Upon signing and ratifying an 1880 convention with the British Empire for the suppression of the African slave Trade, the Ottoman Empire was tasked with ensuring the "liberation" of enslaved Africans within its domains and "to see that they are properly cared for". Over the course of the next decade, the Empire sought to establish a network of guesthouses in and across the Mediterranean by linking areas such as Istanbul, Bingazi, Trablusgarb, Cidde, and Hudeyde to the central guesthouse in Izmir. Given the supposed impossibility of sending enslaved Africans back to their homes, the guesthouses were constructed as temporary housing and schools, where gender classification determined what labor and instruction Africans were to receive. Among those counted as men, those appropriate for work would be registered at the Industrial School and registered for the Ottoman army; those counted as women would be (re)trained as salaried domestic servants to be given to Islamic households. Moreover, for those who married among themselves, proper housing was to be constructed in Izmir's neighborhoods and they would be resettled there.
Extant literature on the guesthouses is sparse; extensive archival documentation on a single guesthouse has, thus far, proved elusive. While writing a single history of a guesthouse might appear impossible, through a plurality of Ottoman and British archival documents produced in relation to the guesthouse network, this study gathers the fractured histories of splintered pasts to read the guesthouses as a yet-to-be-considered site of containment that emerges within an inter-imperial matrix of surveillance across the Mediterranean. Moreover, by focusing on the quotidian elements of African livelihoods and prospects within and outside of the guesthouse, this study highlights the entanglement of slavery and liberation as evinced by enduring modes of African servitude. The intellectual scaffolding of this paper draws from, among others, African diaspora studies, gender studies, cultural studies, literary studies, and Black studies.
All Middle East