instead of uniting us more, as it ought to have done. Discord started between the throne heir Madjid and his brother Barghash who made a bid for the throne. All the royal family and party were involved. I myself [got] involved in this discord through Chole who sided with Barghash against Madjid.
Madjid and Chole had been on very good terms up to this time, at which I was delighted, for I was very fond of both. But the good relation between them gradually began to get cooler on account of my brother Barghash, and this ended finally in a complete rupture.
I was thus placed for some months between two fires. I hesitated to choose between the two persons equally dear to me, and when I could no longer put off my decision, I sided with Chole, whom, I cherished most, and who by degrees ruled me completely.
Madjid was of weak health, unable to act always by himself, and for this reason he had to leave a good deal to his ministers. One of these unfortunately had the knack of making himself indispensable to his master, and managed to incite all brothers and sisters one against the other in order to increase his own power. My brother Barghash endeavored to turn these discords to his profit in order to assume the throne as Madjid had no sons.
In the East, the heirs-presumptive to a throne are always in a hurry to possess themselves of it. This was the case with Barghash. He had failed in usurping the power at my father’s death, but had never abandoned his plans.
It became now Barghash’s main object to gain over a number of notables and chiefs. By and by it transpired that the majority of his supporters were people of bad repute, men known to be turbulent and reckless. After having gathered together a sufficiently large number of such partisans, the details of the projected rising were more minutely considered. The plan conceived was to seize Madjid unawares and to proclaim Barghash Sultan.
In secret Madjid endeavored once more to show me the error of my ways before it was too late. But my noble brother’s warning arrived too late. I had already plighted my word to Chole and to Barghash. I thought it best to devote myself entirely to the cause of the conspiracy.
It would have been easy for Madjid at this time to have had his badly-advised brother and his adherents arrested, but it was not in his nature to be severe. He still hoped to see his brother turn back.
Thus, for a long time Madjid shut his eyes, but when whole crowds of men besieged the doors of Barghash’s house, the Government at last decided to have our houses watched, and decided to put an end to our doings by either imprisoning all suspicious persons or evicting them from the island. When this news reached us our preparations were not yet completed, so we redoubled our efforts. Although I was the youngest female member of the conspiracy, they made me on account of my ability in writing, the secretary, and as such had to do all the correspondence with the chiefs.
We worked on unremittingly in spite of the searching watch set over us, and even the meetings were continued under real difficulties. Already the day was fixed for the open rebellion, when suddenly Barghash’s house was surrounded by several hundred soldiers. The time had been chosen when he was sure to be indoors.
The stronghold of the rebellious party was in the rural area, where all the arms and the ammunition were carried in. The last thing to do was to set Barghash free, to enable him to conduct matters personally. We well knew that the undertaking was one fraught with danger, but fear was far from us: we were resolved to dare all risks.
One night Chole and I myself proceeded to Barghash’s house. Upon arriving at the door we were ordered to stop, but the soldiers had no idea who was to follow. We went up to the officers directly and in impressive language made a thrilling appeal to their manly feelings, which had the effect of making their eyes stare wildly and their tongues speechless. We reached our destination.
In the meantime, Barghash witnessed the scene with the guard from above, and delighted to know we could enter his house. Chole and I were assured that we could make Barghash free. But we faced another difficulty. In spite of the consent in advance, he declined to disguise himself in a woman’s dress. In his own dress he would never have been permitted to quit the house! We were literally standing on a volcano. At last Barghash consented to be wrapped in a schele (women’s overcoat). To escape suspicion we moved on in the usual deliberate gait, while our hearts were throbbing and well-nigh bursting with suppressed anxiety.” [Said-Ruete 1981:227-244]
Chole and Salme were successful in freeing Barghash from his house to the stronghold in the rural area. But this court revolution of 1859 failed, and Barghash was exiled to Bombay . Though Sultan Madjid was generous enough not to punish Chole and Salme who sided with Barghash, the affection and regard of brothers and sisters were lost forever. Circumstances surrounding Salme were totally changed, with very few friends remaining, being kept under constant watch, spending worriedly ・・・・・Then there appeared the German youth named Heinrich Ruete! This court revolution must have contributed to the psychological background of Salme’s affection for him.
It was fun to solve these riddles, and it was also fascinating to learn about Salme’s checkered life. But I had no intention to pick up Salme’s life history as a main research subject. This was because the trend in historiography in the 1980s primarily focused on Africans as the subject—that is the so-called nationalist approach, which was deeply rooted among Africanists since the independence of African nations.
Particularly the history of East African coastal region which had been strongly influenced by Islamic and Arab culture was written from the viewpoint of Arabs by Western scholars. Rewriting of this Arabcentric history into Afrocentric history had been the mission among Africanists in those days. Progress in linguistic and archeological research began to show evidence that coastal culture had developed indigenously with African culture, albeit adapting Arab culture in various ways.
In light of this historiographical trend, it was inevitable for Salme herself to be seen as an Arab element. Though Salme was born in East Africa, genetically she was an Arab. Moreover, in terms of the dominant stream in historical writing in Japan at the time which favored ordinary people as the main theme, it was out of the question for me to depict history from the viewpoint of a royal family such as Salme.
My view on Salme changed over twenty years later in 2008 when I obtained the book An Arabian Princess Between Two Worlds: Memoirs, Letters Home, Sequels to the Memoirs, Syrian Customs & Usages, edited with an introduction by E. van Donzel . In this book some manuscripts written by Salme but had not yet been published were included such as Letters Home, Sequels to the Memoirs and Syrian Customs & Usages which I felt shed new light on Salme’s agony and inner conflict as a woman, a mother, and a widow. It was a different profile of Salme than what had been impressed on me so far. At the same time I learned about the Said Ruete Library in Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten (NINO) of Leiden University in Holland where Salme’s various documents, such as letters and manuscripts written in Arabic, are deposited. Immediately I decided to fly to Leiden to visit NINO and to meet with Dr. Donzel. But I had to do one thing before taking action, which was to read Donzel’s book carefully and figure out the points at issue. I felt that this would be the real start of my research
Chapter Ⅲ A Fresh Look at Princess Salme
Before visiting Holland, I made a chronology of Salme’s life with related political events:
1844 Aug. 30 Salme is born; father was the Sultan Sayyid Said, and
mother was a Circassian concubine Jilfidan.
1856 ― Father, the Sultan Sayyid Said dies.
1859 ― Mother, Jilfidan dies of cholera.
1865 July Encounters Heinrich Ruete.
1866 Aug. 25 Escapes to Aden on a British man-of-war.
Dec. 7 Son Heinrich is born at Aden.
1867 Feb. 15 Heinrich Ruete leaves Zanzibar for Aden.
May 30 Salme baptized and given Christian name, Emily.
Marries Heinrich Ruete at the Anglican Church in Aden.
June Salme and husband leave for Hamburg via Marseilles.
1868 March 24 Daughter Antonie is born.
1869 Apr. 13 Son Said is born.
1870 ― Sultan Madjid (Salme’s step-brother) dies, Barghash (also
Salme’s step-brother) enthroned.
Apr. 16 Daughter Rosalie is born.
July 19 German-French war starts (~71)
Aug 2 Heinrich Ruete dies in a traffic accident.
1872 ― Visits Foreign Minister von Bulow in Berlin.
― Obtains German Citizenship.
― Moves to Dresden.
― Encounters Baroness von Tettau.
1873 ― Zanzibar-British Treaty on Abolition of Slave Trade.
1875 Mar.6 Sultan Barghash refuses financial support to Salme.
June Sultan Barghash visits London.
― Salme starts writing Memoirs.
1877 Spring Moves to Rudolstadt from Dresden.
1879 Moves to Berlin from Rudolstadt.
1884 Nov. Berlin Conference on West Africa (~1885 Feb.26)
1885 Feb.27 German Emperor Wilhelm I signs the Letter of Protection
on acquired mainland territory of Zanzibar by German
Aug.2 First visit home to Zanzibar with the three children
1886 ― Publication of Memoiren einer Arabischen Prinzessin in
Nov.1 Zanzibar-German Treaty on territorial demarcation.
1888 ― Publication of English translation of Memoirs of an
Arabian Princess in London and New York.
March 26 Death of Sultan Barghash
Apr. 11 Second visit home to Zanzibar with Rosalie (~Nov.)
Apr. 28 Germany acquires the right to collect tariff on the coast
off mainland territory of Zanzibar.
June 15 German Emperor Wilhelm II’s accession to the throne
Sep. 3 British government acquires Mombasa as a leased
territory from Sultan of Zanzibar.
Nov. Salme leaves Zanzibar for Jaffa in Palestine.
1890 July Zanzibar becomes a British Protectorate under the
Heligoland – Zanzibar Treaty.
Aug. Slavery abolished in Zanzibar.
1892 ― Moves to Beirut.
1898 ― Attends Antonie’s marriage ceremony in Berlin.
1901 Sep.16 Attends Said’s marriage ceremony in Berlin.
1902 Jan. Rosarie gets married
1905 ― Publication of French translation of Memoirs.
1907 ― The third English translation of Memoirs in New York.
