In 1954, a black French citizen named Awad el-Djoud returned to his native French Soudan (Mali), and told of his enslavement, which had taken him from West Africa to Mecca. Slavery had been officially outlawed in French West Africa in 1905, however the French colonial administration had considered Awad a “[customary] dependent,” or servant (serviteur) of a white Tuareg notable undertaking Hajj. Awad's case, and others from across the French-ruled Sahara, are directly linked to the pilgrimage. This paper, then, relies on such cases to make larger arguments about the study of the Hajj, the trans-Saharan slave trade, and connections between peripheries of North African History (the Sahara) and the Middle East History (the Arabian Peninsula) in the 20th century. While histories of the Hajj under imperialism have proliferated in Middle East history and Islamic studies over the past few years, they pay little heed to histories of slavery and the slave-trade in Mecca, directly tied to the pilgrimage. Similarly, work that takes note of slavery in the Arabian Peninsula has focused on trafficking routes in the western Indian Ocean, rather than the trans-Saharan routes.
Unlike their British counterparts, French consular archives from Jeddah are virtually silent on both the trafficking of French colonial nationals to the Arabian Peninsula from West and Equatorial Africa, as well as regarding the few referenced French consular manumissions. While what may have existed was administratively destroyed at France's diplomatic expulsion from Saudi Arabia at the start of the Suez War of 1956 (lasting through the end of the Algerian Revolution in 1962), traces remain of trafficking and enslavement across the colonial administration's correspondences in French West Africa, in mediatized cases such as Awad's, as well as travelogues, correspondences, and memoirs in Arabic of the same people and groups trafficking Black Africans for enslavement under the guise of Hajj . Read together, this paper argues that these disparate sources demonstrate that the absent presence (McKittrick, 2006) of bondage was as foundational as the bonds of Islam and Arab-ness to the links between North and West Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula.