Swahili Girls in Zanzibar

Photographer unknown
Gelatin silver print
Zanzibar, c. 1900

Feminine beauty was viewed as both intensely personal and a commodity; for example, beautiful servants were highly sought after and enhanced their owners’ reputations as they moved through the city streets. Wives were sought for the hope of bringing beautiful children. Sailors working on the Indian Ocean for ten months of the year relayed tales of Zanzibar’s legendary beauties, whose images were captured in touristic photographs. Studios experimented with the formal qualities of their models, as seen in these photographs for the commercial market. Photographers framed young women’s faces and bodies with careful lighting, emphasizing their adornment, decorum, and elegance. The effect is at once inviting and distancing.


  • Title: Swahili Girls in Zanzibar
  • Date Created: 1900
  • Location: Zanzibar, Tanzania
  • Subject Keywords: African Colonial Photographs
  • Type: Photograph, Portrait
  • Publisher: Winterton Collection of East African Photographs, Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston
  • External Link: Original Record
  • Medium: Gelatin silver print

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