1914 ― Leaves Beirut to join Rosarie in Bromberg (today’s Bydgosc
1920 ― Moves to Jena with Rosalie’s Family.
1923 ― Becomes recipient of pension from Zanzibar Government.
1924 Feb.29 Dies in Jena at the age of 79. Cremated and buried with
the Ruetes at Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg.
While composing the chronology, I began to find some historical facts and important issues I had overlooked before.
First of all, Salme had given birth to a baby boy at Aden in Dec.1866 which she did not mention in her Memoirs. This means that Salme had become pregnant before marriage—a fact proven by the birth certificate submitted to the Anglican Church in Aden . In a Muslim society such as Zanzibar, sexual relations outside a marriage are taboo under Islamic law. Several verses about Salme’s elopement recorded in the history book of Zanzibar show that her affair had been a big scandal in those days .
According to Islamic law, adultery as well as premarital sex is one of the serious crimes punishable even by death . “The risk of death” I quoted above must have indicated this matter. There is no official record which confirms the execution of Muslim criminal law of “adultery”, but I have heard that those women who violated adultery was forced to take the sea pretending to leave for Mecca pilgrimage but that none of them had ever reached their destination. As a matter of fact, even Salme was ‘urged’ to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca by the Sultan Madjid, but she refused, knowing well that his suggestion was tantamount to a death sentence . Salme escaped this crisis with the help of Mrs. Seward, wife of the British consul, who had secretly arranged for her to board the British man-of-war Highflyer, which happened to be in harbor. At Aden, she bore a baby, joined Rudolf, converted to Christianity, got married, and they immediately left for Hamburg as I mentioned earlier.
I wanted to know what her feelings might have been when she left Zanzibar via Aden for Hamburg where she had never been before. The hint must lie in her Letters Home . I will quote some paragraphs below.
Journey to Hamburg from Aden
“Our journey on the Red Sea was indescribably hot. Around midday nobody would dare to stay under the awnings, and all passengers had to remain in the saloon until the sun declined towards the West. Meals with so many gentlemen and ladies were very unpleasant. I suspected pork and also lard in every dish. Therefore I lived in the beginning mostly on biscuits, boiled eggs, tea and fruits alone. False shame prevented me from telling my husband about my fear of these unclean and with us strictly forbidden animals, for, with Christians, everything is permitted and the words “clean” and “unclean” with regard to food are unknown. I therefore pretended lack of appetite in most cases. I was not very pleased with the western type of freedom such as all the first-class passengers－man, woman and child－slept together on their mattresses in the saloon. Most amusing was the sight of morning when waking up! All the gentlemen and ladies wore nightshirts or nightgowns, but nothing else. Every sleeper who woke up tried to leave his resting place as soon as possible, so that no one might see him in his scanty dress.
The first European town I ever entered was Marseille. Though we arrived in June, I was so numb with cold that the gentle lady whom I met on the ship was friendly enough to wrap me up in her shawl. I waited afar while customs officers checked with our luggage. When I realized the cause of the dispute with the officers was my husband, I pushed forward to learn what happened. The cause of the dispute was my Arabian jewelry. The officers wanted duty to be paid on it because they thought that the objects were merchandise imported to be sold. As the officers would not believe this jewelry belonged to me, I lost patience and finally mentioned my family name to the officers. Deep bows on their part, but they could not help gazing at me with naïve curiosity. Enough, I finally got my possessions out untaxed, and we could drive on to a hotel.
We stayed in beautiful Marseille for about eight days. I was happy to see our old friends who spoke Swahili and Arabic. Just that, I felt very painful to say them farewell.
While we were driving from our hotel to the railway station, I was seized by such a fear, otherwise unknown to me. It seemed to me as if from now on my homeland would be removed from me more and more and that all bridges had collapsed behind me. My soul was crying out for all of you and seemed to blend with a thousand voices from my beloved island, calling me back with one warning: “Go no further! Instead come back!” I fought a terrible fight with myself. Mechanically I mounted the train whose purpose it was to bring me as quickly as possible to an unknown country, to perfect strangers, as if I too were in the greatest hurry to reach my future destination as soon as possible―and so we drove on and on towards the North.
On an afternoon, at sunset, we reached Hamburg. You will of course want to know how I felt and thought on European soil, or not? There were extremely strange sensations indeed which dominated me completely. Only in my husband’s presence was I able to free myself from this feeling which tormented me day and night. One voice only still rang in my soul: “And here you wish to pass the rest of your life?” It would have been easier to give my life than to be able to answer this dreadful question with an honest “Yes”. [Sayyida Salme 1993:408-411]
We can hear Salme’s outcry between the lines. She was filled with anxiety rather than expectation for the future.
By the way, Salme and her husband must have travelled together with about a 6-month-old baby Heinrich. But Salme did not mention this at all as I’ve noted above. Why not?
According to the chronology, Salme bore three children in Hamburg. This means Salme had 4 children if the first baby who was born in Aden was included. Where had the baby gone? I needed a little bit more time in order to solve this mystery.
I next turned my attention to Salme’s mother Jilfidan. She was a Circassian concubine brought to Zanzibar as a slave. Circassians are an ethnic group that has been living in the region of Northern Caucasus. Why were slaves brought so far down as Zanzibar to be sold? Salme wrote this short story which her mother had told her.
Ethnic Origin of Salme’s Mother
“My mother was a Circassian by birth who in early youth had been torn away from her home. She had lived peacefully with her parents and her brother and sister, her father gaining a livelihood as a farmer. A war broke out, marauding bands marched through the country and the entire family fled into an underground place, as my mother said. She probably meant a cellar, unknown to us in Zanzibar. Later, however, a wild horde invaded this place of refuge, slew parents, and three Arnauts carried off the three children, galloping away on their horses. One Arnaut soon disappeared out of sight, taking away her elder brother; the other two, with my mother and her three year old younger sister, who constantly cried for her mother, kept together until the evening when they too parted, and my mother never heard any more of her brother and sister.
Still a child, she had come into my father’s possession, probably at the tender age of seven or eight, as she lost her first baby tooth in our house.
My mother was not very pretty, but tall and strongly built, she had black eyes and black hair that reached down to her knees. Of a gentle disposition, her greatest pleasure was to be able to assist other people. Still now I see her before me, going from one patient to another, her book in hand, to read religious passages to them.”［Sayyida Salme 1993:152-53］
Who were the ‘Arnauts’ that her mother mentioned? All things considered, they were mercenaries recruited by the Ottoman Empire. Historically, northern Caucasus had been under war with Russia which tried to invade and overrule these ethnic groups living there. Multiplying in number by this war, these mercenaries from Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia must have been rampant in this region at the same time as slave traders.
According to a treatise, Ottoman Empire , which had been recruiting white slaves from northern Caucasus since the 14th century, still imported about 100 slaves in the 1820s when Salme’s mother was brought to Zanzibar［Clarence-Smith 2006:13］. It is plausible that Zanzibar was one of the offshoots of these slave trade networks.
This information about Salme’s mother stirred up my interest in the harem of Zanzibar. I decided to collect information on women in Zanzibar harem.
As a result, I found that Sultan Said, Salme’s father, had three legal wives; one from Oman, the other two from Persia albeit both were divorced after a while. None of them bore a child. This means that about 120 princes and princesses were the children of concubines (sarari in Kiswahili). Of the prolific offspring, I was able to trace the ethnicity of only 22 princes and 19 princesses in the book. After making the list, I realized that every mother of the 22 princes was different and that there was not more than one pair of sisters from the same mother. It is said that the concubines who bore a prince never had another baby after that. This is true as there were elderly sisters of the princes, but not younger ones.
As for concubines with traceable ethnicity, there were 4 Circassians, 1 Assyrian, 4 Georgians, and 11 Ethiopians (Abyssinians). [See Appendix ①]. The ethnic origin of only a handful could be traced as there were 75 concubines when Sultan Said died [Freeman-Grenville 1981:8]. About these ethnic groups, I have already mentioned the Circassians above.As for the Georgians and Ethiopians, we know their place of origin as they belong to those modern nations respectively. The Assyrians, however, are a sort of an enigmatic ethnic group for me.
Who were the Assyrians? According to the dictionary, they are Christians whose mother tongue is Aram and live in present-day Syria and Iraq. Their genetic connection to ancient Assyria is unknown. However, this description is consistent with the assumption that there might have been Christians among Georgians and Assyrians in the harem of Zanzibar.
Thus the harem of Zanzibar was a cosmopolitan environment consisting of women of multi-ethnic background, speaking a variety of languages. In addition, Europeans came and settled down, eventually establishing friendly relations with the royal family.
Gradually the answer to my question of how Salme had managed to encounter a German youth in an Islamic society came into sight, though still hazy.
The third point I paid attention to was Salme’s renunciation of Islam. For someone like me whose daily life is quite distant from any religious practice, this is the most difficult to understand. Let’s take a look at some relevant passages from Salme’s narratives in Letters Home.
