Monthly Archives: July 2013

The 19th Century Slave Trade in the Western Indian Ocean: The Role of the Baloch Mercenaries1

By Prof Dr Beatrice Nicolini
Faculty of Political and Social Science
Catholic University of the Sacred Heart
Lombardy, Italy

Prof Dr Beatrice Nicolini

Prof Dr Beatrice Nicolini

For millennia monsoon winds and a network of interacting communities created a complex integrated commercial system in the western Indian Ocean. Along with goods and people, religious ideas flowed through short- and long-distance trade routesin the region. These exchange networks included major slave routes, and shared cultural and religious understandings influenced the way slaves were conceptualised and used.
As in Africa, slavery played a significant role in the Islamic world. Armies of mostly Turkish slave soldiers were raised in the Caucasus and the Central Asian steppes while domestic slaves came mainly from the coastal strip of sub-Saharan East Africa. Baloch became involved in this slave trade largely through their military association with Omani Arabs. In the 18th century Omanis began to recruit mercenary troops from Baloch tribes. These Baloch developed an enduring armed tradition and became a key element in the equations of power within Omani areas of influence in sub-Saharan East Africa, both on the coast and inland.
This study examines the role Baloch played in sub-Saharan East Africa during the 19th century. It focuses on Zanzibar and Pemba islands where the power of the Omani Arabs reached an apogee. It discusses their influence on East African social, political and economic systems.
Once the Omanis consolidated their military power in areas of sub-Saharan East Africa, Baloch were among those settled there and during the mid and late 19th century they were linked to the trade in slaves and the most lucrative commodity of the day, ivory.
The Baloch role in East Africa during the 19th century impacted on local societies and their values and they contributed to the transformation of traditional customs. When the British began to restrict the slave trade from Africa in the middle of the 19th century, Asia assumed greater importance as a source of slaves for sale to Arabia and to Persia. Once again Baloch would play a considerable role in that trade.

1. Slavery in the Islamic World and East Africa

1.1 Slavery from Africa to Asia
There were a number of significant slave routes throughout the western Indian Ocean during the 19th century (HOURANI 1995:89). These are generally divided into two main flows. One was from south to north, that is, from the East African coast and the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula, and onwards to western India and South Central Asia. The other was in the opposite direction. Consequently, slaves were not only black people from Africa but also of Asian origin.
Slaves from Africa were prominent in the history of the Islamic world and beyond. In the late 9th century black slaves from East Africa, the Zanj, who were mainly employed in sugar cane plantations, revolted against the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu’tamid and became masters of Southern Iraq and Basra (POPOVIC 1999, FURLONGE 1999). Around the middle of the 11th century there was an extensive commerce of slaves to China from Pemba and Ras Assir on the northern Somali coast (known as the Cape of Slaves), in exchange for ceramics and luxury goods. East African slaves were imported in great numbers to the Arabian Peninsula, travelling on Arab dhows (AGIUS 2002, 2005; GILBERT 2004). When the slave trade from West Africa to the Americas was banned in the middle of the 19th century there was an extensive and growing commerce of East African slaves from Ras Asir and Pemba.2 They were bought with cloth and dates on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands and transported to the Arabian Peninsula where they were
mainly engaged in fishing pearls in the Persian/Arab Gulf (SHERIFF 2005:35-45). In some cases, East African slaves also became lords of local African realms (e.g., governors of ports from Guardafui to Cabo Delgado) because their Arab masters considered them much more loyal than anybody within their own clans and tribes.

