Violence as racial discourse in late colonial Zanzibar

Presented by
Seminar Date
August 3, 2011
This paper is drawn from a just-published book on the rise of racial thought in colonial Zanzibar. Like the Swahili coast generally, Zanzibar has long been viewed as an oasis of racial indeterminacy and multicultural harmony: visiwa vitulivu, “the tranquil islands,” as the tourist T-shirts say. To a certain extent that image was a myth, cherished especially by those at the top of the racial order. Colonial administrators liked to portray Arab hegemony as having found general acceptance among the wider population; indeed, many administrators themselves had been recruited from the locally-born Arab elite. Still, the myth was not without a kernel of truth. In some respects, colonial-era authors actually understated the nature of Zanzibari cosmopolitanism, portraying the islands as a classic “plural society” where members of separate ethnic “communities” met and interacted only in the marketplace and the political realm. In fact, Zanzibar’s long history of Islam and of absorptive political and performative cultures rendered the boundaries between racial/ethnic categories extremely ambiguous. Despite some significant exceptions, those categories hardly constituted discrete “communities.”
PDF icon Glassman2011.pdf412.89 KB