Women in the harem, c.1880 ©Zanzibar Archives
Renunciation of Islam
“・・・・externally, the Christian name, whereas internally I was as good a Muslim woman as you yourself are. I appeared to myself so utterly despicable for posing differently from what I really was. This I tell you quite frankly: beware of changing your religion without true conviction. Conviction? Indeed, from whom and from where should I have gained the conviction? For nobody had taken any further notice of what I really believed・・・。
・・・For the pastor it was apparently sufficient to hear me pronounce “Yes” to everything he said to me at the baptism and the following marriage ceremony.
From that moment onwards I belonged to Christianity than you yourself: thus consequences did not fail to follow. Separated from my former religion, and knowing the new one by name only, there began for me a period which cannot be described by words. Never in my whole life have I felt so miserable and deprived of every support as immediately after my baptism.
For my inner peace, it definitely would have been better if I had remained faithful to my former religion, at least [in the] beginning.
With this extraordinarily heavy discord within myself, I set foot in Europe and so in hallowed civilization. Indescribably I fought with myself and no one could surmise how much I suffered in silence. For even to my beloved husband I could not confess openly that in this respect we were of different opinions.” [Sayyida Salme 1993:411-412]
I understood from this narrative that Salme’s agony was not in the abandonment of Islam itself, but rather in the fact that she could not have a new religious belief to replace Islam. Moreover, the situation she faced in which she could not share her agony with her beloved husband deepened her anguish.
Granted that may be so, I still wondered whether the reason for Salme’s anguish was just apostasy. Salme’s agony seemed much too desperately deep to pin it on religion alone. I surmised that the baby born in Aden might have affected her state of mind. And if so, I should find the whereabouts of the baby first.
In any case, Salme had suffered very much for leaving Islam. Eventually this became an obstacle when she claimed her share of inheritance from her family in Zanzibar, because Zanzibar’s Sultan would not forgive Salme for renunciating Islam.
On the other hand, Salme started to try to adjust to Hamburg society. She wrote about her mentality in Letters Home as follows.
Emergence of Arab Consciousness
“Imagine yourself surrounded by your household without being able to speak with your servants. You must go to strangers and pay visits while your conversation with them consists exclusively in shaking hands. The same is repeated when you repay the unavoidable return visits. You are invited to a great party, where the eyes of all the guests are turned to you but in whose glances you only read inquisitiveness. Gentleman and ladies observe you from head to foot until you, for decorum’s sake, have to lower your astonished eyes. You need something and would like to have it, but you cannot possibly obtain it during your husband’s absence because it is he who has to translate your various wishes and needs to the servants. Every day, except on Sunday, it was completely impossible for me to speak, because my husband during that time was in his office. As you see, all this was nothing but unpleasantness for me, and so nothing was left to me but to learn the language. As said before, life was totally unbearable because of that, and I firmly decided not to rest before I had learned the language, and this for two reasons: firstly, because of the above-mentioned helplessness in which I found myself, and secondly, out of fear on your behalf at home, because my personal incapacity might easily be considered here as characteristic of Arabs. I wanted to do anything in my power to learn as quickly as possible the manners and customs of the land in which I now live lest our education, considered by many as primitive, be branded as an object of universal pity.” [Sayyida Salme 1993:414]
In between the lines I heard Salme’s cry for help to protect the dignity of the Arabs while being exposed to the scrutinizing eyes of curiosity. This must have been the emergence of her ethnic consciousness.
Thus Salme started to learn German from the tutor 2 hours every day. After 11 months, Salme managed to learn the alphabet, get used to writing from left to right, contrary to Arabic, and speak daily conversation.
By the way, I am not sure how much progress Salme had made ultimately in German proficiency. There were some speculations on this matter. For example, when Salme published Memoirs in 1886, The Times of London commented that “perhaps she borrowed a hand of a German who knew about Africa”. [Donzel 1993:7] I will refer to this matter again in Chap.Ⅳ.
Portrait of Heinrich Ruete
My fourth point of interest lies with the German youth Heinrich Ruete who reunited with Salme in Aden and went back to Hamburg together. What kind of person was he?
In those days there were many men who went overseas and associated with native ladies. But how many men actually took responsibility for such ladies? For example, a famous Japanese medical doctor cum novelist Ougai Mori who had tried to bring a German lady to Japan to wed, though without success, was one exception.
Another example is the well-known story of Mitsuko Aoyama and Heinrich Coudenhove-Kalergi (1859-1906) who, as the then Deputy Minister of Austria-Hungary to Japan, married Mitsuko and brought her to Europe. Mitsuko’s experience included many aspects in common with Salme such as life in a foreign culture, language handicap, husband’s demise, and estrangement from one’s own family. At the time, Zanzibar and Japan were both considered to be a sort of uncivilized society. And yet both Heinrichs chose to marry a woman of such heritage. While it is interesting to compare Salme to Mitsuko in this light, here I will focus my attention on Heinrich Ruete’s career and character. But there are few clues about him. And what little information available is often conflicting
According to an unpublished source, Heinrich was born in 1839 in Hamburg and went to Zanzibar as an agent of Hansing & Co. in 1855. If this is true, Heinrich went to Zanzibar at the age of 16 and had been working as an agent for 10 years when he met Salme. But another source says that Heinrich was the son of a respectable German schoolmaster, that he had started working in the office of a Hamburg merchant and had completed his training on East Coast traffic in Zanzibar. There he became a partner in the firm of Koll and Ruete, and subsequently became the head, if not the sole representative, of the modest yet flourishing house of Ruete and Co. Besides his native German, he spoke fluent French and English and was regarded as “an intelligent and able man of business, [having borne] a character for a very blameless life, at least so far as is known in Zanzibar”. [Donzel 1993:12]
A look at the family tree shows that the Ruete family belonged to a merchant class that originated in Bremen, then moved to Hamburg two generations before. Furthermore, the maternal side of the family also belonged to a merchant class. Both Bremen and Hamburg were members of the Hanseatic League, primarily supported by trading activities of the merchant class. The open-minded spirit of these cities might have influenced Heinrich. But that didn’t seem to give him the capacity to understand Salme’s inner agony concerning religious issues. I am wondering whether this was because of his arrogance as a Christian or the difficulty in communication between differing religions. There’s no easy answer to this issue, given the complexity of Salme’s situation.
Salme and her husband Heinrich Ruete with their two children, c1870.
Migration, Nationally and Internationally
The fifth point I focused on was the extent of Salme’s geographical migration, nationally and internationally. It started 2 years after her husband’s death in a horse-tram accident.
She moved from Hamburg to Dresden, from Dresden to Rudolstadt, from Rudolstadt to Berlin・・・・during which time she went to London in 1875, to Zanzibar in 1885 and 1888, then relocate to the Palestine under the rule of Ottoman Empire where she stayed for more than 20 years. Meanwhile, she visited Berlin, Cairo, Switzerland to be with her children on occasions・・・。
Tracing her migratory footsteps enabled me to envision Salme who crisscrossed among the territories of the 4 empires of Oman, Germany, Great Britain and Ottoman, struggling to survive with her three small children, sometimes being tossed about and at times finding solace under a foreign sky.
Chapter Ⅳ Travel to Holland in 2008
Aboard the plane：Thinking of Salme as a Research Theme
I flew to Holland in March of 2008. Aboard the plane, I contemplated the reason why I decided to take up Salme anew as the subject of my research in light of my own academic background.
One reason was the shift in my research focus from political and economic history to women/gender history in the 1990s. Another reason was my breakaway from the nationalist historiography. These two reasons are interrelated in my analytical framework. In other words, nationalist historiography is drawn on history from men’s viewpoint, not women’s. If we analyze the history from the gender perspective, nationalist analysis could be subject to critical review in some ways.
For example, the nationalists exploited the customs involving women such as sati in India and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in Africa for the purpose of strengthening the foothold of their movement. As the result, some of the oppressive tradition victimizing women that should have been abolished from the viewpoint of women’s human rights survived for a long time after independence and still do today to some degree. Moreover, it is obvious that the contradictory relation between gender and nationalism is not confined to Africa. Women elsewhere were more or less subjected to the same oppression from the male-dominated order of society. This gender perspective liberated me from the obsessive need to concentrate on the Africanness of Zanzibar history which was the objective of nationalist historians.
Another factor that influenced my research direction was the joint research study I had been conducting for over 7 years with 15 historians specializing in various regions of the world other than Africa Through discussions with them I realized that regional historians should not confine themselves solely to their own research field. If we did, we could not cultivate new historical perspectives. This paper on Salme, I hope, will restructure the perspective on world history appropriate to the 21 century.
To summarize the shift in my research stance above mentioned, so far I have tried to Africanize the Zanzibar history conforming to the nationalist historiography. This made it difficult for me to deal with the Arab elements in Zanzibar. This approach changed gradually as I took on the gender and world history perspectives. Now I started to see Zanzibar as the boundary of Africa and Arab historically, not ideologically. As the result I have decided to explore the positive significance of Salme’s life history as the research subject.
Apart from my own analytical shift, two books written by Kumie Inose, Women and the Great Britain (1998) and Aftermath of the Colonial Experiences: Alice Green’s Salon and the Great Britain at the Turn of the Century (2004) inspired me to go forward.
