Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora By Ronald Segal

“From many centuries, merchants–mainly Moors from Morocco and Mauritania, but also Tuareg and Tadjakan ones–traded Saharan salt and other goods in Timbuktu for gold dust, ivory, pepper, and above all, slaves. One early-nineteenth-century writer reported that a 50 percent profit was possible from this trade in salt, purchased along the way. I 1816 once a caravan from Wadi Nun, in Morocco contained fifteen hundred to two thousand camels, had acquired a “considerable amount of salt” an Ijil, and was making for Timbuktu to buy a “great number of Negroes.” 

“The salt-for-slave equation remained the crucial one. French intervention against the slave trade, most successfully with the defeat and capture of Samori, the greatest slaver in Western Sudan, reduced the volume of trade but did not end it. Instead of relying on Western Sudanic slavers, Moors from Mauritania, along with the Kinta and Tuareg acquired slavers for dessert and desert-fringe markets by doing their own raiding and kidnapping. In 1899, for instance, the Kinta, “a respected clerical clan,” enslaved the entire population of one village.”

“As the colonial governor advised in 1918: “It can happen that in certain contracts between Moors, for the constitution of a bride price, for example, it is specified that a slave be given by the spouse. This is not, in my opinion, an act of slave trading–a slave who condition we have already recognized remains in the family and does not leave the country. This is not a loss for the masters. In effect, this constituted, and would long continue to do so, official connivance at an internal slave trade in virtually all of its customary forms.”

“According to Human Rights Watch/Africa, roughly a third of the inhabitants are beydanes (literally “white Moors). Another third, called haratin (derived from the Arabic word for freedom) and otherwise known as black Moors, are former black slaves or their descendants “who remain politically and culturally tied to their former masters.” The final third, generally blacks (sometimes known as Afro-Mauritanians) from various ethnic groups of which the largest is the Halpulaar, encompasses an untold number of people still held in slavery.”

Source: Islam’s Black Slaves: The Other Black Diaspora By Ronald Segal