Arab slave trade

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19th-century engraving depicting an Arab slave-trading caravan transporting black African slaves across the Sahara.
The notorious slaver Tippu Tip c. 1890
Livingstone's letters, books, and journals did stir up public support for the abolition of the arab Slave trade in East Africa.

The Arab slave trade is the intersection of slavery and trade surrounding the Arab world and Indian Ocean, mainly in Western and Central Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa, India, and Europe. This trade occurred chiefly between the medieval era and the early 20th century, through slave markets in these areas, with the slaves captured mostly from Africa's interior, Southern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.


  • A document from the twelfth century tells of the tricks used by sellers of slaves in the Muslim slave markets: merchants would put ointments on slave girls of a darker complexion to whiten their faces; brunettes were placed for four hours in a solution to make them blond (“golden”); ointments were placed on the face and body of black slaves to make them “prettier.”
    • Fernández-Morera, Darío - The myth of the Andalusian paradise muslims, christians, and jews under islamic rule in medieval Spain-Intercollegiate Studies Institute_ISI Books (2018)
  • In time, the multiracial character of slavery in the Arab world virtually ceased to exist and became almost exclusively black. In this respect, it differed little from slavery in the New World. ... As long as slavery maintained a multiracial cast, Arab and Turkish slave owner favored white slaves over blacks in so far as work assignments and what might be called career prospects were concerned. White slave girls were preferred as concubines over black girls; and among the latter, the fairer-complexioned Abyssinians were shown partiality over their darker-skinned African sisters.
    • Gordon, M. (1998). Slavery in the Arab World. Lanham: New Amsterdam Books. page 98 ff
  • It has long been considered a mark of ethnocentric ignorance to equate servitude in Islamic societies with the brutal racial slavery that seemed to curse the New World with unending guilt. Ironically, the very “orientalism” that enabled nineteenth-century Europeans to project their own fears and longings upon an unchanging, exotic, and antipodal “East” also led many anti-Western Westerners to romanticize or defend black slavery in the Islamic world. In 1887, for example, the Dutch orientalist C. Snouck Hurgronje ridiculed the “fantasies” that propelled what he concluded to be Britain’s wholly inappropriate efforts to stop the slave trade from Africa to the Middle East.
    • About black slavery in the Islamic world. Slaves in Islam, David Brion Davis, 1990, in New York Review of Books. [1]
  • The time has now fully arrived when the several nations of Europe who, at the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, and again at the Conference of Verona, in 1822, issued a series of resolutions strongly denouncing the slave-trade, should take the needful steps for giving them a full and practical effect. And, inasmuch as Ike Arab marauders (whose murderous devastations are now depopulating Africa) are subject to no law, and under no responsible rule, it devolves on the Powers of Europe to secure their suppression throughout all territories over which they have any control. This meeting would, therefore, urge upon Her Majesty's Government, in concert with those Powers who now claim either territorial possession or territorial influence in Africa, to adopt such measures as shall secure the extinction of the devastating slave-trade which is now carried on by those enemies of the human race.
  • The change which has occurred in the political condition of the African Coast, today calls for common action on the part of the Powers responsible for the control of that Coast. That action should tend to close all foreign slave markets and should also result in putting down slave hunting in the interior. The great work undertaken by the King of the Belgians, in the constitution of the Congo State, and the lively interest taken by His Majesty in all questions affecting the welfare of the African races, lead Her Majesty's Government to hope that Belgium will be disposed to take the initiative in inviting the Powers to meet in Conference at Brussels, in order to consider the best means of attaining the gradual suppression of the slave-trade on the Continent of Africa and the immediate closing of all the outside markets which the slave-trade daily continues to supply.

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