Black and White Moors
February 6, 2009 5:34 AM   Subscribe

"The Beydanes, also known as White Moors, are the ruling caste in Mauritania. They are Arab Berber tribesmen whose ancestors established control in the seventeenth century. The Haratin, also known as Black Moors, are the descendants of black West Africans conquered and enslaved by the Beydanes centuries ago." from the New Yorker story, A Slave in New York, about a former slave who escaped in 1978, came to live in America and now works with the American Anti-Slavery Group.

The Moor of West Africa. Chronology for Black Moors in Mauritania.

About the Haratins.

The White Moors: Chleuhs, a gallery of images of their part of the world l Vallée des Mgoun and their amazing adobe castles (kasbahs), cities in the desert (At present, it hosts one of the largest movie studios in the world) l music. A little more about the Chleuhs, a Berber ethnic group.

The etymology of the word, Moors.The Haratin.

Slavery still weighs heavily
on Mauritanian society despite ban.


posted by nickyskye (25 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Weird, on that first link for the White Moors, all the pages are labeled Algeria, but the first pic is definitely from Imilchil in Morocco. (You can identify what tribe they're from by the pattern of their cloak.) Also, the picture of the city in the desert is not Ouarzazate, where the film studio is, that's Tinerhir. I was never sure about the Chleuh designation, either - it seemed to be used most often for Berbers from the Souss area in the South, but occasionally for others, too. Berbers from the Rif would never be referred to as that, however.

Anyway, I was married to an Amazigh/Berber, and I never heard about this White Moor/Black Moor issue happening just to the South of us - thanks for a great post!
posted by HopperFan at 6:24 AM on February 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Wonderful post -- a friend of mine did a year in the Peace Corps in Nouakchott and had fascinating details to report about the culture(s). Actually, the Haratins' situation and her feeling that US organizations were complicit in perpetuating it had a lot to do with halving her planned two-year stint.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:51 AM on February 6, 2009

FelliniBlank, your friend sounds like my friend, who, jadedly left halfway through her tour due to similar frustrations. And a mysterious parasitic infection.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2009

So they're Arab Berbers, huh? Maybe you mean Arabized Berbers (ie Berbers who speak arabic)? Or possible Arab Bedouins(ie Arabs of a nomadic background)?
posted by jackbrown at 8:26 AM on February 6, 2009

Oh man, I missed the Arab Berber part. None of the Berbers I met ever identified as Arab, far from it. There's quite a bit of stereotypes and hostility between the two groups.
posted by HopperFan at 9:03 AM on February 6, 2009

A quick search confirms that Beydanes are of mixed Arab and Berber (and less often African, i.e. sub-Saharan) descent. The New Yorker could possibly have chosen a hyphen, but they are notoriously precise about such things.
posted by dhartung at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2009

When Moors from different nomadic tribes meet, there are rigid customs that are followed. These customs, which are a consequence of the long history of raids in the desert, are used by the groups to regulate the meeting. For example, when conversing, several mannerisms are used to indicate their involvement in the conversation. If a Moor blows on his hand during a conversation, it means he does not believe anything that is being said, or if he puts his finger in his ear, it means that he is not interested in what is being said.

I think I'll try these at the next meetup. ;)
posted by jason's_planet at 10:19 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fascinating post.

From the New Yorker story, it seems that once again, the answer to this problem is education. Withholding knowledge from anyone is evil. That doesn't make the slavery an easy problem to solve, though.

Can anybody tell me when the castles in the amazing adobe castles link were built?
posted by zinfandel at 10:36 AM on February 6, 2009

Actually, the Haratins' situation and her feeling that US organizations were complicit in perpetuating it had a lot to do with halving her planned two-year stint.

I've had professional contacts with the PC in a number of contexts over the years. It has become clear to me that the stated objectives of providing aid and assistance to locals very much takes a back seat to training Americans in the local lingo and building up friends and contacts.

Hmm, now I wonder why the US government would want citizens with all kinds of oddball language fluencies... hmm, what could it be, what could it be...
posted by Meatbomb at 10:52 AM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hmm, now I wonder why the US government would want citizens with all kinds of oddball language fluencies... hmm, what could it be, what could it be...

Well, Meatbomb, one example I have personal experience with is the so-called NSEP Fellowship, for "strategic languages." Defense Department-funded, at least during the year I had one (which was the first year of the program), and I was allowed to study Czech, since there weren't terribly many places to study it inside the States -- so it was deemed 'strategic.'

Should we ever invade Prague, they're prolly gonna hunt me down and put me in the army or something. Of course, I'll run away and Švejk it up (švejkovina!) in a bar somewhere, so maybe that's not a bad idea...
posted by at 11:12 AM on February 6, 2009

You know who else was a white moore? That's right!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on February 6, 2009

Fascinating post. Thanks, nickyskye.
posted by homunculus at 11:43 AM on February 6, 2009

Aït Benhaddou 360 degrees. One of the kasbah towns in the Draa valley. According to this travel blog it was established C11th.
Great post nickyskye.
posted by adamvasco at 12:05 PM on February 6, 2009

Great link, Adamvasco! I had no idea places like that even existed.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:43 PM on February 6, 2009

Holy Geography HopperFan, how cool is that you know so much about Morocco, Imichil tribal patterns, the difference between Tinerhir and Ouarzazate. Am totally impressed. I only spent 3-1/2 months in Morocco but also never knew about the Black and White Moor situation.

