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Haratin / Haratine
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Portret van een Haratin vrouw TMnr 10028643.jpg
Haratin girl from Morocco
Total population
> 1.5 million
Regions with significant populations
(40%)  Mauritania;
(60%) An ethnic group in
( Tunisia,  Algeria,  Morocco,  Libya,  Western Sahara)
Maghrebi Arabic
Berber languages
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups

Haratin, also referred to as Haratine, Harratin or Hartani, are a group of indigenous dark-skinned Africans inhabiting parts of North Africa and the Sahel.[1][2][3] They are mostly found in modern Mauritania (where they form a plurality), Morocco, Western Sahara, and Algeria. In Tunisia and Libya, they are referred to as Chouachin, Chouachine, or Chouchan.

The Haratin are distinct from modern Sub-Saharan Africans[4][5][6] and speak Maghrebi Arabic dialects as well as various Berber languages.[7]

They form the single largest defined ethnolinguistic group in Mauritania where they account for 40% of the population (~1.5 million).[8] They have been called a socially distinct class of workers.[7][9]

The Haratin have been, and still commonly, are socially isolated in some Maghrebi countries, living in segregated, Haratin-only ghettos. They are commonly perceived as an endogamous group of former slaves or descendants of slaves.[10][11] They adopted Islam under the Arabs and Berbers[10] and were forcibly recruited into the Moroccan army by Ismail Ibn Sharif (Sultan of Morocco from 1672–1727) to consolidate power.[11]

Traditionally, many members of the community have held occupations in agriculture – as serfs, herdsmen, and indentured workers.[10]


The origin and meaning of the name Haratin (singular Hartani) is controversial.[12] Some claim that it comes from the Berber word ahardan (pl. ihardin) referring to skin color, more specifically "dark color".[4][13] This word is absent from the Arabic language and has been used by the Sanhaja tribe and Zenata tribe before the arrival of the Beni Ḥassān.[14] Others claim it comes from the Arabic phrase al-Hurr al-Thani or second class (second group of free people).[12] Neither of these claims have much proof.[12]


The origins of the Haratin may trace back to the original black African inhabitants of Tassili n'Ajjer and Acacus Mountains during the Epipalaeolithic Round Head Period. During the Neolithic Pastoral Period, when the climate humidified, the ancestors of the Haratin were mostly hunters and ox-herders. At the end of the second millennium BCE and with the introduction of the horse, Proto-Berbers from Northeastern Africa started to conquer the Western part of the Sahara and largely displaced the earlier peoples. When the Green Sahara became arid some natives moved to the Sahel for a more humid climate while others, the ancestors of the Haratin stayed around the oases across the Sahara, such as the Draa valley region, where they have lived for centuries.[10][4]

The Haratin form an ethnic group distinct from Arab and Tuareg populations, as well as from the contemporary ethnic groups of Sub-Saharan Africa.[4][5][6] However, in countries such as Morocco, they are sometimes classified either as Berber or Arab, depending on their language and society they are found in.[9] In Mauritania, however, where there are nearly 1.5 million Haratin, they have developed a separate sense of ethnic identity.[9]

During the Roman occupation of Mauretania, the Godala Berber tribe fled to the south towards the Draa oasis and enslaved the local Haratin population.[15][16][17] They have historically inherited their slave status and family occupation, have been endogamous, and socially segregated.[10][11] Some communities differentiated two types of slaves, one called 'Abid or "slave" and Haratin or "freed slave". However, per anthropologist John Shoup, both 'Abid and Haratin were not free to own land or had equivalent property rights.[9] Regardless of whether they were technically free or not, they were treated as socially inferior in the communities they lived in. Being denied the right and the ability to own any land, they historically survived by accepting a patron-client serf relationship either as domestic servant or as share-cropping labor (khammasin).[18][19]

They became a common target of mandatory conscription by the Moroccan ruler Ismail Ibn Sharif as he sought to build a military that had no social or cultural attachment to any other Arab or Berber group in Maghreb. He conscripted majority of able-bodied male Haratin and 'Abid that were present in Morocco at the time. This army was then commonly coerced into a series of wars in order to consolidate Ibn Sharif's power.[11][18][20]

Haratin communities[edit]


In Mauritania, the Haratin form one of the largest ethnic groups and account for as much as 40% of the Mauritanians. They are sometimes referred to as "Black Moors",[21] in contrast to Beidane, or "White Moors". The Haratin there are primarily Hassaniya Arabic.[22]

The Haratin of Mauritania, according to anthropologist Joseph Hellweg, who specializes in West African studies, were historically part of a social caste-like hierarchy that likely developed from a Bedouin legacy between the 14th and 16th century. The "Hassan" monopolized the occupations related to war and politics, the "Zwaya" (Zawaya) the religious roles, the "Bidan" (White Moors) owned property and held slaves (Haratins, Black Moors).[23] Each of these were immovable castes, endogamous, with hereditary occupations and where the upper strata collected tribute (horma) from the lower strata of Mauritanian society, considered them socially inferior, and denied them the right to own land or weapons thereby creating a socio-economically closed system.[24][25][26]

In 1960, Mauritania officially abolished slavery, and made another update to its slavery law in 1981.[22] However, even after the formalities, abolishment, and new laws, discrimination against Haratin is still widespread, and many continue to be, for all practical purposes, enslaved, while large numbers live in other forms of informal dependence on their former masters.[22]

In Mauritania, the use of Haratin girls as servants has attracted activists.

