Research in December 2004-January 2005 was funded by the University of Alberta, Humanities Fine Arts and Social Sciences Research Operating Grant. Previous Mauritanian fieldwork drawn on here was funded by: Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship (1983-1984); University of Alberta, HFASSR (as above), May-June 2000. Library work at the Anti-Slavery Society, London UK was undertaken in autumn of 2002 and summer 2004, thanks to travel grants from the University of Alberta, Support for the Advancement of Scholarship, in each of those years. I am grateful for all of this financial support.
ARIM [Archives de la République islamique de Mauritanie], E1 61, "Esclavage". Letter circulated to Mauritanian commandants de cercle (regarding Anti-Slavery decree 1905), March 1906.
ARIM E1 18, "Esclavage", Capt. Reviers de Mauny, Cmdt. de Cercle de l'Adrar, circular, December 1929.
"La Convention relative à l'esclavage" was signed in Geneva in September 1926, ratified by the French Government December 1926.
ARIM E1 18 "Esclavage". Minister of the Colonies, Reynaud, to Governor Generals and Governors of the Colonies: "Le problème présent de l'esclavage", juin 1931.
That fact is underscored by Cooper's almost total lack of reference to the region. Mauritania is referenced only once, in a footnote, and then as an exception to a policy; Maures are mentioned only once in the context of noting who of the West African population would not work (COOPER 1996: 76, 40).
An earlier version of "That man can work..." was presented at the African Studies Association meeting, Houston Texas, 2001 as "The making of a colonial working class in central Mauritania".
AS [Archives du Sénégal] 2K15 174 SOUDAN. Report, Governor General French Soudan to Governor General AOF, January 1950, pp. 3, 23.
AATAR [Archives d'Atar], Rapport politique annual, "Notes", 1943.
"Un forfait colonial..." is the story of how a political exile in Mauritania, Louis Hunkanrin, used the issue of slavery to indict a particular French administrator and how in turn, the administrator assigned to investigate the accusations, used the case to further his own career.
"... rachat in French West Africa" recounts the story of the British anti-slavery society's foray into Morocco-Mauritania in the mid 1950s to publicize the degree to which the French had failed in their duty to eradicate slavery in Mauritania. The "evidence" was supplied by a certain Dahmane Beyrouk in Goulimine (Morocco), who castigated Mauritanians in general but one in particular, "Hamody" of Atar. We will meet the latter, below, and the connections between Atar, Goulimine and "slavery" will become apparent.
Mauritania ratified the United Nations "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" in 1961 and in its constitution accordingly granted "all citizens equal status before the law". But in neither action was slavery, per se, specifically addressed. As a Mauritanian representative speaking to this issue many years later commented: "[. . .] this Constitution was not to have any tangible effect on the emancipation of slaves."
This analysis was also clearly articulated by the Mauritanian Representative responding to the UN in 1984: "[. . .] the colonial administration continued to support the practices of the slave-owning aristocracy, which formed its political and social base and its principal prop for the consolidation and maintenance of its power" (UNITED NATIONS, Annex II: 2).
"Tribal" here is used deliberately to refer to the political structure of desert and oasis clans who in no way thought of themselves as a coherent entity; "ethnic" refers mostly to the differences between several "black" groups in the south (Soninke, Wolof, Pulaar) and the "white" (beidan) tribes referred to, above.
It is also said that during the war, the POLISARIO's treatment of captured black soldiers exacerbated the situation. According to the partial transcript of the 1984 Mission from the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, two independent informants (one anonymous, the other identified as the eminent sociologist Abdel Wedoud ould Cheikh) reported the following: "[. . .] Mauritanian slaves became conscious of their condition as a result of the Polisario war. The leadership of the Polisario are, of course, on [sic] the Moors and as such are related to the upper class of Mauritania. When they took prisoners during the war the Polisario tended to shoot Blacks out of hand and this naturally made the slave class extremely reluctant to fight [. . .]. Moorish prisoners were treated relatively well. The result of this was that lack of enthusiasm amongst the Mauritanian troops contributed towards the Mauritanian decision to made peace with the Polisario and to recognize their claims while at the same time the slave class became conscious of the fact that they did not enjoy equal rights even in war when fighting for their country. Maître: [name omitted in original] reckons that it is from this time that the El Hor movement really began to take off." (UNITED NATIONS 1984, "Partial transcript", pp. 6, 35. On the Mission itself, see Ibid., Annex VI.) My thanks to the staff of the Anti Slavery Library, especially Jeff Howarth, for their help in locating material and permitting me to photocopy extensively.
