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South From Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara

A F Jaccaci. The Bridge. Geert Mak. Gerald Hanley. Philip Marsden. The Desert and the Sown. The Cruel Way. Ella K. In Search of the Forty Days Road. Michael Asher. In Praise of Savagery. Warwick Cairns. The Mistress of Abha. William Newton. They were also taken from ships stopped by the pirates. Long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants, because of frequent pirate attacks.

Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century. The Arab slave trade originated before Islam and lasted more than a millennium. The history of the slave trade has given rise to numerous debates amongst historians. For one thing, specialists are undecided on the number of Africans taken from their homes; this is difficult to resolve because of a lack of reliable statistics: there was no census system in medieval Africa.

Archival material for the transatlantic trade in the 16th to 18th centuries may seem useful as a source, yet these record books were often falsified. Historians have to use imprecise narrative documents to make estimates which must be treated with caution: Luiz Felipe de Alencastro states that there were 8 million slaves taken from Africa between the 8th and 19th centuries along the Oriental and the Trans-Saharan routes.

South from Barbary : Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara

Another obstacle to a history of the Arab slave trade is the limitations of extant sources. There exist documents from non-African cultures, written by educated men in Arabic, but these only offer an incomplete and often condescending look at the phenomenon. For some years there has been a huge amount of effort going into historical research on Africa.

Arab, African and Oriental traders were involved in the capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean region into the Middle East, Persia and the Far east. From approximately until around the s, the Arab slave trade continued in one form or another. Some descendants of African slaves brought to the Middle East during the slave-trade still live there today, and are aware of their African origins. These are given in chronological order. A brief review of the region and era in which the Oriental and trans-Saharan slave trade took place should be useful here.

It is not a detailed study of the Arab world, nor of Africa, but an outline of key points which will help with understanding the slave trade in this part of the world. The religion of Islam appeared in the 7th century CE. These regions therefore had a diverse range of different peoples and were, to some extent, unified by an Islamic culture built on both religious and civic foundations.

They also could not be forced to earn money for their masters unless with an agreement between the slave and the master. These towns were inter-connected by a system of roads crossing semi-arid regions or deserts. In contrast to the Atlantic slave trade, where the male-female ratio was or , the Arab slave trade instead usually had a higher female-to-male ratio.

This suggests a general preference for female slaves.

Blacks are physically stronger than no matter what other people. Decades after abolition became law, however, many administrators recognized that it made a useful tool, especially along the Saharan frontier where France had many interests and aspirations but no practical way to enforce its will. Here military administrators used abolition as a tool of accommodation, a way to forge relationships with local elites.

In these arrangements, French administers granted Algero-Saharan slave masters and merchants permission to trade in slaves and keep those they owned, and in some cases, the French administration even returned fugitive slaves 9. In exchange, slave owners and merchants provided liaison services and intelligence on far-off regions Conversely, in cases where slaveholders refused French overtures, French officials fully enforced the law. The goal was to intensify conflict between masters and slaves, as well as strike at the material interests of elites. Thus from to , the military administration in Algeria applied the abolition law unevenly and instrumentally in an effort to make abolition serve as a tool of colonial power.

The question of exceptions found its own expression in Algeria. Pundits suggested a host of solutions over the course of the century, but three broad currents of opinion emerged. During this period, most policy makers saw their relations with Algerians in simple terms as those between victors and vanquished.

South From Barbary: Along the Slave Routes of the Libyan Sahara by Justin Marozzi

Therefore, although the capitulation suggested some sort of modus vivendi with Algerians based upon non-interference with cultural and social institutions such as religion, as well as respect for Algerian property rights, there was little serious French policymaking that sought to produce a field of social action based on consensual rather than coercive relationships. Rather, most envisioned that Algerians would simply feel the full force of an imperial civitas , haughty, supercilious, and thoroughly Hobbsian.

This system would be backed by occasional acts of spectacular violence that would shock Algerians and inspire awe in French omnipotence and thereby guarantee peace. In classic military logic, planners in Algeria thought that victory on the field of battle would bring resignation and ensure calm. Their vision of lasting peace in Algeria was that of an armed camp Bugeaud Moreover, social peace remained elusive throughout the s. In the end, this solution to the indigenous question was unsustainable. The November massacre of European settlers in the Mitidja Valley by the forces of the Emir Abd el Kader provoked an outcry in Algiers and Paris and a readiness on the part of the government to make a major military commitment in Algeria Schefer This escalation brought with it plans for an expanded community of French settlers.

