Resistance, Revolts, and
Returns to Africa
Frugal, serious, and dedicated to hard work in order to get their freedom or reach the upper echelons of the slave structure, the African Muslims may have appeared, at first glance, to be “model slaves.” These characteristics, however, represent only one facet of their experience in the Americas, that which drew on their education and discipline in Africa. They also brought with them a tradition of defiance and rebellion, because as Muslims, they could be only free men and women. They proved antagonistic toward their captors from the very beginning, and from a few years after the arrival of the first Africans in the New World, anti-Muslim measures were being implemented repeatedly to protect the colonies from their assault.
As early as 1503, one year after he had been appointed governor of Hispaniola, Nicholas de Ovando asked the Spanish Crown to put a complete stop to the importation of Africans, because they fled, joined the Indians, and taught them “bad customs.”1 Nevertheless, Africans continued to be shipped, and in ever greater numbers; and the Muslims among them caught the colonists' attention. On May 11, 1526, Spain passed the first item in a series of anti-Muslim legislation. A royal decree (cédula) specifically forbade the introduction of “Gelofes” (Wolof) from Senegal, negros from the Levant, blacks who had been raised with the Moors, and people from Guinea.
The Wolof were the only African population targeted by name. The Spanish settlers had reason to be familiar with them, because the Senegalese had just led the first slave revolt by Africans in the Americas. In 1522, Wolof revolted on the sugar plantation of Admiral Don Diego