The Ubiquity of Slavery
On the Pacific Coast Indians of North America:
"Everywhere along the coast the richest families had slaves. A rich coastal Indian who owned many slaves
could use them to do various kinds of work, including making canoes, weaving blankets, or spearing salmon. Slaves paddled
the rich Indians' war canoes while the owner rode in splendor on a throne.
Although other Indians of North America occasionally made slaves of strangers, only among the Indians
of the Pacific coast was slavery a common part of everyday life. A slave had no rights at all and could be bought or sold
or killed at the pleasure of the owner. Many Indians, like the Haida and the Tlingit, went out regularly on raiding parties
to capture more slaves. Usually only women and children were sought on slave raids. The men were considered too dangerous,
so they were killed. A male slave child was allowed to grow up, however. He was no threat. By the time he was an adult he
knew of no other life than that of his masters, and had no place to escape to anyway.
Most slave raids went from north to south because the Indians of British Columbia and Alaska were richer
and more powerful than those to the south. But the Indians of Washington and Oregon sometimes raided each other for slaves.
It was not unknown for neighboring villages to raid each other, back and forth, capturing and recapturing slaves."
Pacific Coast Indians of North America, Grant Lyons, Julian Messner, New York, 1983
Europeans Visit Easter Island:
"Again, as on other Pacific Islands, 'black-birding,' the kidnapping of islanders to become laborers,
began on Easter around 1805 and climaxed in 1862-63, the grimmest year of Easter's history, when two dozen Peruvian ships
abducted about 1,500 people (about half of the surviving population) and sold them at auction to work in Peru's guano mines
and other menial jobs."
Inuit Take Slaves:
"... in Iceland's annals for the year 1379: 'The skraelings (Inuit in this instance) assaulted
the Greenlanders, killing 18 men, and captured two boys and one bondswoman and made them slaves."
Collapse, Jared Diamond, Penguin Books, U.S.A., 2006
The Huron Indians of southern Ontario province, Canada, at the time of European Exploration:
"The Huron took prisoners in war to burn and then eat. Such captives might be distributed to different
villages or nations and given to those who had lost relatives to the enemy. A prisoner might be given to a distant tribe.
They seldom put to death women and children, but kept some for themselves or made presents of them to those who had previously
lost some of their own in war. They made much of these substitutes, as if they were actually their own children. When the
captives grew up, they went to war against their own parents and men of their nation as bravely as if they had been born enemies
of their own country. If the warriors were unable to carry off the women and children they had captured, they put them to
death and carried off their heads or the hairy scalp."
An Ethnography of The Huron Indians, E. Tooker, originally published 1964, Bulletin # 190, Bureau of American
"When John Graves Simcoe arrived in Upper Canada (now Ontario) as lieutenant governor in 1792, slavery
was already an established fact among the population of 14,000. Nine members of the Legislative Council, appointed rulers,
were slave-owners or members of slave-owning families. Six of the 16 elected legislators owned slaves.
"Canda's first known African settler, Olivier Lejeune, came to Quebec as a slave boy in 1628, owned by
a Jesuit priest, Father Paul Lejeune from France. By 1688 the population of New France (Quebec) numbered 9,000 and the
white settlers needed workers to do the heavy lifting.
"Though French law forbade slavery, an official letter from Louis XIV on May 1, 1689, allowed it in Canada.
Africans became field hands, domestics, the ones forced to do the hard work the colonialists refused. Slavery here was less
prevalent than south of the border, but the attitude was similar.
"In inventories, slaves were often listed with the animals. 'A Negro was a slave everywhere and no one
was astonished to find him in bondage,' writes Daniel Hill in The Freedom Seekers.
"It would be 1834 before slavery was officially abolished in Canada and the entire British empire. But
the anti-slavery efforts of Simcoe and others had made the practice less and less tolerated in Ontario..."
From an article by Royson James appearing in the Toronto Star, February 5, 2007, page A11.
"They are not chained or branded with the mark of their masters, but they are slaves.
"In the Saharan Islamic state of Mauritania, a centuries-old system of bondage is resisting the rise of
democracy in the former French colony.
"Herding camels or goats in the sun-blasted dunes of the Sahara, or serving hot mint tea to guests in
the richly carpeted villas of Nouakchott, Mauritanian slaves are passed on as family chattels from generation to generation
in this hierarchical society dominated by a Moorish elite and a brand of Islam that preaches submission.
" 'If a woman is a slave, her descendants are slaves,' says Boubacar Messaoud, who was born into bondage
and is now his country's leading anti-slavery activist.
"Anti-slavery activists say it is impossible to tell how many people remain enslaved in Mauritania, a
mineral-rich country twice the size of France whose 3 million population mixes Moors and black Mauritanians of several ethnic
"Messaoud says the practice continues with all its manifestations - non-paid work, punishment, forced
sex and other abuses - despite a 1981 decree outlawing slavery.
"President-elect Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi belongs to the white Moorish elite, some of whose
members deny that slavery exists at all.
"Questions about the practice can draw suspicion and silence, but activists say the master-slave relationship
and its social repercussions are branded into the minds of all Mauritanians, just as class-consciousness still haunts social
discourse in Britain and other European states.
"Among the black majority in Nouakchott's sprawling, dirt-poor slums, the testimonies about enduring slavery
are repeated, and heartfelt.
" 'Yes it's true,' confirms Abdarahman Ould Mohamed Abd, 52, a street vendor sitting outside his ramshackle
hut. 'In the interior of the country, it's the worst. You see it in the way some people treat others. Sometimes (the
masters) have even killed children.'
"His own surname means ' son of Mohamed Slave' - 'Abd' being the Arabic word for slave.
" But victims periodically surface, such as Matalla, a black Mauritanian who two years ago escaped from
members of a Berber warrior tribe, the Reguibat, who were holding him and his family in the isolated deserts of northeast
" 'I was born a slave,' Matalla says with lowered gaze. 'All my family, all my ancestors were slaves of
that group. My aunt, my brothers are still slaves with them.'
"He says he herded camels for his masters, ate only leftovers from their table and suffered occasional
"Asked how many slaves his masters had, Matalla answers: 'There are more than can be counted.'
"Historians say that slavery developed in Mauritania from the 7th century, when Arab invaders pushed south
through the Sahara, bringing an Islamic system that explicitly allowed the enslavement of non-believers.
"This blossomed into a trans-Saharan slave trade that trafficked in black Africans several centuries before
the peak of the european-run Atlantic slave trade. Some historians argue that the practice of slavery already existed in black
"This religious sanctioning of slavery - and the establishment of Arabicized Berber ruling castes whose
wealth was partially based on it - has marked Mauritanian society.
" 'There is a racial policy here... It's the politics of domination,' says black politician Messaoud Ould
Boulkheir, adding that Islamic law and succession rights guaranteed the perpetuation of slavery, passing on ownership from
master to son.
"He says the 1981 ban 'doesn't exist' in practice. 'The state has never prosecuted anyone.'
"Slavery is so ingrained in this society that it has crossed racial and social barriers, he says, and
many Mauritanians remain 'slaves in their heads' even after freedom.
" 'There are white slaves. There are blacks with black slaves. There are even freed slaves who have slaves.'
Condensed version of the article Slavery Endures in Saharan Setting, Pascal Fletcher, Reuters News Agency, as
published in the Toronto Star newspaper, April 8, 2007, page A16.
Update on slavery in Mauritania
(From the Toronto Star,
July 20, 2013, the source being the Foreign Policy Magazine):
"Twenty percent of the Mauritanian population remains illegally enslaved. Slavery was not formally abolished in the
country until 1981."