Amnesty International reported that in 1994 90,000 Haratine still lived as "property" of their master, with the report indicating that "slavery in Mauritania is most dominant within the traditional upper class of the Moors."[27] According to Mauritanian officials, any master-serf relationship is mutually consensual. This position has been questioned by the United Nations and human rights advocacy groups.[22]

The Amnesty International report states that "[s]ocial attitudes have changed among most urban Moors, but in rural areas, the ancient divide is still very alive." There have been many attempts to assess the real extension of slavery in modern Mauritania, but these have mostly been frustrated by the Nouakchott government's official stance that the practice has been eliminated. Amnesty further estimated that some 300,000 freed slaves continued to be in service of their former masters.[27]

On 27 April 2007 Messaoud Ould Boulkheir was elected speaker of the National Assembly, becoming the first black Haratine to hold the position.


Haratin in Morocco are mostly concentrated in the southern part of the Drâa-Tafilalet region, specifically towns such as Zagora where they make up a significant portion of the populace.[28]

Haratin have been the slave strata of the Moroccan society through its recorded history.[11] They were owned in every town and farming centers before the time of Moroccan ruler Ismail Ibn Sharif. They provided domestic labor, farm labor, physical labor inside towns and markets, as well as were conscripted to fight wars.[18][20]

According to Remco Ensel – a professor of Anthropology specializing in Maghreb studies, the word "Haratin" in Moroccan is a pejorative that connotes "subordination, disrepute" and in contemporary literature, it is often replaced with "Drawi", "Drawa", "Sahrawi", "Sahrawa", or other regional terms.[29][30] The Moroccan Haritin, states Chouki El Hamel – a professor of History specializing in African Studies, are the diaspora of black West Africans who were forcefully transported across the Sahara and sold in Moroccan slave markets over centuries. They absorbed the "Arabo-centric values in the dominant interpretation of Islam", states El Hamel, over the generations and they see themselves as Muslim Moroccans, rather than by their ethnic or native group.[30]

The Haratin strata, as slave workers, were a major institution of Moroccan society through the 19th century.[31] Yet, there has been a general lack of historical records about their origins and ethnography, leading to several constructed proposals, and their mention in older Moroccan literature is generally limited to their status as slaves and more focused on the rights on their owners.[30][32] It is their contemporary economic and social marginalization that has awakened renewed interest in their history and their oral histories.[30]

The Haratins remain indispensable workers in modern oases societies, states Ensel, and continue to be mistreated in contrast to the upper strata called the "Shurfa".[29] According to Remco Ensel, Haratin, along with Swasin in Morocco and other northern fringe societies of the Sahara, were a part of a social hierarchy that included the upper strata of nobles, religious specialists, and literati, followed by freemen, nomadic pastoral strata, and slaves. The Haratin were hierarchically higher than the 'Abid (descendant of slaves) at the very bottom, but lower than Ahrar. This hierarchy, states Ensel, has been variously described as ethnic groups, estates, quasi-castes, castes, or classes.[33][34]

The Haratins historically lived segregated from the main society, in a rural isolation.[34] Their subjugation was sometimes ideologically justified by nobles and some religious scholars, even though others disagreed.[35] The social stratification of Haratin and their inter-relationships with others members of the society varied by valley and oasis, but whether the Haratins were technically 'unfreed, semi-freed, or freed' slaves, they were considered as "inferior" by other strata of the society.[36] The Haratin remain the marginalized population of Morocco, just like other similar groups around the world.[37]

Western Sahara[edit]

According to Human Rights Watch, Morocco alleges that slavery is widespread in the Sahrawi refugee camps run by the Polisario Front in southwestern Algeria; POLISARIO denies this and claims to have eradicated slavery through awareness campaigns. A 2009 investigative report by Human Rights Watch interviewed some dark-skinned Sahrawi people, who are a small minority in the camps; they stated that some "blacks" are "owned" by "whites" but this ownership manifested only in "granting" marriage rights to girls. In other words, a dark-skinned girl must have an approval from her "master". Without this, the marriage can not be performed by a qadi.[38]

The report notes that POLISARIO claims to oppose any such discrimination, but raises questions about possible official collusion in, or indifference to, the practice. In addition, a case of an official document that grants freedom to a group of enslaved families has been found by HRW. The document in question dates as recently as 2007. The document was signed by a local judge or an official civil servant. Slavery is still engraved in memories due to historical and traditional reasons, and such cases are not as shocking as one might think to the society of the Sahrawi refugee camps.[38] The Human Rights Watch concludes its chapter on slavery as follows, "In sum, credible sources testified to Human Rights Watch about vestiges of slavery that continue to affect the lives of a portion of the black minority in the Tindouf camps. The practices involve historical ties between families that involve certain rights and obligations that are not always clear. Being a slave does not necessarily preclude enjoying freedom of movement."

