‘Yaller man’ Rhodes’ meeting with the Sultan of Türkiye did not go well

Halim Gençoğlu

Halim Gençoğlu

Published Apr 19, 2024


"You know, I nearly missed it; I was kept waiting for so long. Why, what do you think? There was a yaller man who was taken in before me. A yaller man, you know, in my country, cleans my boots. I very nearly gave it up and came away.”

So said Cecil John Rhodes after meeting with the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid in 1894. In fact, the “Yaller Man” Rhodes arrogantly referred to was the Malay Prince, the Maharajah of Johore.

As the leader of the Muslim world, Abdulhamid helped the Malay Prince and refused to sell Angora goats to a British colonialist in Africa.

English commander Henry Woods (1843-1929), who served 47 years under the ensigns of Great Britain and Türkiye, was the translator of the meeting for both sides and noted in his memoirs: “I am afraid Rhodes was not a man who possessed much reverence for his rank.”

Indeed, unfortunately, due to Rhodes’ colonial policy, the children of Turkish Professor Abubakr Effendi, who died in Cape Town in 1880, were classified in South Africa as Malay because of their religious identity.

When Rhodes was talking in a racist manner about “yaller men”, Sultan Abdulhamid was paying the salaries at three Ottoman Arabic schools in South Africa to educate Malay Muslims at the tip of the continent.

So, Sultan Abdulhamid knew this situation and didn’t show any sympathy to Rhodes regarding Angora goats.

Angora goats are renowned for their luxurious fleece, known as mohair.

Originating from the Ankara region in Türkiye, these goats are valued for their long, silky fibres. Mohair is prized in the textile industry for its sheen, softness, and ability to take dyes vividly. Angora goats are adaptable, thrive in various climates, and have been bred in different parts of the world. In the vast landscapes of Africa, a breed of goats stands out not only for its adaptability but also for the exquisite fibre it produces.

In fact, Angora goats were introduced to Africa in the mid-19th century, and since then, their presence has flourished across the continent.

South Africa, in particular, has emerged as a key player in Angora goat farming, with its favourable climate and extensive grazing lands providing an ideal environment for these adaptable creatures.

Rhodes’s economic projects, particularly in mining, contributed to the growth of the British Empire’s wealth and power, but also led to the exploitation of African labour.

Meanwhile, Sultan Abdulhamid recognised the threat posed by European colonial powers to the sovereignty and integrity of African nations.

He viewed the Ottoman State as a leader of the Muslim world and felt a sense of solidarity with fellow Muslims facing colonisation. Sultan’s negative response to Rhodes about Angora goats was retaliation for African nations and bolstered their resistance against European imperialism.

Therefore, the meeting didn’t go well because, while Rhodes was building a railway from Cape to Cairo to colonise the continent, Sultan Abdulhamid was building Hejaz Railway from Mecca to Jerusalem via Damascus to protect the region from Western attacks.

* Halim Gençoğlu.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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