Sorting out the tribes: The creation of racial identities in Colonial Zanzibar's newspaper wars

J. Glassman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Instrumentalist interpretations have done much to historicize our understanding of the rise of racial politics in colonial Zanzibar, especially the role of the state in encouraging such politics. But often left unexamined are the precise debates and discussions by which Zanzibari intellectuals crafted locally compelling concepts of racial nationalism. These debates occurred in two phases. The first involved promotion of the idea of exclusionary ethnic nationalism. This was accomplished largely by elite literati, affiliated with the Arab Association and Zanzibar National Party, who imagined a national community defined by class-bound criteria of arabocentric 'civilization'. The implied foil of this vision were 'barbarians' from the African mainland. In the second phase, poorly educated propagandists affiliated with the African Association countered with their own vision of exclusionary ethnic nationalism, one that imagined the nation in explicitly racial terms. Most of the article focuses on the second of these phases, examining debates from the popular newspapers of the 1950s in which Zanzibari intellectuals argued against flexible notions of identity and instead promoted new paradigms that defined ethnicity in fixed racial terms. The article demonstrates that these new ideas were not simply absorbed from colonial discourse, nor were they the exclusive preserve of any one political camp. Rather, they arose from a common circuit of discourse, in which elite literati, popular journalists and their readers all informed one another. The article closes by examining debates over slavery, intermarriage and 'blood purity' that may have served to justify sexual assault as a tool of racial levelling. Thus the racial pogroms of the early 1960s are shown to have had a significant prehistory in the discourse of the nationalist press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-428
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of African History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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