Saturday, November 3, 2012

Princess Salme of Zanzibar

Early one day in 1866 a young woman dressed in the black bui-bui robes of a Muslim stepped onto the Zanzibar town beach near Shangani Point. (Shangani means 'the place of beads'). She had the posture of a royal person, purposeful and erect for she was a Princess of Zanzibar. However she was also the daughter of a slave. Her name was Princess Salme bint Said and her father was the greatest Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman, Sultan Said al Busaid and her mother, Jilfidan, a Circassian concubine of the harem. Her half-brother was the current Zanzibar Sultan, Majid bin Said and the next sultan, Sultan Barghash bin Said another brother. 

Following Princess Salme were two servant women. Ostensibly she was there to take part in a religious ceremony, a formal washing in the sea. In fact she was there to elope, to save her life, for she was an unmarried woman and pregnant. Furthermore, she had formed a relationship with an infidel, a German Christian. The step she was taking might save her life but would change it for ever. So dangerous was her plan that she had not even told her trusted servants what she was about to do.

A rowing boat from a British warship approached the shore. Two men leapt out into the shallow tropical water. Salme’s servants screamed in terror at the strange white men and tried to pull their mistress away but she escaped their clutches, ran to the boat and was carried aboard. She did not wail and scream as they did.

Princess Salme carried with her a small bag containing all her jewels and gold. She must have realised that it was unlikely that she would ever return and in that bag she secreted a small container of sand – the pure white tropical sand of Zanzibar. It would be found in her possessions when she died 58 years later. 

Alastair Hazell described the story in his book, 'The Last Slave Market' as follows,

"The first day of the Muslim year was known in Zanzibar as Nauruzi or Siku ya Mwaka, and on that night it was customary for the women to bathe in the sea and pray for good health in the coming year. In 1866, Nauruzi fell on 24 August, and that was the night planned for Seyyida Salme to leave Zanzibar....After dark, she and two of her slaves went down to the beach, and no one paid much attention as they walked into the shallow water. During the festival there was much fooling around, laughter and high spirits, so when one of the slave girls was heard running from the beach shrieking loudly, no one took any notice. But the next day the Highflyer (British Navy) left her anchorage, sailing during the night without the usual notification, and Seyyida Salme had not returned to her house."

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