Diplomatic Gift in East Africa between the British Consulate in Zanzibar and a Chagga Chief, 19th C.

Delphine FROMENT, “Diplomatic Gift in East Africa at the End of the 19th Century: Modalities and Issues of Gif-Exchange between the British Consulate in Zanzibar and a Chagga Chief in 1883”, Mambo!, Vol. XVI, (3), 2019.

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Dated December 1883, a letter, which was found in the Zanzibar National Archives (ZNA), proves evidence of a gift-exchange between the British Consulate in Zanzibar and the Chagga chief Rindi of Moshi (also known as “Mandara” or “Mandala” by the
Europeans), in the region of Kilimanjaro. In this letter, the British vice-consul at Mombasa evoked the postponement of a despatch of gifts to Moshi, due to the rain and to road dangers. This despatch would be finally sent during the spring of 1884, according to some other letters found in the British records of the ZNA. (…)

This unheard anecdote enlightens the political relationships that could exist between a chiefdom of the interior of Africa and a European power in a pre-colonial context. In the 1880s, the British (and, to some extent, the Western world) was getting increasingly familiar with Mount Kilimanjaro and its area due to several expeditions that had been led since 1848; the area was also well known to the ivory and slave traders of the coast, since one of the caravan-roads leading to Lake Victoria and the interior of East Africa ran through what was called the “country of Chagga” on the southern side of the Kilimanjaro. (…)

The development of a new diplomatic relationship through this gift-exchange was important for both sides: why? Why initiating the move of giving, and why answering positively to this move by receiving the gift and reciprocating it? Elucidating the interests at stake behind this exchange can give insight into the geopolitical momentum of the East African history at the end of the 19th century.





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