Seyyid Said's Love Letter To Queen Of Madagascar
By Daniel Karanja
New Bedford, MA
We left off last time (see history archives) at the end of Capt. Owen’s protectorate at Mombasa. Seyyid Said was gratified at that outcome and at once set out to recapture Mombasa and bring it under his control. What he could not foresee was the 10 years it would take him and the humiliation he had to endure from the people of Mombasa.
The reason was that apart from all the positive attributions usually given to him by historians, Seyyid Said was a poor military strategist and had a lot of trouble putting together an army and actually carrying out an attack even after the army finally arrived at Mombasa. It was in the cause of finding a military solution to the problem of Mombasa that an interesting incident took place with him and the Queen of Madagascar as the main characters.
After the British departed, Seyyid Said arrived in Mombasa in 1828 and after some fighting and crafty dealings (where he was in his element), he managed to leave Mombasa under his control and a garrison of his soldiers inside fort Jesus. But this arrangement did not last and before long, both the garrison and his liwali were kicked out. In addition to this insult, the rulers of Mombasa were in the habit of meddling in the affairs of Pate and Lamu (the latter being loyal to Oman).
Near the end of 1829, Seyyid Said was back again at Mombasa to expel the Mazrui and also teach the people there a lesson not to interfere in his kingdom. It was in the middle of this effort that he realized his lack of manpower and to remedy this deficit set his eyes on a British trained cadre of soldiers in Madagascar.
Ranavolana I (the current queen of Madagascar) had inherited a cadre of soldiers well trained by a British officer. These soldiers are what Seyyid Said had in mind for use against Mombasa. To get a loan of these soldiers, he wrote a letter to her and in it offered to marry her (she had been widowed in the previous year).
The letter was presented to the queen and after the advice of her ministers was sought, a reply was written in English presumably by one of the missionaries on the island. This letter reached Seyyid Said at Lamu while on his way to Mombasa.
Since neither he nor any of his close aides could read English, it was handed over to the captain of an auspiciously nearby British naval vessel that was then engaged in anti-slavery patrols. The captain of that vessel therefore got the honor of reading and translating the reply to Seyyid Said’s love letter.
This captain would later relate the event to Captain Hart of the H.M.S. Imogene and it was the latter who in turn related the event for posterity. In this letter from Madagascar, the queen said the laws for her country forbade her to be married so that option was out but he could have the hand of a young princess should he desire. Regarding the soldiers, the letter went on to say that he could have any number he wanted. For an unknown reason, nothing came of this offer of soldiers or that of the young princess.
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