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Tawergha : Only Through Acknowledging Our True History, Can We Move Forward
11/01/2013 18:55:00
Life as a slave was extremely miserable

By Abdullah Elmaazi

In 1963 Dadda Salma, at the age of ninety-five, had a toothless smile which was quite infectious. You could not help but smile back. Her eyes were a window to the sadness in this world and told the story of the suffering of her race. She was an emancipated black slave spending her final years in a “poor house" on the outskirts of Tripoli.

Dadda Salma was kidnapped at the age of five by Libyan slave traders from her village in southern Sudan late in the 19th century and sold to a wealthy Libyan officer in the Ottoman army.

Salma was the name given to her by her owners. She doesn’t remember the name her mother gave her. Dadda Salma’s story was not confined to the sad look in her eyes.

Astonishingly even in her advanced years when memory begins to fade, she was still able to narrate the vivid image of her mother and other women in her village screaming as they were carried away in a caravan of horse drawn carriages by their kidnappers. The mothers heaped mud on their heads as a sign of deep grief while they gave chase to the caravan.

The distance between her distraught mother and the caravan grew longer and she sobbed for a long time after losing sight of her mother. Exhaustion eventually set in and Salma and her friends fell asleep.

Within a few days they found themselves in a strange city among strange people living in a strange house which looked nothing like the mud hut where she was born and grew up. The lady of the house was not a surrogate mother but the owner of the most recently acquired slave.

Salma’s life as a slave was extremely miserable. At the age of 12 she became responsible for all the domestic chores in the house. At fourteen she was raped by her master and had to continue satisfying him in addition to doing her other 'chores'.

The lady of the house who, content that her husband had not taken a second rival, nonetheless took out her jealousy on Salma by beating her regularly. Salma was well into her thirties when a fellow slave told her of an escape route.

Salma was to be among the first black slaves to seek emancipation, availing herself of a decree by the Ottoman Sultan offering those slaves who wanted to be free the right to emancipation.

A free woman, but destitute and with no means of support, Salma headed for the poor house outside Tripoli. The majority of other emancipated slaves went to a small village just outside of Misurata, called Tawergha. The fact that this village, which grew into a town as a result of the increasing number of emancipated slaves, was located just outside Misurata was not a coincidence.

Misurata has long been one of Libya’s most entrepreneurial communities with trade, be it in spices from India or slaves from sub Saharan Africa, being the mainstay of the city’s livelihood.

The main task of the newly emancipated was to locate family members from whom they had been separated under slavery. Tawergha was an ideal venue for family reunions. However, Emancipation was not without its challenges. The freed slaves needed to work but the town itself offered no means of survival.

As was the case in the emancipated southern United States, many ex-slaves from Misurata continued to work for their former owners often in agricultural jobs or as domestic help and nannies in the case of many of the women. Soon almost everyone in Tawergha was working in Misurata and Tawergha became a “dormitory” town.

The relationship between the inhabitants of the town and those of the city was in the main cordial but never one of equals. Former slaves wanted to have autonomy within their working lives but the former slave owners were convinced they should remain “in their place".

Even in post-independence Libya, the biggest challenge the people of Tawergha faced was lack of socio-political empowerment. In a country where power resided with major regions and strong tribes and clans they had no way of gaining access to high decision making circles within the country’s hierarchy.

The social and political structure in Libya ensured that the people of Tawergha, with no affiliation or blood relationship with other tribes and clans, were in no position to command either respect or demand attention to their communities' problems. Thus Tawergha remained one of the most underdeveloped towns in Libya with its people almost entirely dependent for their survival on Misurata.

The people of Misurata took pride in their business acumen: the words pride and Misurata were almost synonymous. Wherever they settled in Libya, they formed the backbone of the business and commercial community and became part of their adopted home’s special elite.

A city enjoying such a high degree of self-confidence could afford to be generous and hospitable. Gaddafi found refuge there when he arrived as a struggling teenager, after being expelled from secondary school in the southern city of Sebha for political activism. It’s in the homes of some of the city’s most affluent families that he found shelter, hospitality and friendship among his new school friends.

