Country Listing

Mauritania Table of Contents


Black Maures

Black Maures distinguish themselves from "black Africans" to emphasize their cultural affinities with white Maures and their cultural distance from sub-Saharan Africa. In most cases, their forebears were incorporated into Maure society as slaves. Maure society continued to accept the institution of slavery even after independence in 1960, but it customarily distinguished among three types of servile status: full slaves, part-slaves, and former slaves now freed, called harratin (sing., hartani--see Glossary). Conditions of servitude varied from benevolent to callous and cruel. White Maures had full rights over their slaves, including the right to sell or relocate them. Slaves sometimes earned or were granted their freedom.

Slavery has been outlawed several times, most recently in 1980 (see The Haidalla Regime , ch. 1). The term for slave, abd, was officially replaced with the term for freedman, hartani, but black Maures continued to be considered a slave class. Their status and role in Maure society have changed little. Many Maures continued to hold slaves and exercise their traditional prerogatives even after official decrees outlawed these practices.

Islamic law requires Muslim slaveholders to free their slaves by the fifth generation. Freedmen, however, usually remained in the camp of their former master and filled the same servile role. Whether as slaves or freedmen, black Maures tended their masters' animals, acted as household servants, worked in the palm groves or millet fields, or gathered the crop of gum arabic (see Glossary).

Data as of June 1988