The African Princess who Criticized Imperialism and Representations of Africa and the Middle East

Born in 1844, the daughter of the Omani Sultan of Zanzibar, Said bin Sultan, and his concubine Djilfidan, Sayyida Salme was brought up in a world of privilege and hierarchy. Early in her life, however, she stood out as a daring and unconventional princess. In her memoirs, Salme confronted the rationale that colonization was a humanitarian act of civilizing the peoples of Africa and the Middle East. She questioned the right of Europeans to view others as “unenlightened” and wrote that her intention was to remove “many misconceptions and distortions current about the East.” For an Arab woman to criticize the European powers was unheard of at the time. “Even in this century of railroads and rapid communication, so much ignorance still exists among European nations of the customs and institutions of their own immediate neighbors,” she wrote. In her later years, Salme found a home in Beirut, which offered her room for both her European and Arabian identities. Despite several attempts at recovering her inheritance, her appeals were consistently rejected by the Zanzibar court..


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