See also Attitudes to Slavery: Texts and Sources
ISLAM AND SLAVERY
- John Hunwick puts the Islamic practice of slavery into a broader context.
- H-Net Discussion List on History and Study of West Africa [H-WEST-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU]
From: John Hunwick http://pubweb.nwu.edu/~jhunwick/
Date: 18 November 1999
Long before Europeans were bartering for their human commodity on the coasts, Muslim traders from North Africa and Egypt were purchasing slaves in Ancient Ghana, Songhay, Kanem-Bornu, and from Ethiopia. Later also in Waday, Dar Fur, Sinnar and from Mogadishu down to Zanzibar. They obtained these slaves from African rulers and merchants who had acquired them by war and by slave-raiding pure and simple. The great Timbuktu scholar Ahmad Baba wrote a learned treatise in 1613 on the subject, in which he identified which African populations were, to his knowledge, non-Muslim and thus potentially enslaveable, and which were Muslim and were not. Many persons thus enslaved were absorbed locally within Africa, while others were transported across the Sahara, up the river Nile, over the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean to lands as distant as Spain, Turkey, Arabia and India. Over time, from the 9th century when this draining of slaves into the Mediterranean Basin and West/South Asia began, to the early years of the 20th century when it came to an end, scholars have calculated that as many Africans passed into slavery by these processes as crossed the Atlantic.
Whilst there are big differences between the practice of slavery in the
Muslim Mediterranean world and in the Christian New World, the processes of
uprooting human beings, selling them and transporting them as slaves are
very similar (e.g. the Saharan Middle Passage was scarcely less cruel and
life-threatening than the trans-Atlantic one). As my Sudanese colleague and
friend Professor Yusuf Fadl Hasan once said, referring to this: 'Slavery is
slavery and cannot be beautified by cosmetics'.
I am pointing this out not to diminish in any way the horrors of
the Atlantic Middle Passage, the brutality of the ways in which Africans
were treated in slavery in much of the New World (though historians will
always search out anomalies, contradictions and exceptions), and the
appalling suffering that racism has caused and, in various less physically
obvious ways, still does cause in much of the European-settled lands of the
western hemisphere. Rather, I am doing so because I would like to see
slavery viewed from the perspective of the Africans who were victims of it,
whether internally, northwards, eastwards, or westwards. Rather than
seeking to apportion blame (though yes, European capitalism and racism did
produce much more suffering than its competitors), we should be examining
the economics and social dynamics of the African societies that practised
slavery and sold slaves in order to understand this phenomenon.
We should not necessarily be surprised that 'brother sold brother'.
Human nature is prone to do such things, and Africans are fully 'human'
beings (neither angelic nor devilish). 'Race' (however we define it) does
not determine everything, except in racist eyes. Europeans have sold
Europeans into slavery (e.g. the medieval Slav(e)s), and have committed
genocide among themselves; Africans have done the same (and in North Africa
enslaved Europeans too). In neither case did they see their victims as
'brothers'. In fact they saw them as inferior, or sub-human, 'others'; this
was always the rationale either for mass slaughter or for enslavement. This
may not be 'racism' in its classic definition, but it is certainly 'otherism', which is a close relative. . .
- Andrew Clark reviews Martin Klein's Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa.
- H-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU 25-03-99
Martin A. Klein. _Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa_. African Studies Series 94. New York and Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. xxi + 354 pp. Tables, maps, illustrations, glossary, appendixes, notes, bibliography, and index. Cloth, ISBN 0-521- 59324-7.
Reviewed for H-Africa by Andrew F. Clark, email@example.com, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
SLAVERY AND COLONIALISM IN FRENCH WEST AFRICA
Slavery has existed in many societies throughout history and West Africa was no exception. In the Western Sudan, the broad belt of grassland that stretches across West Africa just south of the Sahara Desert, slavery and the slave trade were common for centuries before the arrival of Europeans and the imposition of colonial rule. Colonial administrations, intent on maintaining order and encouraging production, had to deal with the complicated issues of slavery and its abolition. Some work has been done on British activities, but French anti-slavery efforts have not received the same attention. Martin Klein's major and much anticipated work breaks significant new ground in discussing the history of slavery and its demise during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the three former French colonies of Senegal, Guinea, and Soudan (Mali).
Rather than giving primarily the story of French policy and activity, Klein proposes to examine the dynamic nature of local slavery in the region over time, and changing French attitudes towards the institution, slave-owners and slaves, with particular attention to the period between 1876 and 1922. Given the extensive nature of the literature of slave studies in Africa, much dating from the late 1970s and 1980s, there may be a tendency to view this book as a synthesis or summation of Klein's already extensive published work on the topics, or an end to the various debates within the literature. On the contrary, this study presents significant new material and opens up fresh lines of inquiry and investigation.