1.2 Slavery within Africa
In the Middle East, Central Asia and East Africa the social, political, and economic functions of slaves were generally divided among three categories: a) domestic – patriarchal, b) productive – agricultural and c) military – administrative. While these The 19th Century Slave Trade in the Western Indian Ocean 329 general categories were present, the slave trade practised in coastal East Africa had its distinctive characteristics. In East Africa slaves formed a separate “caste”. They were thought as less than human, and, even when they embraced Islam they were thought less than Muslim. There were three categories of slaves in the region: 1) watumwa wajinga, who were not assimilated into the coastal populations; 2) slaves who were transported as children to Zanzibar; and 3) mzalia (pl. wazalia), who were born on the coast and fully acculturated into coastal Islamic culture (POWELS 2000:251-271).
Slavery in East Africa was regulated by the principles of Koranic law and those slaves who did not come from areas of Swahili cultural influence were called mshenzi (pl. washenzi), which means “pagan, barbarian, uncivilised”. They were not Muslims, unlike most free Swahili.
Nevertheless, along the Swahili coast slavery was a very absorptive system. Domestic slaves enjoyed the most privileged conditions. Their relationships with their owners resembled more those of members of the family than items of property. Men were called ndugu yangu, “my brother”, and the women were suria, “concubines”, of their owners or “nannies”. In the spice and coconut plantations on Zanzibar and along the coasts, household slaves often became msimamizi “guardians”, or nokoa, kadamu, “first or second head slaves”. Others had the task of leading caravans towards the interior.
Slaves also worked on their owners’ plantations, called mashamba3 (LODHI 2000:46- 47). There, they worked the fields, sieved copal and carried merchandise to the ports. Some were assigned a piece of land with which to support themselves. They worked these plots on Thursdays and Fridays, the two days of rest. The more privileged cultivated their own small piece of land, paying an annual or monthly tribute to their master (GLASSMAN 1995:79-114). They were also permitted, on payment of a tax, to get married.4 During the 19th century, however, the majority of slaves from the interior of the continent, such as the Unyanyembe and Great Lakes regions were destined to work on plantations, and consequently totally excluded from any chance of paternalistic generosity from their masters (PÉTRÉ-GRENOUILLEAU 2004, CLARENCE-SMITH 2006).
In urban centres there was the institution of the vibarua (pl. of kibarua) “slaves hired by the day”. They were extremely poor but in some cases they joined the Hadrami Arabs’ caravans and were able to improve their humiliating conditions. The trading slaves, mafundi “craftsmen”, also reached a certain level of dignity, but remained under strict control of their master. Any illegal or personal initiatives were severely punished.
In East African slavery went hand in hand with the commercial plantations that supplied the growing markets of Europe (HEUMAN 1999): European demand had induced rich African landowners to introduce new, highly profitable agricultural industries. These included sugar cane, rice, copal, vanilla, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg and – especially on Zanzibar and Pemba – cloves. Indian merchant communities, both Hindu and Muslim, were involved in the development of this plantation economy and the trade in these products throughout the western Indian Ocean. Many became extremely rich and powerful as a result (BARENDSE 2001, MARKOVITS 2000). Because there was no local peasant class that could be employed on plantations, black slaves were routinely used to till the land and carry out heavy labour on the plantations. So when England undertook the crusade against slavery, it was precisely this most miserable section of society that constituted the economic foundations of the entire region.

