Thursday, 28 May 2015

Manumitted Slaves in Egyptian Massawa 1873 - 1885 العبيد المحررين في مصوع المصرية

From Bondage to Freedom on the Red Sea Coast: Manumitted Slaves in Egyptian Massawa 1873 - 1885 by Jonathan Miran

العبيد المحررين في مصوع المصرية 1873 - 1885
مصوع وتجارت الرقيق

الاثنين ١٦ فبراير، ١٨٧٤ كان الى حد بعيد, يوم غير عادي في المحكمة القضائية في مدينة مصوع الساحلية على ساحل البحر الأحمر. كان بالتأكيد يوم مشغول لكاتب المحكمة. في ذلك اليوم، قدم ٧٦ من العبيد ( ٤٣ إناث و ٣٣ ذكور) - ومعظمهم من مناطق الواقعة اليوم في إثيوبيا من مناطق الأ رومو، وعلى بعد ما يقرب من ألف كيلومتر بعيدا عن مصوع - قدمو انفسهم، واحدا تلو الآخر، إلى المحكمة المحلية ، التي أصدرت لهم العتق موثق تثبت حريتهم. لم يكن هذا ما يحدث في كل يوم.

The article can be downloaded here (may need registration)


The study of 239 manumission acts registered in the court records of the Red Sea port of  Massawa, now in the modern state of Eritrea, allows us glimpses into the practice of slavery and emancipation in that town in the 1870s and 1880s. The evidence sheds light both on urban slaves owned by local Massawans, commercial entrepreneur-sojourners, Egyptian officers and the Egyptian government, as well as on those slaves who might have been captured en route before their shipment across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. In the context of the scanty historiography of slavery in the Ethio-Eritrean area, the data provides unique information about gender, age, names, origins, geographic provenance and the circumstances of manumission of  276 slaves, many of whom originated in what are today areas of south-western and western Ethiopia, but also from the Eritrean borderlands and the Sudan. The evidence also provides insights into ethnic and racial distinctions and categorisations, as well as the experience of slaves before and after manumission, including concubinage, marriage and, perhaps, employment with the Egyptian government which ruled Massawa between1865 and 1885.
Monday, 16 February 1874 must have been quite an unusual day in the judicial court of the port town of Massawa on the Red Sea coast. It was certainly a busy one for the court scribe. On that day, a total of 76 slaves (43 female and 33 male) – mostly from Jimma, Limmu, Gomma, Leeqqa, Kaffa and other localities in the Cushitic- and Omotic-speaking areas located today in western and south-western Ethiopia, and almost a thousand kilometres away from Massawa – presented themselves, one by one, to the local law court (mahkama), which issued them with manumission certificates attesting their freedom. This was not something that happened every day.

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