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- John Hunwick puts the
Islamic practice of slavery into a broader context.
Discussion List on History and Study of West Africa [H-WEST-AFRICA@H-NET.MSU.EDU]
John Hunwick http://pubweb.nwu.edu/~jhunwick/
18 November 1999
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
Mediterranean world and in the Christian New World, the processes of
human beings, selling them and transporting them as slaves are
similar (e.g. the Saharan Middle Passage was scarcely less cruel and
than the trans-Atlantic one). As my Sudanese colleague and
Professor Yusuf Fadl Hasan once said, referring to this: 'Slavery is
and cannot be beautified by cosmetics'.
pointing this out not to diminish in any way the horrors of
Atlantic Middle Passage, the brutality of the ways in which Africans
treated in slavery in much of the New World (though historians will
search out anomalies, contradictions and exceptions), and the
suffering that racism has caused and, in various less physically
ways, still does cause in much of the European-settled lands of the
hemisphere. Rather, I am doing so because I would like to see
viewed from the perspective of the Africans who were victims of it,
internally, northwards, eastwards, or westwards. Rather than
to apportion blame (though yes, European capitalism and racism did
much more suffering than its competitors), we should be examining
economics and social dynamics of the African societies that practised
and sold slaves in order to understand this phenomenon.
should not necessarily be surprised that 'brother sold brother'.
nature is prone to do such things, and Africans are fully 'human'
(neither angelic nor devilish). 'Race' (however we define it) does
determine everything, except in racist eyes. Europeans have sold
into slavery (e.g. the medieval Slav(e)s), and have committed
among themselves; Africans have done the same (and in North Africa
Europeans too). In neither case did they see their victims as
In fact they saw them as inferior, or sub-human, 'others'; this
always the rationale either for mass slaughter or for enslavement. This
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.
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.
for H-Africa by Andrew F. Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org, Department of
History, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
AND COLONIALISM IN FRENCH WEST AFRICA
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
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>.
P, Islamization in Dagbon PhD Cambridge 1973
G B & H J Fisher, Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa, Hurst
1999 First published as Slavery and Muslim
Society in Africa 1970
(editor with H.J. Fisher) Rural and Urban Islam in West Africa. Boulder,
Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1987, 176 pp.; first published as a special
number of Asian and African Studies, vol 20, no.1 (1986).
N, Islam in West Africa: Religion, Society and Politics to 1800. London:
Nehemia, Muslims and Chiefs in West Africa: a Study of Islam in the Middle
Volta Basin in the Pre-Colonial Period. Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1968, 256
Mahdi The Hausa Factor in West African History ABUP OUP
David. ISLAMIC TALISMANIC TRADITION IN NINETEENTH CENTURY
Islam's Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2001;
The Northern Factor in Ashanti History Legon 1967
A note on the early spread of Islam in Dagomba