An article in New African (1979), "Racial Tensions Erupt", went so far as to predict that Mauritania was on the brink of war under the ould Saleck regime.
Mustafa Ould Salek (10 July 1978-3 June 1979) took power in the coup d'État; he was replaced by Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Louly (3 June 1979-4 January 1980) who in turn was ousted by Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidalla (4 January 1980-12 December 1984). All regimes were military.
"[. . .] the CMSN (government) has acquired the firm conviction that the overwhelming majority of our eminent ulema... have reservations with regard to the origins of slavery in Mauritania and the conditions in which it is practiced in our country. In these circumstances, our ulema consider that the State has the power to act in place of the masters for the purpose of emancipating slaves, just as it has the power to expropriate private property in the public interest (Annex IV)." But moot or not, steps were taken to ensure that such compensation could be identified and evaluated if necessary. The 1981 act spells out (Article 2) that "... this abolition shall give rise to compensation for persons entitled thereto." And (Article 3) that "A National commission consisting of ulema, economists and administrators shall be established by decree for the purpose of studying the practical modalities of such compensation (Annex V)." According to interview information from the 1984 report, however "Since no slave owner in Mauritania could claim to have acquired these slaves according to these principles [sharia law], it is most unlikely that any compensation will be payable and although the relevant ordinance contain [sic] provision for [a] decree concerning compensation this decree has never, in fact, been issued precisely because nobody would be eligible [. . .] (United Nations, Partial transcript, p. 18)."
See also Mohammed Abdallahi, "After the Revolution", The Guardian (UK), 26 March 1979.
This process was greatly facilitated by the Mercer report (MERCER 1981), first delivered to the London-based Anti-Slavery Society, 8 December 1980 (which circulated in typescript, six single-spaced pages) and subsequently published in various venues including "Slavery in Mauritania Today", Plural Societies 12 (Autumn/Winter 1981), pp. 125-130; Slavery in Mauritania Today, Edinburgh, Human Rights Group, 1982. This work has remained extremely influential and continues to be reflected in the "evidence" often cited in contemporary publications. See the discussion of it in MCDOUGALL, BRHANE & URF (2003: 74).
Anti-Slave, UK UN/29/Mauritanie. Letter, Peter Davies (Director, Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights) to Peter Hague (Amnesty International), 1 February 1984, refers to the fact that Mauritania is now "very well aware of the international attention being focused on it".
"Certain circles, especially a particular section of the press, seized upon it [the abolition of slavery] and dressed it up at will: the Negro slave trade in the late twentieth century... what a sensation! And to cap it all, a traffic coupled with racial discrimination! [. . .] These same circles—past masters in the art of profiting from the good faith of international opinion and its readiness to support just causes—exploited to the full and with a complete absence of scruple, the aura of sensation thus given to the question. [. . .] We cannot in this regard but deplore the negative attitude of certain circles and in particular of a certain Western press which, in stead of serving this cause, has preferred to use it to serve itself. It is deplorable to see certain press institutions reduce their interest in this question to the material profit they can derive from it through big sensational headlines (Annex II)." More direct were comments of the Prime Minister to the Commission representatives: "A great deal of the Prime Minister's statements were devoted to the BBC film and tendentious reportings in the foreign press. He claimed that much of the BBC film was not even taken in Mauritania and he cited rather nievely [sic] the shots taken of the Isle de Gorée which he did not, of course, claim to be taken in Mauritania. He was similarly fierce about some of the foreign press reports but it is curious that the BBC film seems to have caused so much upset in the government [my emphasis]" (Partial transcript, p. 19).
