The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (most commonly referred to by its short name Rhode Island) in the US will next week on November 2 vote on whether to change its official name by dropping the words "and Providence Plantations."
by Charles Onyango-Obbo on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 4:39am
To some, the words evokes reminders of Rhode Island's prime role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
As it happens, lately I have been doing some private research on slavery, and the striking thiNG is that while there is a lot material oN the trafficking of African slaves to Europe and the Americas, there is comparatively little about an earlier trade – the sale of African slaves in the Arab Middle East.
One reason for that is that there are virtually no descendants of African slaves in Arab Middle East, so no one to fight to keep their memory alive.
Even leading African scholars like our own Prof. Ali Mazrui tend to say little about this sale of Africans to Arab Middle East – in his case, because it raises awkward questions.
The question then is, why did African slaves perish in the Arab Middle East? One reason is that while in Europe and the Americas African slaves were taken to work in plantations and industries, in the Middle East they were mostly domestic labour.
Partly for that reason, the African slaves were castrated. As eunuchs, they couldn’t have sex with their “masters’” wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and cousins. Some (not all) of their owners had another vested in turning them into eunuchs – the slaves became rounded around the hips like women. So in the night the Sultans would be in the embrace of their wives or mistresses, and during the day they would be caressing the buttocks of the eunuchs.
An even more tragic thing about eunuchs, it that to create one eunuch, according to some accounts, you needed 20 men. The other 19 perish after castration, from infections and bleeding to death!
Thirdly, unlike the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the one to the Middle East included very few women. Thus even if the African slaves in the Arab world weren’t castrated, they would not have been able to reproduce, because it would have been nearly impossible to find a female companion.
Even in the Americas, whereas the white slave owners everyday went about picking a strong-backed African woman to sleep with, the male slaves did not have any opportunities to sleep with white women. In this way, the slave footprint largely disappeared in the Arab world, but a few survived in the Americas and Europe! All this is remarkable, considering that millions of African slaves directed in horrid conditions in slave ships on the way to Europe and the America—that they should still survive there, but there is hardly a trace of them up north.
*I don’t focus on the global slave figures here, deliberately. It can be too emotive. Briefly, some of the latest numbers suggest that possibly up to 180 million our people were affected.