Dhows of the Indian Ocean: Disputes over Zanzibar and Muscat


Les boutriers de la Mer des Indes, affaires de Zanzibar et Mascate (The dhows of the Indian Ocean: Disputes over Zanzibar and Muscat) is a diplomatic history of the confrontation in the 19th century between France and Britain involving these territories. Britain’s goal was to preserve maritime security in the Indian Ocean, while France was attempting to retain its few trading outposts and its diplomatic influence in Muscat, Zanzibar, and on the East African coast. The author, Charles Brunet, takes the view that the French position was doomed because of the “pusillanimity and folly” of the French government in the face of British bullying. Brunet was a man of letters and political figure in the French overseas province of Réunion. This work is his doctoral dissertation. Brunet begins with an historical introduction and romantic depiction of the traditional commerce of the two-masted dhows and a discussion of the expertise of their Omani shipmasters. He then proceeds to the heart of his research, which traces in minute detail using the body of available texts the progress of British territorial acquisition at the expense of the French and their Omani and African allies. French authorities in the region attempted to hold the line against the expansion of British influence through a series of measures regulating the dhow trade. The British challenged these acts, using the curbing of slavery as the pretext for extending their control of the seas. The author argues that a judgement at the Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 1905 went largely against the French because warnings by French officials in the region went unheeded and as a consequence of the lack of knowledge and often stupidity shown by French ministers, the ignorance of the negotiators, the silence of the press, and the indifference of the French parliament. Brunet concludes that “under these conditions the result of Anglo-French rivalry was never in doubt.”

Last updated: December 29, 2015