Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar — 1987

Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770–1873

By Abdul Sheriff

“This long-awaited study by Abdul Sheriff adds significant richness in both its wealth of detail and meticulous analysis to our understanding of the rise of Omani Zanzibar and its changing place in the world economy. His prodigious archival research combines with his critical approach to Marxist theory to produce a convincing and stimulating interpretation of this critically important state during a major period of transition in the history of Eastern Africa.”

Professor Edward A. Alpers of the University of California, Los Angeles

The rise of Zanzibar was based on two major economic transformations. Firstly slaves became used for producing cloves and grains for export. Previously the slaves themselves were exported.

Secondly, there was an increased international demand for luxuries such as ivory. At the same time the price of imported manufactured gods was falling. Zanzibar took advantage of its strategic position to trade as far as the Great Lakes.

However this very economic success increasingly subordinated Zanzibar to Britain, with its anti-slavery crusade and its control over the Indian merchant class.

Professor Sheriff analyses the early stages of the underdevelopment of East Africa and provides a corrective to the dominance of political and diplomatic factors in the history of the area.


Abdul Sheriff is a professor of history at the University of Dar es Salaam and the author of The History and Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town and coeditor of Zanzibar under Colonial Rule. He is also the principal curator of Zanzibar Museums.

Cover of 'Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar'

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