2. Omani Arabs and Baloch in the western Indian Ocean
Until the first British explorations around the 18th century Balochistan was terra incognita to Westerners, an unknown land and a blank spot on the maps of the period. During the 18th and the 19th centuries Baloch were known to the British representatives in India as ferocious freebooters. At this time Baloch tribes from the coastal region of Makran were pushed by extreme poverty towards Persia and the coasts of Arabia (REDAELLI 2003). Here, they offered themselves as soldiers, sailors and bodyguards for pay, which, even though modest, could represent the difference between life and death for their families. During the 19th century the conditions of life of these people was so hard that the British explorer Sykes wrote: “they are adscripti glebae and in miserable conditions, nominally receiving a third of the crop…only enough to keep body and soul together” (SYKES 1902:108).
It was through such arrangements that Baloch warriors came to be associated with Omani dynasties. These ties date back at least to the Ya’rubi dynasties of the 16th and the 17th centuries and grew in importance under the al-Bu Sa’id in the 18th century.
Thanks to the similar kinship and tribal structures of both societies which stemmed from their nomadic traditions, the Omanis could count on “solidarity” from their Makrani mercenaries. This solidarity always carried a price, however (NICOLINI 2002:
Baloch tribes who supported the powerful Omani-Arab Sultans in Makran initially hoped to receive military support against rival tribes. That support was often not forthcoming, and al-Bu Sa’id mainly sent the Baloch on military expeditions into the Omani deserts or employed them in the ships based in their trading port of Muscat. In 1794, Sultan bin Ahmad al-Bu Sa’id obtained the rights to the revenue from Bandar Abbas and its domains, which included Minab and the islands of Qishm, Hormuz and Hengam, from the Sheikh of the Beni Ma’in tribe. By the beginning of the 19th century the possessions of the al-Bu Sa’id included the island of Bahrain, the Makran coast with its important strategic-commercial enclave of Gwadar, certain sites along the Persian coast such as Chabahar, the island of Socotra, the Curia Muria isles, Zanzibar, and nearby ports on the sub-Saharan African coast. Through negotiation as well as countless acts of piracy and fierce power struggles5 the al-Bu Sa’id expanded their influence throughout the Western Indian Ocean (DAVIES 1997). BARENDSE 2001 suggests trade and tribal relationships between the Swahili coast and the Balochistan-Makran littoral pre-dated the rise of the al-Bu Sa’id but they increased once the al-Bu Sa’id consolidated their power. The al-Bu Sa’id realised that their survival was closely connected with the riches of East Africa, and in 1840 the al-Bu Sa’id Sultan Sa’id Sayyid al-Bu Sa’id (born 1791, reign 1806, died 1856) moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.
Owing to the Arab-Omani mercantile and political expansion along East African littorals, many Baloch settled in East African port towns and in Zanzibar and Pemba islands, the heart of the Omani African dominions during the 19th century. From the accounts of travellers, explorers and European officials of the time, the Baloch tribes in East Africa included the Hot, the Rind and the Nausherwani (MILES 1981:97-112).
While these were the leading tribes of Makran (the Rind in particular were considered to be Baloch blue-blood) and therefore figured most prominently in the British sources, it seems likely that other Baloch tribes were also present. Their descendents are still present there today and are called Bulushi in Kiswahili.
As with the tribes of Oman, Baloch mercenaries along the Swahili coast served as a military force, though it seems they also became involved in East African trade relationships. At that time the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba were administered by governors who represented Sa’id Sayyid bin Sultan al-Bu Sa’id and exercised power on his behalf. The military support that underpinned the governors’ authority over the islands and their affairs, was special troops of proven trustworthiness, that is to say, mercenary Baloch corps closely tied to the al-Bu Sa’id. The governors who represented Omani overlords in the major East African trading ports leadership also had the support of the autochthonous Swahili aristocracy, who were mainly merchants. They were tied to the Omani elite by mutual interests in the exploitation of the resources in the region (GLASSMAN 1991). This mercantile empire moved its economic and political centre of gravity to Zanzibar, making control of the neighbouring islands and the nearby African coast one of the cornerstones of its vast system of mercantile interests. So much so that, many years later, the English explorer Richard Francis Burton would claim that: “If you play the flute in Zanzibar it will sound as far as the Great Lakes” (NICOLINI 2004:119).

