Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mahatma Gandhi’s Visit to a “Negro” Brothel in Zanzibar

Gandhi spent several days in Zanzibar in 1912. Much has been said about his meetings with various people in the Zanzibar, including members of the Asian community in the island. There is even a famous picture of him in Zanzibar. Much less has been said about his encounter with an African woman at a brothel. Gandhi visited Zanzibar in 1912 while on his way to South Africa. Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that the Captain of the ship liked him very much. The captain invited Gandhi and an English friend to accompany him to the city while the ship docked at the harbor. The three men went to a “Negro women’s quarters.” Gandhi was shown into a room where an African woman was waiting. Gandhi wrote years later that “I simply stood there dumb with shame. Heaven only knows what the poor woman must have thought of me.” Gandhi was eventually called by the Captain to leave the quarters. He felt ashamed. He went on to say: “I thanked God that the sight of the woman had not moved me in the least. I was disgusted at my weakness and pitied myself for not having had the courage to refuse to go into the room.” This, according to Gandhi, was the third trial of its kind for him. 
And so there it was: Gandhi being tempted by an African woman when he first landed in East Africa.

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