Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Slavery Carries On

In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery. It didn't make slavery a crime until 2007. Only one slave owner has been successfully prosecuted. Mauritania's government has done little to combat slavery and in interviews with CNN denied that the practice exists. "All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon (of slavery) no longer exists," one official said. Yet an estimated 10% to 20% of the population still lives in slavery - in “real slavery”. Slave masters in Mauritania exercise full ownership over their slaves. They can send them away at will, and it’s common for a master to give away a young slave as a wedding present. Local Islamic imams, historically have spoken in favor of slavery. Activists say the practice continues in some mosques, particularly in rural areas. "They make people believe that going to paradise depends on their submission,"

Slavery in Mauritania is not entirely based on race, but lighter-skinned people historically have owned people with darker skin, and racism in the country is rampant. Mauritanians live by a rigid caste system, with the slave class at the bottom.

White Moors are lighter-skinned Berber people who speak Arabic and have traditionally owned slaves. Most men wear light blue shirts called boubous, which have ornate designs on the chest. White Moors are the power class in Mauritania and control more wealth than any other group. Some, however, live in poverty. It's not uncommon to find a White Moor living in a tent only slightly larger than that of his or her slaves. Black Moors are darker-skinned people who historically have been enslaved by the White Moors. Originally from sub-Saharan Africa, the Black Moors have taken on many aspects of the Arab culture of their masters. They speak Hassaniya, an Arabic dialect. Slaves of noble families attain a certain level of status by association.

The Haratine - word literally means "freed slaves," but it can be used to describe people who are in slavery or who belong to the former slave class of Black Moors. Many Haratine people exist somewhere on the spectrum between slavery and freedom and are the target of class- and race-based discrimination.

Mauritania‘s other darker-skinned people come from several ethnic groups, including the Pulaar, Soninke and Wolof. These groups also are found in Senegal, which shares Mauritania‘s southern border. They look similar to Black Moors, but never were enslaved and are quite different in terms of culture and language.

Most slave families in Mauritania consist of dark-skinned people whose ancestors were captured by lighter-skinned Arab Berbers centuries ago. Slaves typically are not bought and sold — only given as gifts, and bound for life. Their offspring automatically become slaves, too.

Forty-four percent of Mauritanians live on less than $2 per day. Slave owners and their slaves are often extremely poor, uneducated and illiterate. This makes seeking a life outside slavery extremely difficult or impossible. On the other hand, poverty has also led to some slave masters setting their slaves free, because they can no longer afford to keep them.

“On this land, everybody is exploited,” said one slave

“We don’t pay them,” a slave-owner said “They are part of the land.”

Food shortages are dire and are a reason some Mauritanian slaves actually prefer to stay in the homes of their masters: If they leave, it’s difficult to survive.

“Chains are for the slave who has just become a slave..." Boubacar, an ex-slave said. “But the multigeneration slave, the slave descending from many generations, he is a slave even in his own head. And he is totally submissive. He is ready to sacrifice himself, even, for his master. And, unfortunately, it’s this type of slavery that we have today” — the slavery that American plantation owners dreamed of.

For a slaves to be free, they first must break the shackles in their minds. That applies not just for chattel slaves but also to wage-slaves

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