If great efforts were to be made to keep Algeria French, it was thought, these sacrifices could only be made good by transforming the land into a thriving model of European civilization represented by a settler colony, "une colonie de peuplement" Buheiry ; Sessions This change of events fundamentally altered the terms of the indigenous question. French authors had been writing about the eventual need to exterminate or expel Algerians since the early years of the occupation.

Others called for "refoulement" , or expelling Algerians from colonial territory. For some, this was a variation on extermination, whereby French troops would drive Algerians into the Sahara where it was understood they would perish Bugeaud While others imagined that Algerians could be forced to flee to neighboring Arab territories Villacrose Both options were informed by discourses originating in the emerging fields of scientific racism and evolutionary ethnography, which anticipated a demographic collapse of indigenous people subject to European colonization Brantlinger There was far more to do than could be accomplished by French laborers, even if they would one-day settle the colony and make it prosperous.

Widely used in the eastern Mediterranean, a variation deployed in Ottoman territories of the Maghreb was the resettlement of client groups, in particular Africans of color, among recalcitrant populations in the northern Mediterranean lands. Many French planners found this policy particularly intriguing Aucapitaine In it they saw the chance to cut once and for all the Gordian knot of the indigenous question. Might not the ultimate solution to the problem, they asked, be found the day when they had an Algeria without Algerians?

Only four years earlier, when he was positioning himself for the Governor General position, Bugeaud had not seen slavery in terms of pragmatic accommodation with the status quo as his comment implies. Indeed, in Bugeaud had worked on projects to find ways to increase the traffic in African slaves to Algeria. The Fezzan had been in political turmoil since when the Ottomans seized Tripoli from Qaramanli rulers and then began to wrest control of trans-Saharan trade from autonomous Saharan groups Cordell This struggle opened opportunities for European powers, and Subtil, who came from that shady class of informal agents—adventurers and opportunists—that played such an important part in shaping colonial policy in Africa and the Middle East, saw advantages for himself and for France.

TransSaharan Slave Trade

In particular, he established close relations with Abd al-Jalil, leader of the powerful Arabic speaking confederation, the Awlad Sulayman. Abd al-Jalil extended an offer of alliance to Subtil, whom he took to be a representative of the French government. In return for arms and assistance, Abd al-Jalil promised to open Saharan trade routes to French commerce, catapulting French merchants into the commercial centers of Borno ahead of their British rivals. Moreover, he pledged to divert trade westward from Tripoli and Tunis to French-controlled Algerian markets. Finally, the Awlad Sulayman were a formidable military force and could support French operations as far away as Egypt.


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In all, they represented a valuable ally at a time when problems loomed with Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Egypt Therefore, Subtil embraced the offer. Subtil was received with discretion, but officials warmly welcomed his project behind closed doors. Trade was stagnant in eastern Algeria, and Bugeaud counted on revived Saharan commerce to boost the economic life of its capital, Constantine, which was still struggling after the sack by French troops The War Ministry was equally enthusiastic.

At this time of great international tensions, when the "Eastern Question" became the "Eastern Crisis", France could use armed allies like the Awlad Sulayman. The War Ministry was especially happy to work with informal agents like Subtil who gave them a safe margin of deniability and secrecy. He began preparations for a return trip to close the deal with Abd al-Jalil in the winter of While French merchants would be happy to sell their manufactured goods in central Africa, what could they expect back in exchange?

Some of the locally produced cotton textiles were of interest, but apart from Saharan dates, Subtil could not identify anything of great value to French buyers. Here his plan took a curious twist. Subtil suggested that slaves could be imported to Algeria where they might be used for labor and military service. The scale of the project was important. The War Ministry was ready to purchase 4, men and women and children on the first order and confirmed that if this succeeded, they were ready for more.

A group of 5, slaves was in itself a huge order for all parties involved. It should be remembered that French vessels annually carried just over twice as many people to slavery in the Americas in the eighteenth century, and 5, slaves was nearly double the entire amount crossing the Libyan desert during the mid-nineteenth century Lovejoy 48; Austen Subtil was undaunted, however. At francs a head, he wrote, Abd al-Jalil will furnish "autant de missions que nous lui en demanderons" Bugeaud himself was particularly enthusiastic. In addition to a robust military effort, these included developing new forms of settlements.

Bugeaud proposed military colonization. Inspired by the Roman model, he envisioned a system of militarized agricultural colonies at the backbone of French Algeria Bugeaud A system of self-sufficient military outposts would not only make Algeria economically productive, but, more importantly, it would finally bring order to the troubled colony by establishing a permanent military grid across the interior.