Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Last Slaves: French filmmakers and ARTE TV take a hard look at slavery in Africa and the Middle East

Note: see updates below for July 1st, 9th, 15th, and 19th re: important information about these films

I’ve been eagerly following some recent work (film, writing) on the history of slavery in North Africa and the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A scholarly, open, and honest discussion about the history of slavery of black Africans in Islamic countries over 1400 years is both rare and valuable. The same can be said about scholars who research the trading of slaves between African kingdoms over many centuries and the participation of African slavers and monarchs in the booming trade across the Atlantic.

The French-German cultural TV network ARTE.TV aired throughout June 2008 several feature programs about the history of black Africans throughout the world, including such classics as Roots and short biography of Malcom X. The series of special programs is titled FREEDOM and additional info about the series can be found at the ARTE.TV website address:,CmC=2032338.html

The programs are available in both French and German languages and the ARTE +7 online video website provides full length videos of each program for a period of seven days after the original program broadcast dates.

My readers from France and Germany and those with good German and French language skills can dig right in by following the links to the ARTE.TV websites provided below. In the meantime I will work on English translations of the German language text below, “Meschenhandel – Ein welweites Verbrechen” (Human Trafficking – A Worldwide Crime), “Die letzten Sklaven” (The Last Slaves), and “Sklaven für den Orient” (Slaves for the Orient). When the translations are complete I will publish the information in English to Jewels ASAP.

As the ARTE +7 video service will terminate the availability of the films “Die letzten Sklaven” and “Sklaven für den Orient” online after July 1st (films originally aired on June 24th), please visit the ARTE TV website ASAP to enjoy the work of the French filmmakers and the discussions and interviews with leading African and European scholars and activists that helped to make these excellent documentaries about the slave trade in Africa and the Middle East possible. For readers in Europe who receive ARTE TV programs via cable or satellite, the two documentaries will be repeated on July 3, 2008 starting at 10:00 AM CET.

Update July 15th

The links to the ARTE TV streaming video files for the two documentaries referenced below have expired on the ARTE +7 website. Fortunately I have found a website that is hosting the full 45-minute version of the film "Sklaven für den Orient" (Slaves for the Orient). Online access to the documentary is free, no sign-up is required to view a five minute preview of the documentary, and you can (presumably) access the film from anywhere on the planet (unlike the ARTE +7 video archives). The full video file can be downloaded to your PC for viewing offline (see instructions at

So, please visit the new Veoh Internet TV website and checkout Sklaven für den Orient (French & German language) by filmmaker Antoine Vitkine. For those readers living in France, Germany, and countries listed in my July 1st Update (see below), the documentary "Sklaven für den Orient" will repeat on ARTE TV network (cable, satellite) Friday, July 18th at 11:05 CET (see more info here).

Last but by all means not least, Sociolingo's Africa blog has a fine post about the continuation of modern-day slavery in Mali. Please read Mali: 21st Century Slavery at Sociolingo's Africa, a featured cover story at the UNHCR's IRIN News website.

IRIN News - a Hear Our Voices special feature
Mali: Thousands still live in slavery in north (Gao, 14 July 2008)

Update July 19th

I tried to find some information online today about the 20th Century journalist Joseph Kessel and his 1930 report for the French newspaper Le Matin. Kessel is the author of the book 'Marchés D'esclaves' (Slave Markets) which was featured at the beginning of the documentary film 'Slaves for the Orient' referenced above and below.

Most of the information online about Kessel is in the French language (my bad luck, my French language skills are very elementary) but I did find a report written in English that references Kessel's travels to Africa and Arabia in the early part of the twentieth century. Here is a link and a excerpt to that testimony before the British House of Lords in 1931.

Source: Hansard 1803-2005 (UK) Official records of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament

Excerpt from Hansard's Archives, Earl Buxton speaking, Lords Sitting of July 22, 1931:

The next country to which I wish to refer and in which the position is a very difficult one is Arabia. There is incontestable evidence from all hands that the worst slavery and the worst slave-trade are carried on in parts of Arabia and further east than that. The Temporary Commission reported very strongly as to the existence of the slave trade and slavery in many parts of Arabia. We have had recently the evidence of Mr. Eldon Rutter, Mr. Bertram Thomas and Mr. Joseph Kessel, who have all recently travelled through this country enquiring into the matter. All of them agree as to the very serious position which still exists there. It is true that at one time there were many public places at which slaves were sold like merchandise, and the evidence goes to show that to a certain extent these public sales are not so frequent as they used to be. But Mr. Rutter says that there are centres in towns and villages where slaves are sold privately; in other places dealers keep a definite stock of slaves, or there are agents who dispose of any slaves that anyone desires to sell.

