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The Moroccan Register of “Slaves” in the Early 18th Century: Enslavement, Blackness and Racial Binary

Tuesday 1 October 2024
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Organised in association with NIMAR.

The change in the meaning of Haratin (black Moroccans) into the synonym of “ex-slaves” occurred with Sultan Mawlay Isma‘il’s project (1672–1727) to create a royal army by enslaving all black people in Morocco either by purchasing those who were already “slaves” or enslaving those who were ex-slaves or free. An equation of blackness, “black” people of “African” descent and slavery was established to justify the subjection of free Muslim black Moroccans. Official documents such as registers of slaves were carefully written to record the validity of the Sultan’s operation in acquiring all blacks to be used in his army.

This project perpetuated the slave status of all black people, even those who were free, and most were “legally” free. The operation of Mawlay Isma‘il was not only illegal but it was also an anti-maroonage project.  Indeed, many black people refused their enslavement and sought refuge and help among different communities. I have discovered cases of heroic examples of agency of enslaved people navigating within enslavement and against it. The story of maroonage (which is a story of or resistance and freedom) is unknown in Moroccan historiography and their place in the archives is limited. This project will explain how we can read the limited archives in Morocco to reconcile the past by disrupting the conventional narrative.

Chouki El Hamel

Chouki El Hamel is director of the Center for African Mediterranean Studies (CAMS) and a professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, specializing in West and Northwest Africa. His training and doctoral studies were at the University of Sorbonne. He was a scholar in residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. In the year 2017, he was awarded a Fulbright grant for research in Morocco. He has been a visiting scholar in many universities in the world. He is an Africanist scholar who is particularly interested in the subaltern relationship of servile and marginalized communities to Islamic ruling institutions.

His research into these relationships revolves around issues of slavery, race/ethnicity/color, gender, power/class, and historical justice. He published two books and many scholarly articles in academic journals and popular magazines. He is the author of Black Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race, and Islam (Cambridge University Press, 2013). This book was translated into French in 2019.  He is now working on a new book project entitled “The Hidden Story of Maroons in Morocco.” He recently published "The Story Map: Race & Slavery". A website that provides an excellent entry to a wider public-facing debate about slavery and race in North Africa. 

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