When I used to sell West African art, a Cameroonian journalist friend, a tribal chief, got me interested in the topic of slavery in contemporary West Africa when he said his family had owned slaves until recently and that it was routine during tribal warfare, even up to recently, for the victor to take slaves of the tribe they defeated.

I happened on the New Yorker article looking up the word Moor and was surprised to learn about black and white Moors.

Just curious, by any chance, can you tell me what the three women are making in this Berber music video? Is that Pastilla?

Wonderful additional links adamvasco.

One of the cool things about adobe structures, like the kasbahs, is that they are living sculptures, organic architecture in every sense with clay and manure as ingredients, re-mudded routinely. They may have first been constructed 1000 years ago and yet still in the process of being made.
posted by nickyskye at 1:59 PM on February 6, 2009

Ragarding adamvasco's second link: gives me a chuckle, the place has been there since the 11th century, but they still haven't got it together to build a bridge?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:05 PM on February 6, 2009

Just a quick note on the bridge at Ait Benhaddou - it's difficult to build there, because when the rains come down, most bridges get washed away. If you've ever seen a wadi flooded, or a flash flood out west, it's like that. Standing next to the onslaught, all you can hear is the grinding of massive boulders being tumbled around like Pez in the chocolate brown water. they make temporary bridges of gravel and sand bags for tourists to walk across, when the water is low. :)

Will watch the video in a moment...
posted by HopperFan at 2:52 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nickyskye, those women are from the area around Agadir, and they're making argan oil in the traditional way. Tasty stuff.
posted by HopperFan at 5:41 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I checked in with my personal Berber connection (we're still good friends), and he was not only familiar with the situation in Mauritania, but said that his own family had bought a slave back in the early 60s! The man is free now, of course, and still lives in the area.
posted by HopperFan at 7:22 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

HopperFan, isn't it mindboggling about this still going on?!

Thanks for validating the contemporary nightmare truth of this.

And thanks also for the information about the argan oil. Looked it up on Wikipedia now and found out it is the oil those tree climbing goats clamber up for.

"For centuries, the Berbers (indigenous people of Morocco) of this area have followed the goats which climb the spiny argan trees to eat the small fruit containing a pit. The pits are either spat out or excreted, undigested, amongst faeces, then split to extract the bitter kernels inside, which are ground and pressed to make a nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics."
posted by nickyskye at 3:28 PM on February 7, 2009

Yes, I was a bit shocked. :(

On the lighter topic, have you ever tried argan oil? Mmmm.
posted by HopperFan at 7:40 AM on February 9, 2009

Hi HopperFan, never tried argan anything. The kernals being pooped out by goats reminds me of the civet pooped out coffee beans from Indonesia, Kopi Luwak. I looked argan up at my favorite NYC culinary store, Kalustyans. They have the oil, which is very pricey. Looked all over for the ground nut confection, like a Moroccan restaurant that might have it as a dessert, no luck. I do love Moroccan food in general though.
posted by nickyskye at 1:07 PM on February 9, 2009

You might want to try amlou - argan oil, ground peanuts or almonds, and honey. We ate it with bread for breakfast sometimes, it's very good.

Now I miss Morocco terribly.
posted by HopperFan at 7:50 PM on February 9, 2009

I've been living in Nouakchott now for two months, working on a music project.

One of the musicians I am working with is a white Moor, a member of one of the prominent families here with connections in rather high places. When I first visit, I'm told to wait at a cafe and that a "friend" will come and get me. The friend arrives, a black Moor, barefoot, and we walk over the rocks and garbage strewn streets to a mansion. The house is huge, but in a sorry state of disrepair. The nephew of the musician is upstairs, ripped out of his mind of whatever drug of choice they're using today. He yells at the friend in Hassinya to "go make tea."

"So this is your friend?"

"No, he is my boy, my servant. He is so stupid..."

I play with the uncle and record plenty of music, but I'm have this sickly feeling of malaise for the entirety of the session.

A friend phones. The man tells me before he arrives, "He is black, you know, but he is noble, a good man. I do not know why he is black?"

Talking with a Malian friend back in the African quarter, I recount the story. He tells me of the difficulty of changing the mentality of slavery, not only of the White Moor, but the Haratin.

"You tell the haratin, hey, listen, you and the white moor, you're the same. But later when his 'master' comes around he'll go right back. They've been raised thinking that it's god's will, they keep them without any education."

Nouakchott is segregated. There are many black Africans here who are independent of the system, Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof from Senegal. They cling together in the bidonvilles of cinquieme, seizieme. Ask anyone around here about the white Moor, and they'll say "il est pa bom." Equally, I've heard the most racist and condenscending statements from the white Moors. One Hassaniya griot on learning where I live is shocked. "You live amongst our Africans, how nice," she tells me dripping with sarcasm. "But they are not all so bad."

I could go on. And if my words seem loaded or divided or betray any bias, that's simply Mauritania speaking.
posted by iamck at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2009

iamck, that's both horrible and fascinating at the same time. I look forward to reading more about your experiences there.
posted by HopperFan at 4:07 PM on February 10, 2009

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