By: Lauren Lutz
Living in the United States, it is sometimes difficult to recognize that slavery exists outside of the history of the Americas. The trans-Atlantic chattel slave trade is what is taught about in school, what is seen in films and television, and what is recognized as a collective history within American culture. However, if one can analyze history outside of the Americas, there is a much older chattel slave trade in the world’s history that ran long after the trans-Atlantic slave trade ended. It is important for Americans to acknowledge that slavery is a current international problem that did not end after the U.S. Civil War so that victims in other parts of the world can get the exposure and help they need.
During the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans established a slave trade stretching south from North Africa all the way down to the Sahara and Sub-Saharan Africa. Arabs invaded the North African Roman territory in the 7th and 8th centuries during the Arab Conquests and took over this slave trade. For nearly a 1000 years, Arabs used that slave trade system to take Africans from the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions and use them for various forms of labor in North Africa. Arabs have notoriously raided African villages and stolen people for domestic service, agricultural work, mineral extraction, military service, industry and commerce, and administration (Alexander 44-9). A country that has been particularly affected by this slave trade is Sudan. Its current status as a country has been highly influenced by the long history of exploitation of its black African people. Not only has this history of raiding villages and enslaving inhabitants caused a great amount of tension between Arabs and black Africans in Sudan, but it also has taken the lives of countless innocent victims.
In Sudan in the 1980s, there was a rebellion from the African south when the mostly Arab government tried to impose Sharia laws upon the entire country. This caused a civil war, and Arab raids on African villages were unfortunately common. Many young women were abducted, such as Abuk Bak from a small Dinka village (Bak 39-40). An Arab family enslaved her for 10 years until she ran away because of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. She lost her family, her identity, and her freedom. She was a runaway slave in the year 1997, which is difficult to conceptualize if you are only used to thinking of slavery as a past event that has been resolved (Bak 41-55). She became a refugee after escaping her master. This is a story shared by many other Sudanese people who were abducted and sold into this chattel slave trade.
Currently, South Sudan has gained independence and is attempting to piece together a peaceful government. However, slavery lingers over its culture and people, as its effects are still visible. Many Arabs and black African Sudanese people do not openly acknowledge the existence of the chattel slave trade, so it is a sort of repressed collective history. This attitude towards the slave trade kept it largely unnoticed by the international world until the 1990s.
It is obvious from the past and current history of Sudan that slavery is impacting the lives of many people, such as Abuk Bak. As an American, if issues of modern slavery concern you, it is important to educate yourself so you can understand where it is still a problem. Slavery didn’t disappear after the US Civil War, even in the United States. For example, on the anti-slavery organization End Slavery Now’s website, they post daily headlines about international current events involving slavery. There are about 30 million people enslaved in the world today, and learning more about this problem can spur us to action that could be beneficial for all of them.
Alexander, J. “Islam, archaeology and slavery in Africa.” World Archaeology 33.1 (2001): 44-60. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.
Bak, Abuk. “Beyond Abeeda: Surviving Ten Years of Slavery in Sudan.” Enslaved: Stories of Modern Day Slavery. Ed. Jesse Sage and Liora Kasten. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 39-60. Print.