Originally, it was also to have included a member from Sudan who became ill (UNITED NATIONS 1984: Annex VI). In its composition, it was reminiscent of earlier attempts to ascertain the "situation of slavery" in the 1950s as colonialism was reaching an end: the UN commissioned a major report on the use of forced and slave labour, and the Anti-Slavery Society sent out agents to report on conditions in the colonies.
"This decision is to constitute the compatible framework for a global-emancipation programme which puts the problem in its real context, namely the struggle against underdevelopment in all its forms. [. . .] [I]ts [slavery's] eradication cannot be dissociated from the search for suitable solutions to the numerous economic and social problems facing the country. It so happens that these problems are now aggravated by a particularly unfavourable international economic situation, the persistent drought in the Sudano-Sahelian region and the limited character of national resources [. . .]. The Government of Mauritania therefore appeals to all countries, all organizations and all persons devoted to Justice to make their contribution to this noble task of emancipation (UNITED NATIONS 1984: Annex II)."
As articulated in articles like John Gretton, "Desert Slaves are Treated ‘Like Dogs'", The Observer, 30 August 1981, or in articles published in the daily paper of neighbouring Senegal's capital Dakar, Le Soleil. According to El Hor, the "Negro-African opposition" was behind this attempt to present the problem of slaves and haratin as one of general oppression of Blacks. ("Communication submitted to the expert by persons claiming to represent the ‘El Hor' Movement", Sub-Commission... 1984, Annex VII. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1984/23, p. 3).
Includes copy of 1978 founding Constitution as appendix.
"Slavery is not a racial problem. There are in Mauritania black-skinned slave-owning feudal potentates, just as there are white ones. Likewise, there are democrats and opponents of slavery both among the white Moors and among the Poulars, Wolofs and Soninkes. [. . .] The conservative elements among the Poulaars, Wolofs and Soninkes are trying to sidetrack it [the emancipation movement] in order to use it in their struggles against the Arab-Berbers for the sharing of power."
In 1982, it was observed that El Hor was being "tolerated" by the government and that some of its leaders had been appointed to "responsible posts": a certain Bilal Werzeg was appointed to a diplomatic post in Europe, Ould Haimer was made deputy-head of national radio, and Hamoyd Boitgel was elected general secretary of the main workers' union (see P. BALTA "Reform from the Bottom", The Guardian [UK], 1982). In contrast to the communication included with the 1984 report of the UN Sub-Commission as Annex VII: "Claiming to Represent the ‘El Hor' Movement" was the separate submission, notably not made part of the official report, by a group calling itself "Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in Mauritania". This communication, dated "Nouakchott, 25 January 1984" was an angry response to the Mission itself, that essentially claimed the UN representatives had been taken in by the government and failed to acknowledge the slavery that continued to exist. It argued that Mauritania's slavery was worse than Apartheid and Zionism, yet the United Nations had made no moves to sanction its membership and condemn it as it had South Africa and Israel. "How can the United Nations wait until 1984 to send a mission when Mauritania has been a member since 1960?" It called upon the Mission to "accept the weight of is historic responsibility" to human rights. The letter bears no names, and implies a clandestine delivery. Given that the "El Hor" history claims that both "divisions" of the party independently submitted communications to the Mission, it seems likely that this is what is being referred to; the contrast in political position and strategy could not be starker (Anti-Slavery UK, Letter filed in UN/29/Mauritanie).
This is the local variant of Arabic spoken almost exclusively in Mauritania. It grew from the mixture of Berber and Arabic influences that shaped the demographic profile of the region from its medieval origins. It is written in the Arabic script and used more in the cultural than the legal domain.
