Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tanzanian Affairs 116 - Book Reviews by Martin Walsh of Cambridge University: Zanzibar Uhuru & Time Past in Africa

TIME PAST IN AFRICA: MERVYN SMITHYMAN AND FAMILY RECOLLECTIONS. Anne M. Chappel. CreateSpace, 2015. 222 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-1517172275. £7.85.
ZANZIBAR UHURU: A REVOLUTION, TWO WOMEN AND THE CHALLENGE OF SURVIVAL. Anne M. Chappel. CreateSpace, 2015. vi + 314 pp. (paperback). ISBN 978-1505511840. £10.00.
Anne Chappel, the author of these two self-published books, is the daughter of Mervyn Vice Smithyman (1911-2008), best known to historians for the way in which his all-too-brief tenure as a Permanent Secretary came to an abrupt end on the day of the Zanzibar Revolution, when he was forced to flee by swimming out to a boat in the harbour. In their very different ways, both of these books, one a memoir and the other a historical novel, help put that unforgettable incident into proper perspective, not least by providing the personal details and context, real and imagined, that are absent in the cursory published accounts. For Mervyn Smithyman was not alone that day, but before making his own escape, made sure that his family and others were safe offshore, among them the 16-year-old Anne. These complementary works of fact and fiction can be read as her own reckoning with the past and the shocking events of that day. The first embeds it in family history; the second is a sensitive reflection on its consequences for the lives of others, including those less fortunate than herself.
As a memoir, the richly-illustrated Time Past in Africa is also much more than this. Its first half traces Mervyn’s family roots and early life in South Africa, where he was born, and Nyasaland, where he spent the second half of his childhood. His parents, Fred Milner and Catherine Jessie Smithyman (neé Vice) worked their way up in colonial society from relatively inauspicious beginnings; the last of their ten children was born in 1933 and by the start of the Second World War they owned both a large family house with stables and a separate holiday home, and were running a hotel, a mineral water factory, and a brewery in Zomba. Mervyn had a job as a junior clerk in the Department of Agriculture, and repaired typewriters for the government in his spare time, work which gave him the time and means to travel around the world in the year before the outbreak of conflict. During the War itself he served as an officer in the King’s African Rifles, rising to command a battalion in India, and this experience stood him in good stead when he applied to join the British Colonial Administration.
The second half of the memoir details his subsequent career in Tanganyika and Zanzibar. His first posting was as Assistant District Officer in Mwanza; he went there in 1947 with his wife Audrey and son Michael, and they were soon joined by baby Anne. He was then posted to Bukoba and soon after to Biharamulo, where he was District Commissioner. In 1949 he was transferred to Same in Pare District, and stayed there until moving to the Secretariat in Dar es Salaam in 1953, where he worked in the District Administration Department and got to know the Governor, Sir Edward Twining. In 1955 he was appointed Senior District Officer in Mbeya, and that was his last tour on the mainland before being offered the post of Senior Assistant Commissioner in Zanzibar, a job he began in September 1956 by serving for six months as District Commissioner of Pemba, based in Wete. In early 1957 he moved to Zanzibar town, and began the period of his career that has attracted most scrutiny by researchers, coinciding as it did with the zama za siasa, the ‘time of politics’ and series of hotly contested elections that preceded Zanzibar’s Independence in December 1963. Smithyman agreed to stay on for a time as Permanent Secretary under the new Prime Minister, Mohammed Shamte. But, as we now know, this lasted for little more than a month.
The most gripping parts of this memoir are his and other family members’ recollections of what happened on that fateful day. They differ somewhat from previously published accounts, and add new details, for example about the disagreements between different expats and members of the government over how they should respond to the rapidly evolving crisis on the morning of 12 January 1964.
The novel, Zanzibar Uhuru, takes off from a fictionalised version of the same events. Like the memoir, it is written in different narrative voices. The first section, which focuses on the first weeks of the Revolution, even includes a few harangues and mad rambles in the hectoring and self-justifying tones that were typical of the speeches and writings of the self-styled Field Marshal John Okello. But the real stars of the story are two women who relate their struggles with the myriad consequences of the events that Okello set in train. The suffering of the first of these, a Zanzibari Arab orphaned during the Revolution, is very persuasively told in the middle section of the book, and carries the tale. The third and final section takes us back to the life of the daughter of a British official whose flight from Zanzibar recalls that of the real-life Smithyman, and brings us forward to the present, when the lives of the two women become intertwined again. Like all good historical novels, Zanzibar Uhuru leaves you wanting to know more about the events it is based on, and which of them might be true. It has been carefully researched, and includes references and a list of further reading for good measure. I only noticed a few minor slips.
Zanzibar Uhuru is boldly conceived and compellingly written. Critics aware of Time Past in Africa and the author’s background will accuse her of reproducing the worldview and political prejudices of her own family and class. But as a survivor of the Zanzibar Revolution herself, she has every right to tell and re-imagine her tale. Although more than half a century has now passed since the Revolution, the wounds it opened are still raw, especially for the women who live with painful memories of the brutality they and their loved ones suffered when their worlds were turned upside-down. Anne Chappel is to be congratulated for bringing part of that story to us, and I hope it will encourage others to do the same, in whatever narrative or creative form.
Martin Walsh

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ZANZIBAR RECOLLECTIONS By Bhadra [nee Kapadia] Vadgama

Zanzibar Government Girls Secondary School (before 1964)
This photo shows my school, half of the brown building. We didn't have any labs there so we didn't study physics or chemistry. We studied Biology and Health Science only. For sport girls went to the fort where they played netball. We didn't have PE either. Until Mrs Shukla started teaching there, Mr Nayak used to come to our school to teach Gujarati in the afternoon, three times a week. For domestic science, which was taught as an extra subject without an exam at the end. Art was also taught as a recreational subject.

