In my last post, Shosho asked a very interesting question about the history of slavery in Kuwait. I tried to dig-out information on the Net but was unsuccessful. Thanks to my fellow blogger KUWAITI DEMON for the invaluable information that he provided:
Chapter 10 from H. R. P. Dickson’s “The Arab of the Desert” :
In Kuwait town the ‘abd, or slave proper, who has been bought for money and is therefore owned by his master, is rare, but domestic slaves, born in captivity of slave parents who may have been in one family for several generations, are commonly to be found in well-to-do households. This state of affairs is not peculiar to Kuwait, however, for as many, if not more, domestic slaves are to be found in the best households in Basra and Baghdad, not to mention many towns in other Muslim countries. As early as 1924 the Shaikh of Kuwait decreed that the import or export of slaves for purposes of sale would be treated as a crime, and this brought about the effective end of the traffic in bought and domestic slaves who at one time were brought into Kuwait from the interior and sent from there by dhow or steamer.
The buying and selling of born domestic slaves in Kuwait is a very rare occurrence, and only takes place if the slave happens to be unhappy and asks to be sold, which he has the right to do. Very occasionally, and very secretly, a person returning overland from the Hajj pilgrimage may manage to smuggle in a newly bought slave from Mecca, but if the offender is found out he is heavily fined and the slave taken from him and freed.
Masters in Kuwait town are as a general rule kind to domestic slaves born in their families, whom they bring up much as they do their own children. These family slaves hold positions of trust, and are provided with wives and husbands, as the case may be, when they so desire. When slaves marry they go through the same ceremonies as the freeborn, the master and mistress of the slave acting the part of the parents of the bridegroom. Furthermore, the family will evince as much interest in the marriage of one of their slaves as in that of one of the family. The slaves’ children mix on terms of affection and equality with the master’s children, and the lady of the house will very often treat her slave’s progeny with more apparent affection and care than her own.
There are occasions, of course, when slaves are treated unreasonably, or even cruelly, by their masters, but in such cases they may appeal to their shaikh. The Shaikh of Kuwait always took pains to listen to any slave who came to him with complaints of ill-treatment, and if he decided that the petitioner could not safely be returned to his owner he would buy him himself, giving him ii monthly salary and encouraging him to look upon himself as an ordinary servant.
As a bought slave girl is a man’s personal property, it is not wrong in the eyes of the law for the master to take her as a concubine if he finds her attractive. This can happen only in the case of newly bought girls, however, and is practiced only among town Arabs. The custom does not exist among the badawin. Should a slave girl become pregnant by her master, the Sharia law lays down that he must immediately give the prospective mother her freedom, so that his child shall be born free. For the future, both will hold honored positions, the mother as a free woman who can no longer be carnally touched by her late master. Usually such freed women soon find husbands from among other freed slaves. The child, if a boy, remains and grows up as his father’s son but is, however, debarred from marrying a pure-bred Arab girl when he grows up. Slave-born daughters receive equivalent treatment. If an Arab woman suckles her little slave child, that child can never be sold as a slave; it is henceforth free, like her own children.
A domestic male slave’s duties in the town are legion, but all honorable. He is doorkeeper, he looks after stores, household supplies, holds positions of trust, keeps account of the home water supply, makes coffee, accompanies the ladies of the house when they go out, and look after the needs of the harem. The lot of the female domestic slave in a nice family is an easy and privileged one. She looks after her mistress and her robes and always dresses her. She is often the cook or seamstress, she goes down to the seashore and does the family washing with the younger women of the house and accompanies her mistress on her calling expeditions. Like the male slave she of ten holds positions of considerable responsibility and trust.
Slaves may rely on the protection of their master, for they know that their lord will avenge himself on any stranger who harms his slave, more than if he were his own son.
Among the badawin tribes almost every shaikh or well-to-do member of a tribe has his male slaves, whether born in the family or bought, and their ‘womenfolk have female slaves. Speaking generally, bought slaves are the rule. The slave in the desert is normally treated well, although he has, of course, to work and take his full share in drawing water for sheep and camels and in cutting brushwood for the use of the tent. Since he can stand the summer heat better than the Arab, he does a lot of the work connected with the care and tending of camels when his master and mistress are camped on water during the hot season.
In the desert during times of war, slaves are considered to be good spoil, much like camels. Normally a body of riders on a camel-lifting expedition will not carry off a single slave man found in charge of grazing camels as he would hinder rapid movement. Instead they will merely bind and leave him. It is considered lawful, if you are at enmity with another tribe, to steal slave children and make them yours, but the same unwritten law insists, however, that such children be over ten years of age. Of course, the owner will attempt to effect a rescue and will kill the stealer if he can, even if he has to wait years to do so. If in a raid a freed slave, male or female, be carried off in error, it is the duty of the raiders to return him or her as soon as the mistake is found out.
No true Arab may lawfully marry a freed slave woman as we have noted, nor will any pure-bred badawin ever demean himself by having sexual connection with any of his bought female slaves. They consider this very disgraceful, and refuse to accept the argument of certain noble and princely semi-badawin families, such as the Al Sa’adun of Iraq, that because a slave girl is your property entirely, she is yours to do with as you like without sin. The badawin calls this town sophistry, and it is one of the things that causes him to despise the town-dweller.