3. Oman, Great Britain and Zanzibar
European rivalry in the Gulf and the western waters of the Indian Ocean from the beginning of the 19th century also had a decisive impact on the region’s maritime routes and their immense commercial traffic, particularly the slave trade. Clearly, however, the ability of the Omani sovereign to exploit such political contingencies also carried a certain weight.
At issue were two profoundly different world views and ways of perceiving objectives and strategies. On one hand was an Omani-Arab merchant prince with his traditional court of advisors, warriors, merchants and slaves, and on the other was Great Britain, a great European power. As a result of marked public pressure, the British launched a crusade against the slave trade and slave traders. This undertaking would have the effect of tearing up by the roots the economic foundations of the entire western Indian Ocean region and of revolutionising both the mechanisms of local power and traditional culture. While the Europeans had superior technology and military power the merchant prince of Muscat and Zanzibar, Sa’id bin Sultan al-Bu Sa’id, was adept at manipulating the political alignments in the region.
By the 19th century the demand for East African slaves came primarily from the Arabian Peninsula, where the cultivation of date palms called for a continuous supply of labour. There was also demand from western India, where slaves were employed in oases and on sugar cane and tea plantations; from Central Asia, where cotton was The 19th Century Slave Trade in the Western Indian Ocean 333 beginning to be grown, from various regions of the Ottoman Empire; and from the American continent. The demand was especially high for young women and girls to
serve in homes, as well as for eunuchs. Slaves destined for the courts were given special training to entertain important guests with singing and dancing.
Great Britain was the first nation to undertake an international campaign with humanitarian goals. It created, however, a weighty and complex knot to unravel: how to combat slavery and at the same time maintain alliances with the powerful protectors of the slave traders, such as the Omani Sultan, who obtained their greatest profits precisely from the trade in human flesh? The slave trade, therefore, represented a highly destabilising element for British policy, not only on the political but also on a social and economic level. During the 19th century, the growing effectiveness of British measures aimed at abolition restricted the availability of East African slaves. This shortfall was partly compensated for by Asiatic slaves who travelled on alternative and little known slave routes in the western Indian Ocean. One of these routes was through Balochistan, as shown by the commerce in Asian people from Makran destined to be sold in the squares of Arabia and Persia during the first decades of the 20th century.6

3.1 Ivory
At this point, it is useful to discuss other important factors that played a part in the impressive economic-commercial growth of East Africa at certain times: ivory (YLVISAKER 1982:221-231) and cloves. From the 2nd century BC, ivory was exported from eastern Africa to the Mediterranean. From the 7th century AD, India and China emerged as the main markets for East African ivory. Superior to Asian ivory in quality, consistency and colour, African ivory left Mozambique and followed the maritime routes of the Indian Ocean until the end of the 18th century. At the start of the 19th century the Portuguese imposed new taxes and other fiscal burdens and taxes on the trade, which Abdul SHERIFF 1987:81 terms “suicidal”. Together with the mercantile ascendancy of France and Great Britain in the Indian Ocean, this caused a shift in the ivory trade. The ports of Mozambique continued to ship ivory, but in smaller quantities, while Zanzibar became the major centre of the lucrative trade in this precious material (PRESTHOLDT 2004, MACHADO 2005).
Starting from the second decade of the 19th century, Europe entered the ivory market with its considerable demand. African ivory – pure white, strong, but easily worked – was increasingly sought after in the West for luxury items such as billiard balls, piano keys, elaborate jewels, fans, cutlery, clothing accessories, and elegant items of personal toilette. In the charged atmosphere of a fin de siècle Europe increasingly fascinated by Chinese or other exotic items, ivory was a must. This is clearly shown by the fact that British imports of ivory rose from 280 tons in 1840 to 800 tons in 1875.
The economy of the East African interior thus witnessed an immense growth in the demand for pagazi, “caravan porters”, free men recruited from among allied African tribes (mainly Yao and Nyamwezi), and for slave porters (ROCKEL 2000:173-195).7 Women too were forced by Omani slave traders and Baloch soldiers and bodyguards to abandon their children in order to transport elephant tusks.