My dad Vallabhdas Hirji Kapadia, better known as Manubha Kapadia, had a motor car and accessories business called Kapadia Motor Mart Ltd. in Zanzibar and because he had been a prominent figure in the socio-political life of the Island, our family was well known among wide range of communities and officials.
I went to Govt. Girls Sec School near the seafront close to Customs Office before going to Makerere College. Rozina Visram and I were the only 2 girls in 1956 to get a 1st grade in Cambridge Overseas SC Exam. I went to the World Centenary Girl Guides Camp to UK in 1957. I also taught at Seyyida Matuka School.
We, as children of 40s & early 50s, went to see 1 shilling all round Indian film shows on Sundays and at the Forodhani with 10 cents we could buy a stick of roasted mohogo, a handful of jugus, 2 pieces of ganderi and a slice of pineapple or mango, or a matufa or chana bateta.
In 1999 August, my sister Kanak from Mumbai, my younger daughter Jaanki & I went to Zanzibar. We went to visit the Palace Museum. I had never been inside the palace before, so for me it was quite an experience. I was delighted to see royal portraits painted by our art teacher Maalim Farhan. We had a teenage boy as our guide and some Australian tourists in the group. The poor lad had probably learnt by heart what he was supposed to tell us. He found himself taken over by Kanak, who talked about the first ever lift in Beit-el-Ajayab and how as young children we used to go up and down in it just for fun, and what the word Beit-el-Ajaib meant and that it was a palace before etc. etc. She described what it was like when Seyyid Khalifa had died and how she had come to pay her respect to the dead Sultan and express her condolences to Bibi Nunu.
We saw the special room of the Princess Sayyida Salme [Seyyid Barghash's sister] who had eloped with a German officer. I came to know about her when I had visited the museum in Muscat. I had not known anything about her in Zanzibar. At one point the poor lad who was our Guide, frustrated by our interruption, stopped us and said, 'Please let me talk about it.' The Australians were of course delighted to hear all our anecdotes. They told us we had made history alive for them.
Talking about Bibi Nunu, I remember when I was 8 or so (1948) I had been chosen to present a bouquet to her for an occasion (I can't remember what it was)that was held in the assembly hall of Government Boys Secondary School. I wonder if there will be a photo somewhere in the archives of Zanzibar Museum!
As mentioned earlier, I was chosen as the best Girl Guide from 7th Zanzibar Company [which ran as part of the extracurricular activities for the pupils of Hindu Kanyashala]to attend the World Centenary Camp to be held in Windsor Park in UK. So suddenly I was prepared to take all sorts of tests so I could have lot more badges on my sleeve. To be chosen for the Camp, I had to compete with the Guides from other Zanzibar Companies and attend a camp with Guides and Guiders from Dar.
My first encounter with racism and awareness of my citizenship happened during this trip to UK while I was attending the Camp. Initially, I was chosen to be presented to the Queen. I was even taken for the rehearsal and taught how to curtesy and so on. However, later in the day a very worried looking Guider came to me and said, 'I am extremely sorry, but we have just received a telegram from Zanzibar and they have asked us to replace you by Saada Khamis [an Arab Guide from Zanzibar who was also attending the Camp] to be presented to the Queen.' The Guider thought I would burst into tears, but I was not much upset by missing the opportunity. I suppose I was too young to realize the implication.
Also, perhaps I wasn't bothered, as in Zanzibar I had the opportunity of seeing at close range many celebrities like, Rita Hayworth & Prince Alikhan, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Princess Margaret, etc. at garden parties held in the British Residency grounds or Victoria Gardens where we served food to the guests in our Girl Guide uniform.
I also became aware for the first time, that although I had gone to the camp as a Zanzibari, I had chosen to wear chania-choli & odhani as my national dress. I taught other Guides a song in Gujarati, and not in Swahili. I was a Zanzibari BUT culturally I felt totally Indian. At the Camp, nobody wanted to know me as an Indian, as there were about 30 Girl Guides from India [and I didn't belong to them] who performed Indian dances in the evening as part of our entertainment. Saada and I, as Zanzibaris, had not prepared anything in particular to represent our island's identity. So here I was a young 16 year old with no awareness of the implications of my citizenship or identity. I realized all this much later in my life.
On arrival back to Zanzibar, a reporter had asked me if I had seen the Queen, and my reply was, 'Yes, I saw her clearly as being short, I was in the front row.' I didn't even think of telling him about the last minute swap.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


