Bibi Salme

Bibi Salme daughter of Sultan Said bin Sultan and sister of Sultan Barghash. Changed her name to Emily Ruete after converting to Christianity and marrying a German

Omani princess Bibi Salme / Emily Ruete..

Omani princess Bibi Salme daughter of Sultan Said bin Sultan and sister of Sultan Barghash. Changed her name to Emily Ruete after converting to Christianity and marrying a the German Rudolph Ruete.

This photo was taken by R.P. Plate in Hamburg when she lived with her husband in Germany.

May 1886 The English paper the Times discusses Emily Ruete´s memoirs and refers to the photo of Emily in the book with  her Omani costume and jewelry as "the barbaric glory of her native costume" . 


Background to the life of Bibi Salme / Emily Ruete

 Bibi Salme the daughter of Sayyid Sai’id Ibn Sultan (Said bin Sultan)  ruler of Oman and Zanzibar. She was the sister of Sultan Bargash. Bibi fell in love with a German merchant (Friedrich Ruete) who lived in the house next door (see rooftop panorama photo of the old fort) , she became pregnant and escaped the palace and her country on a British ship and went via Aden to Germany, where she remained until her death. She converted to Christianity and married Friedrich and started a new life in Germany. She learned to speak German fluently. Got children. Her husband Friedrich died in a traffic accident and in 1886 she wrote her memoirs in German (translated into English 2 years later)

See the books section of our website for the earliest editions in German and English including a proof edition. Her memoirs provide a unique and realistic insight in Zanzibari / Arab / Omani life and culture in the 19th century. In the book she describes her family history, her childhood, her life in the Sultan's palace, the position of Women in Arabia, Arabian suitor-ship and marriage, the palaces, slavery, her escape from Zanzibar to marry the man she loved, the visit to London in 1875 to her brother the Zanzibari Sultan Sayyed Barghas discussing her inheritance. The book presents the reader with an intimate picture of life in Zanzibar between 1850 and 1865, and an inside portrait of her brothers Majid bin Said of Zanzibar and Barghash bin Said of Zanzibar, the later sultans of Zanzibar.

After the death of her husband Emily Ruete was caught up in the colonial plans of Otto von Bismarck. There were speculations that von Bismarck wanted to install the son of Emily Ruete as Sultan of Zanzibar. The book was republished several in recent years and in Germany a documentary film was made. . In 1992 a fascinating scientific publication on her life and works titled "An Arabian Princess Between Two Worlds" was published by Brill in Leiden. There is a permanent exhibition about Emily Ruete in the House of Wonders, the palace constructed by her brother, Sultan Barghash, in Stone Town on Zanzibar. There is a permanent display of goods belonging to her in the Omani National museum. The University of Leiden ( via the famous Arabist Prof Snouck Hurgronje) inherited the manuscripts, books photo's and watercolors that have belonged to the princess and her son Said Rudolph.

  1. Emily Ruete / Bibi Salme, Memoiren einer Arabischen Prinzessin, Berlin Friedrich Luckhardt 1886
  2. Emily Ruete / Bibi Salme Memoirs of an Arabian princess, Ward and Downey London 1888
  3. An Arabian Princess between two worlds by E. van Donzel published by Brill  Leiden 1993
  4. Jos Damen, Boekenwereld tijdschrift voor boek en prent, van Tilt 25e jaargang nr 3 (Maart 2009) page 231 "waarom een prinses uit Zanzibar trouwde met een Duitse koopman En Hoe haar bibliotheek in Leiden terechtkwam":