Inose’s attempt was to reveal the historical meaning of the British Empire through the exploits of middle class English ladies, who had gone overseas during the 1870s up to 1914 as spouses of colonial administrators, missionaries, nurses, journalists, lady travelers, and so on. Among the women Inose researched was one lady traveler, Mary Kingsley, who had traveled to “uncivilized” Africa. Inose asserted that Kingsley’s colonial experiences shed new light on the reassessment of male-centric image of “gracious Great Britain”.
For example, Kingsley saw the missionary activity as disastrous deeds that lent damage to the indigenous African culture and polygyny, and even showed understanding for the traditional practice of cannibalism [Inose 2004:197]. Kingsley published her experiences in the hope of changing the views of English society towards Africa. Inose concluded that the “negative image given to lady travelers ・・・might have been the manifestation of the contradictions and agonies of the male imperialists revealed by lady travelers”.[Inose 1998:82]
While the story of Kingsley that Inose presented in her books is the story of white women who set out for the colonial frontier from the center of the Empire, Salme’s story is the opposite in every way. What did Salme see and think when she was at the midst of the Empire? There must have been some thoughts in common with Kingsley’s. Inose’s books offered me a very important analytical perspective.
In this manner, I gradually found the historical significance and potential in Salme’s life history, which I had not noticed 20 years ago.
At Ohlsdorf Cemetry, Hamburg
On 20th of March, 2008, I arrived at Schiphol Airport in Holland where I had intended to stay for a week. The small inn I stayed at, painted green and yellow amidst the blanket of snow, looked just like something out of a fairy tale.
Soon after arrival, I realized that I had come in the middle of Easter holidays. In a hurry I made a phone call to NINO, Leiden University, for an appointment with Dr. Donzel. A librarian kindly contacted Dr. Donzel, who had already retired, and set the date and time to see him on March 25th － five days later.
As my inn did not serve dinner, I stepped out to look for a restaurant, thinking how I might kill time for the next 4 days. Falling short of any ideas, I spent the first two days sightseeing and visiting museums. On the third day, suddenly a great idea came to mind—visiting Salme’s Grave in Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg! I checked the map and found that the cemetery was situated near the airport. I could make a day trip! I hurried to Schiphol Airport and bought a return ticket.
On March 24th, I arrived at Hamburg Airport after a 45-minute flight. It was snowing and windy. I took a taxi and asked to be driven to the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. The taxi driver said that this cemetery was the biggest in the world. When I heard this, I felt anxious if I could find Salme’s grave on such a huge site.
Arriving at the cemetery I proceeded to the office, following the sign, and found out it was closed! But fortunately I saw a light on at a nearby museum.
In the museum, albeit small, historical photos and urns were exhibited. One lady staff helped me to find Salme’s grave on the map. It seemed difficult to get there by myself. The lady then kindly offered to drive me to Salme’s grave. Moreover, she copied several articles on Salme from journals and newspapers for me.
Ohlsdorf Cemetery was really spacious and well managed, surrounded by trees and woods. Salme was buried in the fairly big family graveyard of Ruetes.
It was still snowing. I stood for a while just looking at the gravestone, solemnly sensing the distance from Zanzibar. It is said that Salme had been keeping sand from Zanzibar which was buried here with her ashes.
I slowly approached Salme’s tombstone on which her Arabic signature was inscribed in gold. Who had inscribed her signature in gold? Moreover, a small stick with a doll was placed beside her tombstone. It seemed to me that there was someone who was interested in Salme among the descendants of the Ruete family here in Hamburg.
Engraved copy of Salme’s Arabic signature
In Hamburg, I happened to be able to visit my friend from Zanzibar, Sauda Barwani, who was married to a Dutch and had settled down in Hamburg. Unfortunately she was away in London, but her husband invited me to their home and showed me a DVD titled The Princess of Zanzibar which traced her life starting from Zanzibar. (My friend Sauda acted as a navigator in this DVD.) He also introduced me two new versions of Salme’s Memoirs and Letters Home published in German which I did not know about. I wondered why Salme still drew attention today in Europe. But in the eyes of a European, they in turn might ask why a Japanese like me would be interested in Salme.
I returned to Amsterdam on the same windy and snowy day after a two-hour plane delay.
As soon as I arrived at the inn, I started to read the articles given to me at the museum. Some of them had no newspaper names or even dates. But there were a few I could identify such as National Geographic 2001, a newspaper published in Hamburg in 1975, and a review on the new 2007 edition of Salme’s Memoirs. Every article introduced Salme’s life history from the Memoirs and Letters Home in fragments.
To my surprise, some of the articles even included some wrong information such as:
“・・・Als ihr Vater, der Sultan starb, bestieg sie den Thron mit Hilfe des deutschen Kaisers. Zwei Kreigsschiffe brachten die Königin in den Indischen Ozean. Die weitere Geshichite haben wir in unseren Archiven gefunden. Fur 5000 Goldmark pro Jahr, auf Lebenszeit bezahlt, trat Königin Bibi ihre Rechte an die deutsche Richsregierung ab.Der deutsche Kaise wiederum machte einen phantastischen tausch. Er gab den Engländern Sansibar, und die Engländer gaben uns dafür Heligoland.”(When her father, the Sultan, died, she ascended to the throne with the help of the German Emperor. Two warships took the Queen to the Indian Ocean. For 5000 Gold Mark annually for the rest of her life, Queen Bibi gave her rights to the German government. The German Emperor on the other hand made a fantastic exchange, Zanzibar for Heligoland.) ;
“Sie verlangt nicht nur Kompensation für die züruck gelassenen Plantagen und alle männlichen und weibdung, sondern für ihren Sohn auch den gebuhrenden Platz in der Thronfolge” (She demands not only compensation for her plantation・・・but also the appropriate place in the succession to the throne for her son.)
As far as I know, Salme had never ascended the throne, nor demanded the throne for her son. Why were these wrong bits of information written in the journals and newspapers? Were there any historical facts that alluded to such misunderstandings? It is certain that Salme’s first homecoming in 1885 involved German political maneuvering of diplomacy in East Africa. There must have been complicated bargaining on both sides.
The articles, courtesy of the museum staff, gave me a strong incentive to analyze the relationship between Salme and the German imperial politics.
At Leiden University：Conversation with Dr. Donzel
On March 25th, I waited for Dr. Donzel at the Said Ruete Library of NINO, Leiden University.
The library situated on the second floor consists of a secretarial room, a library, and a reception room. On the entrance wall, a life-size photo of Salme in Arabic attire is hung.
Incidentally, it strikes me as strange that Salme’s documents are deposited here at Holland’s Leiden University. And I find the answer is in the book written by Dr. Donzel. He explains that after Salme’s death, her son sent a typewritten copy of Salme’s writings to the chief secretary of the Zanzibar Government, withholding the publication rights for himself and his heirs. But later he tried to publish Salme’s writings without success and consulted Snouck Hurgronje, a famous Islamicist, once the professor of Arabic at Leiden University and a friend of Salme’s family, who deposited the copy in the collection of Oriental manuscripts in the Oriental Department of the Leiden University Library [Donzel 1993:4].
While waiting for Dr. Donzel, a librarian showed me the first edition, the third edition, and the fourth edition of Salme’s Memoirs (she told me that the second edition was missing), and the French version in addition to the English versions. When I opened the first edition, I realized that this book had once belonged to Salme herself, because she had written corrections and amendments in the margin for the scheduled revision. But there were two kinds of handwriting. I am sure one of them is Salme’s. Then who wrote the other one? I must ask Dr. Donzel later!
Before long, I saw Dr. Donzel coming up the stairs slowly. I was worried about his health because of his age, but he looked fine, though I learned a few minutes later that he had a problem with his vision.
As soon as we introduced each other, he excitedly started talking about the baby Salme gave birth in Aden. He told me that Dr. Heinz Schneppen of Berlin founded out the fact that ,the baby had died on the train between Lyon and Paris when the couple had travelled to Hamburg via Marseille. The evidence is in the death certificate dated 30th of June 1867 which had been submitted to the Standesamt (family register office) in Hamburg (Schneppen, 1999,174).
Dr. Donzel analyzed that nobody could know how profound Salme’s sorrow was brought on by the death of her first born, but the depth of the scar left in her heart could be fathomed from the fact that she had never mentioned it throughout her life. Those were my exact thoughts.
This information deeply shocked me and left me speechless. ・・・・. But this reaffirmed my suspicion that Salme’s agony that originated from abandoning Islam was related to the death of her first child. It is plausible that Salme thought of the baby’s death as a form of punishment for her elopement, which she very well knew was sinful in Islam. For Salme, I imagine, leaving Islam must have meant the loss of God when she had really craved for help and needed to beg for forgiveness.
Next we discussed Salme’s German proficiency. Dr. Donzel inferred that Salme’s German was sufficient for writing and speaking but that there must have been some German lady, perhaps a German teacher, who checked her subtle expressions in German.