PAINTED DEVILS AND THE LIVES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE. Tuan Marais. Storyline Studio, Western Cape, South Africa, 2016 (paperback). ISBN 978-6-620-60019-4. R185 (and various prices online)
This memoir is prefaced by Shakespeare’s ‘tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil’ (Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2). Memoirs are precious stories, carrying the words of ordinary people living through historically interesting times. Young Tuan Marais went to live in Zanzibar with his mother and her new husband. This was Zanzibar of 1956, when the popular Sultan Seyyid bin Khalifa still ruled a diverse population before the rush to independence had taken hold. Painted Devils is Tuan’s profoundly sensitive story of his childhood and young adulthood.
Tuan became immersed in the island’s exotic life. His halcyon days were spent learning the life of the seas. Local Zanzibaris befriended him and guided him in the traditional ways of fishing and negotiating the coral reefs. Soon he was a natural, weaving fishing traps and speaking Swahili. The family home was next to the Sultan’s Kibweni country palace and one of his memories is of rescuing the Sultan’s yacht during a storm. He recalled seeing the great dhow fleets arriving with the monsoon.
The English culture of Tuan’s family prescribed formal education and religious passage as necessary steps to adulthood. Most colonial children suffered the wrench that was boarding school. It was profoundly formative. It would be interesting to know what reflections those children would later have if, instead, they had been enrolled into local schools. Zanzibar before the Revolution had excellent primary and secondary schools based on the British system of O- and A-levels, and a rich and diverse cultural milieu. 
Tuan’s parents were not part of the British colonial administration and had no sense of the pull of ‘back home’ that characterised those families regarding their sojourn in Zanzibar as temporary. Tuan became conscious of racism, both in Zanzibar and at his Kenyan boarding school. Racism was taught to him through shame and ridicule. This was also the time that emerging political parties in Zanzibar, and across Africa, were demanding independence – Uhuru! The Cold War intensified this struggle. Tuan was hardly aware of the political wrangling, the escalating violent rhetoric as opposing sides grappled for the popular vote. The presence of Swahili, Shirazi, Manga Arabs, Goans, Indians and mainland Africans was taken as natural by his young self. Meanwhile the British were slipping away, having lost the will to invest in a troubled island. 
Tuan planned his future in Zanzibar: to offer diving and deep-sea fishing tours from a traditional fishing dhow. This was not to be. The Revolution of 1964 intervened. His parents were attacked on the day of the revolt when the infamous John Okello directed brutal mobs. They were taken to Okello’s headquarters and bound. Around them were the bodies of murdered Arab Zanzibaris. It is likely that they were saved by Okello’s order that no whites were to be killed – for fear of British intervention. Instead Okello whipped up his supporters into a genocide of Zanzibari Arab people. This is the dark history that the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar has never acknowledged.
The last section of the memoir is the story of Tuan’s life in South Africa. He was conscripted into the army and for a brief while groomed to be a South African spy. The Apartheid secret police wanted information on the Frelimo camps supposedly located in Zanzibar. He turned down this offer but did visit Zanzibar in 1966, finding the island miserable under the grip of its own brand of oppression.
In 1997, in his late middle-age, Tuan returned to Zanzibar but his Eden had disappeared and he struggled to find acceptance and resolution. Tuan’s memoir is poetically written, filled with the sense of those magic years when anything seemed possible. His years of youth were in Zanzibar and his depiction of life in the pre-revolutionary Sultanate is a charming tale of self-discovery. And perhaps it is with nostalgia that we might imagine how Zanzibar might have been had it not suffered the violence and despotism of those years.
Anne M. Chappel
Anne M. Chappel was born in Mwanza, Tanganyika, in 1947 and moved to Zanzibar in 1956 when her father worked for the British colonial administration, finally occupying the position of Permanent Secretary to Mohammed Shamte, the Prime Minister for the brief period of Zanzibar’s independence. Anne has written a novel, Zanzibar Uhuru, covering the last 50 plus years of Zanzibar’s history, as well as a biography of her father, Time Past in Africa. Anne lives in Adelaide, Australia.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The man-eater of Uroa and other collective fictions in Zanzibar by Martin Walsh, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge

This full article (which is very interesting) relates to events during the Colonial Administration of Zanzibar from 1948. You may download it here:

 In the early hours of 30th June 1948 a small boy was seized and dragged from a field hut near Uroa on the east coast of Unguja island, Zanzibar, and was never seen again. Pugmarks were found nearby, and it was presumed that he had been taken and devoured by a leopard. Over the next seven weeks three more people were killed in similar circumstances in the same general area: a young girl, a middle-aged woman, and another boy. These events generated considerable alarm not only in the local communities involved, but also among officials in the British colonial administration, who ascribed the killings to a “man-eating leopard”, imagined in the mode of other “man-eaters” of African and Indian jungle lore. In an effort to prevent further deaths and contain the panic, the authorities went to some lengths to trap and kill the supposed man-eater, and its demise was announced in the second week of September 1948.

We know these and other details from the contemporary documents that have survived. The archival record includes official correspondence – some of which reached up to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London, district and other administrative reports, newspaper articles, and the personal notebook of Zanzibar‟s Senior Commissioner at the time, R.H.W. Pakenham. But though these written archives give us some insight into the knowledge and beliefs of officialdom, including Zanzibari Arab civil servants and local administrators, the voices of the villagers who experienced these events first hand are largely absent, though there are hints that they might have had something very different to say, not least their own interpretation of events. The few paragraphs that Pakenham wrote in his notebook make this very clear, though they were not intended for public consumption and did not enter the official record at the time.

Most of the people who witnessed or were close to the events of 1948 are now dead. In November 2011, having read the archives in Zanzibar some months before, I began to seek out and interview elderly people on the east coast who could recall something of what had happened more than 63 years earlier. Their accounts were very different from those preserved in the government archives, and not just richer and thick with local colour. Rather than a single man-eater, they described the depredations of multiple “kept leopards”, sent to do the bidding of the various witches who owned and controlled them. This reflected an understanding of leopard predation that persists to this day and that Helle Goldman and I have described in some detail in earlier publications (Goldman and Walsh 1997; Walsh and Goldman 2007; 2012). This paper is my first attempt to process material relating to the 1948 case, and to explore answers to some of the questions that it raises. Who and what should we believe? Can we reconcile the conflicting interpretations of Zanzibar‟s one-time rulers and the oral performances of their former subjects, discern unequivocal truth behind the competing fictions of colonial writing and postcolonial memory? What really happened?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ibāḍī Muslim Scholars and the Confrontation with Sunni Islam in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Zanzibar

by Prof. Valerie J. Hoffman, Head of Department of Religion

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Published: in Bulletin of the Royal Institute of Inter-Faith Studies 7, 1 (Spring-Summer 2005): 91-118


