But how many recall that Arab slavers were the first, and last, in modern times to ship millions of Africans out of the continent as slaves? And that Arab slavers preferred more African women to men?—New African Magazine: Recalling Africa’s harrowing tale of its first enslavers- The Arabs-as UK Slave Trade Abolition is commemorated
In his book, Slaves and Slavery, published in 1998, the British writer Duncan Clarke defines slavery as “the reduction of fellow human beings to the legal status of chattels, allowing them to be bought and sold as goods”. This, in essence, is what both the Arabs and Europeans did to Africans, to justify the shipping of millions of Africans as slaves to far-away lands in Asia (in particular, the Middle East) and the Americas.
Clarke writes; “Africa became a source of slaves for the cultures of the Mediterranean world many centuries before the discovery of the Americas, but it was that discovery and the resulting shift in focus towards the Atlantic that prompted the culminating explosive growth in slavery with such tragic effect.”
Figures on the Arab slave trade in Africa are hard to come by, but the historian Paul Lovejoy estimates that some 9.85 million Africans were shipped out as slaves to Arabia and, in small numbers, to the Indian subcontinent. Lovejoy breaks his figures down as follows:
Between AD 650 and 1600, an average of 5,000 Africans were shipped out by the Arabs. This makes a rough total of 7.25 million.
Then, between 1600 and 1800, another 1.4 million Africans were shipped out by the Arabs. The 19th century represented the highest point of the Arabian trade where 12,000 Africans were shipped out every year. The total figure for the 19th century alone was 1.2 million slaves to Arabia.
Arab enslavers stripped enslaved Africans of their traditional names and replaced them with names that were Arabic in origin. This practice was particularly common among Arab caliphates, where enslaved Africans were often referred to as “abid” (meaning “slave” in Arabic) and were given Arabic names that reflected their status as slaves. A deliberate strategy used to erase the cultural identities of enslaved Africans, effectively erasing any connection to their African culture and to reinforce their status as property.
David Livingstone, the British missionary/traveller/explorer was so upset by the way the Arabs treated their African slaves that he wrote back home in 1870: “A more terrible scene than these men, women and children, I do not think I ever came across. To say that they were emaciated would not give you an idea of what human beings can undergo under certain circumstances. “Each of them had his neck in a large forked stick, weighing from 30 to 40 pounds, and five or six feet long, cut with a fork at the end of it where the branches of a tree spread out. “T he women were tethered with bark thongs, which are, of all things, the most cruel to be tied with. Of course they are soft and supple when first striped off the trees, but a few hours in the sun make them about as hard as the iron round packing-cases. The little children were fastened by thongs to their mothers. “As we passed along the path which these slaves had travelled, I was shown a spot in the bushes where a poor woman the day before, unable to keep on the march, and likely to hinder it, was cut down by the axe of one of these slave drivers. “We went on further and were shown a p lace where a child lay. It had been been recently born, and its mother was unable to carry it from debility and exhaustion; so the slave trader had taken this little infant by its feet and dashed its brains out against one of the trees and thrown it in there.”
Such was the brutality meted out to the Africans by the Arabs. Like the Atlantic trade, the Arabian trade’s “middle passage” was equally as horrible and terrifying. The “middle passage” describes the harrowing journey lasting several months from Africa’s west coast to the Americas during which millions of Africans, packed like sardines in the slave ships, died of thirst, hunger, rough seas, and sometimes from the sheer brutality inflicted by the European slavers.
Bilal ibn Rabah, who was enslaved in Arabia during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), is an example of an enslaved African person who was stripped of his original name and given an Arab name. Bilal ibn Rabah was originally from Ethiopia and was enslaved by Arab slave traders. By giving him an Arab name, his enslavers sought to erase his African identity and forcefully assimilate him to the Arabic culture of his enslaver.
Says Duncan Clarke: “The hardships of these long marches across the desert were considerable, and much later travellers reported that the routes were lined with the parched skeletons of those who succumbed to exhaustion and thirst along the way.” The Arab slavers did not only march their African captives to Arabia, they also sometimes sold them to European slavers.
In addition to taking away their names, Arab enslavers also forbade enslaved Africans from practicing their own cultural traditions and customs. This was another attempt to erase their past and make them dependent on their enslavers for their identity and sense of belonging. This made it easier for enslavers to control and manipulate them, as they were cut off from their roots and lacked a sense of community and belonging.
The Arab slave trade, a major component of African history lasted more than 13 centuries. It began in the early 7th century and continued in one form or anther till 1960s
Credit: @melanated Facts, New African, David Gakunzi (The Araba-Muslim Slave Trade)