3.2 Cloves
No less important than ivory was the extraordinary expansion of clove cultivation on the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. The creation of a new niche for agricultural exploitation was destined to transform the twin islands into a true commercial empire.
According to English publications of the time, at the end of the 18th century the introduction of cloves (eugenya caryophyllata) altered completely the economic and commercial potential of plantation production, not only in the eyes of the Europeans, but also in those of the Omani-Arab Sultan and the Indian mercantile communities in Zanzibar.
Since the 2nd century BC envoys from Java at the Han court of China had sucked cloves to sweeten their heavy garlic breath during audiences with the emperor. Clove plants, originating in the Moluccas, were first exploited by the Dutch who grasped the commercial value of this precious, perfumed spice, which also possesses medicinal properties. About 1770, the French merchant Pierre Poivre succeeded in obtaining a few seeds with which to start cultivation on the Mascarene Islands. So it was the French who, at the beginning of the 19th century, introduced cloves to Zanzibar. These initial attempts proved successful. The environment was perfectly suited to this cultivation and eventually Zanzibar became the primary producer of cloves in the world.
English accounts report that Sa’id Sayyid bin Sultan al-Bu Sa’id decided to invest his wealth and energy in this project. Such a move needed both courage and faith, as clove plants take from seven to eight years to reach maturity and eight to ten years for the first crop. Budding does not occur at regular periods and the buds themselves must be removed before flowering; harvesting is done in three phases, between August and December. This, along with the need to weed the plantations constantly, required numerous and skilled labourers, as well the Baloch troops which were reported to patrol the Sultan’s mashamba (BENNETT 1987:28-29). The production of cloves was very similar to that of dates and quickly grasped by the Omanis, who proceeded to acquire land on Zanzibar, mainly at the expense of Swahili. The legalised expropriation practised by the Omanis and a somewhat questionable interpretation of the juridical institution of usufruct often led to Swahili lands effectively being confiscated (COOPER 1980).
The clove boom, with its high profit on initial expenditure, effected the emergence of an Omani Arab landowning aristocracy, which was financed by the Indian mercantile communities that slowly replaced the old Swahili aristocracy. The confiscation of the most fertile Swahili lands in Zanzibar and the overwhelming influx of slaves resulted in the limited number of native Hadimu and Tumbatu tribesmen on the island being relegated to the very margins of society. This did not cause any major ruptures, thanks to the dexterity of the Indian investors, who gradually engaged local East African elites by delegating certain tasks and responsibilities to them and making them active participants in this major Indian Ocean business. These Indian banyans (merchants) employed Baloch to defend them, exploited Swahili families, and financed the al-Bu Sa’id as well as British traders and expeditions. Thus, during the 19th century, they became highly influential in Zanzibar (JAIN 1990:71-105).
Clove plantations would prove vital to Zanzibar’s economic growth but they also rapidly undermined the traditional order and created the phenomenon known as “clove fever”. Sales rose phenomenally from 4,600 Maria Theresa thalers in 1834 to 25,000 in 1840 (SEMPLE 2005). For the al-Bu Sa’id in Africa it was a triumph. But hand in hand with the growth of the plantations went an ever-increasing demand for slaves. In 1811, of the 15,000 slaves that arrived on Zanzibar, 7,000 were destined for labour on the mashamba (BHACKER 1992:128). Clove fever pushed the annual number of new slaves up from 6,000 at the start of the century to 20,000 in the second half.
Britain viewed the cultivation and exportation of tropical agricultural produce with an extremely favourable eye insofar as it was a valid economic alternative to the slave trade. The increasing number of clove plantations on Zanzibar also necessitated a notable increase in the labour force, however. High mortality rates on the mashamba meant that almost the entire workforce had to be replaced every four years which, as we have seen, created enormous problems and far-reaching changes within East African society. In addition, the migration flows of Arabs and Asians drawn by this new and profitable market further exacerbated the situation in the eyes of the English.