The Origins and Distinctiveness of Ibāī Islam        

Bū Sa‘īdī Rule in Zanzibar
            The first sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Sa‘īd ibn Sulān,[1] was the grandson of the last recognized Imam, Amad ibn Sa‘īd al-Bū Sa‘īdī, whose reign from 1741-1783 (he was elected Imam in 1753-4) inaugurated the Bū Sa‘īdī dynasty, which remains in power in Oman to this day. Omanis had long settled in East Africa, and city-states ruled by Omani families emerged in Mombasa and Pate. Successive Omani rulers were only able to subject these city-states to Omani rule temporarily. Periodically the ruler of Oman would be invited to repel the Portuguese from Mombasa, but the Mazrū‘ī family that ruled Mombasa would withdraw their fealty to Oman once the immediate threat had passed and the Omani ruler had gone. Perhaps this is why Sayyid Sa‘īd (ruled 1806-1856) decided to settle in East Africa, a pleasant region with great potential for trade and agriculture. He first visited Zanzibar, then a small town of little consequence, in 1828, and decided at that time to make it his permanent residence. He transferred his council from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1832, officially making Zanzibar the capital of the Omani empire.  Hundreds of Omanis accompanied him in his move to Zanzibar. After his death in 1856, however, the Bū Sa‘īdī empire was divided, with the rule of Oman passing to his son Thuwaynī, and the rule of Zanzibar passing to another son, Mājid. The Bū Sa‘īdīs remain in power in Oman to this day, but were overthrown in Zanzibar in January 1964.
Although Zanzibar’s rulers were Ibāī, the vast majority of their subjects were not. The overwhelming majority of the indigenous population of Zanzibar and the East African coast follow the Sunni school of al-Shāfi‘ī. Zanzibar was an extremely complex society during the period of Omani rule, consisting not only of Omani overlords and African subjects and slaves, but a sizable and mixed community of people originating from other parts of the Indian Ocean: anafī soldiers from Baluchistan, Ismā‘īlī, Bohorā, and Hindu merchants from India, Shāfi‘ī scholars and traders from the aramawt, and Twelver Shī‘a of Arab, Iranian, and Indian background. The aramīs frequently intermarried with the local population and became integrated into Swahili society, who were also Shāfi‘ī Sunnis, but the Omanis did so less often, and the Indians formed a very separate set of religious and social communities that married only among themselves, and tried to preserve their native languages. 
Considering the Ibāī attitude that non-Ibāī Muslims are of doubtful Islamic status and ought to be avoided, what attitude did they take toward the different sects of Zanzibar, especially the Shāfi‘ī majority? Whereas in the Omani interior Ibāī scholars engaged the questions of walāya and barā’a in relative isolation from contact with non-Ibāī Muslims, in Zanzibar the situation was entirely different. Ibāī scholars had to rethink the meaning of barā’a in a context in which they were required to work closely with Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, Sunni scholars on the Swahili coast were critical of Ibāī doctrine, and succeeded in attracting converts to Sunni Islam from among the Ibāī population of East Africa. The ubiquity and challenge of Sunnism confronted Ibāī scholars of Zanzibar with dilemmas that could be ignored in the Omani interior.
It appears that the Zanzibar sultans were usually quite tolerant of Sunni Muslims, that indeed they honored Sunni scholars in a manner similar to the way they honored Ibāī scholars. Sayyid Sa‘īd encouraged both Ibāī and Sunni scholars to come to his new capital. Scholars migrated there from the coasts of Somalia and Kenya, from the Comoro Islands, and from Oman itself. īs were appointed for the Sunnis as well as for the Ibāīs, and there are cases in which Sunni and Ibāī qāḍīs delivered joint adjudication.[2] The first sultan of Zanzibar, Sa‘īd ibn Sulān, directed his governors in the provinces to have Sunni subjects ruled by Sunni judges, specifically mentioning in one of his letters “the shaykh and scholar Muyī ’l-Dīn al-Qaḥṭānī” as the authority to be consulted in matters of dispute.  He also told the Ibāīs of Pemba to greet non-Ibāī Muslims living on their island with courtesy, just as the Ibāīs in Zanzibar did.[3] In his account of the Shāfi‘ī scholars of East Africa, Abdallah Saleh Farsy (d. 1982) made a point of emphasizing the great honor various Sunni scholars received from sultans, to the point that some of them served as trusted counselors, and, if we are to believe him, virtual ministers of the realm.[4] Some of more prominent scholars so honored included Muyī ’l-Dīn al-Qaḥṭānī (d. 1869), ‘Abd al-‘Azīz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Amawī (1838-96), his son, Burhān ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Amawī (1861-1935), Sayyid Amad ibn Sumay (1861-1925), and ‘Abdallāh Bā Kathīr (1860-1925).  Zanzibar became a center of Sunni religious scholarship during the reign of the Bū Sa‘īdī sultans, and it appears that Sunnis and Ibāīs, for the most part, coexisted amicably.  
The greatest Sunni scholars of nineteenth-century Zanzibar came from outside Zanzibar. Of the four who are considered the greatest Shāfi‘ī scholars of Zanzibar, two came from Somalia (an interesting fact considering that Farsy mentions very few Somali scholars among those who worked in Zanzibar): Muyī ’l-Dīn al-Qaḥṭānī and ‘Abd al-‘Azīz ibn ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Amawī were both born and studied in Brava;  the latter originally came to Zanzibar for the purpose of studying with al-Qaḥṭānī, and Sayyid Sa‘īd appointed him judge in Kilwa at the age of sixteen. Sayyid Amad ibn Sumay was born of a aramī scholar residing in the Comoro islands, and Abdallāh Bā Kathīr came from Lamu. Large numbers of students and teachers in Zanzibar came from the Comoros. Sa‘īd al-Mughayrī wrote that “the wars of the sultans of Ngazija led to the emigration of many Comorians to Zanzibar. In 1899, fifteen thousand Comorians migrated to Zanzibar, where they became part of the upper class, holding fast to the commands of their Islamic religion and spreading knowledge.”[5] The trend toward mobility among the scholars of Zanzibar diminished in the twentieth century; by mid-century, scholars who studied or taught in Zanzibar tended to come from Zanzibar, and those born in Zanzibar were less likely to travel for the sake of study.
Sayyid Sa‘īd’s attitude toward Ibāism may be discerned from his checkered relationship with the family of the aforementioned Abū Nabhān, the most powerful religious scholar of his day in Oman. Al-Sālimī wrote, “Abū Nabhān was the most outstanding scholar of his time in knowledge, virtue, and nobility (sharaf), and the people had taken him as an example for guidance in all matters of their religion as well as their worldly affairs. The virtuous people obeyed him, because they knew his knowledge and piety.”[6] Abū Nabhān publicly denounced Sayyid Sa‘īd and declared him unfit to lead the Muslims. His authority constituted a direct challenge to Sayyid Sa‘īd, but the latter dared not act against him, not only because of Abū Nabhān’s popularity, but even more because of his well-known skill in ‘ilm al-sirr—the knowledge of hidden things, such as divination, the writing of talismans, and other esoteric secrets.[7] After Abū Nabhān’s death in 1822, his son, Nāir ibn Abī Nabhān, says that Sayyid Sa‘īd was deceptively kind to him in order to convince him to write a talisman that would protect him from all other talismans. He did so, only to find that Sayyid Sa‘īd commenced an all-out assault on their fortresses, which forced them after seven months to abandon their homes and property. Nāir’s family beseeched him to write a talisman to protect them against Sayyid Sa‘īd and his local governor. Nāir was able to concoct a talisman even more powerful than the one he had given to the sultan, although it took a year and a half to prepare it, because of the previous talisman he had written protecting Sayyid Sa‘īd. His work on this talisman was supported by the “pious people of Nizwā,” who kept him awake with coffee to enable him to recite his incantations through the night. The purpose of the talisman was to cause the kingdom of the sultan to be destroyed. “I did not want the sultan to die,” Nāir is quoted as saying, “out of fear that the tyrannical Muammad ibn Nāir al-Jabarī would come to power instead, and he is a anafī [a follower of the anafī school of Sunni Islam], and one could not be sure that if he came to power he would not force the people of Oman to convert to his rite.” Finally the talisman was completed, and the sultan began to experience defeats in his military engagements in Oman and overseas. Sayyid Sa‘īd’s fear of Nāir grew to the point that he took him into his inner circle and brought him on all his military expeditions, and finally to Zanzibar.[8] Upholding Ibāī ideals was clearly not Sayyid Sa‘īd’s priority, but neither could he afford to ignore the many dimensions of the potency of religion.
Sayyid Sa‘īd’s chief Ibāī judge belonged to a family with deep roots in East Africa, the Mundhirīs (al-Manādhira). The Mundhirīs were a wealthy family originally from the Omani interior, who had become major plantation owners in Mombasa, Pemba and Zanzibar. Muammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muammad al-Mundhirī (d. 1869) was a man of towering intellect. His known works include a book on theology entitled Al-Khulāa ’l-dāmigha,[9] another book dealing specifically with the theological problem of the vision of God, which the Ibāīs deny but the Sunnis affirm,[10] a book on etiquette,[11] a teacher’s text on grammar,[12] and a Sufi-style prayer of petition bearing special instructions for its recitation and promises of its efficacy in revealing divine secrets.[13] Shaykh Muammad served under Sayyids Sa‘īd ibn Sulān (1828-56) and Sa‘īd’s son Mājid (1856-70), until the shaykh died in 1869. His position was inherited by his younger brother, ‘Abdallāh. Shaykh Muammad’s cousin, Muammad ibn Sulaymān ibn Muammad al-Mundhirī, was chief Ibāī judge during the reign of Sayyid Barghash ibn Sa‘īd ibn Sulān (1870-88) and was among those who accompanied Sayyid Barghash during his visit to Europe in 1875.[14] Shaykh Muammad ibn ‘Alī’s son, ‘Alī ibn Muammad ibn ‘Alī al-Mundhirī (born in 1866, only three years before his father’s death), later became the chief Ibāī judge during the reigns of Sayyids ‘Alī ibn ammūd (1902-11) and Khalīfa ibn ārib (1911-60), until he died in 1924-5.

[1] Sayyid was the common title of the rulers of Oman and Zanzibar, until the British began referring to them as sultans. It does not refer to descent from the Prophet, whereas the use of the title Sayyid preceding the name of Aḥmad ibn Sumayṭ and other Sunni scholars does indicate descent from the Prophet.
[2] E.g. Sunni judges Aḥmad ibn Sumayṭ (1861-1925) and Burhān ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Amawī (1831-1935) heard cases jointly with Ibāḍī judges.  Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Amawī explained in a conversation with an adviser to Sultan Ḥamad ibn Thuwaynī (1893-96), “The sultan of Zanzibar rules according to all the sects and customs and laws, because he is entrusted with the guardianship of all the Muslims, and they follow many sects—Shāfi‘īs, Mālikīs, Ḥanafīs, Ḥanbalīs, and Shī‘a.  Each must be judged according to the requirements of his sect.  His judgment also extends to the Hindus, Banyans [Indian traders], and Zunūj (non-Muslim Africans), and they are people who have customs and laws; he should not compel any one to follow what he does not approve.”  This conversation was recorded by Amawī and I found it in some miscellaneous papers owned by the Amawī family and found in Dar Es Salaam by Mwalimu Muḥammad Idrīs Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ of Zanzibar.
[3] Mughayrī, Juhaynat al-akhbār, 271.
[4] Abdallah Saleh Farsy, The Shāfi‘ī ‘ulamā’ of East Africa, ca. 1830-1970, trans. and ed. Randall L. Pouwels  (Madison: University of Wisconsin African Studies Program, 1989).
[5] Mughayrī, Juhaynat al-akhbār, 524-5.
[6] Sālimī, Tuḥfat al-a‘yān, 2: 192.
[7] Sa‘īd ibn Sulṭān’s predecessor, Imam Sa‘īd ibn Aḥmad, offered a handsome bribe to anyone who would kill Shaykh Abū Nabhān. The shaykh wrote a talisman that his son Nabhān hung over the water of the canal by the mosque where Abū Nabhān was staying. He ordered his son not to let the talisman touch the water, because if it touched the water the Imam would die, and the shaykh did not want that; he merely wanted to weaken him. Then, Sālimī tells us on the authority of Nāṣir ibn Abī Nabhān, “the ambition of the sultan failed and his strength weakened and his kingdom left him. His brother, Sulṭān son of Aḥmad ibn Sa‘īd, rebelled against him and took every place in his kingdom except Rustāq. He [Imam Sa‘īd] lost the respect of the people to the point that fish would be taken from a dish in his hand as he carried it from the market, and he could not stop them.  He became a warning to onlookers and a sign to passersby. All the people knew this came from the shaykh’s work against him, and they all humbled themselves before the shaykh, and he became the most highly respected person. The shaykh then ordered his son to stop the work of the charm and to destroy it, lest it kill him.” After that the Imam left him in peace. Sālimī, Tuḥfat al-a‘yān, 2: 202-203.
[8] Ibid., 2:196-205.
[9] Mentioned by Abdallah Saleh Farsy in the context of a Sunni book written in response to it, to be discussed below. I have not found any copies of this book, either in Zanzibar or in Oman.
[10] Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī al-Mundhirī, Jawāb al-sā’il al-ḥayrān al-mushtabah ‘alayhi fahm āyāt al-Qur’ān fī jawāz ru’yat al-bārī ta‘ālā, ‘Alī ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Mazrū‘ī [Answering the bewildered questioner, ‘Alī ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Mazrū‘ī, who is unable to understand the Qur’anic verses concerning the permissibility of seeing the exalted Creator] (Muscat: Ma‘had al-Qaḍā’ al-Shar‘ī wa-al-Wa‘ẓ wa-al-Irshād, 1997), 160 pp. This book was written in response to a question put to him by ‘Alī al-Mazrū‘ī, the same Omani convert to Sunnism who wrote a response to Al-Khulāṣa ’l-dāmigha (see below).
[11] Manuscript ZA 9/1 in the Zanzibar National Archives, a response to questions regarding: teaching and disciplining students (among other things, the shaykh recommends contests between students, in which the winner is allowed to beat his opponent!); the legality of buying what is hidden in the ground, like onions, carrots and garlic; whether it is permissible for a woman to adorn her body with things like henna; the necessity of waiting for permission before entering someone’s house; and the necessity of giving a proper greeting. The Arabic Literature of Africa, ed. John O. Hunwick and R.S. O’Fahey (Leiden: E.J. Brill), vol. 3: The Writings of the Muslim Peoples of Northeastern Africa, compiled by R.S. O’Fahey and currently under preparation, calls this collection Risālat al-irshād.
[12] Kitāb tashīl al-muta‘allim, the third manuscript in a collection listed as ZA 8/40 in the Zanzibar National Archives.
[13] Ms. ZA 2/4 in the Zanzibar National Archives is a hodgepodge of mixed papers of magic and medicine belonging to and written by Muḥammad’s brother, Sulaymān, and dated 27 Rabī‘ al-Ākhar 1274 (14 December 1857). For some reason, someone has marked an X over the text on pp. 4-10 that has the du‘ā’ of Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad al-Mundhirī. The X stops precisely at the point where the prayer stops. This is followed by instructions for the care of the du‘ā’: it should be written on a piece of silver or white silk on a night of full moon at a particular sign of the Zodiac, fumigated with musk and amber, carried on the head, kept clean of all contamination, and recited seven times a night with incense, but 21 times on Friday nights. “Whoever does this will have divine proofs revealed to him.”
[14] Mughayrī, Juhaynat al-akhbār, p. 361. 

