Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: Roots of British Domination

Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: Roots of British Domination

Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: Roots of British Domination

Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: Roots of British Domination

Synopsis

M. Reda Bhacker looks at the role of Oman in the Indian Ocean prior to British domination of the region. Omani merchant communities played a crucial part in the development of commercial activity throughout the territories they held in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially between Muscat and Zanzibar, using long established trade networks. They were also largely responsible for the integration of the commerce of the Indian Ocean into the nascent global capitalist system. The author, himself a member of an important Omani merchant family, looks in detail at the complex relationship between the merchant community and Oman's rulers, first the Ya'ariba and then the Albusaidis. He analyses the tribal and religious dynamics of Omani politics both in Arabia, where he looks especially at the Wahhabi/Saudi threat, and in Oman's sprawling `empire', with particular reference to Zanzibar where the Omani ruler Sa'id b Sultan had his court from 1840. His aim is to consider all Oman's overseas territories as a single entity, without the usual misleading compartmentalisation of African and Arab history. Dr Bhacker finds that despite their prestige and influence in the region neither the merchant communities nor the government were able to respond to Britain's determined onslaught. Bhacker traces the local and regional factors that allowed Britain to destroy Oman's largely commercial challenge and to emerge by the end of the nineteenth century as the commercially and politically dominant power in the region.

Excerpt

One of the main objects of this book is to examine how and why the Omani international port of Muscat, which during the eighteenth century had dominated the commercial activity of the western Indian Ocean region, reverted to a forgotten backwater by the middle of the twentieth. in doing so, two interrelated topics are considered: the role of Muscati rulers and of various mercantile communities in Oman’s commercial expansion at Zanzibar during the nineteenth century; and the factors that led to the initial rise of the Albusaidis in East Africa followed by the causes of their decline as a result of the interplay of internal Omani politics and external pressures.

The extent to which British policy was responsible for turning the once powerful rulers of Oman into proxies dependent on Britain by the last decades of the nineteenth century is analysed. This is reviewed against the backdrop of internal Omani politics and regional factors, the most important of which was the Wahhabi/Saudi threat not only to Oman but to all tribal principalities of the Arabian Peninsula. the book also accounts for the fortunes of the Ya’ariba (the ruling Dynasty in Oman before the Albusaid) in Albusaidi times, a topic hitherto sorely neglected by most modern Western writers and Arab historians.

The loss of influence by Omani rulers by the end of the nineteenth century has been conventionally interpreted as coinciding with the decline of commercial activities at Muscat. This study adduces contrary evidence to show that these activities continued throughout the nineteenth century in Muscat and, initially, were crucial in providing the impetus for the phenomenal commercial expansion at Zanzibar. Even before the British-sponsored dismemberment of the ‘Omani State’ in 1861, it was Muscati rulers who had lost any influence that they may previously have held in the regional Indian Ocean trade. That influence had, in any event, derived from their intimate links with members of mercantile communities from India who had been long-time residents

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.