3.3 Trade routes
Maritime city-states of the Swahili coast had always been sustained by intimate interaction with non-Muslims of the rural hinterlands, and this contributed to the consolidation of the coastal identity (GLASSMAN 1995:33). During the first half of the 19th century the demand for ivory came mostly from India. The Omani Arabs exploited the old slave trade routes to the interior bringing new people to the coast of East Africa along with elephant tusks. The Mrima region was the major source of ivory export for Zanzibar economy. While agriculture initially remained their primary source of wealth, Omani Arabs gave gifts of imported cloth from their larger Indian Ocean trade routes, which involved the western Indian ports, to the major chiefs of the interior. Such foreign goods represented a clear sign of prestige and superiority within their tribes. Salted and smoked fish also became an important item of trade. Zanzibar and Pemba islands soon developed the production of fish to sustain the porters along the trade routes to the interior and to use in the very profitable exchange for ivory. The demand for copal also grew during this period. It was produced in Bagamoyo area and bought by the Indian merchants, along with mangrove poles, which were taken to Arabia and to the Gulf.
While the coastal regions were transformed by rising commodity production, societies in the hinterland experienced significant changes due to the massive influx of slaves from the interior and Arabs and Asians from abroad. For example, the town of Tabora, a key site on the commercial route to the heart of the continent, practically became an Arab town, with a considerable Baloch presence. Profound developments took place in the cultural identities of the coast and the islands, on the one hand, and the interior of the continent, on the other, where, from the 1830s on, new caravan routes wrought a true revolution in economic, social and cultural terms (BENJAMIN 2006).
There were several major sets of slave and ivory trade routes to the interior (see the map on p. 338): 1) the “southern” route from ports, such as Kilwa, to Lake Nyasa and the highlands of the south western interior, where the Nyamwezi porters took up their loads of tusks and other goods; 2) the “central” ivory route from Bagamoyo toward the west and northwest, where the caravan trade became progressively monopolised by the Omani Arabs and Indian merchants; 3) the “northern” or Masai route, which led from Mombasa and Malindi towards Kilimanjaro, where the Mijikenda and Kamba were ivory hunters. The Saadani caravan route to eastern Zaire did not develop an Arab merchant community, while the Pangani route led to the foundation of Ujiji around 1840 and passed through the Bondei hills and along the foot of Usambara and Pare mountains. The latter was well watered and preferred by travellers from other towns of the northern Mrima. Large quantities of ivory, pembe, of soft and high quality, came from Pare and the Rift valley, and this route became the second in importance after Bagamoyo. Taveta trading station on the northern route never became dominated by coastal Muslims, as it was too dangerous.
Another technology that was destined to profoundly change the balance of power in the hinterland was the gun. During the first half of the 19th century matchlocks began to appear in the hands of Baloch mercenary troops, who imported them from the Ottoman Empire and from Europe. Leading Swahili families, the Shirazi, gradually lost their power and were displaced by the Omani Arabs in the economy of Zanzibar.8 Although the Swahili retained control of the northern caravan trade, the great wealth soon passed into Arab and Indian hands. With the central route under the control of the al-Bu Sa’id, Tabora and Ujiji gradually became Arab dominated centres. Here Baloch soldiers settled, intermarried, and became powerful figures. The impact of Omani power in Zanzibar on the East African hinterland deeply influenced the lives and traditions of East African men and women. Power relations among traditional elites were modified considerably. Client-patronage relations were transformed, and new actors emerged. The ivory trade, especially during the second half of the 19th century, became a means of travel, adventure and wealth that offered a way to enhance one’s status within coastal communities. Everybody could share this ambition but new tensions grew between the rich Swahili families, who struggled to preserve their precarious domination, and the parvenus on whose support they relied.

3.4 European powers
While Britain continued on its anti-slavery crusade, motivated in part by the pragmatic aim of weakening the growing mercantile fortunes of Omani Arabs and other oriental leaders, France took advantage of the situation to recapture some of its standing in the region. Sa’id Sayyid bin Sultan al-Bu Sa’id did not hesitate either to double-cross. At the same time he reassured the English, he courted the French to support him against enemy Arab tribes (mazrui, pl. mazaria) on the islands of Mafia and Kilwa and in Mombasa. The Arabs in East Africa provided efficient support for the slave trade, and French merchants exploited this to the full. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1815, France regained sovereignty over the island of Bourbon (DE MARTENS 1818:682). The French explorer Charles Guillain noted the “rapports intimes qui continuaient d’exister entre l’Arabie et la côte orientale d’Afrique, oû nous savons que le commerce des esclaves avait lieu de temp immémorial” (GUILLAIN 1856:162). The Omani Sultan and France shared an interest in finding new ports and commercial bases. However, after taking the potential purchase of Zanzibar and Pemba into consideration, Paris instead turned its attention towards Madagascar. Given the unrivalled supremacy of the Royal Navy backed by the Bombay Marine (the fighting navy of the East India Company) in the western stretches of the Indian Ocean, and the defeats inflicted on the pirates of the Gulf, France was destined to play a secondary role in the Indian Ocean. In 1817, Lord Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, proposed strengthening the Omani Sultan and supporting his power in East Africa. The Anglo-Indian government’s choice was influenced by continual pirate raids in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf, the commercial and political instability that afflicted the entire region, and the presence of the French, who, despite their setbacks, continued to represent a threat to Great Britain.
On the one hand, British documents reveal that the political manoevres of Sa’id Sayyid bin Sultan al-Bu Sa’id were a cause for alarm: the British perceived him as an element of instability in a region that was the object of great interest and importance. On the other hand, Hastings’ decision represented a firm stance in favour of the Omani Sultan as a political point of reference for Britain, also in relation to those regions of East Africa in which the Omani Arab dynasty exercised an indirect form of control.

