Jan 7, History of Evil: Slavery in Africa

The Seventh day celebration of the death of Mr. Kareem took place today. We arrived around 8:40 am, but we were rather too early for the occasion. It was a Sunday and the officiating Mallam had other business like wedding celebrations to catch up before the funeral.We later discovered it was scheduled to take place at 10:30 am.

We decided to head to breakfast first. We enjoyed our usual delicious breakfast of salad, a savory French toast, and a flavorful beef dish. After eating, we went back to the funeral where we paid our final respects and observed the traditions associated with the passing of a beloved community member. The funeral was more of a celebration of life than most of us had experienced with lots of conversation and prayers. The entire Holy Quran was read. Of course, loose pages were distributed, read simultaneously and the reading went rather fast. Imam of the Tamale Central Mosque offered prayers that lasted a long time. We left after the chief imams prayers. We headed to the market since the funeral would last much longer with many people taking time to publicly pray. People leave and come at will. The mosque was parked full with most mourners sitting on white chairs under tents erected for that purpose. Out of courtesy for the dead, we did not take pictures.

With daughter of the deceased who wanted to make friends with Mckenna

At the market we split into two groups some of us stayed with Abdulai and others went with his wife, Fauzia. Those of us who went with Fauzia were able to meet her sister and two year old nephew. We were also able to see the shop owned by her family. We then proceeded to do a little shopping before meeting up with the rest of the group for lunch. Lunch was a nice break between the market and reconvening at the hotel for Abdulai’s lecture and class discussion.

For the lecture, we read Abdulai Iddrisu’s “History of Evil”. It gave us an overview of what to expect in our study of Slavery. It focused on the questions.
“What was the overriding notion about the human condition that drew people to rationalize and engage in the sale of other human beings? Is there such a thing as “just enslavement” to which other people, the so-called descendants of Ham (Genesis ix: 20-7) were condemned? How do we account for the harsh realities, and can we define all forms of servitude as “social death” that denied its victims the right to participate in society?”

Some argued that “… it was essential to enslave Africans as a way of ensuring two things: 1) protect Africans from inevitable human sacrifices, and since West Africans were bound to enslave themselves anyway,2) European slavery introduced Africans to Christianity, a benefit, as claimed, they probably would not have enjoyed in Africa.”

The lecture also discussed the firm legal basis upon which Muslims justified slavery. To recap, man was created to enjoy freedom but upon two conditions – conversation to Islam or protection of the Muslim society by payment of a tax.  Complications abound with this conception of the original freedom. Why would a master buy a slave only to release him after two days because he had converted to Islam? Some scholars like Lovejoy also claimed that slaves rushed to convert inorder to gain their freedom. The class spent some time examining the questions that arose from the writing of Ahmad Baba and the fact of economics that made the claims suspect. Slavery is slavery, the only difference that resulted from our discussion was that Muslims treatment of slaves was humane as part of the expression of piety.

There was also the issue of “social death” to which slaves suffered. The slave was human, but classified as a “thing” that was not part of society and thus a parasite who existed only as proxy to the master.

The question that occupied the rest of the discussion was whether or not slavery was indigenous to Africa, widespread and endemic. The writings of two scholars became crucial. JD Fage and Walter Rodney.

After the thought-provoking lecture, we had a few hours to rest and then headed into town for dinner at a new restaurant and to buy some fresh fruits that tasted incomparable to anything Minnesota could offer.

Some highlights of the day in pictures