It was from among these school friends in Misurata and the sons of his benefactors that he recruited some of the most influential members of his “free officers” movement who successfully mounted the September 1969 coup against the Idris Senousi monarchy. It was also in Misurata that Gaddafi became engaged to the daughter of a police general in the royal police.

If anything, the engagement of a destitute army lieutenant, the son of a Bedouin shepherd, to the daughter of a police general reflected the opportunities for upward social mobility provided for by the people of Misurata. High society in Misurata was ready to open its doors to those who demonstrated personal ambition as in Gaddafi’s case through acquiring an education and achieving army officer rank.

But race was always an obstacle to social mobility. It is virtually impossible for a black Libyan from Tawergha, the grandson of an emancipated African slave, to marry into a notable Misratan family. Slavery was still a stigma endured by the offspring of the emancipated slaves if hardly ever discussed in either society.

There were no other outward signs of discrimination: both communities seemed to understand that they could mix on any other level except mixing genes.

Genes counted for nothing among school children in 2001. Among teenage children in Misurata, racial affiliation, colour and social background were never a criteria for choosing friends - even "best friends".

This was certainly the case for fourteen-year-old high spirited Mariam, the daughter of a wealthy Misurata businessman. Mariam chose her friends according to her rating of their antics in class. The more outrageous they were the closer they came within her circle of extra mischievous friends.

Mariam’s friends knew that once she put her mind to something she would be successful and they never doubted she would become a surgeon when she announced she wanted to study medicine. Witty, pretty with a commanding presence of someone far beyond her fourteen years Salma was the life and soul of every school party. To describe her as the apple of her parents eyes is an understatement.

Mid-way through Mariam’s school year the revolution began. The people of the city of Misurata and those of the town of Tawergha were tragically to find themselves on opposite sides.

Encircled by Gaddafi’s forces by land and sea the people of Misurata refused to lay down their arms and Misurata became the Libya revolution’s “Stalingrad.” The city which embraced Gaddafi and helped propel him to power was now the most determined to bring his 42-year rule to an end.

Misurata is the key city to ruling a united Libya, more so it is indispensable for ruling an autonomous western part of Libya. For Gaddafi regaining control of Misurata was a matter of life or death.

Gaddafi unleashed his full wrath on the city and its inhabitants. Tawergha was to be the launching pad of the no holds barred onslaught. He lured the people of Tawergha to his side, with a devilish message appealing to one of humans’ most base instinct, that of revenge, of righting past wrongs.

“There will be no city called Misurata - whatever you annex will be yours" Gaddafi told the young men of Tawergha, “this is your chance to avenge centuries of slavery suffered by your ancestors and overcome your social marginalisation".

Tens, some say hundreds, of young men from Tawergha the town that gave refuge to their slave ancestors accepted Gaddafi’s offer to help him regain control of Misurata and cleansing it from the “rats” - the term Gaddafi coined for the revolutionaries.

Three weeks into the revolution, Mariam’s villa was stormed by five young black men from, Tawergha drunk and armed with automatic rifles. Mariam’s brothers together with other men of fighting age, were on the frontline fighting Gaddafi’s forces. Only Mariam’s grandfather was home. The five men took turns raping Mariam, her sister and her mother. They forced Mariam’s grandfather to watch at gun point. Mariam recognised the face of one of her rapists, as that of her best friends’ brothers.

Mariam’s fate was sealed forever. Such is the stigma that haunts rape victims in a conservative city like Misurata, that Mariam will never leave her parents’ house. She will be married off, in name only, to some distant cousin who will volunteer to conceal the family shame.

The marriage will not be consummated. Mariam will remain forever housebound. She will never become a surgeon. If she is to be widowed, she might remarry someone who does not know the story of her rape. Perhaps then she might start a new life. Mariam however will never be a surgeon.

