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Antislavery Movements in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania Katherine Wiley Department of Anthropology Indiana University

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Presentation on theme: "Antislavery Movements in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania Katherine Wiley Department of Anthropology Indiana University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Antislavery Movements in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania Katherine Wiley Department of Anthropology Indiana University

2 Slavery in Mauritania

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4 Who lives in Mauritania? Bidhan (people of Arab and Berber descent) Haratine (former slaves or descendants of slaves of Bidhan) sub-Saharan African groups (Pulaar, Wolof, Soninke)

5 What is the situation like today?

6 Problems with this reporting Misunderstanding or reduction about what being a slave means Exaggerating Haratine misery and poverty Overlooking the fact that it’s common for Mauritanians to have servants who are paid and can (and often do) leave their jobs May confuse unfair labor and wage policies with slavery

7 What do we mean by “slave” in Northwest Africa? Buying Slaves, Havana, Cuba, 1837; Image Reference mariners10, as shown on compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

8 What do we mean by “slave”? In northwest Africa where kin relations are very important, many argue a slave is someone who is excluded from kin relations There were many different kinds of dependents in Mauritania Slaves had different statuses (e.g. those who had been captured vs. those born into families)

9 How many slaves were there in French West Africa? In various parts of the Sahel in 1904, approximately 40 percent of population was slaves In Kayes, 30,000 of the population of 71,421 were slaves (42 percent) The numbers of slaves varied throughout the French colony and may have been underreported

10 History of slavery in Northwest Africa: Early slave trade Most slaves were captured through raiding Others were taken to pay debt or as criminal penalties There was some voluntary enslavement (if people were severely strapped financially)

11 “Enslaved Africans in a Coffle, Eastern Sudan, 1848; Image Reference illustration 369, as shown on compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library."

12 History of slavery in Northwest Africa: French colonial policy

13 Photo by Odette du Puigaudeau; “Poste de Boutilimit. Arriv ée d’une caravane [The post of Boutilimit. Arival of a caravan]. From the Archives nationales d’outre mers; FR CAOM 30Fi39/67

14 Anonymous “Au campement du groupe nomade d’Akjoujt [In the camp of the nomadic group of Akjoujt].” In Archive nationales d’outre-mer. FR CAOM 30Fi35/44

15 French colonial antislavery policy The French were largely ambivalent about abolishing slavery in Mauritania They feared that ending slavery would damage their relations with allies and hurt the economy They said they wanted to avoid disrupting local customs They sometimes justified their colonial expansion as a way to abolish slavery

16 Slave agency Despite the ambivalence of the French and local leaders, many slaves managed to shift their own statuses by – Running away – Working in wage labor (provided by French) – Joining religious orders – Renegotiating relationships with masters – Buying their freedom – Fighting in French wars – Being freed by their masters

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18 History of slavery in Mauritania post-independence We can’t really talk about an end to slavery, but rather a gradual transition away from it

19 Post-independence policy on slavery 1961 constitution declares that all citizens are equal Slavery officially declared illegal in Mauritania in 1980 (enforced in 1981 law) 2007 law condemns slavery as a criminal act and introduces mechanisms to punish those who practice it

20 El-Hor (Freedom) Movement Haratine political movement that formed in 1970s Sought increased rights and recognition for Haratine Charter promises to fight against economic exploitation, promote mass education, and support property and marriage rights Made gains in municipal elections

21 Principles of El-Hor Argued that a distinct Haratine ethnic group exists that is separate from Bidhan (vs. Haratine who wanted to assimilate with the Bidhan) Not all Haratine were united behind principles of El-Hor

22 IMAGE OF EL-HOR

23 El-Hor methods Carry out series of demonstrations for equality In 1980 protest selling of woman in north; several leaders are arrested and tortured Their imprisonment leads to much international attention which may have contributed to government reforms

24 Later Movements Many private organizations have missions to fight against slavery today – SOS Esclaves (SOS slaves) – Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA)

25 One incident December 2010: anti-slavery organization (IRA) identifies two young, female slaves in Nkt IRA takes them away from their masters Some of the IRA activists are jailed when protesting during the trial (they are later released); the slave owner is sentenced to six months in prison Many underage domestic workers are let go across Mauritania

26 Complications and Challenges Difficulty of defining what it means to be a slave Fact that antislavery groups attract many funds from international donors Continued lack of nuance in understanding of what it means to be Haratine or Bidhan Increased emphasis on human rights in general would be positive step

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28 Resources UT Austin curriculum on comparative systems of slavery (in Haiti, East Africa, Egypt, etc.) – rriculum/slavery.php rriculum/slavery.php PBS curriculum on slave trade in Ghana – m m Comprehensive overview of slavery in Africa – tentFiles/AfricanHistory/SlaveryInAfrica.html tentFiles/AfricanHistory/SlaveryInAfrica.html

29 Thank you! Please feel free to contact me with any questions.


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