Oman, Zanzibar, and the Politics of Becoming Arab


ACLS Fellowship Program




Through a historical study of Omani and British colonialism in East Africa (Zanzibar) and an ethnographic account of its legacies, this project questions what it means to be “Arab.” Drawing on archival sources and ethnographic fieldwork, it interrogates the ways in which the boundaries of “Arab” and “African” were drawn and re-drawn, challenged and fixed in the course of the twentieth century. The project focuses on the social lives of Omani traders, laborers, and farmers who migrated to Zanzibar in the first half of the twentieth century and examines their shifting practices of marriage, concubinage, and divorce and the debates about them in Zanzibar, Great Britian, and Oman. It is impossible to understand the complexities of Arab identity without looking beyond the boundaries of the Middle East to the Arab world’s own colonial histories.