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Salme: Zanzibar's Famous Princess

Memoirs of an Arabian Princess is a fascinating account written by Princess Salme of her life in the royal court of Zanzibar in the 1800s.

Women in the royal court of Oman and Zanzibar were not taught to read or write, but Salme taught herself and, as a result, was able to provide the most telling, albeit biased, insights into the practical aspects of life on the island, as well as the political intrigue of the day. The progeny of Sultan Seyyid Barghash and, according to her, one of his most beautiful concubines, Salme grew up in Mtoni Palace and later in a house in Stone Town, and was very close to her brother, Majid, the heir apparent, until she fell prey to the in-house maneuvering of the ambitious Barghash and betrayed Majid. When she repented, Barghash never fully trusted Salme again, and she made a break for a new life after falling in love with a German merchant, eloping, converting to Christianity, and taking a new name, Emily Reute. Tragically, her husband was killed in a tram accident a few years later, and Reute was left in a foreign country with two small children to raise. She longed to return to Zanzibar, but aside from a brief visit, her soured relations with Barghash and the political expediency of her quest left her in exile. The book is widely available on the island. While the insights into life of a Zanzibari princess at the close of the 19th century are intriguing, it's worth noting that Reute's opinions would today be described as somewhat bigoted.

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