For example Peter Davies, director of the Anti-Slave Society International, recounted one of the leaders of El Hor as complaining that "no attempt had been made officially to support Haratin culture which was essentially that of the Moors and that radio programmes in Hassaniyya and Haratin cultural content should be allowed especially considering how large a proportion of the population they formed" (UNITED NATIONS 1984, Partial transcript, pp. 37-38).
This in the form of a manifesto signed by some thirty prominent intellectuals that accused the government of a executing a policy of Apartheid against black African ethnic groups. Two thirds of the signatories were subsequently arrested and tortured. The following year, several Pulaar in the army were accused of planning a coup d'État and this initiated a general "ethnic cleansing" of Blacks from the army (MCDOUGALL, BRHANE & RUF 2003: 75).
Throughout April and May, articles appeared every two to three days, usually with front-page coverage and provocative photographs of evacuations, property damage and families being torn apart. Gradually, interpretations shifted from "regrettable misunderstandings" to vilification, both of ould Taaya personally and of the government policy generally. By mid May, headlines screamed "Negro-Africans Victims of Beydan Terror", continuing on that "there is no doubt about the wish of the Baassiste government [referring to the purported links with Iraq] to empty the country of its citizens with black skin", Le Soleil, Dakar, 12 May 1989.
R.-P. PARINGAUX "Esclaves Oubliés", Le Monde, 22 October 1990.
Included with the Society's submission to the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (a member group of the sub-commission), is the director's 14-page report of his visit, meant to be read in conjunction with the submission.
"The ‘El Hor' (Freedom) movement of ex-slaves [. . .] still exists. Some elements seem to form one of the factions in the Confederation of Labour Unions; there seem to be some clandestine groups who help ex-slaves coming to the towns. It was not possible to contact members of ‘El Hor' and their apparent fear of the authorities lays open to doubt the intention of the Mauritanian Government to seriously grapple with the issue of slavery" (Director's Report: 3). What was clear was that the identifiable movement, tolerated by government, that was active in the early 1980s had ceased to function by 1990.
It was proposed that the study be undertaken by the Ligue mauritanienne des droits de l'Homme.
On government attempts to stifle information and delay the UN sub-commission's visit, see Director's Report (p. 3) on SEM abuse, ended by new government 1992, and moribund Ligue and ILO reporting (Anti-Slavery, UK. Human Rights Report, 1992. UN/29/Mauritanie; appears to be American but full reference not included). Problems with SEM had been hinted at both in United Nations 1984, Partial transcript (concern attributed to Abdel Wedoud ould Cheikh) and more specifically in Anti-Slavery UK UN/29/Mauritanie, Letter from the Director of the Anti-Slavery Society, Peter Davies to Marc Bossuyt, Human Rights Commission (Geneva), 17 February 1986.
Although the book in which the article appears is dated 2003, this was a considerably delayed publication; our contribution was completed for the originally envisaged date, 1998.
For example: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, (main website) hhttp:// www. state. gov/ www/ global/ human_rights/ hrp_reports_mainhp. html;reports specifically on Mauritania are archived back to 1999.
Committee of the Elimination of Racial Discimination, 65th session concludes; hhttp:// www. unis. unvienna. org/ unis/ pressrels/ 2004/ rd985. html;The Committee of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Mauritania, hhttp:// www. tamazgha. fr/ article. php3? id_article= 941(August 2004).
Internet searches on individual names turn up many results, among them interviews with: Boubacar ould Messaoud hhttp:// www. xula. edu/ herald/ issues/ 20020131/ living. htmlMaalouma Messaoud hhttp:// www. iabolish. com/ act/ abol/ profile/ maalouma. htm,Abdel Nasser ould Yessa http:// www. iabolish. com/ act/ abol/ profile/ yessa. htm
See also "SOS Slaves" homepage for news, interviews, stories of contemporary slaves http:// sos. iabolish. com/ .
