ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
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Unfortunately, Edward Blyden and Malcolm X endorsed the conventional but false picture
that Islamic society was without racism. They, obviously, did not have the opportunity
to adequately investigate the realities when they visited the Arab lands.
Books by Chinweizu
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Comparative Digests Black Enslavement: Arab and European Compared
In the In the words of Bernard Lewis: In the horrors of the abduction of Africans from their homes for delivery to Islamic and American purchasers, there was little to choose, . . . . Nor was there much difference in the dangers and hardships of the journey, until the human merchandise reached its ultimate destination across ocean or desert. [Lewis Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 100]
Europe and The Americas: ca 1440-1900 Arab-Islamic lands: ca. 600-1900 AD
Almost 11.7 million African slaves were shipped to the Americas; perhaps as many more found their way to the Islamic countries of North Africa, Arabia, and India.
[Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery p. 21]
In an admittedly rough estimate, Mauny puts the total drain of African slaves to the Muslim lands at fourteen million.
[Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 135, n. 14]
These estimates, by Lovejoy [11m.] and Mauny [14m], make the number drained to the Muslim lands in some 15 centuries comparable to that to the Americas in five centuries.
Capture & trafficking conditions
The now famous 18th century British Anti-Slavery model of a slave ship (the Brookes model) with enslaved Africans packed below deck like sardines, provides the most graphic image of the Middle Passage. The men were packed and secured in irons to platforms below deck, and had to either crouch or lie down in the tightly confined space. They were made to lie in their own vomit and filth. The women and children were placed in a separate section below deck or in a secured area above. The unhygienic and overcrowded conditions led to the spread of such diseases like dysentery, or the flux, infected people being forced to stay below deck, sometimes until death. Their bodies would eventually be removed and thrown overboard. The living would experience the pain and agony of the sick and dying.
The ships crew sailed the ship, attended to naval duties and policed the enslaved Africans. They whipped, punished, and ridiculed the Africans, and played an integral role in maintaining their inhumane conditions. The crew also often raped the women enslaved on board.
For those who were enslaved, the dangers involved forced marches, inadequate food, sexual abuse, and death on the road. The Sahara crossing was the greatest risk for many slaves. The trip was so long, and food and water so carefully managed, that the slightest mishap from a raid on the caravan or an empty water-hole could eliminate whole coffles of slaves. Still other captives, the prime boys, faced castration because the price for eunuchs was always very high and no wonder the price was high, since death from unsuccessful operations could be as large as nine boys out of ten.
[Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery, p.34]
This 19th century evidence shows just how dangerous the crossing could be:
A Turkish letter of November 1849, sent by the reforming Grand Vezir Mustafa Reshid Pasha to the Ottoman governor of Tripoli, refers to the death by thirst of sixteen hundred black slaves, on their way from Bornu to Fezzan in southern Libya
[Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 73]
In 19th century Arab slaving caravans in eastern Africa:
Slaves suspected of fugitive intentions had their necks “secured into a cleft stick as thick as a man’s thigh, and locked by a crossbar. Sometimes a double cleft stick was used and one man locked at each end of it.” Routinely, men, women and children were killed or left tied to a tree, for the scavengers to finish off when they couldn’t keep up with the caravan, either through illness and exhaustion, or starvation, or both. Mostly, they were finished off with a blow from a rifle butt, or their skull smashed with a rock, as in the case of the child whose mother complained that she couldn’t go on carrying him and the heavy ivory tusk. Ammunition was too precious to waste on a slave.