Ibāī Conversions to Sunni Islam

‘Alī al-Mundhirī’s Defense of Ibāism

Ibāī-Sunni Interactions

            Ibāī theological doctrines emerged from the heat of the political disputes of early Islam and were nurtured in relative isolation from people of other Islamic sects, in the mountainous interior of Oman and remote areas of North Africa. The cosmopolitan character of East Africa brought Ibāīs into close contact with Sunnis, Shi‘a, Hindus, and followers of other faiths. The Ibāī sultans of Zanzibar ruled over a highly diverse population, who were mostly Sunni Muslims. Bū Sa‘īdī rule in Zanzibar inaugurated the development of a scholarly Islamic culture in Zanzibar, where scholarship was fostered and attracted both teachers and students from other parts of East Africa. Ibāī doctrine excludes Sunni Muslims from the category of “Muslim,” so theoretically Ibāīs should abstain from religious friendship with them, although they are included in the ahl al-qibla, and are accorded all the rights of a Muslim. In practice, Ibāī–Sunni relationships were very friendly, and the Bū Sa‘īdī sultans sponsored Sunni as well as Ibāī scholars and appointed them as judges, and some Sunni scholars have been among the sultans’ closest confidants. During the reign of Sayyid Barghash (1870-88), there were some prominent conversions of Ibāī scholars to Sunni Islam, provoking a severe reaction from the monarch, who established the first printing press devoted to the publication of Ibāī works. The brief treatises by Shaykh ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad al-Mundhirī indicate the real sense of threat late-nineteenth-century Ibāī scholars in Zanzibar felt from the attraction Sunni Islam held for many Ibāīs. Nonetheless, Ibāī scholars had cordial and collegiate relationships with their Sunni counterparts, and in the second half of the nineteenth century some scholars crossed sectarian lines for the purposes of study and adjudication. Religious conflict was remarkably absent from the domains of the sultans of Zanzibar 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Memories of the Maalim Healers in old Zanzibar by Amir Rashid