Ultimately, Misurata emerged 'victorious' after the revolution. Tawergha was subjected to revenge attacks and largely destroyed. Human Rights Watch documented reports of scores of young men from Tawergha who died under torture in makeshift jails in Misurata. Hundreds more are still missing.

Libyans cannot build a future on a heap of historical grievances. Sometime somewhere somehow the cycle of revenge and counter revenge has to stop. Reconciliation between the people of Misurata and Tawergha can be a precursor for national reconciliation but can it be achieved within our lifetime?

Meanwhile where will the people of Tawergha be located without being dependent on another city for their livelihood? This is the moment for statesmen to take control, unfortunately however, so far there has been a lamentable dearth of statesmen in Libya.

It is incumbent on those who claim to have Libya’s interest at heart to give priority to solving this problem with justice and humanity and in a manner that both addresses the suffering and aspirations of all of the inhabitants of Libya whether they be of the elk of Dadda Salma or of Mariam.

Until that happens the suffering will continue and the pain will endure.
Dear Mama

The article , as someone has mentioned is written with a great deal of humanity and compassion.

What was done by SOME of the people of Tawrgha is documented by human rights watch equally what happened to the people of Tawargha was equally documented by human rights watch and other human rights organisations

The history of black slaves in Libya is equally documented in the archives of the department of antiquities as well as the Institute of historical studies in Tripoli .

Unfortunately “enslavement “ takes different forms and the people of Twargha , the offspring of supposedly “ emancipated “ slaves were never really emancipated

The following are not racist accusations these are facts

“Even in post-independence Libya, the biggest challenge the people of Tawergha faced was lack of socio-political empowerment. In a country where power resided with major regions and strong tribes and clans they had no way of gaining access to high decision making circles within the country’s hierarchy. The social and political structure in Libya ensured that the people of Tawergha, with no affiliation or blood relationship with other tribes and clans, were in no position to command either respect or demand attention to their communities' problems. Thus Tawergha remained one of the most underdeveloped towns in Libya with its people almost entirely dependent for their survival on Misurata. “

And so is this paragraph

“ But race was always an obstacle to social mobility. It is virtually impossible for a black Libyan from Tawergha, the grandson of an emancipated African slave, to marry into a notable Misratan family. Slavery was still a stigma endured by the offspring of the emancipated slaves if hardly ever discussed in either society. “

There were no other outward signs of discrimination: both communities seemed to understand that they could mix on any other level except mixing genes.

I’m sorry, but calling somebody a racist is too much of a knee-jerk reaction. And it’s about the worst thing you could call somebody. It’s just irresponsible.
This hits you on the head and wakes you up to the harsh reality of a hypocritical population that is so versed in wrong doing yet think they are nice and innocent. As a case in point and only to confirm what Mr Almazzi underlined is to point to how the people of Zuwara, from the Berber of Libya, treat blacks (their slaves) who are in the present time live with them. A white man from Zuwara still does not eat in the same plate with a black neighbor unless in front of strangers who the whites do not want them to find out about this fact. Libyan Berber who comprise about two percent of the population seem to have a racist attitude against Arabs and African blacks. They reject any intermarriage with them at all similar as in the case of Misrata and Tawergha.
Thank you for an excellent and well researched article Abdullah.

While many Misrata natives would probably take issue with your analysis, its neither here nor there. The fact is that irreparable harm has taken place and the question now must be that of how to implement damage limitation. Recriminations and enquiries will only serve to open old wounds and the new government would do well to address the problem exclusively by attending to the urgent needs of the Tawerghans. Let bygones be bygones. The atrocities that have taken place must be attributed to the devil tyrant playing his final card of seditious agitation which backfired on him and unequivocally sealed his fate. In a way, the outcome for Tawergha must be seen as for the best and it would be better if the town continued to be erased from the map while its inhabitants are rehabilitated and integrated elsewhere in Libyan society. As it was, the town resembled a ghetto or more accurately, a South African township, where blacks languished in squalid poverty with no future prospects. In addition, no good could have come from a village of former slaves so near to their oppressive masters in Misrata other than the convenience of maintaining the old status quo relationship. Both the devastation of Misrata and the subsequent plunder of Tawergha need to be seen as a bookmark on a closed dark chapter of Libyan history where the forces of malevolence and ignorance forced innocents into a life of abject misery.
Racism is another elephant in the room.

