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UNIT 21: Colonial Identities

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Colonial Zanzibar

This segment explores the way clothing was used in colonial Zanzibar as a means of marking status and class differences. Zanzibar, an island off the coast of East Africa, became a thriving port in the 1600s due to the influence of traders from Oman. By the nineteenth century, Zanzibar had become the main trading center for the Omani people in the Indian Ocean region. Although Omanis did not formally control Zanzibar in a political sense, they had a profound effect on the economy. In particular, Omanis were responsible for bringing large numbers of slaves from east Africa and Asia to the island.

East African cultural traditions had long emphasized the importance of clothing to signal class, status, and ethnicity, and under Omani influence this tradition persisted. In particular, free Zanzibaris wished to emphasize their differences from slaves. To display their free status, male and female Zanzibaris-most of whom were Muslim-covered themselves from head to foot. In contrast, slaves were only allowed to wear minimal clothing.

In 1897, seven years after Zanzibar became an official protectorate of Britain, slavery was abolished. Although the British did not make it easy for slaves to become free, once individuals did gain their freedom they often signaled their new status by choosing to cover themselves in once- forbidden ways. Women began wearing brightly colored garments called "kangas," which visually announced their freedom. Moreover, having numerous kangas became one way that freed peoples defined their new prosperity.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, IVORY MARKET AND BARGAIN, ZANZIBAR (c. 1900). Courtesy of Torrence Royer.

Anonymous, H. H. LYIDE KALIFFA BIN HARUB, SULTAN OF ZANZIBAR (c. 1900). Courtesy of Torrence Royer.


Anonymous, ZANZIBAR STREET AND SULTAN'S PALACE (n.d.). Courtesy of Torrence Royer.

Hot Pepper Studios, created for Bridging World History, SWAHILI COAST (2004) Courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.



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