4 thoughts on “Slavery”

  1. The fallible instrument known as my memory tells me that I manumitted 22 slaves as Assistant Political Agent in Dubai in the period 1958-60. Usually nothing more was heard after a certificate had been issued. However, I do remember that on one occasion the Agency was approached by a senior female protesting that we had freed one of her slaves and she had to be told that we had the authority.

  2. As a Political Officer in the W.A.P. (1961 to 1967) I had – so far as I knew – no authority to free slaves, and enquiry was made difficult by the use of ‘abd for all those of darker colour. When I invited a few locals to lunch with a visiting Pakistani ambassador, a graduate of Oxford, an old sheikh commented afterwards that, for an ‘abd, he seemed quite a civilised man. But slaves certainly formed part of the Fadhli Sultan’s household.
    First hard evidence of their status came when capital punishment was introduced for murder. As luck had it, the first murder was of a member of the ruling “dola” by two cousins. Faced with a challenge to his authority, the Sultan confirmed the judge’s decision of execution. The Federal Guard refused to carry out the order, aware that tradition required revenge killing of 7 tribesmen for any one member of the dola. The Guard commander, a nephew of the Sultan, washed his hands of the matter and was sent into immediate exile. A large crowd assembled around the Secretariat building, the woman ululating eerily as all watched to see if the Sultan buckled. I longed to be somewhere else. He resolved the issue by calling in a family slave, drew out his pistol, hammered it on the table and giving it to the slave said: ”Shoot them both or I shoot you”. The slave nodded, walked down the road to the jail and ended the crisis. Revenge could not be satisfied by retaliation against him, so the matter ended.
    In order to avoid any further risk of Guard mutiny, another slave was appointed to command in place of the nephew. He brought the telegram informing me of my appointment to the Diplomatic Service and, as tradition required, in order to recognise the bringer of good news I presented him with a silver-plated pistol and we became close. He went into exile with his master when the Sultan jumped ship and fled to Cairo. Years later they were together in Saudi Arabia.
    Before my marriage celebrations in the Sultanate, a sheikh sent round two young slaves as a present, a boy and a girl, both aged 6 or 7, the memory of them standing barefoot and hand-in-hand in the sun still haunts me. There would have been no life for them outside a household, so I returned them with a stern – and futile message – that Britain had opposed slavery and the practice had been abolished by the United Nations.
    Interesting museum – I look forward to visiting,

  3. (Abolition of the East African slave trade was the subject of my MPhil dissertation at Cambridge in 2012.) Probably more important than the trans-Saharan slave trading routes was the traffic conducted by Arabs mainly of Omani origin from East African ports such as Kilwa and Bagamoyo, through Zanzibar, with the destination of the slaves being Zanzibar itself, the Gulf and so to Persia, and the Red Sea (eg to Mecca). This trade peaked in the mid-19th century, when Sa’id bin Sultan was Ruler of Muscat and Zanzibar, and later, when his sons were Sultans in both places. Many of the slaves brought from the Great Lakes region of what is now Tanzania were retained for employment in Arab-owned plantations (of cloves, spices, and other crops) in Zanzibar and Pemba, and on the East African coast. Although it’s very difficult to assess numbers, most scholars agree with you that the numbers of slaves traded in this and the trans-Saharan routes – over a much longer period than the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but in smaller ships and caravans – roughly equated those taken from West Africa to America. When I told a senior Omani, an adviser to Sultan Qaboos, of the subject of my research, he said, “Oh, were we naught boys, then?” So you are also right to say that the subject is often kept behind the curtain – despite the very obvious evidence of there having been slaves, in the number of people you see with African features on Arab city streets.

  4. Sir Terence Clark

    As Assistant Political Agent in Dubai in the mid-1960s, I used to review occasionally cases of travellers wanting to use their manumission certificate in place of a passport when applying for a visa. The back of the certificate would be covered with immigration stamps showing that it had been used for travel in the Gulf.
    When I was later Head of Chancery in Muscat in 1972-73, I had a case of a man who sought asylum by clasping the huge flagpole in the centre of the Embassy courtyard.
    Those old traditions died out only slowly!

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