§ He goes on to say this—and I think your Lordships will bear with me if I quote his words—in regard to the present position as to the supply of slaves, that there are three ways of keeping up the supply of human merchandise in Arabia. First, he says, there is breeding for the market. The Sudan and Abyssinia have furnished such a vast number of slaves during the passage of years that their children are to a great extent sufficient to meet the demand. The child of a slave woman, even if the father be free, remains a slave and becomes part of the estate and can be sold separately. Secondly, he says, there is the slave trade. This consists of bringing the human cargo to the Arabian coast by the desert and by clandestine routes and then despatching by caravans to the great towns of the Hejaz. This Mr. Kessel describes as "risky."

§ He gives a case which, if I may read it, will serve to show what the risks are. He says that he was speaking to the owner of a dhow and that the dhow owner told him this: One day a little while ago a warship chased me. This was overtaking my dhow. There was scarcely any wind and there was no narrow channel where I could find refuge. Then I threw a slave into the water and the warship stopped to pick him up. I increased the distance between us and three times I did the same thing. I got off by this trick. How is it"— said the dhow owner thoughtfully— that the strangers are so fond of slaves that they would lose such a fine dhow as mine to save a slave? That shows, at all events, that the trade still exists.

§ Thirdly, Mr. Kessel says that there is what is called the pilgrim method, which is less dangerous but almost more infamous. The slaves are embarked well within the regulations as pilgrims, but they never return. It also comes about that parents who have taken their whole family to the Sacred City are beggared by the exploitation of faith practised there, and sell their children in order to have money with which to return. This is confirmed by other witnesses who have also seen the same thing in regard to the Mecca pilgrims. There is no doubt that Arabia is one of the most difficult parts to deal with. It is very scattered and there is a restless population to deal with and control.

End excerpt___

Update July 1st

I've just learned today from one of my readers in the States (USA) that the following message appears at the ARTE +7 website:

"Um dieses Video zu sehen, müssen Sie in Deutschland, Frankreich, Guadeloupe, Französisch-Guayana, Martinique, Reunion, Französisch-Polynesien, St. Pierre und Miquelon, Wallis und Futuna, Mayotte, Neukaledonien oder Französische Südgebiete wohnen. Wir bitten Sie um Ihr Verständnis."

Translation (English): In order to view this video you must reside in Germany, France, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique, Reunion, etc. etc. ... We ask for your understanding.

What a bummer! It is not understandable why such an excellent TV network like ARTE would restrict access to online visitors from countries other than those listed above. I'll try to get to the bottom of this and get back to my readers. ENDE

Update July 9th:

While doing a bit of follow-up research today on these documentaries I came across a post about the ARTE TV special on Menschenhandel (slavery, human trafficking) over at Spreeblick, a top German blogger based out of Berlin. One of Spreeblick's readers, Van, has provided URL's to the streaming video files hosted at ARTE +7 and they are still working past the online viewing cutoff date of July 1st. Note: online streaming video access is unfortunately no longer available as of July 15th.

In the meantime I will work on those promised translations of the German text to English about these documentaries and throw in some extras (historical research and articles) on the subject to boot. So if you are really interested in learning more about the history of black slavery in the Middle East and on the African continent, stay tuned.

The film “Sklaven für den Orient” is loaded with rare documentary film footage and photographs about the history of the slavery of black Africans in the Arab and Islamic world and on the continent of Africa. “Die letzten Sklaven” by filmmakers Sophie Jeaneau and Anna Kwak is a riveting account about the efforts to free a modern-day slave held in captivity in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

ARTE.TV – Geschicte & Gesellschaft – Themenabend June 24, 2008
Menschenhandel - Ein weltweites Verbrechen

Es ist kaum zu glauben, aber weil sie die ganze, ungekürzte und umfassende Geschichte der Sklaverei aufrollen und erzählen wollten, wurden französische Historiker vor kurzem an den Pranger gestellt. Doch die Fakten lassen sich nicht einfach von der Hand weisen und wegdiskutieren. Tatsächlich war der innerafrikanische Handel mit Menschen mindestens ebenso verbreitet wie der von den Europäern organisierte Sklavenhandel von Afrika in überseeische Kolonien. Jahrhunderte lang wurden Sklaven aus Schwarzafrika in den Orient verkauft. Die Sklaverei ist eine zähe Tradition, die sich beispielsweise in Mauretanien bis heute gehalten hat.