Responding to questions about slavery, the POLISARIO has acknowledged the survival "to a limited extent, of certain practices related to antiquated thinking" and said it was "determined to combat and eradicate them whenever they emerge and no matter what shape they take." "We welcome this statement and urge the POLISARIO to be vigilant in pursuing this objective," said HRW.[38]


In the Algerian Sahara, the Haratin, who were marginalized by France during colonization, experienced social and political progress after the country's independence.[39] This integration had started during the war of liberation; a discourse of emancipation and the absence of state racism, which constitutes a tradition of Algerian nationalism, had succeeded in mobilizing this social category.[39] Social success through education allowed the former Haratin to be represented in local communities and to access the most influential positions.[39]

Historiographic and conceptual problems of North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Haratin[edit]

The current major problem in African studies that Mohamed (2010/2012)[40][41] identified is the inherited religious, Orientalist, colonial paradigm that European Africanists have preserved in present-day secularist, post-colonial, Anglophone African historiography.[40] African and African-American scholars also bear some responsibility in perpetuating this European Africanist preserved paradigm.[40]

Following conceptualizations of Africa developed by Leo Africanus and Hegel, European Africanists conceptually separated continental Africa into two racialized regions – Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.[40] Sub-Saharan Africa, as a racist geographic construction, serves as an objectified, compartmentalized region of “Africa proper”, “Africa noire,” or “Black Africa.”[40] The African diaspora is also considered to be a part of the same racialized construction as Sub-Saharan Africa.[40] North Africa serves as a racialized region of “European Africa”, which is conceptually disconnected from Sub-Saharan Africa, and conceptually connected to the Middle East, Asia, and the Islamic world.[40]

As a result of these racialized constructions and the conceptual separation of Africa, darker skinned North Africans, such as the so-called Haratin, who have long resided in the Maghreb, and do not reside south of Saharan Africa, have become analogically alienated from their indigeneity and historic reality in North Africa.[40] While the origin of the term “Haratin” remains speculative, the term may not date much earlier than the 18th century CE and has been involuntarily assigned to darker skinned Maghrebians.[40] Prior to the modern use of the term Haratin as an identifier, and utilized in contrast to bidan or bayd (white), sumr/asmar, suud/aswad, or sudan/sudani (black/brown) were Arabic terms utilized as identifiers for darker skinned Maghrebians before the modern period.[40] “Haratin” is considered to be an offensive term by the darker skinned Maghrebians it is intended to identify; for example, people in the southern region (e.g., Wad Noun, Draa) of Morocco consider it to be an offensive term.[40] Despite its historicity and etymology being questionable, European colonialists and European Africanists have used the term Haratin as identifiers for groups of “black” and apparently “mixed” people found in Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco.[40]

The Saadian invasion of the Songhai Empire serves as the precursor to later narratives that grouped darker skinned Maghrebians together and identified their origins as being Sub-Saharan West Africa.[41] With gold serving as a motivation behind the Saadian invasion of the Songhai Empire, this made way for changes in latter behaviors toward dark-skinned Africans.[41] As a result of changing behaviors toward dark-skinned Africans, darker skinned Maghrebians were forcibly recruited into the army of Ismail Ibn Sharif as the Black Guard, based on the claim of them having descended from enslaved peoples from the times of the Saadian invasion.[41] Shurafa historians of the modern period would later utilize these events in narratives about the manumission of enslaved “Hartani” (a vague term, which, by merit of it needing further definition, is implicit evidence for its historicity being questionable).[41] The narratives derived from Shurafa historians would later become analogically incorporated into the Americanized narratives (e.g., the trans-Saharan slave trade, imported enslaved Sub-Saharan West Africans, darker skinned Magrebian freedmen) of the present-day European Africanist paradigm.[41]

As opposed to having been developed through field research, the analogy in the present-day European Africanist paradigm, which conceptually alienates, dehistoricizes, and denaturalizes darker skinned North Africans in North Africa and darker skinned Africans throughout the Islamic world at-large, is primarily rooted in an Americanized textual tradition inherited from 19th century European Christian abolitionists.[40] Consequently, reliable history, as opposed to an antiquated analogy-based history, for darker skinned North Africans and darker skinned Africans in the Islamic world are limited.[40] Part of the textual tradition generally associates an inherited status of servant with dark skin (e.g., Negro labor, Negro cultivators, Negroid slaves, freedman).[40] The European Africanist paradigm uses this as the primary reference point for its construction of origins narratives for darker skinned North Africans (e.g., imported slaves from Sub-Saharan West Africa).[40] With darker skinned North Africans or darker skinned Africans in the Islamic world treated as an allegory of alterity, another part of the textual tradition is the trans-Saharan slave trade and their presence in these regions are treated as that of an African diaspora in North Africa and the Islamic world.[40] Altogether, darker skinned North Africans (e.g., “black” and apparently “mixed” Maghrebians), darker skinned Africans in the Islamic world, the inherited status of servant associated with dark skin, and the trans-Saharan slave trade are conflated and modeled in analogy with African-Americans and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.[40]

The trans-Saharan slave trade has been used as a literary device in narratives that analogically explain the origins of darker skinned North Africans in North Africa and the Islamic world.[40] Caravans have been equated with slave ships, and the amount of forcibly enslaved Africans transported across the Sahara are alleged to be numerically comparable to the considerably large amount of forcibly enslaved Africans transported across the Atlantic Ocean.[40] The simulated narrative of comparable numbers is contradicted by the limited presence of darker skinned North Africans in the present-day Maghreb.[40] As part of this simulated narrative, post-classical Egypt has also been characterized as having plantations.[40] Another part of this simulated narrative is an Orientalist construction of hypersexualized Moors, concubines, and eunuchs.[40] Concubines in harems have been used as an explanatory bridge between the allegation of comparable numbers of forcibly enslaved Africans and the limited amount of present-day darker skinned Maghrebians who have been characterized as their diasporic descendants.[40] Eunuchs were characterized as sentinels who guarded these harems.[41] The simulated narrative is also based on the major assumption that the indigenous peoples of the Maghreb were once purely white Berbers, who then became biracialized through miscegenation with black concubines[40] (existing within a geographic racial binary of pale-skinned Moors residing further north, closer to the Mediterranean region, and dark-skinned Moors residing further south, closer to the Sahara).[41] The religious polemical narrative involving the suffering of enslaved European Christians of the Barbary slave trade has also been adapted to fit the simulated narrative of a comparable number of enslaved Africans being transported by Muslim slaver caravans, from the south of Saharan Africa, into North Africa and the Islamic world.[40]

Despite being an inherited part of the 19th century religious polemical narratives, the use of race in the secularist narrative of the present-day European Africanist paradigm has given the paradigm an appearance of possessing scientific quality.[41] The religious polemical narrative (e.g., holy cause, hostile neologisms) of 19th century European abolitionists about Africa and Africans are silenced, but still preserved, in the secularist narratives of the present-day European Africanist paradigm.[40] The Orientalist stereotyped hypersexuality of the Moors were viewed by 19th century European abolitionists as deriving from the Quran.[41] The reference to times prior, often used in concert with biblical references, by 19th century European abolitionists, may indicate that realities described of Moors may have been literary fabrications.[41] The purpose of these apparent literary fabrications may have been to affirm their view of the Bible as being greater than the Quran and to affirm the viewpoints held by the readers of their composed works.[41] The adoption of 19th century European abolitionists’ religious polemical narrative into the present-day European Africanist paradigm may have been due to its correspondence with the established textual tradition.[41] The use of stereotyped hypersexuality for Moors are what 19th century European abolitionists and the present-day European Africanist paradigm have in common.[41]

Due to a lack of considerable development in field research regarding enslavement in Islamic societies, this has resulted in the present-day European Africanist paradigm relying on unreliable estimates for the trans-Saharan slave trade.[41] However, insufficient data has also used as a justification for continued use of the faulty present-day European Africanist paradigm.[41] Darker skinned Maghrebians, particularly in Morocco, have grown weary of the lack of discretion foreign academics have shown toward them, bear resentment toward the way they have been depicted by foreign academics, and consequently, find the intended activities of foreign academics to be predictable.[41] Rather than continuing to rely on the faulty present-day European Africanist paradigm, Mohamed (2012) recommends revising and improving the current Africanist paradigm (e.g., critical inspection of the origins and introduction of the present characterization of the Saharan caravan; reconsideration of what makes the trans-Saharan slave trade, within its own context in Africa, distinct from the trans-Atlantic slave trade; realistic consideration of the experiences of darker-skinned Maghrebians within their own regional context).[41]


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  • Ilahiane, Hsain (1998). The Power of the Dagger, the Seeds of the Koran, and the Sweat of the Ploughman: Ethnic Stratification and Agricultural Intensification in the Ziz Valley. Southeast Morocco. 107, 7. unpublished dissertation, Univ. of Arizona.
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External links[edit]