New York Lawyer's Legal Updates

Caste System And Slavery In Mauritania

Author: Alena Shautsova

Mauritania (officially known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania) is a country in Northwest Africa that practices a semi-presidential system of government with a unicameral legislature. It has its President, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, and the Prime Minister is Mohammed Ould Bilal.

Mauritania is mainly made up of six ethnic groups of which the Bidhan and Haratin groups are predominant. The Bidhan group otherwise called the White Moors makeup 30% of the Mauritania population, while the Haratins also known as the Black Moors account for 40% of the entire population.

Historically, the caste system has been a part of Mauritanian society since the Bidhans attacked and conquered the Haratins. This has separated the populace into two major distinct classes; the lords and masters and the slaves.

Why is the caste system still prevalent in Mauritania? What fuels the caste system? Can a successful and progressive Mauritania without a caste system be achieved? What are the plights of the so-called "slaves" in Mauritania?

These are some of the questions this article aims to answer.

The Caste System In Mauritania

Mauritania was originally occupied by the Berbers and people from the Niger-Congo and Bafour. It assimilated the Arab culture after its conquest by the Arabs in the eighth century. This ushered in an era of Islam and an Arab-inclined political and cultural structure that exists to date. Mauritania got its independence from France in 1960 after being colonized in the early 20th century.

Although the country abolished slavery in 1981 (being the last country to abolish the act) and constitutionally considered it a criminal act in 2007, yet, there are still many cases of slavery and a discriminating caste system. This is the major reason why the nation is widely known for its huge record of human rights violations.

Slavery has been prevalent in Mauritanian society for years and thousands of Mauritanians happen to be slaves. The system of slavery in Mauritania is generational. People are virtually born slaves if their mothers were slaves. The slaves in Mauritania are the Black Moors(referred to as the Haratins). They constitute the thousands of slaves in Mauritania today. Mauritanian slaves are treated in every definition of the word as slaves. They are subjected to forced labor, rape, torture, and physical abuse, as deemed fit by their so-called masters.

The caste system in Mauritania as mentioned earlier can be divided mainly into, namely: the Bidhan and the Haratin. The Bidhan comprises the Hassan, the Zawaya, and the White Moors( also called Bidhan). The Hassan were chiefly warriors and politicians, the Zawaya were custodians of religion, and the White Moors owned properties and slaves.

Amongst the slaves, there are the Haratins who are freed slaves, and the Abid who are born into slavery and remained slaves. Although they are generally referred to as Haratins. Haratins are subjected to living in isolation from the crux of society. Most live in abject poverty.

The caste system gave rise to strict marital regulations amongst castes. Hence, so-called "nobilities" had no business being in an affair with people of the lower caste system.

In some cases, when slaves were freed from the bondage of their masters, they are sent out without any food or form of property. Without anything to sustain them, these slaves have no option other than to go back to their masters begging for food and shelter in exchange for a life of absolute servitude.

The Plights Of Slaves In Mauritania

Narrating her ordeal Mbaraka Esatene(a former slave), explained how she lived her slavery days as a sex object. Her master, his sons, and her master's friends constantly forced themselves on her. According to her anyone who wanted to have sex with her was free to. She stated that rape is a common thing to slaves and the poor.

According to Brahim Ramdhane, "officials in Mauritania hotel and opposite story to what victims of slavery will tell." Officials(mostly made up of White Moors) claim that there's no slavery in Mauritania and those who say so are against the government.

"Fatma the slave" was the name Fatimotou was called. She had her children were slaves under her former master. Amongst her numerous chores were the task of taking care of cattle, preparing food, and fetching water from the well for masters. Reliving her slavery days, she recounted how she lost two of her babies because she was prevented from taking care of them. Sometimes she was forced to work immediately after giving birth.

Bilal a former slave narrates how he fled the premises of his former master after being beaten seriously one day. He tried to rescue his sister, Habi who was subjected to constant sexual abuse and forced labor to no avail. In 2008, his sister finally got her freedom with the assistance of SOS slaves

People subjected to slavery in Mauritania aren't having an easy time, and Mauritania can be a better place without slaves. It is even worse when some of these slave-masters justify the act by posing that Islam encourages the ownership of slaves.


20 January 2022
Watch Our YouTube Channel Free Legal Videos

We use cookies to deliver our online services. Details of the cookies and other tracking technologies we use and instructions on how to disable them are set out in our Cookies Policy. By using this website you consent to our use of cookies.