Der Themenabend will die grausame Tatsache des Sklavenhandels, den die Europäer nach Amerika organisierten, nicht relativieren. Aber er will auch andere, "tabuisierte" Formen des Menschenhandels und der Sklaverei benennen. Neben einer Dokumentation über die Jahrtausende alte Tradition der Sklaverei in Mauretanien ist ein Beitrag über den noch zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts betriebenen innerafrikanischen Menschenhandel zu sehen. Den Abschluss des Themenabends bildet eine Gesprächsrunde, moderiert von Daniel Leconte.

Menschenhandel – Ein weltweites Verbrechen

Die letzten Sklaven

Das westafrikanische Land Mauretanien ist die letzte Hochburg der Sklaverei. Schon viermal wurden dort Menschenhandel und Versklavung offiziell abgeschafft, aber verändert hat sich im Grunde nichts. Doch nun gibt es einen Hoffnungsschimmer: Die junge Generation lehnt sich gegen Sklaverei und Menschenhandel auf, und das sowohl auf Seiten der Sklaven als auch auf der der so genannten "Herren".

Die Islamische Republik Mauretanien, im August 2007: Der neue Präsident der Republik, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, verabschiedet ein Gesetz, das Sklaverei unter Strafe stellt. Bereits zum vierten Mal wird in Mauretanien offiziell die Haltung von Sklaven "abgeschafft". Daraus lässt sich im Umkehrschluss folgern, dass die Sklaverei in diesem Land der Sahelzone zwischen Maghreb und Schwarzafrika bis vor knapp einem Jahr noch toleriert wurde.

In Mauretanien gehört die Sklaverei zum System. Eine Jahrtausende alte Tradition will, dass jeder Mensch hier als "Herr" oder "Sklave" zur Welt kommt. Weder Gesetz noch Staat konnten diesen Brauch bisher unterbinden. Die Sklaven gehören zu Haus und Gut ihres Herrn. Sie erledigen die niedrigen Arbeiten, während ihre «Herren» Schöngeister, Geschäftsleute, Beamte und Intellektuelle sind. Auf diesem althergebrachten System baut die gesamte mauretanische Gesellschaft auf, sowohl in der "maurischen", Arabisch sprechenden als auch in der schwarzafrikanischen Gemeinschaft. Um einen Aufstand der Sklaven zu vermeiden, werden diese von ihren Sklavenhaltern mit religiösen Argumenten eingeschüchtert: Wer fliehe, komme in die Hölle.

Biram, Boubacar, Aminetou, Mohammed Lémine und Messaoud stammen aus beiden Lagern, Sklaven und «Herren». Sie haben jetzt den Mut aufgebracht, sich dem System zu verweigern. Ihr Ziel besteht darin, das Land von der Geißel der Sklaverei zu befreien. Auf ihnen ruht die Hoffnung, dass in Mauretanien die Sklaverei bald tatsächlich der Vergangenheit angehört.

(Frankreich, 2008, 45mn)
ARTE F - Regie: Sophie Jeaneau, Anna Kwak

Die Letzten Sklaven (video program available online June 24 – July 1, 2008 at ARTE +7)

Sklaven für den Orient

Über den grausamen Handel der Europäer mit afrikanischen Sklaven nach Amerika ist allgemein vieles bekannt und von Historikern wissenschaftlich dokumentiert. Doch bis heute ist es tabu, darüber zu sprechen, dass, Schätzungen zufolge, im Laufe der Jahrhunderte insgesamt allein 17 Millionen Afrikaner gefangen genommen und als Sklaven in die muslimische Welt verkauft wurden. Die Dokumentation versucht nachzuvollziehen, warum dieses Thema ebenso wie der Sklavenhandel zwischen afrikanischen Ländern bis in die heutige Zeit ein Tabu geblieben ist.

