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Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Matthew Ingleby and Matthew P. M. Kerr

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474435734

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474435734.001.0001

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Seats and Sites of Authority: British Colonial Collecting on the East African Coast

Seats and Sites of Authority: British Colonial Collecting on the East African Coast

(p.116) Chapter 6 Seats and Sites of Authority: British Colonial Collecting on the East African Coast
Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century

Sarah Longair

Edinburgh University Press

For over a thousand years, the Swahili culture of coastal East Africa had developed by synthesising myriad influences from the African continent, Arabia and across the Indian Ocean. By the mid-Victorian period Zanzibar was a key Indian Ocean commercial centre, and in 1890 was established as a British Protectorate. This chapter examines, through writings, collections of material culture and photographs, the British encounter with Zanzibar and the island’s cosmopolitan culture. British officers described themselves as going to ‘the East’ when departing for the island. The word itself epitomised mysterious otherness and exoticism, while its Arabian-Nights charm contrasted with the stereotypes about the African interior. Yet its skyline was criticised for lacking minarets and domes and being insufficiently Islamic. It was also described as unhealthy and dirty, making British intervention necessary to transform it into ‘an island paradise’. This chapter analyses how the British response to Zanzibar as a liminal space between Africa and the East shifted in this period of economic and political transformation on the coast.

Keywords:   Zanzibar, Collecting, British imperialism, Victorian history

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