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Social and Intercultural Relations in Nineteenth-Century Zanzibar: Dressed Identity

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image of African and Asian Studies
For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.

Starting from the nineteenth century descriptive literatures on Zanzibar by authors such as Sir Richard Burton and Charles Guillain, and Salima bint Said-Ruete's autobiography, we can draw a rather detailed picture of the relationship between the different social layers, cultures and genders on Zanzibar. Describing and differentiating the complexity of Zanzibar society in the nineteenth century is the main aim of this paper. The focus is on clothing in order to sketch the social organization of the society and to highlight the cultural relations between the different groups in Zanzibar. The evidence obtained from the description of clothing is used as an eye-opener for the Zanzibar society and this evidence is supported by nineteenth century literature and photography on Zanzibar.

Affiliations: 1: Catholic University of Leuven, Tervuursestraat 67/1, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium; ; ,, Email:


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