Memoirs of an Arabian Princess: An Autobiography


Emilie Ruete (1844–1924), also known as Princess Sayyida Salme of Zanzibar and Oman, was born in Zanzibar (part of present-day Tanzania), the daughter of Saʻīd bin Sulṭān, sultan of Zanzibar and Oman. In 1867 she married a German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete (1839–70). The couple settled in Hamburg. Memoirs of an Arabian Princess is an account of Ruete’s royal youth in Zanzibar and Oman. First published in German in 1886, the book describes the culture and society of Zanzibar as experienced by an Arab girl growing to adulthood. Chapters are devoted to daily life, meals, education, matchmaking, festivals, and other topics, as well as to portrayals of her parents and her brothers and sisters. Ruete became a Christian and lived for many years in Germany, but she writes sympathetically about many aspects of Arab culture, which she believed was not well understood in the West. In the chapter “Woman’s Position in the East,” for example, she seeks to dispel what she saw as false European views about the status of Arab women. To demonstrate that Arab women were not powerless, she tells a story from Oman about her great-aunt, who ruled the state as a regent and was an effective military commander. Ruete was also generally sympathetic to slavery in Zanzibar, which she argued was less barbaric than portrayed by Europeans who advocated for abolition.

Last updated: July 8, 2014