We are always either history's heroes or its victims. We are never the culprits or the villians never ever.

Well done Abdullah for telling part of your people's history as you know it worts and all and in a neutral way without being overtly judgmental .

For generations History-minded schoolboys and girls read books written by historians aimed at presenting history with the nasty bits left in

Well done Tripoli Post for publishing this article
Have you ever read an article or a book and then felt ripped off by your educational system, exclaiming: Why l didn’t I know this? I have many times .
I expect many young Libyans must have felt this way reading this insightful and sensitively written article .
Yet other Libyans might have felt uncomfortable being confronted with some unpalatable historical
Abdullah Elmaazi touches on what must be sensitive issues in a conservative society . There is not only the issue of black slavery but also that of using sex to dominate and demean.

I think the more Libyans are able to discuss their history openly the easier it will be to understand each other’s pain and suffering be it two or two hundred years ago . I f the suffering is never acknowledged it will endure for generations
I am glad tripoli post wrought this articles we libyan must know the whole history of our libya to have a happy and prosperous future and we must have reconciliation for our children future...
Well done Tripoli post...
Thought provoking and inspiring read. Nice job Abdullah!
To mama. May I suggest that you give the article a second reading. You might then find it difficult to describe it as racist. Mr. Elmaazi was highlighting a situation that needs remedy and attention. Through recounting this story from its historical perspective and linking it to current affairs he is implying that we cannot move forward in establishing a society based on equality, justice, freedom and the rule of law if we don't come to terms with our past prejudices.
In using this micro analysis of the two neighbouring communities and the need for reconciliation between them or at least resolving the issue separating them, Abdullah Elmaazi is alluding that this process might be a precursor for initiating a similar process on a national level based on the results achieved .
He never said that criminals would be let louse .
It's a thorny and sticky issue but there is a unique chance in modelling a modern society based on an inclusiveness of all citizens. This societal awareness and searching of the mind should culminate in a constitution that should guarantee the rights of all citizens as embodied universally and meet the aspirations of the youths who with their courage on the 17th of February 2011 made this possible.
We have a chance not to squander our human and material resources if we work together hand in hand focused in aiming to build a fair society with no one left behind.
I think this is a very informative article with very valid points. I think if someone is calling this a racist article then they have not absorbed the intended message. Or it may be that they themselves have some issues with race which they might want to address.
What a bitter pill Libyans need to swallow! But if it's the only way to healing, then it's a small price to pay. But are they up to the task? Only time will tell...
A well written and very interesting insight into the historical origins of today's conflict in Libya.
I came in Libya first on 2003 as a Consultant Surgeon in the Nalut New Hospital, and returned to the Jebel almost twice every year. Non only I come in my vest of a Surgeon, but also I am studying Tamazight Heritage and Autochthonous Architecture as a historical source. Also I surveyed the desert to reach ancient remnants. That is the point: in Libya slavery still exists! In the desert I found negro Jamal shepherds roaming in the sand dunes together with their flock and living with nothing: They do not hold their identity documents those being held by the Jamal Libyan owner so that escaping is prevented. They have no money; they have no food nor water, nor dresses. They can shelter in underground caves with nothing inside and eat and drink only Jamal milk they collect by a broken plastic bottle. Also in Tripoli slavery is still present in some cases, the same way it is described in the article. Tawergha is only the tip of the iceberg.
This link shows one of the slave negro shepherds offering his hospitality to a responsible tourist in the Libyan desert

Abdullah, you are a great story teller, avid liar and most of all an Arab hipocrite, not every black person in Tawhergha came to the city as slaves, Tawhergha was long a nomadic town/city for Touaregs, they housed unjustly enslaved Africans by Arab slave traders, what can Arabs be without conning Africans and imposing fraudulent democracies?. Tawhergha people will survive without stupid, hipocratic, mercenary and french backed Arabs. Many slaves were helped to escape by Touaregs, it's unthinkable that some-one would bamboozle human judgment so much. There was no girl raped by Tawhergha youth with the name you prescribed, Gadhaffi seek refugee in Misurata at any moment in his life time. Misurata is known city of criminals, liars and hardcore conmen. They will never amount to anything causing trouble all over the region, you will be reduced to rubbles and ashes, we will house, take many people of Tawhergha anywhere in the world, to hell with France, Tel-Aviv and European backed Misurata mercenaries, the people of Tawherga do not need any stupid Arab to depend on, these hipocrite Arabs are known to betray each other. It's nothing new, eat that Libyan oil and gas, then kill yourselves wolves in sheeps clothing. We will resettle the people of Tawhergha all over Africa.
I have too many doubts about this article, knowing Arab talent for debauchery, no thank you. I would never believe tales told from the eye of a beast. This article never reflected on the truth of Misrata foreign mercenaries on Libyan soil, war will continue to rage till the Misrata pharaoh's vanish from history of Libya, Gadhaffi never met any girl from Misurata, he came from a honest and hard working family.
@ Abdullah Elmaazi, this article will sell very well in white supremacist society that is hell bend on destruction, racism and violence. The ultimate global system built on mass murder, white imperialist domination that lacks the capacity for self examination, it cannot grasp the simplest truth of unfolding events in Libya imposed by France, Israeli agent of death Henry Benard Levy, it's based on white washed Arab, Misrata Ottoman empire and Zionist imperialist order of celebrating the annihilation of whole peoples, taking their land, marketing some tales of heroism and invented stories. Without guilt or introspection trying to sweeten it by Arab legacy of family molestation, barbarism, and incest. Is devoid of human values at it's very core. There will be no such thing as renconcilliation in Libya, the country is moving into stone ages and the legacy of dinosaurs brought to life in a city filled with militias. Neither the Eurocentric nor hipocratic Islam will resolve the situation, you comparing it with South African aparthied, it's all about white supremacy and imperialism, unfortunately global media has exposed the inner details of Misrata's brutality, it was intended for people of Misrata to benefit from lies and debauchery, unfortunately world war is unfolding slowly and painful, Libya will be gripped by poverty, killings of white imperialists and supremacists, the way Libya is built under Gadhaffi, you will never succeed without truth, every unjust foreign imposed agent in Libya and foreign collaborators will be annihilated, killed, brutalized and destroyed. There will be no peace in Libya till you restore that old system of Gadhaffi, white conmen foreigners will squeeze the looted wealth in Misrata from all parts of the world, the end game is hang man's noose on Misrata, you fools and ignorant skunks that killed those black people and women for nothing. Rich, famous and authoritative, gorgeous wannabe fallacy, we've heard those incubator stories of Saddam Hussein, it never stops in Arab legacy of lies, unfortunately you were dumb enough to be defrauded by Sarkozy and France, then live in the self delusional structure you had yearn to bring in, actually Misrata is full of human stench, you can notice it's a city of murderers. Gadhaffi is dead, all the lies have to be invented about him, anyway Libya was better with him in place, today it's mad men roaming with guns, your robbed money will never solve the city, that country will sink into unthinkable misery, Arab hipocracy at some point will have to be eliminated and eventually the hipocracy cropping white and Arab community will end up in self destruction.
saif ul islam was a hope but u lost coz westrnrs used u
Aliha Muta, you must be an angry African parasite who lived off the blood of innocent Libyans, the type that Gaddafi imported by the ship and plane load to bolster his irrational theories of black supremacy over the hapless Libyan population, and in his final stages, to murder, rape and loot the Libyan people on command. Yes, you are right, the African mercenaries were ruthlessly slaughtered, but rightfully so as any invading hoards deserve to be. The native innocent Tawerghans suffered because Gaddafi lumped them together with his imported mercenaries and forced them to do his bidding as Abdullah El Maazi clearly explains. Judging by your irrational diatribe, howling with lament and venomous jealousy, you are slowly albeit grudgingly coming to terms with the demise of Libya’s darkest chapter. Libya before Gaddafi was a nation of law abiding, internationally respected people who lived in peace and racial harmony. In forty years your hero has taken Libya back into unfathomable darkness. The mad men roaming with guns that you speak of are what’s left of the Gaddafi generations. They are HIS making and they tore him apart like a pack of wolves overpowering their Alpha Male. Karma has a way of paying back double, even after decades. Take your pseudo revolutionary views to Northern Mali where they belong and keep your nose out of Libyan politics. Let us pick up the pieces and start again.
The good time.

Here, in the
present, while
the sound of
a new day
appears in the
sky with a
delicate glimmer.

Francesco Sinibaldi
A right step forward Mr. El Mazzi. Most Libyans lack great knowldge of their inherited history. I think it would be very helpful for the libyans to really know their history in details and not the general headlines that is handed out in school books. People without history are lost people, and they will keep repeating the same mistakes.
I hope the best for future and more knowldge empowered Libya.
Thank you Mr. El Mazzi

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A great historical prospective , for those who care about the history. It brings in mind to many of us the model of Commission on Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid rule . The similarity is a historical cross paths of former slaves and masters..the difference is in one country it involves the entire nation. And in Libya is only or mostly between two localities.
Through truth and reconciliation the one nation (South Africa) resolved most if not all of its historical demons The question can a similar conflict between Misrata and Tawergha resolve theirs. The history books are open to take note of the leadership and leaders who takes steps to do that if they do, and those who don't if the don't. The rest of us wait and hope....they do
This is the most disguisting arjicle I had ever read. This is a ridiculos racist account a man could narrated.

I am sure that is a hate speach i can not beleive you can write. Alot of people think that some of Misurata inhibatants where turkish emancipatetd slaves as Kwarighlai and Ingushians ( Known localy as Shrkis). Its a shame that this racist article can be published. It should be withdrawn.


Only Libyan Women Can Put Libya Together Again
You have no doubt noticed that I am not a good story teller nor do I have what can be called “ literary talent ” . My main/only purpose in writing Dada Salma’s story and that of Mariam is to try and help both sides in this tragic schism understand and acknowledge each other’s suffering in the distant as well as in their more recent joint past .

I know that the wounds are still long ,deep and very raw to expect immediate forgiveness and reconciliation yet the future of our country hinges totally on reconciliation . We cannot move one inch forward without it .

Most of you have championed the cause of national reconciliation in far more tangible ways than I have done and no doubt will continue to do so . There has been however a lamentable lack of genuine involvement by our politicians . This is not the only vital issue on which Libyan politicians have failed to take the lead but is the one where the lack of statesman like leadership has had the most detrimental effect. I personally have reached the point of despair in our political leadership and have lost faith in the on-going so called “political process” . I am now pinning all my hopes on civil society groups and women forums in particular.

I hope the leading women activists will pick the gauntlet and meet the challenge by establishing a number of “ Truth and Reconciliation “ forums for women only across the whole of Libya .
I know they can if they put their mind to it .
Excellent article Abdullah Elmaazi

I very much enjoyed reading this piece I loved the insightfull , compassionate and humane approach and the intelligent conclusions.
Really glad you are carrying articles like this: no prosperous or happy future for Libya until such thorny issues are addressed by a firm policy of reconciliation and redress. True freedom brings responsibility - for all your citizens, including raped women and displaced Tawerghans.
Well done Abdullah ... And we'll done Tripoli Post for publishing it .... Hope to see more like this
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