Zanzibar never had witch doctors, per se. They were respectfully known as "Maalim". There were some psychics and some administered herbal medicines derived mostly from plants and natural elements.
I remember one gentleman of Iranian/Agha descent who lived at Mwembetanga also provided psychic services. He had a bicycle and, I believe, worked as a debt collector for some company (Smith Mackenzie ?), but also did some part time work in giving herb medicines, at a nominal charge of Shs.2 (or US$.028).
Another lady, mother of the late Bwana Aziz, a gymnast, who resided behind the then Kuku market (now fish market), also provided psychic services for a nominal fee of also Shs.2. She normally would have a silver plate full of sand and one had to dip one's palm of right hand in the sand and think of the issue one had come to get her services for, and she was expected to respond and try to assist in solving that particular issue. For example, if one lost a wedding ring, and she would make a suggestion to look at a particular spot (under a mattress , etc.) in one's home.
The Zanzibar "Maalims" should not be confused with Tanganyikan and other African witch doctors. We read a lot on how Tanganyikan witchdoctors brutalize albino villagers - cut off their body parts for so called "healing" purposes. When I was in UK as a student during the 60s, I remember reading in London Times or Sunday Observer that a team of Cambridge University scientists had gone to Southern Africa to research types of herbal and plant medicines used by locals or natives, and incorporate such organic medicines in Western pharmaceuticals.
In Unguja, Zanzibar, we were also blessed by having two retailers at Hurumzi, right behind Khoja Ismaili Jamatini, Late Bwana Saleh and Late Bwana Bando. They were experts in recommending right herbal medicines and would sell small amounts at an affordable cost. We also had a Zanzibari Bahora businessman at Malindi, next to Abedi Samosa, who would give out freely some sticky stuff which when heated, could then be applied, (using a piece of cotton cloth), on a wound for speedy healing. We could not then afford imported Johnson & Johnson bandages, and this home made remedy worked like charm.
There was another word in Zanzibar Swahili witchcraft vocabulary. And that was "HALBADIRI". When someone had a grudge or had been wronged by another party, they would ask a witch doctor back home to send a "halbadiri" spell on the offending party. The witch doctors were often reluctant to administer such a strong spell on the offender, as the spell could backfire and return to the sender, who could then have mental breakdown or suffer from schizophrenia for the rest of his/her life!
I remember in the 50s, a middle aged lady passing everyday at Ngambo (by our residence) and screaming at the top of her voice in Swahili, apparently cursing someone. We were told that someone had sent a halbadiri spell on her. (It was obvious that poor lady was suffering from schizophrenia or some mental disorder).
There was another spell called "KIFARA".  This was a quick type of spell which a victim would have his Maalim or witch doctor  send on  a party which had done wrong to the victim.  Kafara would result in a major accident or disaster that would befall on the enemy.  Unlike "halbadiri", kafara cannot revert on the victim.
Yes, Zanzibar was gifted by locals who were not materialistic, as now, and we all lived like one family, although, like in any family, there were ups and downs every now and then. Unfortunately, foreign interference in Zanzibar's politics ended all that one family relationships among Zanzibaris. (Now even our Wapemba brothers try to smuggle cloves to Kenya in order to get more money for their produce). Yes, times have changed and drug culture has taken over everywhere in this dunia.

Wa salaam, Amir Rashid.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

What’s Wrong with Shikamoo?