[Agyeman, Pan Africanism vs. Pan Arabism, 1994 p. 43]**
Europe and The Americas: ca 1440-1900
Arab-Islamic lands: ca. 600-1900 AD
I have found only one report of the use of black African military slaves by Europeans, but that was in Africa itself and by colonizers: When [the Germans] raised the first Schutztruppe for Cameroun, captain Freiherr von Gravenreuth purchased 370 slaves from King Behanzin of Dahomey; these slaves, born in many different parts of West Africa, formed the core of the Cameroun, military force
[Gann & Duignan, The Rulers of German Africa 1884-1914. p.116]
Most of the military slaves of Islam were white. . . . Black military slaves were, however, not unknown . . . After the slave rebellion in southern Iraq, in which blacks displayed terrifying military prowess, they were recruited into the infantry corps of the caliphs in Baghdad. . . [The Tulunids in Egypt] relied very heavily on black slaves. . . . When the Tulunids were overthrown, the restoration of caliphal authority was followed by a massacre of the black infantry and the burning of their quarters. . . .Under the Fatimid caliphs of Cairo black regiments [were] an important part of the military establishment. . . . With the fall of the Fatimids, the black troops again paid the price of their loyalty. . . . While the white units of the Fatimid army were incorporated by Saladin in his own forces, the black regiments were disbanded.
[See Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, pp. 65-67]
For the African military slaves, the tendency was, once they had outlived their usefulness, to be betrayed into slaughter by those they served self-sacrificially.
[Agyeman, Pan Africanism vs. Pan Arabism, 1994 p. 42] Eunuchs
Known as the “guardians of female virtue”, the African eunuchs served at harems throughout Arabia. Thousands of African boys between eight and ten years oldwere castrated every year and the survivors of the crude and painful operation were reared into eunuchs
[Agyeman, Pan Africanism vs. Pan Arabism, 1994 p. 42]
Example: At Jeffersons Monticello, besides cooks, dishwashers, butlers and maids, there were slaves employed in the barracks of the big house in weaving, dying, distilling, shoemaking, tailoring, blacksmithing and wagon-making. There were also cabinet makers, masons, carpenters, bricklayers and slave children employed in a nail factory. Some maids also served as concubines to Jefferson.
[See Carl Anthony, The Big House and the Slave Quarter: Prelude to New World Architecture pp.107, 108
Egypt (19th century)
Black slaves for domestic use were very common during the nineteenth century in Egypt, in Turkey, and other Ottoman lands; and some survivors can still be met in these countries. The Nubian porter, servant, or hawker remains a familiar figure in Egypt to this day. African women were often kept as concubines.
[Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 74]
Zanzibar (until 1964 when the Arab Sultanate was overthrown) developed the convention that, once born an African, one was “a slave forever, even in the next world.” Indeed, the Africans were called washenzi “uncivilized beings of a lower order” and, on this account, were considered to be deserving of every abuse. Thus, it was customary to have the wombs of pregnant African women opened so that capricious Arab women could see how babies lay inside of them, even as it was fashionable to have Africans kneel for Arab women to step on their backs as they mounted their mules.
[Agyeman, Pan Africanism vs. Pan Arabism, 1994 p. 43]
Black slaves farmed the plantations in the Americas, producing crops like sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, indigo, coffee, rice; they worked the plantation factories that made refined sugar, molasses, rum, snuff, cigars from the crops; others worked in the mines of Brazil (gold and diamond); of Peru (silver); Columbia and Mexico (Gold); yet others worked on the ranches in Brazil.
In the central Islamic lands, black slaves were most commonly used for domestic and menial purposes, often as eunuchs, sometimes also in economic enterprises, as for example in the gold mines of Allaqi in Upper Egypt (where according to Yaqubi, the inhabitants, merchants and others, have black slaves who work the mines), in the salt mines, and in the copper mines of the Sahara, where both male and female slaves were employed. The most famous were the black slave gangs who toiled in the salt flats of Basra. Their task was to remove and stack the nitrous topsoil, so as to clear the undersoil for cultivation, probably of sugar, and at the same time to extract the saltpeter. Consisting principally of slaves imported from East Africa and numbering some tens of thousands, they lived and worked in conditions of extreme misery. They were fed, we are told, on a few handfuls of flour, semolina, and dates. They rose in several successive rebellions, the most important of which lasted fifteen years, from 868 to 883, and for a while offered a serious threat to the Baghdad Caliphate.
