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The largest African slave rebellions



The subject of African bondage anywhere is one of the most sensitive historical issues, and all to often it is asserted that most, if not all, of the great international movements of African people occurred only under the guise of slavery and servitude. Obviously, as we are seeing, this has not at all been the case. The period of bondage is in fact dwarfed by the ages of magnificent African civilizations, glory and splendor, not just in Africa itself but throughout the Global African Community.

It was in early Iraq where the largest African slave rebellions occurred. Here were gathered tens of thousands of East African slave laborers called Zanj. These Blacks worked in the humid salt marshes in conditions of extreme misery. Conscious of their large numbers and oppressive working conditions the Zanj rebelled on at least three occasions between the seventh and ninth centuries. The largest of these rebellions lasted for fifteen years, from 868 to 883, during which time our people inflicted defeat after defeat upon the Arab armies sent to suppress the revolt.


This rebellion is known historically as the "Revolt of the Zanj" or the "Revolt of the Blacks." It is significant to point out that the Zanj forces were rapidly augmented by large-scale defections of Black soldiers under the employ of the Abbassid Caliphate at Baghdad. The rebels themselves, hardened by years of brutal treatment, repaid their former masters in kind, and are said to have been responsible for great slaughters in the areas that came under their sway.

At its height the Zanj rebellion spread to Iran and advanced to within seventy miles of Baghdad itself. The Zanj even built their own capital, called Moktara (the Elect City), which covered a large area and flourished for several years. The Zanj rebellion was ultimately only suppressed with the intervention of large Arab armies and the lucrative offer of amnesty and rewards to any rebels who might choose to surrender.

African people have always defied subjugation, and the Revolt of the Blacks is in and of itself a glorious page in African history and Black resistance movements. Through the Revolt of the Blacks, a now relatively little known episode in a part of the world that many of us regard as foreign and strange, we see African people doing what we have always done asserting our essential dignity and standing up and demanding our inalienable human rights.

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SOURCE: African Presence In Early Asia, by Runoko Rashidi & Van Sertima By RUNOKO RASHIDI rrashidi@swbell.net .