Slavery in Morocco

Figure 1.--We found a French postcard with the caption '16. Moroccan slave woman from Marrakech'. The postcard portrait is one of many sold in France to people interested in exotic aspects of their colonies. The same portrait was, however, sold later and printed in Algeria by the same company with the caption '120. Arab Woman with her child'. Source E.S. (presumably the post card company. The postcards are undated, but we would guess were taken in the 1900s before World War I. Presumbly the company thought it would sell better is the 'slave' apelation was removed. Or perhaps authoriries would have been embarassed to admit that there were slaves in French colonial Algeria. After some discussion, we believe that the first caption could be the original and more accurate for several reasons. 1) The serial number is 16, while the Algerian version is 120. 2) The caption is more specific with the indication of Marrakech and the identification of slave status. 3) The postcard is black and white. After the turn of the 20th century, the technology of reoroducung photographs for lithographic printing rapidly improved, first with balck and white, than with color. 4) The indication of the woman as a slave is a clear reason of her uncovered head. Slave women were not required to wear the hijab. The only part of the body that a slave woman has to cover in public, according the Islamic scholars, is the pelvis. It seems that somewhere the slave women were not allowed to cover the head to be clearly recognized. In contrast, the baby doesn't give us any indication, because neither slave nor free children until puiberty were required to wear any clothing according the rules of modesty. Put your cursor on the image to see the second postcard.

Modern Morocco was a part of the Roman Empire. We are not sure how far Roman rule extended into the interior. As the climate was different than the modern arid climate, North Africa was a a major grain producing region for the Romans. We suspect that slaves were extensively used on agricultural estates. We have little actually inform,ation on slavery in Morocco during the Roman era. While Roman slavery is a well reserached topic, this usually maeans slavery in Rome itself and the Italian peninsula. Much less is known about slavery in the various provinces of the Empire. We expect that the slaves in what is now Morocco were mostly European captives and war prisoners. We have no information at this time about the enslavdement of sub-Saharan Africans. The Sahara may have been a relatively effective barrier to trade. Nor do we have information on practices with the Vandal and Byzantine cionquest. After the Arab conquest (8th century AD), important slave markets operated in North Africa (Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli and Cairo). The most established Moroccan slaves markets were in Tangier and Marrakesh. Other reports mention one in Ceuta. The camel made possible expanded trans-Saharan trade. African slaves from the Senegal River area were brought across the Sahara and sold in public places or in the established souks (markets). Very little information is available on the early Moroccan slave trade. We know from more recent accounts that potential buyers were allowed to carefully examine the offered 'merchandise'. We note the recent work of a scholar who writes that contrary to Islamic principles, Arabs and Berbers in northwest Africa imposed a racial slavery upon the black peoples of the region. He concentrates on Sultan Mawlay Ismail's who enslaved 221,000 black Moroccans (late-17th century) to form a substantial army at relatively low cost. These slave soldiers and their families managed to leverage the important contruibution to the Sultan's administration and gradually free themselves. Many later fell back into slavery after the demise of the Sultan's dynasty. The varying fortunes of e black Moroccans stand in contrast to Islamic claims of a non-racial brotherhood. [El Hamel] The Barbary Pirates also operated from what is now Morocco. One of the accomplishments of Islam is a relative progressive approach to racial dififferences, but imperfectly accepted. In Morocco today, Africans even in the country legally report bring attacked and called ugly names, including the ephitat 'slave'.


(El) Hamel, Chouki. Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race, and Islam (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge and New York, 2013).


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Created: 10:56 PM 10/27/2013
Last updated: 10:56 PM 10/27/2013