I further asked Dr. Donzel about Salme’s financial situation . My question was whether Salme had received any financial support from her husband’s family or not, as I had gathered that Ruetes had belonged to a considerably rich family judging from the family trading company and the size of the graveyard. Dr. Donzel has also been wondering about this, but he himself has not found any information so far. The only thing he mentioned was the possibility that the brother of Salme’s husband had helped Salme in some way.
Anyway judging from the fact that Salme left Hamburg after her husband’s death and that she had not mentioned her husband’s family in her memoirs, it is certain that Salme had lost contact with the husband’s family relatively soon after her husband’s death .
Then we talked about the question of why Salme had chosen to abandon Islam and leave Zanzibar.
Dr. Donzel suggested that her age might have been a factor—that is, she was too old to find a suitable husband at that time. But my idea is different. In those days there was a princess who married at the age of nearly 30. It seems to me that the reason for her departure was rather political. Sultan Madjid would not find a suitable husband
for Salme because she had sided with
Barghash at the time of the court revolution .
Under these circumstances, Salme was
drawn into the political arena of partition
of East Africa between the British and
Chapter Ⅴ Two Empires and Salme
It was between 1872 and 1888 after her husband’s death that Salme appeared on the political scene involving East Africa (see chronology). Let’s follow Salme’s footsteps.
Approach to the German Empire
In 1872, Salme went to Berlin to meet with Count von Bülow. The purpose of this visit remains unknown, but it seems to have been the very beginning of a series of steps which would bring her into the diplomatic and aristocratic circles of Germany and England. On this occasion it was perhaps suggested that she obtain the citizenship of the city of Hamburg to which she was eligible through her marriage. Thus she could become a citizen of the German Reich, established in 1871. Salme’s next step was to appeal to Bismarck to request an audience with Emperor Wilhelm I . Bismarck asked the emperor to put in a good word for her with her brother the sultan, and this was done through the German consulate in Zanzibar. The consul could only report that, according to the Sultan, Salme had already obtained her paternal heritage, which was indeed true. The consul also advised against Salme’s visiting Zanzibar. [Donzel 1993 34]
In summary, Salme’s approach to Bismarck concerned her inheritance and the possibility of a journey to Zanzibar. This was the beginning of Salme’s official contact with the German Empire.
Support from Royalty and Aristocracy
After the death of her husband, her life changed completely. Salme moved from Hamburg to Dresden and she lived in a small apartment without any help of maids. While her financial condition deteriorated to the point of pawning jewelry, Salem developed a friendship with Baroness von Tettau . The Baroness lent her sympathy and utilized her own relations with the German aristocracy on behalf of Salme. Among these aristocracies, there was a lady-in-waiting to Crown Princess Victoria, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. But these efforts did not prove as effective as expected.
Then Baroness von Tettau began looking for another way to bring Salme in contact with her brother Barghash, the Sultan of Zanzibar. She approached the former German consul-general in Egypt who stood in high favour with Ismai’il Pasha, the khedive of Egypt who entertained good relations with Sultan Barghash. Salme then requested the Foreign Office in Berlin to ease the way for her in exercising her rights of inheritance in Zanzibar through the good offices of the khedive. The German consul-general in Alexandria received instructions to bring the matter up confidentially with Isma’il Pasha. The khedive declared ready to provide Salme with a letter of recommendation for her brother. On December 28, 1974, the Foreign Office in Berlin sent the khedive’s letter, together with Salme’s letter, to London with the request to see whether something might be done there on behalf of the German citizen Salme. Captain [later Colonel] W.F. Prideaux was instructed by the Foreign Office in London to assist the German consul in Zanzibar in case the latter’s approach to the Sultan fell short of success.
Yet again these various efforts to help Salme by the royalty and aristocracy ended in vain.
Sultan Barghash’s Visit to England
In 1875, Salme received the big news: Her brother, Sultan Barghash, left Zanzibar for England. Salme went to London in order to meet him without success. Why could she not meet him? The explanation differed between the official version and that of Salme herself. First let me explain the official version.
Regarding Salme’s meeting with Barghash in London, the German Government did not want to do anything on behalf of Salme, and recommended that she should discuss the matter personally with her brother on the occasion of his visit to England. On the other hand, it was left to the English government, whose guest the Sultan was, to decide whether such a conversation between brother and sister should take place or not. But in London nothing was left undone to prevent such a meeting. Of course, Sultan Barghash himself refused to meet Salme. However, the networks of royalty and aristocracy intervened to push their reconciliation without any success. They were sympathetic to Salme who had suffered on account of her conversion to Christianity.
Now let’s explore Salme’s narrative:
“Soon after I found such a friendly reception in the house of the amiable P’s, the visit of Sir Bartle Frere , the later Governor-General of South Africa, was announced to me. If ever a presentiment has not deceived me, it was on this day that my most ardent hope and the future of my children were buried. An indescribable discomfort befell me when I caught sight of the great diplomat, who had Zanzibar and my brother so to speak in his pocket.
After the usual greeting formulas, Sir Bartle began to make inquiries
about my affairs and particularly about the reason for my stay in London. Although he seemed fully informed in this respect, I told him everything that I aimed at; there was not much to tell after all, as I had only one thought—the reconciliation with my family.
Who can describe my astonishment when Sir Bartle then simply put to me the plain question: What was nearer to my heart: the reconciliation with my family or・・・the securing of my children’s future? Even now I feel much too weak to be able to render the feelings I had at that moment. I had been prepared for anything but for such a question. Let people reproach my despondency or inconsistency if at the decisive moment I wavered; my children’s welfare had to prevail over my personal issues.
Having surmounted the first perplexity about this totally unexpected diplomatic move, I requested my opponent for a motivation and explanation as to this question. Sir Bartle then declared decidedly that the British government was by no means disposed to act as a mediator between myself and my brother; it regarded him as a guest and did not want him to be annoyed with any inconvenience.” [Sayyida Salme 1993:376]
Salme gave up meeting her brother in exchange for the support by the British government. She avoided any deliberate meeting with her brother, be it in public buildings or Hyde Park or in the streets, by carefully studying newspapers in which his intended excursions were always minutely recorded. Salme waited for information from the British government. After several months, she was surprised by the arrival of a letter from London. It enclosed the copy of a document, which the British government had sent to the German ambassador to Britain to be handed over to Salme, which contained nothing more than a short rejection of the memorandum which Sir Bartle Frere had recommended to Salme. As a reason for the rejection the document assigned that, as Salme had married a German and was residing in Germany, it was more in the interests of the German government to stand up for Salme.
It seems to me that this incident made Salme completely give up hope for any support from the British government and, in turn, made her dependent on the German government.
A Letter to Sultan Barghash, 1883
Salme’s Arabic letter sent to her brother, Sultan Barghash, in 1883 remains in the Leiden University Library [copy of this Arabic letter is reprinted in Donzel [1993:49-59] with English translation]. She expounds on the situation in Europe involving her as follows:
“…everyone in Europe honors and esteems me in a special way;”
“…the ruler of Germany has promoted my son Said and made him enter a high school;”
“…the English only wish to diminish your power;”
“ …when I arrived there [London], the British officials rushed to block the way between you and me by malicious stratagems because they were afraid that, if I reached you and we would make peace with one another, I might consult with you about things of your country, so that you and your entire realm may profit from that;”
“…if you need me to settle matters with the German government, I can go to the ruler personally and speak with him for you”・・・・.
But on the other hand, Salme begged forgiveness for what happened in the past and wished for reconciliation with the family:
“The misfortune and hardship which have hit me in this world weigh down on me; if you forgive me, the Lord of the Worlds will be pleased with you.”
As far as we know, Salme did not receive any response from Barghash.
Germany’s Launch of East African Policy
In 1884, the attitude of the German government towards Salme took a sudden turn. This change was interrelated with a major shift in Bismarck’s East African policy that took form under pressure from the German industrial lobby groups such as the German Colonial Association (Deutsche Kolonialgesellschft) and German East African Company ((Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft). Dr. Donzel wrote as follows about this change:
“In the summer of 1884 Bismarck had become convinced that it was advisable to establish an official consulate in Zanzibar and that Salme’s claims might be opportune in this connection. The idea must have filtered through Salme’s friends, in a letter of June 17, 1884, to the chancellor, she explained again what had happened in 1875, requested support for her difficult financial position and remarked that she might be useful for the German plans in East Africa.” [Donzel 1993:64]
Dr. Donzel continues as follows: On June 20, Salme also petitioned the emperor’s civil cabinet to allow her to travel to Zanzibar on a German warship. The Foreign Office in Berlin considered the matter important and acted swiftly. Bismarck had inquiries made with the admiralty, but was told that a ship could only be put at his disposal in the spring of 1885.
In the beginning of August 1884, Chancellor Bismarck instructed Foreign Affairs to look over all the English blue books on East African affairs and received a report that there was no reason to assume that Zanzibar was dependent on England. Even so, Bismarck was very careful about Salme’s return to her homeland because the British government might hinder and foil the German plans that went with it. This was the reason why Salme’s voyage was to be surrounded with secrecy. Even Salme was informed only orally, and the crew of the ship kept in the dark, with the captain being informed only at the last minute.
Bismarck decided that the negotiations with Sultan Barghash should be carried on by the German consul or by the commander of the German squadron that was to appear off Zanzibar. In case Salme was killed or maltreated, the commander was obliged and authorized to take reprisals, and if the sultan refused admittance to his sister, the commander could threaten violence .
In September 1884, as soon as the African traveler Friedrich Gerhard Rohlfs was appointed consul general in Zanzibar, Bismarck informed Sultan Barghash that he wished to conclude a commercial treaty with Zanzibar and to establish a consulate general.
Following up on these developments, the Foreign Office in London dispatched the ensuing telegram to Kirk, British Consul in Zanzibar: “Endeavour to obtain from Sultan a spontaneous declaration that he will accept no protectorate from, and will cede no sovereign rights or territories to any association or power without consent of England.” [Donzel 1993:67]
Sultan Barghash signed this declaration on December 6, 1884.
Meanwhile, German policy in East Africa was steadily expanded. In November 1884, Karl Peters and his colleagues landed inland via Zanzibar on behalf of the German East Africa Company and returned with twelve “treaties” from the chiefs on 7th of February, 1885. During this time, the so-called Berlin Conference was held over the Congo basin, and the Protocol was signed by the representatives from 15 nations on 26th of February, 1885.
On the next day, Bismarck dispatched a telegram of protest direct to Emperor Wilhelm I, claiming as his own territory what became known in Germany as the Schutzbrieflandschaften.
Amidst this fierce competition over the East African territory between Germany and England, Salme sailed to Zanzibar with her three children for the first time since she left in 1867. It was on 1st of August in 1885.
How was the voyage to Zanzibar? Let’s trace her itinerary in Letters Home.
First Homecoming, 1885
“One day I received a summons from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to
hold myself in readiness for departure to Zanzibar. I was so overwhelmed by this news that I was unable to be immediately pleased with the long-wished-for good fortune.
On July 1, I left Berlin accompanied by my children, and travelled via Breslau and Vienna to Trieste, where we arrived safely on July 3. From Trieste, we boarded the Venus and arrived in Alexandria on July 8.
Upon entering this city with its palm trees and minarets, I was overcome by a delicious feeling of home, a feeling which can only be experienced but not described, which can only be understood and valued by those who for a long time have been alienated from their home under similar circumstances.
The short time of our stay in Alexandria passed in the most pleasant way. After a passage of eighteen hours we arrived in Port Said, where we found the supply vessel Adler of the East African squadron. The same evening we boarded her and arrived in Aden via Suez.
The passage to Aden, day and night we were as if bathed. In this familiar temperature I felt more at ease than ever during the years of my absence, but my children were not pleased at all with the hot air. They became indolent and often annoyed too. We spent 5 days at Aden and proceeded on the voyage towards the Indian Ocean.
On the 2nd of August, the Island of Pemba came in sight. Oh! What a meaningful word for me, for from here the distance to Zanzibar is only thirty nautical miles. But because of the galling darkness we sailed only to the north-cape of Zanzibar, since entering the harbor at nighttime is too dangerous on account of the many sandbanks.
When early in the morning I went on deck, the palm trees of my home greeted me already from afar. The events of my life are all too manifold and my feelings and sentiments are geared to them. For a great part the human being is only what life, experience and the commanding circumstances make of him: I left my home a complete Arab woman and a good Muslim, and what am I now?
But at this moment it seemed to me as if my entire youth returned once more to make up for the many miserable and sorrowful years. Everything stood vividly before my soul and the merry pictures of the past rose one after the other before my mind’s eye.
The first impression may also have affected my children, otherwise happy and vivacious by nature, in a very earnest way; all three of them could not caress me enough and their eyes continuously were on me, still and thoughtful. At this moment I could not thank the Lord enough in secret for so rich a substitute which He had given to replace what I had lost.
The next morning we saw four German men-of-war, two English
men-of-war, five steamers of the Sultan and several sailing ships. At our first visit to the town, I fancied that I read unequivocal astonishment in the glances of the inhabitants who flocked around us. Day by day our escort increased in the street and the welcome of the inhabitants became more cordial every day. ” [Sayyida Salme 1993:383-389].
Salme’s reminiscence continues. She visited Bet il Mtoni where Salme was born and raised till about 3 to 5 years old. She was shocked to see a completely decayed ruin that used to be a beautiful palace. But the circumstances surrounding the palace had not changed at all since the days when Salme was involved in the palace revolution. Factional antagonism remained. After Madjid died, Barghash became even more suspicious of everything so as to cast his brother into prison without any just cause.
Salme saw through Barghash that he had already become a puppet of England. Yet she had no alternative but to depend on German power to restore her alienated family relations. How did things turn out for her? Salme relates this in her memoirs “Sequels to My Memoirs” as follows:
“My being recalled made it clear that the German side had only used
me as a means towards an end. Since the sultan was satisfying the German claims and seemed to be inclined to conclude a commercial treaty , the pressure executed by my person was no longer necessary. Though my German friends advised me to stay in Zanzibar for at least a month or two, I decided to follow the wish of the government and to return to Germany.
I trusted that the government would lend adequate support under all circumstances. This, however, was not the case, and my trust was bitterly disappointed. At that time, the newspapers spread the fable that I had returned to Germany in full possession of my inheritance, consisting of the proceeds from the sale of no less than twenty-eight houses. This is completely false. I have not received one penny although since Barghash came to power, five brothers, five sisters, my aunt Aashe, three nieces, four nephews and a very wealthy stepmother have died. I am entitled to part of the inheritance of all these. My claims, amounting to several hundred thousand Marks, remain unsettled until today.”[Sayyida Salme 1993:512]
Thus Salme returned to Germany deeply heartbroken.
Departure for Palestine
Salme realized her second homecoming in 1888. She expected to reconcile with the family and receive her share of inheritance for the benefit of her children after the death of Barghash who was so hostile to her.
But things did not go successfully. Salme recalled that the German government would not support her this time; she wrote a letter to Wilhelm I but got no response; the German government would not allow her son to visit Zanzibar with her; after arriving at Zanzibar, she asked the German consul to send her letter to the new Sultan without success; she tried directly to appeal to the new Sultan in vain.
Finally, Salme’s feeling towards the German government turned hostile. Salme expressed this feeling in her memoirs as follows:
“I felt abandoned twice over. Outwardly ashamed and inwardly deeply
hurt, I believed that I should take one last step before giving up hope forever. I decided to write to His Majesty Emperor Wilhelm II and to request him to lift through a graceful word the ban which beset my position so much. At the same time I also addressed a letter to Prince Bismarck in which I once more requested him insistently not to deny me his benevolence anymore, were it only because of Germany’s prestige with my compatriots.・・・I tried to convince myself that it was completely impossible for such a great man as he was to take revenge so pettily and to deny his assistance to a helpless woman. Meanwhile, the excitement about the reasons why the German government abandoned me, did not stop; why indeed?! When weeks and months passed without my receiving any answer to my letters, my last hope to achieve something through Germany disappeared forever.
Before I left my homeland for good, there once again began a period filled with inner conflicts. My brothers and sisters as well as other relatives were filled with great compassion for me and pressed upon me to become again one of them, i.e. to return to the religion of my ancestors and to turn my back upon everything German. Only the thought of my children, born and brought up with European manners and customs, kept me from giving in to the appeals of my people and to my heart, and to stay with them in my beloved homeland.
Now it was impossible for me to return to Germany which had wronged me so much, and so I chose Palestine as our next destination.”[Sayyida Salme 1993:519-520]
Family photo in Beirut with three children
Salme’s Views on Nation States and Empires
Now I will try to analyze the relationship between Salme and the Empires. There can be various interpretations such as Fritz Ferdinand Müller’s comment that “Salme-Emily Ruete war gerne bereit, sich als Instrument, ja als Agentin deutscher Ostafrikapläne missbrauchen zu lassen (Salme-Emily Ruete was very willing to be misused as an instrument, even as an agent of German East Africa plans),”[Müller 1959:210]; R.Coupland’s comment that “there is no evidence to show that she had consciously allowed herself to be made the tool of German policy,”[Coupland 1939:437]; Donzel’s comment that “she gives the impression that the initiative towards this voyage (1885) was hers. This may to a certain extent have been the case, but soon she and her son were to become pawns in German East African politics,”[Donzel 1993:63]; and Farsi’s comment that “When the German Government began to annex these countries, it took Lady Salme as bait for obtaining control over part of Sd.Said’s dominions,”[Farsi 1942:27]. Furthermore, Dr. Abdul Sheriff commented in the DVD produced in Germany that Salme had acted as part of the German imperialism”.
Thus there are many interpretations about Salme’s role and position vis-à-vis Germany—exploited, made a pawn, used as bait, and so on. It seems to me that these interpretations arise from the view that regards her as an instrument.
But if we look very carefully at Salme’s footsteps and way of thinking, a more subjective image of Salme could emerge. In order to ascertain this image, I took two approaches. One is Salme’s view on Nation States, and the other is her view on European Empire.
① On Nation States
When Salme first stepped on the soil of Europe in the 1860s, Germany as a nation state had not yet existed. It was established in 1871 just after the Franco-Prussian War. The following year Salme obtained her German citizenship.
Thus Germany became one of the members of the European nation states, but on the other hand there still existed networks of royalty and aristocracy all over Europe beyond the borders. Where Salme is concerned, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria married to the Crown Prince of Germany was the most important. Salme had anticipated some sort of help for her children from the British government because of these networks beyond borders. Zanzibar royalty was connected with these European networks in Salme’s world view.
However, as a result of the emergence of nation states, Europe entered the age of imperialism and fought each other for hegemony. Under this circumstance, Salme herself must have realized the sobering reality of nation states when her plea for her children’s support was rejected by the British government. Facing the changing dynamics that emerged from the system of nation states, it was inevitable for Salme to allow some calculating thoughts to enter her mind as she had noted in her Letters Home:
“In the course of time it has become clear to me that I would have been
in a better position had I been an English subject. For Barghash was completely under English influence and had to do everything which England wanted from him.”[Sayyida Salme 1993:365]
But Salme was too idealistic and honest to be calculating as she herself has admitted. She could not imagine changing her nationality, because she was raising her children in Germany.
Thus Salme made up her mind to deal with the German government knowing that England was strategically much cleverer than Germany. Before long, Salme’s view on Empires changed drastically.
② On Empires
When Salme revised the first edition of Memoirs, she added or erased some sentences, which she marked in the margin of the book.
Dr. Donzel who edited the English translation of Salme’s Memoirs indicated both old and new versions in the book so that we can trace Salme’s changing way of thinking by comparing these two versions. In terms of her view on Empires, Salme’s home visit of 1885 is most interesting. Salme completely erased her comments on the relationship of Germany and Zanzibar which were in the first edition. As the eliminated comments are considerably long, I will introduce here an abbreviated version:
“Only three German firms are represented in Zanzibar, and the number
of Germans amount to twelve at most. This small group, instead of joining together, is driven apart by hatefulness and jealousy. It would be highly desirable for the benefit of Germany, if this competition made way for the great, noble patriotic spirit.
Now that the German empire is represented in Zanzibar by a professional consul, who has no personal and commercial interests, he should succeed in achieving this aim to the glory of the German fatherland!
And about the East African Company, I have belonged to the small group of people who followed Germany’s colonial efforts with warm interest, whether they deal with Angra Pequena in German south-west Africa or Kaiser-Wilhelms-land in New Guinea. This was also the case with the Usagara Company [the German East Africa Association]. When this company stepped forth, I was frequently sounded out about the country by representatives, who attached more importance to my relations with Africa and to my knowledge than was justified. As much as I could I stood up for the enterprise, but I was often under the impression that I was considered as an interested party. But anyone who knew my situation would have known that such an insinuation was far from me.
When I arrived in Zanzibar, I was confident that I would receive only positive and favorable information about the activities of the Company, but to my very great regret I heard the opposite. It is far from me to reproach the still so young enterprise with anything, because the situation there is completely unfamiliar to most of its representatives. Why not send out skilled and experienced people, who have some more understanding?
To my very sincere joy, I noticed among the population a widespread friendly disposition towards Germany. May these friendly dispositions towards Germany be kept alive in the future.“ [Sayyida Salme 1993:402-3]
In the above eliminated passage, Salme expressed her support to the German colonial policy and hope to promote the mutual friendship of German and Zanzibar. Why did Salme erase these sentences? Let’s look back at the time when Salme visited Zanzibar with her three children in 1885.
Salme’s visit home was tied in with the Germen government policy which aimed to conclude a commercial treaty with Zanzibar., When push came to shove, the German government was planning to put pressure on Barghash utilizing Salme’s cause. Salme, on the other hand, agreed with this invitation for the purpose of settling her pending inheritance problem and reconciling with her family.
However, the Germen government abandoned Salme once the prospect for the intended treaty became excellent. As the German government knew that Barghash disliked Salme, there was no reason to needlessly irritate him by raising Salme’s issues.
Salme seems to have been attempting to link German colonial enterprise with friendship between Germany and Zanzibar because she saw the potential for resolving her personal problems through this scheme. Here we can see Salme swaying between Germany and Zanzibar with her personal issues at the crux.
What was left in the wake was the grieving figure of Salme, forsaken by the German government and with no means left to reconcile with her family.
For Salme, it was unthinkable that the German government would not help such a fragile woman like her. It was the face of the Empire that Salme could not accept. Salme must have felt forlorn that her backing of the German Empire ended in vain. This must be the reason Salme had erased this part from the first edition of her Memoirs.
The power of any state inevitably places priority on national interests. And those interests are pursued at the expense of its nationals—which we might call a “system of [justified] sacrifice.” Though people’s sacrifices were most conspicuous in the age of imperialism, this system fundamentally continues to this day all over the world. Japan is no exception: The residents of Fukushima who have suffered the nuclear disaster; Okinawa and its people who continue to bear the burden of national security on behalf of Japan as a whole; Japanese residents in Bosnia who were left abandoned by the Japanese government when the war broke out; Japanese volunteers taken hostage in Iraq when the U.S. invaded the country to get rid of the dictator. These are all such examples.
It seems to me that Salme’s views on nation states and empires include a very contemporary criticism of one citizen.
In 1888, Salme returned to Zanzibar once again and tried to resolve her personal problems on her own, but she finally gave up and decided not to go back to Germany but instead headed for Palestine.
Thus I found that Salme’s role was neither “pawn” nor “bait” nor “collaborator.” Her subjective motivation is evident in the initiative she took on her own to resolve her personal issues.
The last question left for me was why Salme had chosen Palestine as the place to settle down. By searching for the answer, I might be able to understand Salme’s deep inner conflict. For this purpose, I must delve into Salme’s observations of the two civilisations, Europe and Islam.
Chapter Ⅵ Between Islam and Western Civilizations
In Memoirs we can see another face of Salme who makes an effort to understand European civilization while struggling with the politics of the Empires. This was a process of relativization of Islamic civilization through analysis of Christian society in Europe. I will point out some examples.
Case 1 Education and Civilization
In her writing Salme compares schools in the two civilizations: “In general it seems to me that the Europeans demand too much from a school, and the Arabs demand too little” [Donzel 1993:213]. If anything, Salme is critical of European education. For example, she criticizes European style education where everyone strives to be better educated, thereby breeding fierce competition. The mind may be better trained, but the heart is left behind to suffer, producing numerous victims of a mental breakdown among students of higher education who succumb under pressure to achieve excellence. On the other hand, almost no one suffers from such a mental breakdown in Zanzibar, she points out.
Salme concludes that “civilization cannot be enforced, and one should also fairly concede to other peoples the right to cultivate further their national views and institutions freely and without hindrance”[Sayyida Salme 1993:215].
Case 2 Married Couple：The Orient and the West
Salme also criticizes the superficial understanding of and biases towards Arab couples prevalent in Europe. She asserts that in spite of the fact that communication has become easier, the Orient was still too much of the old fairyland, about which one could tell outrageous stories at one’s whim with impunity. She gives an example: “A tourist goes for a couple of weeks to Constantinople, to Syria, Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco, and then writes a bulky book on life, customs and habits in the Orient. He himself is never able to get an insight into real family life. He contents himself with writing down the stories which circulate as he heard them told by a French or German waiter at his hotel, by sailors, or donkey-drivers, and forms his opinion accordingly!” [Sayyida Salme 1993:268].
Salme confesses that she was once the same as a European traveler who judged things solely by their outward appearances. For example, when she first saw the beaming faces of couples in social situations, she was led to believe that the relationship between husband and wife in Europe was in a much better state and that marriages consequently had to be much happier than in the Islamic Orient. But later she saw many unhappy Christian marriages that led to infernal torture.
Then Salme proceeds to write about marriages in the Islamic Orient about which she is most familiar. After she stresses that it is definitely incorrect to think that women, socially speaking, were in lower esteem than men in case of wife of equal birth to husband, she analyzes that what makes an Arab woman appear more helpless and, to a certain extent, seem as if she possessed fewer rights were the customs of seclusion and polygyny.
As for seclusion, Salme writes that this custom exists with all Islamic (and also with many non-Islamic) peoples of the Orient, and that the higher the rank to which a woman belonged, the stricter she has to submit to it; but if she covered the crucial parts of her body, namely the face, chin, neck, and ankles, she was allowed to move completely free; however, since covering those parts was ungracious and disfiguring, the Arab Woman of rank gladly avoids going out by day; it was plausible that under certain circumstances seclusion of women could become really annoying.
Next about polygyny, Salme notes that though not many men married four women, the maximum allowed in Islam, it was understandable that jealousy could turn polygyny into the greatest torment; so this custom could be considered “bad” for women.
Then Salme shifts her discussion to Christian marriage compared with Oriental marriage as follows:
“The Christian may, of course, marry one wife only, and that is a
prerogative of Christianity; Christian law wants the good and the just, Islamic law allows the evil; but existing usage and practical circumstances mitigate to a great extent the evil consequences of the law in the Orient －here, in spite of the law, sin very often has the upper hand. It would seem to me that the only difference in position between an oriental woman and a European one is, that the former knows the number and also the person and the character of her female rivals, whereas the latter is kept in affectionate ignorance about this.” [Sayyida Salme 1993:271-2].
