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How Slaves Claimed Their Manumission in Ottoman Libya After Slave Trade Prohibition (1857–1911)
The Ottoman Empire banned the African slave trade in 1857 in the context of the implementation of legal and administrative reforms but also under British diplomatic pressures. Despite this prohibition, traffickers still brought hundreds of enslaved West-African men and women to the Ottoman provinces of Tripoli and Benghazi (nowadays Libya) located at the frontier of the Greater Sahara. While struggling to curb this illicit trade, the local authorities facilitated the manumission of the remaining slaves. Moreover, Istanbul provided the manumitted people with some resources for their inclusion in Ottoman society. In this presentation, I will study the process of manumission and reinsertion from the enslaved people’s own narratives. The petitions in Turkish and Arabic that these enslaved men and women signed and that are held in Ottoman archives give insight into their agency and their ability to speak up and gain rights. How did the remaining population of servile status appropriate the legal-rational logic of the state to claim freedom? How did the people with slave backgrounds engage with the imperial social policy? This bottom-up approach to the end of human bondage reveals the entanglement of old and new patterns of manumission in the era of abolition as well as the social integration of these liberated slaves within Ottoman society during the reform era.
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