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The Sultanate of Zanzibar

Zanzibar is a small island 20 miles of the central east African coast. It has a tumultuous history of being a central location for the slave trade ran by Arab rulers in the late 18th century to mid-20th century. The history of Zanzibar is torn between multiple empirical powers spanning centuries of truces and deals that would send it into becoming an island of commerce and colonization until present day. The island’s excellent location in the Indian Ocean made it a prime target for the Omani empire who had just quelled a rebellion with the help form the British.

Origin & Trade with the British Empire

The first recorded ruler of Zanzibar is Seyyid Said, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman since 1806 and soon to be of Zanzibar in 1832. He had moved his navy off the coast of Zanzibar after a rebellion in the early 1800’s. After negotiating the presence of a colonial power with the Mwinyi Mkuu, who was the feudal lord of the native Wahadimu’s of Zanzibar, Seyyid Said had no problem establishing his power and dominance on the island. Power wasn’t solely through the Omani empire, but the British had a benefit in the colonization of Zanzibar.

Said Bin Sultan of Muscat, Oman and Zanzibar

Said Bin Sultan of Muscat, Oman and Zanzibar

A pact between Seyyid Said and the British Empire would fortify the trading route the British needed between them and India. The Omani empire specialized in trading commodities and the British Empire at the time was the biggest capitalist economy in the world, thus an alliance between the two empires was mutually beneficial as each nation benefitted from the business of the other.

Changes over Time

The importance of Seyyid Said making Zanzibar a key capital in the Omani empire was to exploit the slave and ivory trade markets in East Africa. He was able to overtake Mombasa in 1837 giving him control of the east coast of mainland Africa and Zanzibar. Apart from helping the British, Seyyid Said was able to setup the slave and ivory trade with the French, Portuguese and Americans who were all still dealing in such.

slave_trade_zanzibar

(1) A cave in which a local sultan kept slaves, after slavery had been made illegal. Flickr /Jerry Michalski (2) The memorial to the slave trade, in the grounds of the Anglican cathedral, Zanzibar. – Flickr / Andrew Barclay

In conjunction with dealing with major colonial powers, the native Wahadimus of Zanzibar were left to operate normally with only slight supervision from their new colonial leader. They were required to provide labour and land for harvesting cloves, which would play as a larger export in the future. They were able to retain the external trade and affairs they had before, but with the price of – duty to the Sultan’s Empire.

Trade, commerce and life in general remained fairly natural for them. For the next 20 years Seyyid Said built Zanzibar into a commercial and prosperous port until his death in 1856.

Said’s Death & the Sultanate of Zanzibar

After the death of Seyyid Said, The Omani Empire was split between his two sons, Seyyid Majid and Seyyid Barghash with Seyyid Majid inheriting the throne to Zanzibar and becoming the first official Sultan of Zanzibar. In 1859 a dispute broke out between the brothers, Majid and Barghash. Seyyid Majid would rule Zanzibar for 14 years under a fairly stagnant political career until his death just before the scramble for Africa would begin. He was finally succeeded by his brother Seyyid Barghash, but at the most unstable time of Africa’s history. Barghash inherited the throne at the time of great exploration of Africa by the biggest colonial powers of the world.

(1) Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar, he ruled between (2) Barghash bin Said of Zanzibar

(1) Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar, he ruled between (2) Barghash bin Said of Zanzibar

Over several negotiations and encroachments from the Germans, who were a big presence in Tanzania, Barghash had no choice but to relinquish most of his land on Zanzibar or face imminent battle for which he had no offensive power to retaliate with in 1885.

The fate of Zanzibar from here would lie in the hand of colonial powers and other Sultans until the mid-20th century. In 1963 Zanzibar was briefly part of the British Commonwealth in which they regained their independence, but a year later a revolt would cause Zanzibar to break away from the commonwealth and sign a pact with Tanzania to unite the two countries, which has been in effect to present day.

The Sultans

No. Sultan Full name Portrait Began rule Ended rule Notes
1 Majid bin Said Sheikh Majid bin Said Al-Busaid A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban and robes, sitting on a patterned chair, and looking at the viewer 19 October 1856 7 October 1870 Bargash bin Said attempted to usurp the throne from his brother in 1859, but failed. He was exiled to Bombay for two years.
2 Barghash bin Said Sheikh Sir Barghash bin Said Al-Busaid A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, a shirt, and a belt, sitting in a chair, and looking at the viewer 7 October 1870 26 March 1888 Responsible for developing much of the infrastructure in Zanzibar (especially Stone Town), like piped water, telegraph cables, buildings, roads, etc. Helped abolish the slave trade in Zanzibar by signing an agreement with Britain in 1870, prohibiting slave trade in the sultanate, and closing the slave market in Mkunazini.
3 Khalifa bin Said Sheikh Sir Khalifa I bin Said Al-Busaid A black-and-white sketch of a man with a dark beard wearing glasses, a turban, a dark jacket, and a white shirt all in front of a white background 26 March 1888 13 February 1890 Supported abolitionism, like his predecessor.
4 Ali bin Said Sheikh Sir Ali bin Said Al-Busaid A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, and a white shirt, sitting, and looking at the viewer 13 February 1890 5 March 1893 The British and German Empires signed the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty in July 1890. This treaty turned Zanzibar into a British protectorate
5 Hamid bin Thuwayni Sheikh Sir Hamad bin Thuwaini Al-Busaid A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, and a white shirt, sitting, and looking at the viewer 5 March 1893 25 August 1896
6 Khalid bin Barghash Sheikh Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid A black-and-white sketch of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, and a white shirt and looking to the right of the viewer 25 August 1896 27 August 1896 Was a belligerent in the Anglo-Zanzibar War, the shortest war in recorded history.
7 Hamoud bin Mohammed Sheikh Sir Hamoud bin Mohammed Al-Said A black-and-white photograph of a man with a white beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, a white shirt, and a belt and sitting on a chair 27 August 1896 18 July 1902 Issued the final decree abolishing slavery from Zanzibar on 6 April 1897.For this, he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
8 Ali bin Hamud Sheikh Ali bin Hamud Al-Busaid A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark moustache wearing a turban and a dark jacket and sitting on a throne topped by two metal lions 20 July 1902 9 December 1911 The British First Minister, Mr A. Rogers, served as regent until Ali reached the age of 21 on 7 June 1905
9 Khalifa bin Harub Sheikh Sir Khalifa II bin Harub Al-Said A black-and-white photograph of a man with a dark beard wearing a turban, a dark jacket, a white shirt, and several medals and looking to the right of the viewer 9 December 1911 9 October 1960 Brother-in-law of Ali bin Hamud. Oversaw the construction of harbor in Stone Town and tar roads in Pemba.
10 Abdullah bin Khalifa Sheikh Sir Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Said 9 October 1960 1 July 1963
11 Jamshid bin Abdullah Sheikh Sir Jamshid bin Abdullah Al Said 1 July 1963 12 January 1964 On 10 December 1963, Zanzibar received its independence from the United Kingdom as a constitutional monarchy under Jamshid.

[Header image]– Sultan of Zanzibar’s Palace – Flickr / Kevin Harber

Sources:
– Bhagat, Harkishan, and Haroub Othman. Colonialism and Class Formation in Zanzibar (n.d.): n. pag. University of Michigan. Web. 15 May 2016
– Pearce, Francis Barrow. Zanzibar, the Island Metropolis of Eastern Africa. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967. Print.

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