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. Salma, in her sixties, does not know her exact age. She is of Haratin ethnicity and lived with her owner and mistress, Mariem mint Sidi Salem, forties, ethnic Arab-Berber of the El Eulb all tribe since her childhood until February 2013. Her children’s narratives can also be found in the archive: Saleck, Bilal, and Youma.
I am a slave by descent, as part of the inheritance of Mariem mint Sidi Salem, she acquired me when I was a young child and since then I have never known either my father or mother. For as long as I can remember, I have worked as a domestic slave for my masters, Mariem Mint Sidi Salem Ould Cheikh and her late husband Legreyve, of the tribe Oulad Ahmed, their son Mohamed, Ethmane, Sidi, Dah, Sid'Ahmed; their daughters, Rahma, and Miss Mahjouba. My children, for whom I know no paternity, are all born with my masters. This family are their slaves; they do that work for their masters as I work for them.
They have never known education, or marital status, or recreation, or rest. My child Bilal was given as a wedding gift to the daughter of my master Mahjouba mint Legreyve, mint Youma my daughter was given to Salma Rahma mint Legreyve for use at home. My children were able to break the bond with our masters, but my daughter and I have not been able to do so. My daughter stayed with her mistress, Rahma mint Legreyve.
Yesterday morning, when my son and his brother, Bilal, came to lodge a complaint against Rahma to claim his sister. I, since my childhood, have served my mistress, Mariem mint Sidi Salem until yesterday [February 6 2013], late at night, my eldest son, Saleck Ould Salma, came to inform me that I could be free now, and get my daughter to live united with my children. My son informed me that his brother, Bilal, filed a complaint against our master, and that some Biram could help us regain our freedom and to start a family together and independently.
Long ago, I remember an uncle of mine called Bilal and a brother to me called Bilal, came to solicit my masters family Ehel Legreyve, to take me with them and live in Senegal. They came to claim me in Chogar, but the Moors refused to accede to their request and they left. I think they live in a city called Thies Senegal. To work with my masters, I never received any consideration or compensation.
I filed a complaint against all members of the family who kept me in my life as a slave and the slavery-like practices they have imposed on my children. I demand my freedom, my daughter, and claims and repairs to entire states and trust and power of attorney to my two sons Saleck and Bilal, I also sought support from Biram for my protection and that of my children.
As told to the Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionism