Memoirs of an Arabian Princess

Princess-Salme-seated KopieMemoirs of an
Arabian Princess

Translated by
Lionel Strachey


New York
Doubleday, Page & Company




THE work of which a translation is here offered originally came out as “Memoiren einer arabischen Prinzessin.” Published by a Berlin firm in 1886, it was immediately followed by an English edition, which seems to have attracted little interest, both the German and the English versions soon falling into obscurity and going out of print. When these memoirs appeared, however, Germany’s colonial ambitions were newly fledged; the British East Africa Protectorate (which includes Zanzibar) was still forming; the French had only recently withdrawn from the joint control of Egypt and Lord Cromer’s sway was but just beginning; Zulu-land was an independent monarchy; the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were recognised as republics; Italian troops were yet to be severely defeated by Abyssinian blackamoors; nobody imagined that Great Britain must one day put forth all her strength to subdue fifty thousand Dutch peasants; a “Cape-to-Cairo” railway was unthought of. Briefly, to the world at large the Black Continent and its peoples then meant less than to-day.

In connection with these memoirs arises the question of their authenticity. Historical events – like Bargash’s long-continued dispute of his brother Majid’s succession – anyone might have got sufficient details about for the purposes of a free narrative. But this book contains intimate revelations betokening an extraordinary knowledge of Arab life in general and of Zanzibar royal harem life in particular. Was the alleged writer, then, actually a Sultan’s daughter who escaped from her country and went to live in Germany as the wife of a German merchant? So romantic a supposal seeming to require confirmation, the translator wrote to an English government official well-versed in matters pertaining to the African colonies. He received this reply, whose full import will only be appreciated after perusal of the memoirs:

“I have consulted a recognised authority – the best – who doesn’t want his name mentioned, but you can take the following as absolutely trustworthy:

“The lady certainly did exist. Her name was Salamah bint Saïd, and she took the name of Emily when she turned Christian. She was a daughter of Seyyid Saïd, Sultan of Muscat and Zanzibar, and therefore a sister of Majid, who succeeded to the throne of Zanzibar, and of Bargash, who followed. Ruete was a German trader, and she unfortunately became enceinte by him. She escaped from Zanzibar to Aden, where her child was born, and where she married Ruete, who had also found it expedient to leave Zanzibar.


“Ruete was killed in a tram accident, and she then took the title of princess, to which she had a right by birth; whether she forfeited it by marrying Ruete, I can’t say. She was taken up a good deal by high personages in Germany. Subsequently she appears to have done a good deal of intriguing with Germans – Bismarck and others – who thought they might make some use of her, but they eventually dropped her.

“She also carried on some correspondence with Sultan Bargash, but he didn’t fall in with her views, declining to recognise her as having any status at all; she used to show her letters to the British agent. As for her dealings with Frere, I can learn nothing, but I expect your information is substantially correct.”


NINE years ago I conceived the idea of writing down some facts for the information of my children, who at that time knew nothing about my origin except that I was Arabian and had come from Zanzibar. Exhausted in body and in mind, I did not then expect to live until they were grown up, did not think I should ever relate to them verbally the happenings of my youth and the course of my fate. Hence I determined to record my story on paper. My memoirs were not at first intended for the general public, but for my children, to whom I wished to bequeath them as a heritage of faithful motherly love. Finally, however, upon urgent persuasion, I consented to have them published.

I finished these pages some years ago, and only the last chapter forms a recent addition, made because of a voyage I undertook to my old home, Zanzibar, with my children. May my book go out into to the world, and may it meet with as many friends as was my happy lot to find.

Berlin, May, 1886. EMILY RUETE,
née Princess of Oman and Zanzibar