[Lewis Race and Slavery in the Middle East, pp.56-57]
In nineteenth century Egypt, African slaves were imported for economic use, chiefly agricultural. Slave gangs were employed in sugar plantations and on irrigation works; the boom in Egyptian cotton during the American Civil War enabled newly prosperous Egyptian farmers to spend some of their profits in the purchase of slaves to help them in the cultivation of their lands.
[Lewis Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p.77]
In southern Iraq, according to [19th century] British consular reports, agricultural labor in the pestilential climate was largely assigned to black slaves imported by sea. . . . There were also some black laborers in the cities. Thus even Snouck Hurgronje noted that shining pitchblack Negro slaves were used in Mecca for the hardest work of building, quarrying, etc. and believed that their allotted work . . . is generally not too heavy for them, though most natives of Arabia would be incapable of such bodily efforts in the open air.
[Lewis Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p.101]
Slavery seen as apprenticeship in
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870): The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known and ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
[Robert E. Lee, Letter to his wife, December 27, 1858. quoted in Wilfred Cartey, Black Images, New York: Teachers College Press, 1970, p. 2]
Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That theres a God, that theres a Saviour too;
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
–(1773) [Phillis Wheatley, quoted in Jahnheinz Jahn, Neo-African Literature, p. 37]
In Islamic tradition, slavery was perceived as a means of converting non-Muslims . . . as a form of religious apprenticeship for pagans.
[Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery, p.16]
According to Snouck Hurgronje, who visited Mecca in 1885: “As things are now, for most of the slaves their abduction was a blessing. . . . They themselves are convinced that it was slavery that first made human beings of them..
[Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 82]
Replacement Frequency & Survival in population Today
In Haiti under the French,
Blacks were literally worked to death. The average life span after being sold into slavery was about seven years
[Carruthers, The Irritated Genie, p. 24]
An obvious question, since so many blacks entered the central lands over so long a period, is why they have left so little trace? There is nothing in the Arab, Persian and Turkish lands that resembles the great black and mulatto populations of North and South America. One reason is obviously the high proportion of eunuchs among black males entering the Islamic lands. Another is the high death rate and low birth rate among black slaves in North Africa and the Middle East. In about 1810, Louis Frank observed in Tunisia that most black children died in infancy, and that infinitesimally few reached the age of manhood. A British observer, some thirty years later, found conditions even worse: The mortality among the slaves in Egypt is frightful,when the epidemical plague visits the country, they are swept away in immense multitudes, and they are the earliest victims of almost every other domineering disease. I have heard it estimated that five or six years are sufficient to carry off a generation of slaves, at the end of which time the whole has to be replenished.
[Lewis Race and Slavery in the Middle East, p. 84]
* * * * *
Agyeman, Opoku (1994) Pan Africanism vs. Pan Arabism, in Black Renaissance Vol.1, No. 1. January 1994.
Anthony, Carl (1986)The Big House and the Slave Quarter: Prelude to New World Architecture in Joseph Okpaku et al. eds, The Arts and Civilization of Black and African Peoples, Vol. 8, Lagos: CBAAC 1986.
Antislavery.org (2004) breaking the silence — http://www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/main/04/index.shtml
Carruthers, Jacob (1985) The Irritated Genie, Chicago: Kemetic Institute.
Cartey, Wilfred (1970) Black Images, New York: Teachers College Press, 1970.
Gann, L. H. & Duignan, Peter (1977) The Rulers of German Africa 1884-1914 Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Jahn, Jahnheinz (1969) Neo-African Literature, New York: Grove Press.
Lewis, Bernard (1990) Race and Slavery in the Middle East, New York: Oxford University Press.
_____________(1971) Race and Color in Islam, New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Lovejoy, Paul E. (1983) Transformations in Slavery, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, Inc, (2001) A Slave Ship SpeaksThe Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, www.melfisher.org
Nyaba, Peter Adwok (2006) Arab Racism in the Sudan in Kwesi Kwaa Prah ed. (2006) Racism in the Global African Experience, Cape Town: CASAS.
