Zanzibar stands at the center of the Indian Ocean system’s involvement in the history of Eastern Africa. This book follows on from the period covered in Abdul Sheriff’s acclaimed Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar.
The first part of the book shows the transition of Zanzibar from the commercial economy of the nineteenth century to the colonial economy of the twentieth century.
The authors begin with the abolition of the slave trade in 1873 that started the process of transformation. They show the transition from slavery to colonial “free” labor, the creation of the capitalist economy, and the resulting social contradictions. They take the history up to formal independence in 1963 with a postscript on the 1964 insurrection.
In the second part the authors analyze social classes. The landlords and the merchants were dominant in the commercial empire of the nineteenth century and had difficulties in adjusting to the colonial condition. At the same time the development of capitalist farmers and a fully proletarianized working class was hindered.
The conservative administration could not resolve the contradictions of colonial capitalism, and the formation of a united nationalist movement was hampered. This period culminated in the insurrection of 1964, but the revolution could not be consummated without mature revolutionary classes.
Abdul Sheriff is a professor of history at the University of Dar es Salaam and the author of The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town and coeditor of Zanzibar under Colonial Rule. He is also the principal curator of Zanzibar Museums.
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The first decades of the twentieth century were years of dramatic change in Zanzibar, a time when the social, economic, and political lives of island residents were in incredible flux, framed by the abolition of slavery, the introduction of colonialism, and a tide of urban migration.
Conventional history assumes that the rise of the steamship trade killed off the Indian Ocean dhow trade in the twentieth century. Erik Gilbert argues that the dhow economy played a major role in shaping the economic and social life of colonial Zanzibar. Dhows, and the regional trade they fostered, allowed a class of indigenous entrepreneurs to thrive in Zanzibar.
The rise of Zanzibar was based on two major economic transformations. Firstly slaves became used for producing cloves and grains for export. Previously the slaves themselves were exported. Secondly, there was an increased international demand for luxuries such as ivory. At the same time the price of imported manufactured gods was falling. Zanzibar took advantage of its strategic position to trade as far as the Great Lakes.