Mauritania is one of the last countries in the world where people are still born into hereditary slavery, which means they are literally owned by other people, and forced to work for masters their entire lives. People in slavery come from the Haratine ethnic group, historically enslaved by White Moors. They can be bought and sold, or given as gifts, and face a lifetime of exploitation and abuse. Rape of female slaves is common and their children also become slaves. They are Muslims, and many believe that it is Allah’s wish for them to be enslaved because they are told that their paradise is bound to their Master. In reality, Islam dictates that a Muslim cannot enslave a fellow Muslim. Since 2007 slavery has been criminalised in Mauritania but the law is not enforced and the government is reluctant to acknowledge the existence of the problem. Saleck was born a slave but has worked to not only free himself and his family from their “masters,” but also to help pursue the prosecution of those they formerly served. There are narratives from Saleck’s family members to be found in the archive.
I'm Saleck son of Salma. I was born a slave for the family Ehel Legreyve, like my mother, my brothers and my sister. My childhood and my youth, I spent in slavery; I have never gone to school or learnt the Koran, all my pride as elsewhere. We were assigned to serve our masters, to take care of their animals and all the hard work and manual labour. The children of our masters are all educated, officials, among them there is a great soldier, a policeman, teachers, they all work in the state.
I always try to get my brothers to rebel, my mother and my sister. I managed with my brothers, Bilal in particular, who I got to leave his mistress, Mahjouba mint Legreyve. But I failed with my mother who was afraid to leave Mariem mint Sidi Salem, her mistress. And then some time ago I learned that there is a man named Biram, freeing slaves, making them Haratin.
I went to ask Rahma mint Legreyve to give me my little sister, Youma. Rahma threatened me with having me imprisoned if I request this again. I was afraid and left; this was a few weeks ago. Then I learned that Biram, a man I'd heard of but had never seen anywhere was coming from Nema and was going to stop in our city, Chogar. I asked a Hartani in Chogar, named Lekbeid, to transmit my message discreetly to Biram. I asked him to help me release my mother and my sister from the yoke of slavery to the Legreyve family.
I do not know if Lekbeid forwarded my request to Biram, but a few days later, last Thursday, my brother Bilal, who lives in Nouakchott, told me by phone that he was helped by Biram and that he complained against Rahma mint Legreyve that maintaining our sister Youma into slavery in Nouakchott. He said that Rahma is now in prison, and the other members of the family of our master will join her in jail and that we no longer need to fear anything and my mother and I can come and help in the complaint, and stay in Nouakchott and live together. Immediately after that I left Chogar quietly, with my mother to join my brother Bilal and my sister Youma
I am attached to my mother, my sister and brothers and I filed a complaint with the justice of Mauritania against this family who dominated and exploited us all our lives without rest or pay. I also ask Biram and his organization to help us in our approach.
As told to the Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionism