Emily Ruete – A Princess caught between two worlds (Part two)




emily ruete
(public domain)

Read part one here.

Emily spent many happy hours in the countryside, but she longed to see the sea and set about leasing a plantation by the sea called Bububu. She took many of her animals with her and was often visited by family there. However, her joy did not last long as Madjid requested Bububu from her for the new British Consul. She decided not to anger Madjid and gave it up for him. She moved back to the city, where she was given her own seat. While there, she met a young German man, who lived in Zanzibar as a representative of a Hamburg mercantile firm. Heinrich Ruete was her neighbour in town, and she was able to see into the room where he held dinner parties. Their friendship soon turned to love, and it was well-known in the town. It appeared that even Madjid learned of it. Emily wanted to marry him, which would be impossible in Zanzibar, and so they would have to leave in secret. A first attempt failed miserably, but during a second attempt, Emily was taken on board the British frigate HMS Highflyer to the British colony of Aden. She was by then obviously pregnant, making the flight necessary. Heinrich stayed behind to wrap up his affairs in Zanzibar and while in Aden, Emily was instructed in Christianity and baptised with the name Emily. Her brother Madjid demanded her return to Zanzibar, but Emily refused. In Aden, Emily gave birth to the couple’s first son, though he appears to have died young.

Heinrich finally joined her Aden nine months after her flight, and they were promptly married on 30 May 1867. They immediately travelled to Hamburg via Marseilles. In Hamburg, Emily gave birth to three children in quick succession: Antonia Thawke (1868), Rudolph Said (1869) and Rosalie Ghuza (1870). Emily had learned to speak some German but found it difficult to communicate, and she found life in Europe to be unbearable. She believed herself to be morally corrupt for converting to Christianity and stressed in letters that she remained a Muslim. She avoided eating pork and dreaded attending church.1

Her marriage to Heinrich was destined to be short. He was killed in 1870 in a tram accident. He had fallen while jumping from the tram car and was run over. He died after three days of suffering. Emily was left with three young children; her youngest was just three months old. She contemplated returning to Zanzibar, but Madjid would also die that year, and his successor was the rebellious Barghash who declared her legally dead, thus denying Emily her father’s inheritance. It had been Heinrich’s wish that his children were raised as Europeans and she set out to honour his wish, though it pained her deeply. She also faced financial difficulties without him and soon relocated to Dresden, then to Rudolstadt, Berlin and Cologne. In Berlin, she gave lessons in Arabic and Swahili.

It would not be until 1885 that Emily returned to Zanzibar to claim her inheritance and see her siblings. She took all three of her children with her. She wrote, “I had left my native home an Arab and a true Mahometan; I returned an undeserving Christian and half a German.”2 Barghash was still in power as the Sultan and he refused to acknowledge her and forbade the family to see her. She later described returning to Zanzibar as if it was a dream. She did not stay in town and spent the nights on board a German ship. She was never granted an audience by her brother and was forced to return to Germany empty-handed.3

When Emily made a second attempt to recover her inheritance in 1888, her younger brother Khalifah was the Sultan, but by then she had lost the support of the German consul, and so Khalifah dismissed her claims. Emily felt betrayed by Germany and refused to return, and she sailed for Jaffa, which had a large German community. After four years in Jaffa, she and her two daughters settled in Beirut. Her son took up a position at the German consulate in Beirut. She felt at ease in Jaffa, as she could speak Arabic but still live like a European lady. In 1914, Emily returned to Germany and lived with her daughter Rosalie in Jena. She died in 1924 of pneumonia and was buried in the cemetery of Ohlsdorf in Hamburg.4

  1. From Zanzibar to Beirut: Sayyida Salme bint Said and the Tensions of Cosmopolitanism by Jeremy Prestholdt p.214-215
  2. Memoirs of an Arabian princess by Emily Ruete p.289
  3. From Zanzibar to Beirut: Sayyida Salme bint Said and the Tensions of Cosmopolitanism by Jeremy Prestholdt p.216
  4. Sayyida Salma (Emily Ruete) and Rudolph Said Ruete Archive






About Moniek Bloks 2084 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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