Born in 1844 to a Circassian woman in the harem of Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman, Sayyida Salme got involved in palace politics and succession wars at the age of 15. Later, while she was living in Zanzibar Town, she met Heinrich Ruete, a German colonist who was her neighbour. There are different versions of the story of her move to Germany in 1866. The most popular version is that she became pregnant by Ruete and eloped with him. Said el-Gheithy, director of Princess Salme Institute that organized the 2001 exhibition
Princess Salme – Behind the Veil
The Life and Writings of Sayyida Salme, Writer and Teacher (1844 – 1924)
argues against that version. He writes:
No doubt, her pregnancy sent shock waves through her clan and threatened the position of the European traders, reliant on the goodwill of the Sultan. Yet following extensive research, and through a knowledge of her personality from at least one person who knew her, it seems Salme was a very organized and stable individual, with a strength of personality which made her adverse to irrational movements. We must not overlook or underestimate her ability to choose rationally from the options available. The concept of an “elopement” represents her as somewhat flighty. Rather, the move to Germany should be understood as a planned emigration and her departure could be described, to us a Swahili phrase, as “leaving without saying goodbye.” [Quoted in Chris McIntyre, Zanzibar.]
I’ll return to biographical notes on Sayyida Salme later. There is one more book I need to pick up (which I couldn’t find last time I was in the library) that seems to offer a better researched and more critical biography of her in addition to a more extensive collection of her writing. For this post, I’m going to list the sources I’ve found and am consulting.
Two online version of the English translation of her memoirs.
Ruete, Emily. Memoirs of an Arabian Princess: An Autobiography. Translated from German by unknown translator. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888.
This is the first English translation, available at Archive.Org https://archive.org/stream/memoirsanarabia00ruetgoog/memoirsanarabia00ruetgoog_djvu.txt
I have a print version of this one, original 1888 publication, in my hands which I’m using to supplement the online version which is missing several pages.
Memoirs of an Arabian Princess
by Emily Ruete (Salamah bint Saïd; Sayyida Salme, Princess of Zanzibar and Oman) (1844-1924)
Translated by Lionel Strachey. New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1907.
The second translation available at at UPenn’s Digital Library: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ruete/arabian/arabian.html#XI
Neither of these translations are good, and they differ in terms of content (some chunks are missing from the second translation) and language. The 1888 translation has a stronger and more accessible voice so I am using that as the basis. But I compare the two versions as I go.
The book I’m yet to find is:
An Arabian princess between two worlds: memoirs, letters home, sequels to the memoirs : Syrian customs and usages
by Sayyida Salme/Emily Ruete; edited with an introduction by E. van Donzel.
Leiden ; New York : E.J. Brill, 1993.
Partially accessible on Google books
There is also a chapter in:
Khair, Tabish, Justin Edwards, Martin Leer and Hanna Ziadeh, ed. Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing. Oxford: Indiana University Press, 2006.
This includes a new translation by the editors of select passages. Although I’m sure this translation is much better and faithful to the original in meaning, it only includes a few short passages, non of them useful for my purpose. I’m baffled at their choices in fact for they focus on passages where she writes about the East rather than those where she turns her critical gaze at the West.