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War of Words, War of Stones

Racial Thought and Violence in Colonial Zanzibar

Jonathon Glassman

Publication Year: 2011

The Swahili coast of Africa is often described as a paragon of transnational culture and racial fluidity. Yet, during a brief period in the 1960s, Zanzibar became deeply divided along racial lines as intellectuals and activists, engaged in bitter debates about their nation's future, ignited a deadly conflict that spread across the island. War of Words, War of Stones explores how violently enforced racial boundaries arose from Zanzibar's entangled history. Jonathon Glassman challenges explanations that assume racial thinking in the colonial world reflected only Western ideas. He shows how Africans crafted competing ways of categorizing race from local tradition and engagement with the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

This book tells a story in which Africans' efforts to imagine a postcolonial political community resulted in racial violence and dehumanizing racial thought. Although the drama has a colonial setting and British rulers and educators play important supporting roles, its main protagonists are Africans, none of whom subscribed to the ideology of white supremacy. Thus it provides an opportunity ...

Note on Usage

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pp. xiii

Part 1. Introduction

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1 Rethinking Race in the Colonial World

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pp. 3-22

The Sultanate of Zanzibar, a pair of islands twenty miles off the coast of East Africa, has captured the attention of the Western world at two moments in the modern era, both times as an emblem of the battle between civilization and barbarism. The first was in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, when David Livingstone and other ideologues of missionary Christianity made it fa-...

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2 The Creation of a Racial State

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pp. 23-64

Nothing in the preceding pages was meant to minimize the significance of structural factors or the literature that focuses on them. On the contrary, the instrumentalist literature has been central to demolishing the fallacy that ethnic identities are primal and inborn. In the present case, several scholars have demonstrated how processes related to the construction of institutions of eco-...

Part 2. War of Words

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3 A Secular Intelligentsia and the Origins of Exclusionary Ethnic Nationalism

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pp. 75-104

The above passages appeared in Mazungumzo ya Walimu (Teachers’ Conversations), a magazine written and edited by schoolteachers employed by the colonial Department of Education, most of whom were recruited from Zanzibar’s elite Arab families. While both quotes are unusual for having been written in English rather than Swahili and by Westerners rather than Zanzibaris, they nevertheless reflect the schoolteachers’ overall faith in the power of education to advance the goals of nation-building and moral improvement. But they are also significant in other ways.

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4 Subaltern Intellectuals and the Rise of Racial Nationalism

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pp. 105-146

The uses the subalterns made of the intelligentsia’s high-minded teachings were not what the latter expected. So long as nation-building was understood as an act of uplift, the intelligentsia, as exemplars of all that was most enlightened and civilized, could expect to remain in control of the process. Like nationalists everywhere, they also understood nation-building as an exercise in uncovering histories and other truths previously hidden, a task...

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5 Politics and Civil Society during the Newspaper Wars

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pp. 147-176

In February 1961, Mwongozi published a poem warning that the overall state of political discourse was bringing the country to ruin. Like most poetry in the Zanzibar newspapers, this was submitted by a reader, S. M. Khamis of Pemba. Unusually for a comment on politics, however, it was nonpartisan. The poet focused on the spread of matusi—a powerful word combining the concepts of insult, curses, abusive language, defamation, and dishonor—writing that such behavior is self-destructive, and, like all enmity among neighbors, contrary to God’s will.

Part 3. War of Stones

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6 Rumor, Race, and Crime

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pp. 179-229

In April 1962, concerned over the continuing threats of political violence that had been simmering since the election riots of June 1961, a small group of officials met “to consider measures to counteract rumours.” Acting in accord with empire-wide principles promulgated since the war, they agreed that the best way to control rumors was to keep the public well informed—especially about “such criminal activity as might give rise to rumour.”

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7 Violence as Racial Discourse

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pp. 230-263

How had the ideologically driven historical debates discussed in earlier chapters come to constitute inherited guilt that, in the minds of some, justified spilling even the blood of otherwise “innocent women and children” in expiation? How had attitudes toward neighbors that had once been as lightly regarded as folktales taken on such deadly seriousness? By examining the tensions of the sultanate’s final thirty months, the next two chapters...

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8 “June” as Chosen Trauma

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pp. 264-281

By the time the sultanate celebrated its newly won independence in December 1963, countless Zanzibaris on both sides of the political divide had come to harbor “memories” of violent racial victimization that seemed to confirm the worst of what was being said by the ideologues of ethnic nationalism. Two mechanisms produced this effect. One was the experience of mob violence, chiefly the pogroms of June 1961 but also the countless smaller incidents that punctuated the closing years of the Time of Politics.

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Conclusion and Epilogue: Remaking Race

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pp. 282-302

The coup d’etat of January 1964 was immediately followed by a “terror,” as Anthony Clayton has described it, that dwarfed the pogroms of June 1961. Urged on by Okello’s radio broadcasts (for all his mental instability, he had the shrewdness to seize the radio station in the first hours of the coup), revolutionaries hunted down Arab families. Probably thousands were slaughtered, although precise numbers are unknown.


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pp. 303-304


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pp. 305-380

List of References

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pp. 381-390


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pp. 391-398

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005045
E-ISBN-10: 0253005043
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355850

Page Count: 414
Illustrations: 15 b&w illus., 5 maps
Publication Year: 2011