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