See Annual Reports on SOS-Esclaves webpage for 2001, 2003 [English], 2001, 2002-2003 [French]; and most recently J. Motlagh, "Protesters Blast Arab Rule in Mauritania", UPI, 5 April 2005 ((http:// washingtontimes. com/ upi-breaking/ 20050405-074353-6532r. htm). Note the repeated distortion (falsification to be exact) in Motlagh's article: "Marginalized members of Mauritania's Fulani, Wolof, Bambara and Soninke tribes—known collectively as ‘Haratin' or black moors...". The representation of haratin and "black" in the international press continues to reflect the dichotomy so effectively created a quarter of a century ago.
Diouf, Nafti "Anti-terror campaign in Mauritania causes worry, uncertainty" International Crisis Group, 4 July 2005, hhttp:// www. signonsandiego. com/ news/ world/ 20050704-0900-mauritania-terrorfears. html. Since this article was completed, those forces have successfully overthrown the regime of Maaouya Ould Sid' Ahmed Taya in a bloodless coup d'État on 3 August 2005. The new "Military Committee for Justice and Democracy" is promising democratic elections within two years, with the promise that no one involved in the current Committee' (which does include senior people from the previous government) will run for office.
"Slavery Research ‘Damages Mauritania's Image'", afrol news (staff writer), 22 March 2005: http:// www. afrol. com/ articles/ 15970.
Report (in French), Anti-Slavery International, to UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Working Group on Forms of Contemporary Slavery, 20th session, Geneva, 19-28 April 1995.
See their webpage at hhttp:// www. sosesclaves. org/ Pagecentrale. htm[French]; hhttp:// sos. iabolish. com/ [English].
The Anti Slavery Society became "Anti-Slavery International" in 1990 ("The History of Anti-Slavery International": http:// www. antislavery. org/ homepage/ antislavery/ history. htm).
A brief case history of Hamody can be found in MCDOUGALL (1989b: 362-388). Most of the following is based on fieldwork carried out in Nouakchott and Atar, Islamic Republic of Mauritania during a three-week visit (December 2004-January 2005) with members of the Hamody family and their hartani descendants.
Interviews with Swaifya mint Hamody [daughter of Hamody], Atar, 1983-1984; Mohamed Mahmoud ould Hamody [son of Hamody], Nouakchott, 2004; Ahmed Salem ould Denne [great-grandson Minata, paternal side], Atar, 2005. It was Mohamed Mahmoud who, when asked if Fatma was "freed" when she had her son with her Awlad Bou Sba master, replied "no, her son is her paper".
Interviews with Swaifya mint Hamody, Atar, 1984; Nouakchott, 2004.
Interviews with Mohamed Said ould Hamody, Nouakchott, 2000, and with Swaifya mint Hamody, Nouakchott, 2004. My sincere thanks to Mohamed Said for facilitating my 2004/2005 visit. It was he who contacted family members and gave "permission" for my interviewing; without his help, none of this information would have been made available to me and I might have missed this opportunity to tell a fascinating story.
I extrapolated from Hamody's personal case to make this statement refering to haratin in general.
Using the recent interviews (December 2004-January 2005) plus fieldwork (interviews, archival work) conducted in 1983-1984 and 2000, I am currently preparing a manuscript on the legendary "Hamody" and his extended "family" (including haratin). Its working title is "Window onto a Colonial World: Hamody of Atar, Mauritania".
Interviews: Isselmou ould Hamody, Bilal ould M'Barak, Mohamed Mahmoud ould Barak; Abeidya ould Matallah, 2004; Harra mint Mahmoud, Atar, 2005.
Interviews: Mohamed Mahmoud ould Hamody, Nouakchott, Bilal ould M'Barek, Isselmou ould Hamody, 2004; Harra mint Mahmoud, Atarn 2005.
That said, several stories involved women being freed later on, after having had children; for example, the story of Harra mint Mahmoud's mother and Isselmou's grandmother. Interviews: Isselmou ould Hamody 2004; Harra mint Mahmoud, Atar, 2005.
