A Woman to Know: Sayyida Salme

The story of her life is as instructive as history and as fascinating as fiction. — Oscar Wilde

(image via Wikimedia)


Salme was born a Zanzibari princess, the daughter of a sultan. But following political turbulence in her teenage years — forced to pick between her brothers and declare allegiance in a battle for the throne — she became isolated from her royal family.

In 1866, she fell in love with a German immigrant next door, Rudolph Ruete, and began seeing him in secret. When her family discovered she was pregnant with Rudolph's child, Salme escaped to Yemen, where she changed her name to Emily Ruete. But her new baby passed away after only a few months, and Rudolph died two years later.

Alone in a foreign country, running low on funds, Salme turned her story into income. She published a memoir of her years in Zanzibar. "Memoirs of an Arabian Princess," with its stories of palace life and the behind-the-scenes details of royal politics, was an instant smash.

Oscar Wilde reviewed her memoir for "Woman's World," writing that it ...

... throws a great deal of light on the position of women in the East, and shows that much of what has been written on this subject is quite inaccurate. No one who is interested in the social position of women in the East should fail to read these pleasantly-written memoirs.

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