Case 3 Slavery in the Orient and Militarization in the West
Salme who knew about anti-slavery movement must have been forced to think about slavery in Zanzibar. But it might not have been easy for Salme to deny slavery as she was raised in a society supported by slavery in every aspect of daily life. Moreover in those days, slavery was not illegal, not only in Zanzibar but also in most Middle Eastern countries. It was during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 when Salme started to think about slavery. She was involved in this war to billet soldiers in her guesthouse.
Salme comments on the war as follows:
“European states all suffer more or less from a very severe illness, namely jealousy”
“…it must almost seem incomprehensible to see・・to vie with each other
in inventing the most deadly and life-annihilating weapon. Here it is called progress…”
“…hundreds of thousands of men were sacrificed on both sides…”
“…it would be more suitable for Europeans to spend the uncounted millions on their own poor population, who are starving so much.”
[Sayyida Salme 1993:441]
Finally Salme concludes that compulsory military service was a kind of slavery and criticizes the European so-called humanitarian principles targeting only slavery as deceptive. Her conclusion leads us to the “system of sacrifice” of the nation states above mentioned.
There have been many comparative study of slavery so far. Most of them compare benevolent Islamic slavery and chattel type of American slavery. Salme’s discussion is unique in comparing slavery to militarization. In this context, we might be reminded of the discussion by the U.S. Politician Daniel Webster who asserted at the discussion on the conscription in the Congress in 1814 that “an attempt to maintain the doctrine upon provisions of the Constitution is an exercise of perverse ingenuity to extract slavery from the substance of a free government.” [Daniel Webster on the Draft: Text of a Speech delivered in Congress, December 9, 1814]
Let me summarize the three cases:
Case 1 shows Salme’s view of relativism on civilization
Case 2 shows Salme addressing the gender issue in an intimate context,
comparing the evil aspects of polygyny in Islamic society versus the deceptive aspects of a Western married couple.
Case 3 shows Salme’s view on slavery in the Orient against the
hypocrisy of militarization in the West.
I was impressed by such Salme’s observations on civilizations. She analyzed education, married couple, and slavery from the viewpoint of the oppressed such as the poor and women in the framework of relativism.
How did Salme learn to construct this analytical framework? There must have been discrimination and biases that confronted Salme in Europe; there was the Franco-Prussian War, the emerging of the nation state Germany, the rise of imperialism, and partition of East Africa. But more than any of these historical events, what had deeply affected Salme’s psyche was the inner conflict she was burdened with which came from the sense of hypocrisy of being a Christian superficially while being a muslim at heart.
Thus for Salme, European society was suffocative enough to make her leave for Palestine rather than to return to Germany.
The place where Salme settled down was a part of the Ottoman Empire. Especially Beirut where Salme stayed for more than 20 years was a multicultural society based on Islamic values that coexisted with long tradition of Christianity. As for languages, German, French and English were spoken besides Arabic. Thus Beirut was a comfortable place for people who had plural identity like Salme. For the first time since leaving Zanzibar, Salme must have found an ideal place where she could just be her real self. When World War I broke out, Salme was forced to return to Germany. For Salme, it meant the return to the Empire where militarization was predominant, and deception and hypocrisy, rampant.
Salme was an Omani princess born in Zanzibar, a small coral island in the Indian Ocean close to the East African coast. She converted to Christianity from Islam after eloping with a German youth to Germany. Four years later, she lost her husband in a horse-tram car accident. In order to raise three small children, she tried to get her lawful portion of inheritance from her brother, Sultan of Zanzibar. In the process she became involved in the imperial politics of Germany, Britain, and Oman. She was born in 1844 and died in 1924 at the age of 79.
In her published Memoirs and manuscripts, we can see the obsession of a mother struggling for the right to inheritance in order to support her children and a figure of a woman who anguished between Islam and Christianity. The issue of this small paper revolved around these two points.
It was around the 1880s when German Chancellor Bismarck turned the rudder towards acquisition of colonial territory that Salme appeared on the political scene of Imperial Germany. Each side had a different agenda. The tangent point for them was Salme’s birthright as a princess of Oman-Zanzibar Sultanate. The German government found utility value in her birth, and Salme expected resolution of her problems through pressure or influence given by the German Empire to her brother, Sultan of Zanzibar.
In those days as women could not step into the political arena, possible strategies Salme could exercise were limited. Her main strategy was to get support from the royalty and aristocracy and to directly appeal by letters to Emperor Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck・・・these strategic means were sometimes effective, and sometimes rejected. Finally, Salme was discarded as she became superfluous to imperial politics.
On the other hand, Salme was caught in between the two civilizations of Europe and Islam. She converted to Christianity and took on German nationality, but she could not adapt to European culture. Discrimination and biases towards Islam and Arab women, hypocrisy and deception of Christian couple and humanism, satanic militarization of nation states・・・・Salme wanted to convey these ideas to Europeans through the publication of Memoirs. But she could not change the conflicting image of the static Islam society and progressive European society. We can see this conflicting image which had been prevalent in Europe in those days in the book review of Salme’s Memoirs by the French critic Arvede Barine in 1889. For example she noted “Salme can not understand our civilization,” “There is a wall between Salme and us,” “Characteristic of the Arabs is static, ours is progress”.(Barine, 1889)
Thus there were many factors that cornered Salme to the point of moving to Palestine. That is, Palestine was the inevitable choice for Salme who had lost her place in Europe as well as Zanzibar.
Salme was of special origin by birth, but she was not a researcher or a scholar or a humanist. She was just a woman as well as a mother and widow who observed, thought, explored, and analyzed alone. Therefore her footsteps sometimes showed ambivalence and contradiction. But Salme’s views on empires and nation states raised astute questions which could be shared with the present-day world. She explored these views because she had lost her native home, could not find a new home in Germany and suffered identity crises.
My journey to explore Salme’s historical image will continue on through communications with her descendants whom I’ve come to know through information provided by Dr. Donzel. I have a premonition that this journey will take me on another research venture including the United States where her descendants are now residing.
Salme in the later years
Reigning Period of Sayyid Said bin Sultan and His Four Sons
Sayyid Said bin Sultan 1806~1856
Sayyid Madjid 1856~1870
Sayyid Barghash 1870~1888
Sayyid Khalifa 1888~1890
Sayyid Ali 1890~1893
Legal Wives and Concubines of Seyyid Said bin Sultan
（list of only those whose ethnic origin could be traced）
１ Azza bint Seyf bin Imam Ahmed
Born in Oman. Resided in Mutoni Palace and died shortly after Sayyid Said bin Sultan’s death.
２ Fateh Ali Shah
Granddaughter of the Shah of Persia. Married in 1827 and divorced in 1832.
３ Shahruzad bint Irish Mirza bin Muhammad Shah
Granddaughter of the ruler of Persia, Muhammad Shah. She was married in 1837 and came to Zanzibar in 1849. Later divorced.
（Mothers of Prince）
Mother of Hilal (Najmus- Sabah) Assyrian
Mother of Khalid (Khorshid) Georgian（or Circassian）
Mother of Thuweyny Ethiopian
Mother of Muhammad Ethiopian
Mother of Turky Ethiopian
Mother of Majid (Sarah ) Circassian
Mother of Barghash (Fatala) Ethiopian
Mother of Abdulwahhab Georgian
Mother of Ali Ethiopian
Mother of Jemshid Georgian
Mother of Hamdan Circassian
Mother of Ghalib Ethiopian
Mother of Khalifa Ethiopian
Mother of Ali (Nur Sabah) Ethiopian
Mother of Nassor Ethiopian
(Mothers of Princess)
Mother of Sharife Circassian
Mother of Asha
(elder sisters of Hilal) Assyrian
Mother of Khole
Mother of Khadduji（elder sister of Madjid） Circassian
Mother of Meyye（elder sister of Barghash） Ethiopian
Mother of Shawana（elder sister of Ali） Ethiopian
Mother of Zeyana
Mother of Zemzem
Mother of Metle Ethiopian
Mother of Nunnu (Taj) Georgian
Mother of Salme (Jilfidan) Circassian
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Al-Maamiry, Ahmed Hamoud,
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The Princess of Zanzibar, 2007 : A film by Tink Diaz, Josefine Filmproduction .
I was given strong encouragement to do the research on Salme from her descendants, Ursula Stumpf, Andrea Stumph, Anne Bauer, and Michael Bauer. I also thank them for kindly offering the family photos.
I must thank Dr. Donzel of Leiden who shared his interests and thoughts on Salme with me when I visited Holland.
As for the English translation from Japanese, Marlene Horiuchi helped me revise my crude English into a readable one. My heartfelt thanks go to her for her endeavor.
I am entirely responsible for the content and errors, factual or otherwise if any are found, in this paper.
10 February 2013
Photoes relating to this article
Palace in Zanzibar c.1870
Salme in later years
Salme’s Grave in Ohlsdorf , Hamburg