Interviews: Miriam mint Hamody, 2000 and 2005; Selka mint Ismail, Harra mint Mahmoud, Atar, 2005. Timothy Cleavland (University of Georgia) has recently carried out an NEH-funded project on "19th-century milk-kinship in the Sahara" (2002). His results will be an invaluable contribution to expanding on these observations.
Point made indirectly through various histories; explicitly explained by Miriam mint Hamody (May 2000) and Said ould Hamody (November 2000).
Interviews: Bilal ould M'barek, Abeidyaould Matallah, 2005.
Interview with Miriam mint Hamody, 2005.
Interviews with Mohamed El Haiba ould Hamody and Mohamed Said ould Hamody (together), Nouakchott, 2004. Mohamed Said later worked as a trained journalist in the early 1970s.
Interviews with Mohamed El Haiba ould Hamody and Mohamed Said ould Hamody (together), Nouakchott, 2004.
Introduction and conclusion; not all the case studies fully support the editors' analysis.
Interviews: Mohamed Said ould Hamody, Nouakchott, 2000; Isselmou ould Hamody, Atar, 2004.
Interview with Selka mint Ismail, 2005. Selka is Haiba's former wife with whom Mohamed, Medeym's oldest son, came to live when he was about nine.
Interview with Isselmou ould Hamody, Atar, 2004.
Interview with Isselmou ould Hamody, 2004. But other interviews suggest that either it was not totally inclusive or there were a few women who simply chose to think of themselves as "slaves" well after this date.
This is not an unusual situation; it is often a difficult call to know when to keep pushing for an interview (or access to certain material) and when to simply respect that people may not really want to oblige you but are stopping short of being rude and dismissive by offering temporary "delays" instead of outright refusals.
At the time, no formal interview was conducted with him, and I seem only to have recorded his name as "her son". He had kindly given my assistant and me a tour of one of Hamody's many date-palm groves in Atar. While it is possible the young man in question was Mohamed, it is unlikely given the distance he had established from his mother while living with Haiba. Isselmou does not recollect such a meeting.
BRHANE (1997: 158-162) noted the impact of the war on people's constructions of narratives—those who had proudly traced family roots into Senegal, even to powerful or prestigious genealogies, quietly dropped them. By the early 1990s, marriages or at least relationships were beginning to occur between young beidan and hartaniyya. However, as we comment in MCDOUGALL, BRHANE & RUF (2003: 82), the true social revolution will have occurred when a hartani is an acceptable husband for a beidaniyya. A discussion of this issue with the current leader of the Union des forces de progrès, Mohamed Maouloud in January 2005, confirmed that the situation has not changed. It is still rare for a "free" woman to marry a "freed" man, even though the latter may be wealthy and powerful.
However, the breakdown between these groups did not neatly fit the generational profile noted above: some recently "freed" continued to stay with their family both socially and politically. Isselmou made this point with reference to Hamody slaves freed in 1982 (interview, 2004).
I would temper that observation by noting that Hamody's daughter Swaifya tended to tell the story from the point of view of her mother, Selka. That perspective was more one of pain than pride (interview with Swaify mint Hamody, 2004).
While this may have been merely coincidence, I thought it significant that both back in 1983 and even in my interview with Mohamed Said in 2000, Medyem was never mentioned by name, whereas this time, everyone who referred to her did so as "Medyem".
This in the sense that the family "did right" by the children according to Muslim law and custom, and thereby proved themselves moral (if not social) equals to a good beidan family.
Interviews: Bilal ould M'barek, Abeidya ould Matallah, 2004; Harra mint Mahmoud, 2005.
Interviews: Selka mind N'afar, Abeidyaould Matalleh, Mohamed Mahmoud ould Barka, 2004.
Interviews: Selka mint N'afar; Selka mint Ismail, 2004; Mariam mint Hamody, 2005.
Interviews: Miriam mint Hamody, Harra mint Mahmoud, 2005. On milk-kinship more generally, see RUF (1999: 94-99). Like concubinage, however, the specifics of how milk-kinship is practiced seem to vary according to region.Haut de page