Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Mediterranean

By Hopper, Matthew S. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, September 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Mediterranean


Hopper, Matthew S., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Mediterranean. Edited by Terence Walz and Kenneth M. Cuno. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 264; index, maps and illustrations. $29.50 cloth.

This outstanding volume is one of the most significant additions in recent years to the growing literature on the African diaspora in the Middle East. It includes six chapters on the history of enslaved Africans in Egypt, two chapters on the Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean, and one chapter on Sudan. All but one of these chapters is published for the first time in this volume. The strength of this book lies in its depth. It presents new detailed studies on the lives of enslaved Africans in several parts of the Mediterranean world and expands the horizons of African diaspora studies by exploring new sources in stimulating ways. It is an important addition to library collections and is suitable for assignment to upper-division and graduate classes.

Following an introduction by the editors, the volume begins with Emad Ahmed Helal's chapter on the role of Sudanese soldiers in Muhammad Ali' s slave army of the early nineteenth century. Helal argues that historians typically ignore the first phase of Muhammad Ali' s military project (to form a modern army loyal to him alone), noting only that it quickly failed. Historians typically focus on the post- 1824 so-called "second nizam army" made up of Turkish officers and black slave soldiers, overlooking what Helal calls the "mixed slave army" that included thousands of African soldiers recruited through invasions of the Sudan beginning in 1815. Africans are not the focus of this chapter, but the author highlights their crucial role in battles in Arabia, Greece, and elsewhere.

Two chapters by Terence Walz and Kenneth Cuno address the significant presence of trans-Saharan Africans in urban and rural Egypt. Walz examines the Cairo census of 1848 and identifies some 15,000 trans-Saharan Africans, more than half of whom were generically labeled in the census as Sudaniyyin (blacks), while others are identified as: Habasha (Ethiopian), Barabira (from south of Aswan along the Nile), and Takarna (from West Africa and Darfur). The author carefully navigates the challenges of identifying populations by imprecise Arabic pseudonyms and provides focused analysis of two specific neighborhoods: Al-Jamaliyya and Abdin, which reveal details about the family lives and professions of Africans in Cairo. Cuno' s chapter examines the census registers of 1847-1848 and 1868 from four villages in al-Daqahliyya province to study Egypt's rural trans-Saharan African population. Cuno finds significant numbers of enslaved Africans in rural Egypt in the third quarter of the nineteenth century owing in part to increased supply and rural prosperity brought on by the cotton boom of the 1860s. In contrast to urban areas, male slaves predominated in rural villages, where most were employed in agriculture. However, he argues that- paradoxically- demand for agricultural labor was met more by internal migration than increased slave trading.

George Michael La Rue's chapter explores the fascinating subject of enslaved Africans in European households in Egypt in the first half of the nineteenth century. Several European doctors, diplomats, and travelers owned African slaves and included them as members of their households as their home countries were abolishing slavery and the slave trade. The author finds that European men who took slave wives did not free them, even if they bore them a child. Equally intriguing is Y. Hakan Erdem's recreation of an incident involving an enslaved African girl named Feraset in Ottoman Izmit who set fire to her owner's house in 1867. …

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