**According to Hermann Wissman (1835-1905) whose force of mercenaries, the Schutztruppe, helped to destroy the Arab trade in ivory and slaves in East Africa, between four and five persons perished for every slave who reached the coast.[See Gann & Duignan, The Rulers of German Africa 1884-1914, pp. 64-67, 195].
© Chinweizu 2007
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By Bernard Lewis
From before the days of Moses up through the 1960s, slavery was a fact of life in the Middle East. Pagans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims bought and sold at the slave markets for millennia, trading the human plunder of wars and slave raids that reached from the Russian steppes to the African jungles. But if the Middle East was one of the last regions to renounce slavery, how do we account for its–and especially Islam’simage of racial harmony? How did these long years of slavery affect racial relations? In Race and Slavery in the Middle East, Bernard Lewis explores these questions and others, examining the history of slavery in law, social thought, and practice over the last two millennia
With 24 rare and intriguing full-color illustrations, this fascinating study describes the Middle East’s culture of slavery and the evolution of racial prejudice. Lewis demonstrates how nineteenth century Europeans mythologized the region as a racial utopia in debating American slavery. Islam, in fact, clearly teaches non-discrimination, but Lewis shows that prejudice often won out over pious sentiments, as he examines how Africans were treated, depicted, and thought of from antiquity to the twentieth century.
“If my color were pink, women would love me/But the Lord has marred me with blackness,” lamented a black slave poet in Arabia over a millennium agoand Lewis deftly draws from these lines and others the nuances of racial relations over time. Islam, he finds, restricted enslavement and greatly improved the lot of slaveswho included, until the early twentieth century, some whiteswhile blacks occasionally rose to power and renown. But abuses ring throughout the written and visual record, from the horrors of capture to the castration and high mortality which, along with other causes, have left few blacks in many Middle Eastern lands, despite centuries of importing African slaves.
Race and Slavery in the Middle East illuminates the legacy of slavery in the region where it lasted longest, from the days of warrior slaves and palace eunuchs and concubines to the final drive for abolition. Illustrated with outstanding reproductions of striking artwork, it casts a new light on this critical part of the world, and on the nature and interrelation of slavery and racial prejudice. amazon.com
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of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America
By Francis Bok
Seven-year-old Francis Piol Bol Buk was living happily on his family’s southern Sudan farm. One day in 1986, he was sent on errands to the marketplace. There, a slave raid ripped him from his contented life and threw him into a wretched existence serving under a northern Sudanese Arab. After he escaped at age 17, Buk made his way to Cairo with a black market passport incorrectly listing his name as Bok and became a U.N. refugee allowed to settle in the U.S. in 1999.