4. Slavery in Balochistan
Though there is limited literature available to document it, slavery was practised in Balochistan in a similar pattern to that in Africa and Arabia. For example, in 1874 a group of Rinds from eastern Balochistan bought domestic slaves at Gwadar who came from the coasts of East Africa.9 This gave rise to a conflict of interests between the Rind and the representative (na’ib) of the Khan of Kalat in Kej, a conflict that ended in bloodshed and the death of four Rind tribesmen. Sir Robert Sandeman, at that time Deputy-Commissioner of Dera Ghazi Khan, asserted that the death of these men had nothing to do with the slave trade at Gwadar. In 1877 Sandeman became agent to the Governor General and Chief Commissioner of Balochistan. He believed his political agents were not able to identify the real causes of tribal conflicts between groups in Balochistan. He remarked that “domestic slavery is a time-honoured institution in Balochistan as in other eastern countries, and much of the land is cultivated by slave labour … at the same time it must be remembered that many of the ideas attaching to the word “slavery”, which are so repellent to civilized minds, are absent from the manners of the Biluch tribes.”10
This statement could be interpreted in different ways; for instance, it could be read as Eurocentrist and contemptuous of local populations. There were also geopolitical concerns that would have led Sandeman to justify slavery in Asia (SWIDLER 2003). These include the strategic importance of Balochistan within Anglo-Russian rivalry, the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), the construction of the Indo-European Telegraph Line that connected Calcutta to London, the long-term political consequences of the Great Mutiny in India of 1857, and the growing importance of the North West Frontier of British India. Also significant at the time was the push to define the borders between Persia and the Khanate of Kalat which started with the commission directed by Sir Frederic Goldsmid in 1870 and ended with the signing of an Agreement in Teheran on September 24th, 1872 (PIACENTINI 1991:189-203, BROBST 1977). During the first years of the 20th century, the British adopted measures against the slave trade that contributed to the reduction of the number of slaves coming to India from East Africa. This reduction corresponded to a new slave trade, a “horizontal slave route”, from the coast of Balochistan to the main suqs of Arabia (see fn. 6). British observers in Makran linked the rise of slavery there with the restriction of the trade elsewhere. “The reason there is such a demand for slaves from these parts, is that the trade from the African Coast has been effectually stopped, and Balochistan is the only place now open to them.”11 The poorest among the Baloch were sold as slaves. They were collected within the district of Kej and sent as slaves to Persian territory as well as to Arabia.12 This is shown by a telegram that the assistant superintendent in the Jask area sent to the to the director of the Persian Gulf section in Karachi on 20 May 1903: “a great number of them are brought to these places from the Kej district … not only Africans but low caste Balochis are now being sold by petty headmen.” Baloch slave women had their heads totally shaved, then covered with quicklime, so that their hair could not regrow, This rendered them easily recognizable and prevented them from returning to their own tribes and villages.13
To conclude, Baloch were active in the supply of slaves from both Africa and Asia. First as mercenary troops and later as traders, they took part in the slave trade in sub- Saharan East Africa that was generally controlled by Omani-Arabs. But Baloch were engaged in the slave trade in their homeland. This trade included Africans who worked as domestic and agricultural slaves in Balochistan. However, there is also the factor of the enslavement of Baloch by rival tribesmen and more powerful ethnic groups.