Klein sets out four major themes in his work. First, he analyzes throughout how Africans and Europeans responded to changes in the practice of slavery caused by the imposition of colonial rule, moves toward abolition, and the post-emancipation situation. Secondly, he argues that considerable tension existed among the different levels within the French colonial administration. Third, he examines the role of Islam in regional slavery and abolition. Finally, the author analyzes the complex struggles between masters and slaves throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Drawing on extensive archival research, numerous oral interviews and a comprehensive reading of the large secondary literature, Klein sheds considerable if sometimes uneven light on his four major themes both on the regional and local levels. Klein's discussion is at its best when focused on the French colonial administration and officials. He illustrates well the dichotomy between metropolitan pronouncements and local interests. The weakness theme concerns the role of Islam and Muslim authorities in local and regional slavery and abolition issues, an area that warrants further investigation.
The author begins with an overview of slavery in the Western Sudan as well as the now familiar debates over the interpretation of slavery in Africa, although his discussion is rather cursory and one-sided. Klein argues that slaves were property, produced by an act of violence, and takes the discussion to 1960, the year of independence for Senegal, Mali and Guinea. Under colonialism, the process of renegotiating ties of servility continued, although under new conditions, as slavery legally and theoretically did not exist anymore. While the terminology of social categories remained the same, the meaning of the words changed.
Archival sources on the topic, reflecting the official position that slavery had been completely abolished, virtually disappear except for isolated circumstances of public slave trading. A resurgence of pawning in the 1930s warranted some attention on the part of the administration but the topic quickly faded from view.
Thus, oral testimonies from former slaves and slave owners provided the only data for the period and, as Klein notes, informants were often reluctant to discuss the topic. Descendants of slaves and ex- slaves among many ethnic groups still occupy a distinct social category in all three countries. Klein recounts the history of their ancestors as a story of triumph and successful adaptation to changing conditions. Rather than colonial policies, slaves and their descendants irrevocably transformed slavery and ties of servility in French West Africa. The period after World War One has received scant attention from scholars, perhaps owing to the scarcity of sources or the mistaken belief that slavery and slave status had been abolished by 1920, the traditional ending date for many secondary studies on the topic. Klein makes a start at opening up this period for much needed investigation. Oral data will provide the most significant evidence for this period.
Klein draws on the extensive archival materials available in French, especially for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He includes extended excerpts from reports as well as numerous tables of data. While he rightfully suggests caution when dealing with official figures from the colonial record, he does rely heavily on their numbers. By reproducing so many tables directly from the archives, with no mention of how officials may have arrived at their numbers, he may give the results more credence than they warrant. A more detailed discussion of the problems inherent in colonial archives, especially on the topics of slavery and abolition, and how Klein overcame those obstacles would have strengthened his conclusions and assisted other researchers working with this material. A more extended examination of the oral testimonies he collected and used, including the methodology and the reliability of oral sources on slavery, would likewise have added to the book's conclusions and usefulness for researchers. Finally, a more close and careful reading of the secondary literature published in the 1990s would have strengthened the otherwise comprehensive bibliography.
This book warrants close attention and will open up new debates. It represents a major and no doubt lasting contribution to slave studies and to African history in general.
Copyright (C) 1999 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if provenance is shown. For other permission, please contact <Books@H-Net.MSU.Edu>.
FergusonP, Islamization in Dagbon PhD Cambridge 1973
Fisher, AG B & H J Fisher, Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, Hurst1999 First published as Slavery and MuslimSociety in Africa 1970Levtzion, N,(editor with H.J. Fisher) Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa. Boulder,Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1987, 176 pp.; first published as a specialnumber of Asian and African Studies, vol 20, no.1 (1986).
Levtzion,N, Islam in West Africa: Religion, Society and Politics to 1800. London:Variorum 1994,Levtzion, Nehemia, Muslims and Chiefs in West Africa: a Study of Islam in the MiddleVolta Basin in the Pre-Colonial Period. Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1968, 256pp.
Adamu,Mahdi The Hausa Factor in West African History ABUP OUP
Owusu-Ansah,David. ISLAMIC TALISMANIC TRADITION IN NINETEENTH CENTURYASANTE http://www.mellenpress.com/html/owusisla.html
Segal, Ronald,Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2001; 0-374-22774-8
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