Although he found contentment in Iowa among other refugees, the following year Bok decided to work with an American antislavery organization, and testified before Congress about the atrocities in Sudan. While this is a remarkable story, its power is conveyed most effectively through Bok’s simple retelling. His sincerity compels, especially when he describes the decade of mistreatment he endured. After two failed escape attempts, he’s told he’ll be killed in the morning, and while bound, he thinks of the morning ahead: “I would be dead and finally through with this place and this family. My mind preferred death.” Yet when his master changes his mind, Bok immediately starts plotting again. For all his emotional strength, though, Bok remains humble. He thanks God and everyone who helps him escape slavery. This is a powerful, exceptionally well-told story, equally riveting and heartbreaking. Although legal strides have been made, with the help of people like Bok, the persistence of slavery in the world makes this a work that can’t be ignored.Publishers Weekly
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As a seven-year-old boy growing up in the southern Sudan, Bok was caught up in a raid on a regional market center when marauders from the north set upon the market, killing the men and kidnapping the women and children to work as farm slaves. He went from a loving and supportive extended family to the brutality of slavery in a strange land and culture, dominated by Muslims who considered him a Christian infidel. After enduring 10 years of slavery, Bok escaped to freedom in Cairo, where he became a U.N. refugee, eventually making his way to the U.S. at the age of 21. Having learned Arabic in Northern Sudan and English in America, Bok, with incredible determination, became involved in the antislavery movement, speaking around the country while seeking to earn a high-school degree. Yet it is his simple account of being a child cut off from his family and culture that shows the inhumanity of slavery. Bok’s saga provides anothermore contemporaryperspective on slavery for Americans reckoning with their own troubling history of such inhumanity. Vernon FordBooklist
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By Mende Nazer
Born into the Karko tribe in the Nuba mountains of northern Sudan, Nazer has written a straightforward, harrowing memoir that’s a sobering reminder that slavery still needs to be stamped out. The first, substantial section of the book concentrates on Nazer’s idyllic childhood, made all the more poignant for the misery readers know is to come. Nazer is presented as intelligent and headstrong, and her people as peaceful, generous and kind. In 1994, around age 12 (the Nuba do not keep birth records), Nazer was snatched by Arab raiders, raped and shipped to the nation’s capital, Khartoum, where she was installed as a maid for a wealthy suburban family. (For readers expecting her fate to include a grimy factory or barren field, the domesticity of her prison comes as a shock.)
To Nazer, the modern landscape of Khartoum could not possibly have been more alien; after all, she had never seen even a spoon, a mirror or a sink, much less a telephone or television set. Nazer’s urbane tormentorsmostly the pampered housewifebeat her frequently and dehumanized her in dozens of ways. They were affluent, petty, and calculatedly cruel, all in the name of “keeping up appearances.” The contrast between Nazer’s pleasant but “primitive” early life and the horrors she experienced in Khartoum could hardly be more stark; it’s an object lesson in the sometimes dehumanizing power of progress and creature comforts. After seven years, Nazer was sent to work in the U.K., where she contacted other Sudanese and eventually escaped to freedom. Her book is a profound meditation on the human ability to survive virtually any circumstances.Publishers Weekly
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By Alek Wek
“When I cleaned toilets, I only saw it as work to give me the means to achieve my goals. Of course I hated it,” the Sudanese supermodel exclaimed. “Waking up at 4 a.m. when it’s freezing cold is not easy, followed by Uni, coursework and my evening baby-sitting job, but it made me disciplined and gave me a huge sense of self-appreciation.”
Born the seventh of nine children Alek, meaning ‘black-spotted cow’ (one of Sudan’s most treasured cows, which represents good luck), never dreamt of becoming a model. Both in her motherland, where she was considered to be inferior due to her Dinka tribe (dubbed as ‘zurqa’, meaning dirty black) and again in Britain when she arrived in 1991, she faced hostility.
Since being scouted Wek has been in several high-profile music videos, done ads for Issey Miyake, Moschino, Victoria’s Secret and Clinique, as well as strutted the runway for fashion designers John Galliano, Donna Karen, Calvin Klein and Ermanno Scervino – to name a few. The Dinka beauty who was the first black model who didn’t conform to a Caucasian aesthetic also scored an acting role in 2002, debuting in The Four Feathers as Sudanese princess Aquol. . . .
“When I was granted permission to re-enter the country and I had the opportunity to revisit my old life, I realised that I need closure because my life has transformed so much. But with the closure I was seeking, I also realised that I had an open book to move forward. Once I returned to my new home in Brooklyn, I had a burning desire to transcribe my feelings into memoirs,” she said. . . .
Maintaining her Dinka traditions while living in the Big Apple, Wek always speaks to her mother in their traditional language and talks Arabic with her sisters. Wek lives with her boyfriend of four years, Riccardo Sala, an Italian who works in property but, most importantly, Wek brings her past life to the kitchen table by cooking traditional Dinka food such as okra stew and dried fish, creating aromas from her small town in Wau in her East Side, New York, kitchen.Jamaica-Gleaner
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 19 November 2007 / updated 17 March 2008