The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam By David M. Goldenberg


Note too that the early Arab (not African) leader ‘Ubada inb al-Samit is described as a black (aswad) man, and consider the expression used by the Arabic writers to mean “non Arabs and Arabs” (i.e., the whole world), al-ahmar wa’l-aswad, “the red and the black” respectively. Similarly the explanation of al-Jahiz, which he puts in the mouths of the Zanj (black Africans): “The Arabs belong with us not with the whites, because their color is nearer to ours… For the Prophet, God bless and save him, said, ‘I was sent to the red and the black,’ and everyone knows that the Arabs are not red.” Jahiz concludes: “Our blackness, O people of the Zanj, is not different from the blackness of the Banu Sulaym and other Arab tribes. We can add several other authors including those who use the term in the context of Ham’s curse of dark skin.

Ka’b al-Ahbar (d. ca. 652), a Jewish Yemeni convert to Islam, spoke of the cursed descendants of Ham “begetting black [aswadayn] male and female children until they multiplied and spread along the shore. Among them are the Nubians [nuba], the Negroes [zanj], the Barbars [brb], the Sindhis [sind], the Indians [hind] and all the blacks [sudan]: they are the children of Ham. We saw earlier that Wahb inbn Munabbih (d. ca. 73), “a celebrated authority on the traditions of the ahl al-kitab,” reported that God “changed [Ham’s] color and the color of his descendants in response to his father’s curse,” and that Ham’s descendants are Kush, Canaan, and Fut; Fut Fut’s descendants are the Indians; and Kush and Canaan’s descendants are the various races of blacks [sudan]: Nubians, Zanj, Qaran, Zaghawa, Ethiopians, Copts and Barbar. In another source Wahb is reported to have said that Canaan’s descendants were the blacks [al-aswid], Nubians [nuba], Fezzan [Fazzan], Zanj [zanj], Zaghawah [zaghawa], and all the peoples of the Sudan [sudan]. The Akhbar al zaman counts “among the descendants of Sudan, son of Kan’an…the Ishban, the Zanj, and many peoples that multiplied in the Maghrib, about 70 of then.

Clearly, the rabbinic story of sex in the ark is an etiology that is meant to account for the existence of all dark skinned people, not just the Black African. Although, to the best of my knowledge, rabbinic literature does not mention the skin color of the Putites and Canaanites, who descended from Ham, it does refer to the dark skin of Ham’s other descendant, the Egyptians. In the next chapter, we will see two examples of Egyptians referred to as Kushites because of their dark skin color. (107)

Archaeological and epigraphic (South Arabian) evidence in East Africa indicates that already in the early first millennium B.C.E. there were strong trade contracts between East Africa and Arabia. Similarly, “topographical names with Sabean foundations testify.. to the relations between ancient Yemen and Abyssinia. The anonymous author of the Periplus says that in his time a significant part of the East African coast (“Azania” was subject to the kingdom of Arabia “by ancient right” and that Arab traders “through continual intercourse and intermarriage, are familiar with the area and its language. Lewicki notes that the name Azania itself indicates the existence of South Arabian traders in East Africa, “many centuries BC,” for the name is a Greek transcription of the Arabic name Ajam. In light of the evidence from the Greek and Latin texts of a slave trade in black Africans during the first six centuries of the Common Era, it is likely that these trad contacts between Africa and Arabia included slaves.

Another reflection of biblical imagery may be indicated in the midrashic play on the Arabic word Kuwayyis to describe the Kushites as particularly handsome people. (195)

Source: The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam By David M. Goldenberg

Carthage and Tunis: Past and Present: in Two Parts

“Historians speak only very vaguely of North Africa during the period previous to the arrival of the Phonecians. Herodotus gives the names of numerous peoples or nations situated between Egypt and lake Triton; but he says nothing of the inhabitants along the Atlas, and he sums up his information upon Africa thus: “There are only two great native peoples, the Libyans, and the Ethiopians.”

