Revisiting Shaykh Shakhbut's Legacy: A Lexicon of Difficult Shaykhs

By Kristi N. Barnwell, Jane Bristol-Rhys,
Submitted to Session P4463 (Challenging 19th Century Gulf Historical Narratives, 2016 Annual Meeting
Arabian Peninsula; Gulf; UAE;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Successive generations of British officials documented their dealings with the rulers of the Trucial States from 1820 until Britain departed in 1971. The extensive minutes, memos, telegrams, letters, and journals that are a by-product of Britain’s long presence in the Gulf make it clear that relationships between British officials and Gulf rulers ranged from cordial to contentious, depending on the personalities and interests involved. In the case of those contentious relationships, the documents represent the development of a British lexicon to describe rulers who British officials viewed as especially irksome. Words such as 'troublesome' and 'traditional,' and phrases like 'less enlightened' and 'clinging to the ancient ways' are repeated frequently and ascribed to multiple rulers. This lexicon was used and re-produced by historians and journalists who, it appears, considered such pejorative terms to be a bona fide part of the historical record.

This paper combines historical examination of British records in the 20th century, and patterns of representation of rulers deemed ‘difficult’ in subsequent historical and cultural narratives. This work will: examine patterns of negative characterizations of Trucial Rulers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; apply this analysis to descriptions of Sheikh Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi (r. 1928-1966) in documentation from his rule; and consider the ways in which his legacy was erased in post-independence UAE narratives.