A.G.G. Agent to the Governor-General H.S.A. Home Secretariate Archives (Quetta, Pakistan)


1 I wish to thank Professor William Gervase Clarence-Smith (SOAS, University of London) for his sharp comments. I am also grateful to Ms. Ann Griffin (British Library) for her efficient help. 328 Beatrice Nicolini
2 Starting from the first half of the 19th century the banning of slavery on the western coasts of Africa affected the slave trade along East Africa, which grew during the second half of the 19th century, despite abolition treaties. On the effects of the banning of slavery in West Africa on East Africa see for example FAGE 2002, LOVEJOY 1997, 2000:226-252.
3 The word is a borrowing from French champ “field”.
330 Beatrice Nicolini
5 Among the incidents the al-Bu Sa’id had to deal with were two attacks on Sur and Gwadar in 1805 by Shaikh Sultan, the leader of the Qasimi tribe of Ras al-Khaimah. The Omani fleet immediately retook the centres after they were seized.
332 Beatrice Nicolini
6 H.S.A. – A.G.G. Office – Essential Records, Balochistan Archives: Complaint about existence of Slavery in Balochistan, from Capt. P. Cox, Consul and Political Agent, Maskat to Lieut. Col. C. A. Kemball, Agg. Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 17th September, 1901. Political, 5-2/57. See also MIERS 2003:306-309. 334 Beatrice Nicolini
7 The importance of porters for the African economy is also due to difficulties with the use of animals, which were liable to getting sleeping sickness (ROCKEL 1997:2).
8 Persian settlements on the east coast of Africa trace their origins to the legend of the seven Persian Princes. Ali, of Abyssinian mother and a Persian father named Hussein, had seven brothers from Shiraz, who sailed to Africa with seven ships and touched at seven different ports where they founded Persian “reigns” from Mombasa to Kilwa. Persian origins, i.e., Shirazi, soon became an ethnic and political identity within the history of Swahili civilization, and today in Zanzibar nauruz, the Zoroastrian new year (mwaka kogwa, which translates as “year washed / bathed”), is regularly celebrated (cf. NICOLINI 2004:62-63, MIDDLETON 1992:101, CHITTICK 1965).
9 The history of slavery in Balochistan, and its connections with East Africa is an open topic as available literature is limited. Some documents in the archives of the district commissioner in Quetta are preserved in a very poor state.
10 H.S.A. – A.G.G. Office – Essential Records, Balochistan Archives: From the A.G.G. to the Secretary to the Government of India. Foreign Department, Quetta, 25 March, 1884, Report n. 942.

AGIUS, Dionisius 2002: In the Wake of the Dow. The Arabian Gulf and Oman. Reading: Ithaca Press
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11 H.S.A. – A.G.G. Office Confidential, 1903-1905, File 23, n. 1510: Traffic in Slaves from Kej to
Persia, from the Ass. Superintendent Jask Sub-Division to the Director, Persian Gulf Section,
Karachi, Extract of a Letter n. 11 dated 28th March, 1904.
12 H.S.A. – A.G.G. Office Confidential, 1903-1905, File 23, n. 1510: Traffic in Slaves from Kej to
Persia, from Russell, Under Secr. to the Gov. of India to the A.G.G. Quetta, 1903.
13 H.S.A. – A.G.G. Office Confidential, 1903-1905, File 23, n. 1510: Traffic in Slaves from Kej to
Persia, from the Ass. Superintendent Jask Sub-Division to the Director, Persian Gulf Section,
Karachi, Telegram dated 20th May, 1903.
342 Beatrice Nicolini
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offprint from
Carina JAHANI, Agnes KORN, Paul TITUS (eds.) 2008:
The Baloch and Others: Linguistic, historical and socio-political perspectives on
pluralism in Balochistan. Wiesbaden, Reichert, pp. 327-344

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