Obeying the Master: Emancipation, Property, and Religious Belief in Slave Wills on Pemba Island

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 11:30 AM
Molly A (Hyatt)
Elisabeth M. McMahon , Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
The abolition of slavery along the Swahili coast of East Africa came in 1897, yet the links between ex-slaves and ex-masters did not end immediately.  In 1924, a Qadi in Mombasa awarded the estate of a former slave to his former master based on a relationship of wala or patronage between the two rather than to the descendants of the former slave.  This case helps to explain why even before the emancipation decree, former slaves on Pemba Island felt it was necessary to write wills that protected their wishes for any accumulated property they owned.  Using probate records, especially the wills of former slaves, held in the archives on Pemba Island, this paper explores the estates and decisions of emancipated slaves.  For the Muslim population on the island it was standard at death that their estates were divided by Islamic rules, and prayers and feasts were held based on the amount left behind.  The wills of several former slaves indicate the concern they had about whether their wishes and position as practicing Muslims would be upheld at their death.  Their wills focus on negotiating between their religious beliefs and their obedience to God and their compliance with the customary control of masters over slaves’ property.  Through their wills, former slaves clearly acknowledged which “master” (God or their former owner) was more important to their lives and salvation.
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