By Esther Karin Mngodo

There is something peculiar about the greeting, exclusive to Swahili culture.  
In Summary
Shikamoo is a greeting for those older than us. Surprisingly, when greeted this way, some people just utter a simple ‘Poa.’
There is something unique about the way we greet our elders, starts Rachel Magege. There is something peculiar about the greeting, exclusive to the Swahili culture. Rachel, 24, recently returned to Tanzania from the US where she was pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Law. When she arrived in the US, she immediately noticed the difference. 
“I remember feeling awkward that a child could say ‘Hi Rachel’ like it was normal.  And you can greet your Professor with a simple Hello. But when you get used to him, you greet him with his first name. ‘Hi James’. There is no way I could do that here,” she says and adds: “That is why I appreciate our way of greeting. I think it is a way of showing respect.” 
That awkward moment
Not everyone wants to be respected this way, says James Martin, 31, a businessman based in Arusha. “I hate Shikamoo,” he says of the greeting, especially if it is a young woman involved.
 “I prefer to be asked how I am doing. Shikamoo creates so much boundaries. It makes me feel like they are showing me so much respect. It becomes hard for me, or men in general, to make any other advances. The relationship becomes too formal.”
Robby Salehe, 33, a management accountant based in Dar es Salaam, knows this too well. In fact, most young women must have encountered this situation. 
In her view, there must be a reason why her shikamoo gets an abruptly spoken ‘poa’. Poa is usually a response to mambo, a greeting among peers. 
“If it is a woman, perhaps they think I am too old to say shikamoo. I am big in size, so that confuses many. But if it is a man, it is possible that they want something else from me,” she says.
What is this shikamoo about?
Swahili Professor, Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi, a Professor Emeritus at Uppsala University in Sweden, explains that shikamuu is derived from nashika miguu yako, (I touch your feet). This is an ancient Bantu greeting used to address respectfully all elders and people in position. 
In all civilisations people develop new greetings from time to time influenced by economic and social developments, political changes and integration with immigrants. 
Our Kiswahili civilisation has a continuous history of almost 2,000 years developed by the coastal people coming in close contact with people from various parts of the Indian Ocean
The professor explains that in different Bantu tribal cultures, it was normal practice to kneel in front of the Chief, or even lie down and touch his feet as if he were a king as kings were divine and representatives of God on earth. Such practices have gradually disappeared with the abolition of divine kingship and feudalism in many societies. 
The response, marhaba, which meant ‘You have my blessings’ is of course derived from Arabic. Prof Lodhi believes this Arabic loan replaced a longer original Bantu response during the 8th century when Islam was firmly established along the EA coast and Arabic became the literary language of the people all around the rim of the Indian Ocean. 
Prof Lodhi recalls how he and Mwalimu Nyerere (Tanzania’s first president) used to greet each other and how that changed with time. Back in the 60s and early 70s, he always greeted Mwalimu Nyerere with a shikamoo mwalimu, and Nyerere would respond with a simple marhaba! 
“But later in the mid-70s when I was Chairman of TANU-ASP in Scandinavia, Mwl Nyerere responded with marhaba maalim! And later from 1994 when we travelled together to Swaziland he started responding with a marhaba profesa! or marhaba bwana profesa! 
“Only once in Stockholm in the home of Balozi Wilson Tibaijuka, an old colleague from Dar es Salaam from the 60s, did he greet me shikamoo Profesa before I could greet him first. I had to respond with marhaba mwalimu. Then he added with a hearty laughter ‘Nimekuwahi leo! Nawe upate fursa ya kunipa marhaba.’ (I greet you first today so that you can also say marhaba to me.) Mwl. Nyerere and I had serious literary and political relations and at the same time a joking relationship.”  
Is it another form of oppression?
In her blog,, Ashura Kayupayupa analyses an unpublished essay, ‘What’s wrong with Shikamoo’ (1995) authored by Rakesh Rajani who is currently Head of Civic Engagement and Governance with Ford Foundation. The paper reflects on the effects this greeting has in the process of learning and public engagement. 
 “Rakesh explained that since the salutation was brought by Arab Sultans to undermine Tanzanian elders and creating inferiority complex, it was not an appropriate salutation for people with equal relationship, rather for the one who is a master and the other one who is a slave. He challenges this greeting among adults today,” writes Ashura.
Ashura highlights Rakesh’s views, saying that this is also true for the teacher-pupil relationship whereby the student surrenders their right to equal participation in learning by saying shikamoo to the teacher.
Rakesh dares us to imagine a day when a teacher will encourage students to question, challenging them to think outside the box without holding a stick. That is his problem with shikamoo.   
  Changing times
Amina Juma, 42, a librarian based in Dar es Salaam says she remembers how wives used to greet their husbands shikamoo in her tribe of Wanyamwezi from Tabora. 
“When I was a young girl, there were many homes where the man was much older than his wife. The wife would comfortably greet her husband this way. I know it might sound strange today, but why not? It was considered a respectful greeting. However, I don’t think that women today would greet their husbands this way,” she says with a laugh. 
Robby, the management accountant says that this generation does not like shikamoo at all. It is quite normal for a teenager to say ‘Hi’ to a 10-year senior than themselves. 
It is partly the fault of the ones receiving this greeting, says James, the Arusha-based businessman. He is also of the view that most young people think that they are too cool for shikamoo. 
He blames it on ‘utandawazi’ (globalisation). Many would say ‘unanizeesha’ which translates to ‘you are making me look older than I really am.’ 
Prof Lodhi explains that his younger colleagues, and sometimes even those who are his age, greet him with a shikamoo profesa! However, recently one of the Kiswahili Professors in Dar greeted him with ‘mambo profesa?’ Instead of responding with a poa, Prof Lodhi said mambo bambam! Which the younger professor had never heard before! “People think mambo is a new greeting developed by the young generation – No! It was there already in the 40s and we boys of my generation were using it. In my experience, most people in the world have no historical depth. Most of them are acculturated, in fast growing unplanned urban areas living in a cultural vacuum.” 
Its cultural significance
Modern African cities are a good example of large uprooted populations that are developing vibrant new Western-influenced cultures, which are exploited by new technologies and related commercialism necessitating new terminologies and language usage, says Prof Lodhi. 
Prof Lodhi further explains that in East Africa, we have a special linguistic situation where Kiswahili, the only native language with a long literary tradition in the whole of east-central Africa, which is a minority language as far as the number of native speakers are concerned, is the most widely spread language with a very high status, always competing with English. 
It has been ‘nationalised’ and it is the 2nd or 3rd language speakers of Kiswahili, who are the vast majority and who have been changing it especially by mixing it with their own ethnic tongues, marginalising the traditional native 1st language speakers of Kiswahili. 
“I think that this point has to be made clear before one can answer your question “Do we really need shikamoo anymore?” For a Mswahili like me, the question cannot arise since it is part of our deep-rooted basic culture and social mannerism expressing good upbringing and showing respect to elders! What is wrong with it? On the contrary we need it even more today when an increasing number of children are growing up with little or no respect for elders.”
“I would suggest one should go and present this question to those to whom Kiswahili belongs as their legitimate cultural heritage. The ‘cultural significance’ of shikamoo – marhaba and many such socio-cultural elements depends on who is using them and in which contexts.”
The professor goes on to say that; “the question raised, I believe involves an insignificant minority of people in East Africa and who I am inclined to claim are not traditional native speakers of Kiswahili. 
One cannot ‘prescribe’ which greetings people should use and which not; however, one can do a good job ‘describing’ how certain greetings are used by a specific group/category of persons, in what contexts and why, and what are their socio-cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Only then one can claim it is a scientific study.”