Jeder weiß Bescheid über den von den Europäern organisierten Sklavenhandel von Afrika nach Amerika und über die elf Millionen Afrikaner, die unter schlimmsten Bedingungen wie Vieh auf Sklavenschiffen verfrachtet wurden. Dieser Menschenhandel ist heute Gegenstand einer aktiven Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Weniger bekannt ist jedoch der Verkauf von Sklaven aus Schwarzafrika in den Orient und in die arabisch-muslimische Welt. Schätzungen zufolge wurden im Laufe von 14 Jahrhunderten insgesamt 17 Millionen Afrikaner als Sklaven in muslimische Länder verkauft.

Außerdem befasst sich die Dokumentation mit dem der Öffentlichkeit noch weniger bekannten innerafrikanischen Menschenhandel, den afrikanische Königreiche Jahrhunderte lang betrieben - lange bevor die Europäer die afrikanischen Küsten für sich entdeckten. Ferner veranschaulicht die Dokumentation durch bisher unveröffentlichte Fotos, dass der Sklavenhandel in der muslimischen Welt und Schwarzafrika bis in die Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts weiterblühte.

Wie wurden die Sklaven gefangen genommen? Welche Arbeiten mussten sie verrichten? Diese und andere Fragen beantworten die Experten Salah Trabelsi, Ibrahima Thioub, Henri Medard und Mohamed Ennaji. Die arabischen und afrikanischen Historiker erläutern, warum die Geschichte des Sklavenhandels in der afrikanischen und muslimischen wie in der westlichen Welt ein heikles Thema ist und bleibt. Dahinter stehen diverse Ängste: Angst davor, den Sklavenhandel nach Amerika zu banalisieren, Rachegedanken zu schüren und des Rassismus oder der Kolonisierung beschuldigt zu werden - alles Gründe, die einer Vergangenheitsbewältigung heute noch im Wege stehen.

(Frankreich, 2008, 45mn)
ARTE F - Regie: Antoine Vitkine

Sklaven für den Orient (Les esclaves oubliés) by Antoine Vitkine, France 2008

Documentary preview and full length video at Veoh Network

Slaves for the Orient (Les esclaves oubliés, Sklaven für den Orient) by Antoine Vitkine (program description, French and German languages)

More information about ARTE.TV documentaries and cultural programs can be found at the ARTE +7 website and the ARTE TV website (French and German language).

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StuffAPIU said...

"What a bummer! It is not understandable why such an excellent TV network like ARTE would restrict access to online visitors from countries other than those listed above. I'll try to get to the bottom of this and get back to my readers. ENDE."

- I wouldn't be surprised if there was a restriction on it from here because of the content. After all, it does show the prominence of African kingdoms over centuries. American education doesn't include that.

Koluki said...

Very interesting, but shame I only got all this wonderful information today. In any case, I'll follow some of the links you posted here (I honestly admire your dedication to such detailed research... plus the translations!)

Just a little note: the role of African Kingdoms in slavery is well documented and researched (and widely acknowledged by Africans 'in the know'...) particularly in Economic History studies.

Sala sentle!

Flexotank said...

Two things:

The reason why programs are just available to certain countries via the web is simple. It has to do with broadcast rights. The maker of the programs have sold the rights to Arte for France, Germany and their colonies only.

There's an elephant in the room! The Arab/Moslem world has developed on slavery and is still using it to these days. Europe and the Americas abolished it in the mid nineteenth century. Slave trade by Europeans,was initially developed by Portuguese king Henrique the navigator in the mid 15th century. The initial idea was to trade salves against rugs with the Maures. He then decided to populate Algarve with African slaves to grow Tangerines. In the mid 16th century, 15% of Lisbon population were slaves. Portugal was the only European country who relied on slavery on its own territory.

Another interesting fact, which seems to be forgotten: between one and two millions Europeans have been captured and worked as salves in North Africa and Arabia. Only after the third Barbaresque War led by Thomas Jefferson, at the beginning of the 19th century, did the trade of European slaves stopped. The expeditionary corps which was created and sent by the US to deal with the problem is now known as "the US Marines". Securing the region was probably one main indirect cause of the weakening of North Africa that then lead to the French Invasions.