“Leaving aside the Ethiopians, (whether they were really blacks or simply a people of very swarthy complexion,) since authors place them altogether towards the interior, there remain for the general primitive people of North Africa only the Libyans. Sallust, who attempted to trace back the origin of this people in the Numidian books of Hiempsal, written out according to ancient traditions, says that after the death of Hercules in Spain, the Persians, the Medes and the Armenians who had followed him came again into Africa and mixed up with the ancient inhabitants of the country, the Libyans and the Getulians.”

“From the union of the Persians and the Getulians sprang the Numidians, and from the union of the Medes and Armenians with the Libyans sprang the Moors. The Byzantine historian, Procopius, speaks of the Moors as Canaanites expelled from Palestine at the epoch of the invasion by Joshua. Admitting this, let us observe that the Getulians, Numidians, and Moors enter into the unity of the Libyan race vaguely indicated by Herodotus. In fact, Sallust speaks of the Getulians as having the same manners and the same traits of character as the Libyans; and Strabo considers them a branch of that people.”

“Herodotus regards the Numidians as a simple variety of the Libyans, and Strabo regards the Moors in the same light. According to Sallust, Moors and Numidians are, it is true, mixed races, but are attached to a more numerous and predominant primitive population, with which they were necessarily confounded. From that which precedes, we can I think, infer, first, the existence of a single primitive population who origin the Latin and Greek authors scarcely specify, and which they regarded, according to their habits, as purely aboriginal and indigenous; second, successive foreign immigration, which became amalgamated with this native population.”

“And, first, this population itself, like that of the whole world, is of oriental origin; for humanity, like civilization, has followed the light of the rising sun from east to west. The identity or the similiary of civilization, has followed the light of the risin sun from east to west. The identity or the similiarity of the language and of the general characteristics of this population and of the primitive inhabitants of western Arabia, Palenstine and Egypt indicates their common origin.”

“The Libyans, like the ancient Egyptians and the Phonecians, are of a stock slightly mixed, in which predominates the blood of Ham. According to the Bible, Mizraim, Canaan, Cush and Phut were brothers, and modern philolgy has found a striking analogy between the very name of the Lehabim descendants of Mizraim, and the Libyans of antiquity.”

“The Arab historians who speak of Africa agree with ethnographers and modern travellers in affirming the identity of the Libyans or primitive Africans, and of the actual Berber. These Berbers, who are scatted over the whole north of Africa, from the valleys of the Atlas to the desert of Sahara, and from Egypt to the Atlantic ocean, and who are called Amasighs in Morocco; Cabyls in in Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli; Tibboos in Fezzan and in Egypt, and Touaregs in the north of the Sahara;–these Berbers, are regarded today as one of the types of that primitive family which science calls Egypto-Berber, and of which they are the most numerous and the most persistent branch.” 

Carthage and Tunis: Past and Present: in Two Parts


Zaghawa and Sadrata Berbers ruled Kanem in 900 A.D.

These regions have since the eighth century A.D. been a stronghold of Moslem unorthodoxy–a remote area where the Zenatian Berber tribes, who embraced the doctrines of the Kharijites or “seceders” from the Khalif Ali at the battle of Siffin, have been able to maintain even to present day a distinctive social organization.

It would appear, for instance, from the geographer Yacubi, A.D. 891, that the “fathers” of the medieval slave trade between Chad region and the Mediterranean were merchants from Basra and Kufa and Khorasan–Wahabites–who settled in Southern Fezzan.

Hence, no doubt, the reason why the Tomagheri Teda are commonly called by Bornu writers, “Beni Wahba,” and why in Bornu itself the leading hierarchs were called, as among the M’zab, “Tolba.”

From Edrisi we learn that the Zaghawa Berbers (who towards A.D.900 ruled Kanem) were fused and influenced by other Berbers called “Sadrata.” From Dr. Mercier’s work it seems fairly clear that the word “Sadrata,” hitherto unexplained and the reading even doubted, were Kharijite Berbers of the Wargla region, who, owing to one or other of the constant schisms, had gone south and settled among the Zaghawa of Kanem.

Source: Journal of the African Society, Volume 22 By African Society