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Template:Missing information Template:POV-title Template:Split-apart Haratin (also transliterated Haratins, Harratins or Haratine, etc, singular Hartani) is a name for black oasis-dwellers in north western Africa. It is an exonym (a name not used by that people themselves) with negative connotations. The word has an unknown origin and is applied mainly in Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Senegal and Mali to largely sedentary oasis-dwelling black populations speaking either Berber or Arabic. Certain local traditions, ambiguously supported by scholarship, hold that some populations called Haratine are indigenous black populations that became Berberised. The name itself is of obscure origin and has been variously traced to Arabic roots meaning cultivator and Berber roots meaning "dark skinned". It may be the arabized version of ahardan, a Berber word meaning "dark color".

Haratin in Mauritania

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", in contrast to Beidane, or "White Moors". The Haratin are Arabic-speakers, and generally claim a Berber or Arab origin. This is unlike the black African peoples in southern Mauritania (such as the Wolof and the Fulɓe), from which the Haratine are ethnically and socially distinct. The Haratine, in contrast, consider themselves part of the Moorish community. Their origin is unclear: most are thought to be the descendants of captured or traded slaves from other regions of Africa, but others may be descendants of a sedentary population amidst a class of nomads.

They were historically kept as slaves, or in various forms of dependence to, "Beidane" masters. Although the Mauritanian government has issued emancipation declarations, discrimination against Haratin is still widespread, and some continue to be, for all practical purposes, enslaved, while large numbers live in other forms of informal dependence on their former masters. Amnesty International reported that as of 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." The report also observed that while "[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 serve their former masters because of psychological or economic dependence.[1]

Haratine in Western Sahara

The situation of Haratine in Western Sahara is little known, and complicated by the fact that the Western Saharan population has been split into several segments by the Western Sahara conflict, which pits the government of Morocco (which controls most of the territory) against the national liberation movement Polisario Front (based in Algeria). The Haratines' situation historically resembled that of Mauritanian Haratine, since the Sahrawi population is very closely related to the Moorish population of Mauritania. The number of Haratine is, however, thought to have been considerably smaller in Western Sahara, perhaps due to the almost wholly nomadic lifestyle of Sahrawi tribes. Mauritania generally enjoyed more mixed conditions than the all-desert Western Sahara region, with agriculture playing a far larger role in economic life, thereby perhaps increasing the benefit of keeping Haratine as subjugated workers. However, regardless of the size of the Haratine minority, slavery existed on the same terms as in Mauritania. This practice persisted until the 1970s, de facto tolerated by the Spanish colonial authorities. Since the 1970s, both Morocco and the Polisario Front have publicly opposed the practice, and criminalized all forms of slavery.

However, reports persist of continuing social discrimination on all sides of the political divide, although the extent is disputed, and has entered into the political conflict. Morocco alleges that slavery is widespread in the Tindouf refugee camps run by the Polisario Front in Algeria; Polisario denies this and claims to have eradicated slavery. A 2009 investigative report by Human Rights Watch recorded claims that Black Sahrawis constitute "a small minority" in the camps. The mission found no evidence of ongoing labor slavery, but alleges continued discriminatory practices rooted in such traditions among the Tindouf refugees. These practices mainly consist in some former slave-owning families reserving the right to approve or refuse marriages for women in some Haratine ex-slave families, by appropriating the right to act as formal guardians of unmarried Haratine women. The report notes that Polisario claims to oppose any such discrimination, but raises questions about possible official collusion in, or indifference to, the practice. However, the HRW also notes that Haratin Sahrawis from the Moroccan-controlled territories of Western Sahara allege that their situation is similar to that in the camps. HRW concludes that some forms of discrimination seem to persist, and that the question merits further investigation.[2]

Haratin in Morocco

In most of Morocco, the word has a somewhat different meaning. "Haratin" tends to be applied to the dark-skinned agriculturalists of the southern oases. In some Moroccan oral history traditions, the Haratin of the south eastern oases near the Algerian frontier were the former sub-Saharan slaves; in addition, the term is applied to a somewhat distinct cultural and religious movement composed of sufi ṭuruq ("orders/brotherhoods") and music groups that has begun to include different ethnicities. As Moroccan society has modernised and urbanised, the categories have broken down with intermarriage and rural to urban migration.

For the situation in areas of Western Sahara that Morocco currently controls, and potentially among other Sahrawi populations in souther Morocco, see above.


  1. Afrol News
  2. HRW 2009: Human Rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf Refugee Camps. The HRW 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. The issue of slavery in the Tindouf camps deserves closer scrutiny than Human Rights Watch has been able to undertake. It bears mentioning that Sahrawis in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara told us that residual practices of slavery can be found there, as well. 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."


  • Ilahiane, Hsain, 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 (published 1998)
  • El Hamel, Chouki, ""Race", Slavery and Islam in the Maghribi Mediterranean Thought: The Question of the Haratin in Morocco", Journal of North African Studies 29 (38), 2002 Fall
  • Batrán, Aziz Abdalla, "The 'Ulamá of Fas, Mulay Isma'il, and the Issue of the Haratin of Fas", in John Ralph, Willis, Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, 1: Islam and the Ideology of Enslavement, London: Frank Cass, 1985, pp. 125–59
  • Ensel, Remco, Saints and Servants in Southern Morocco, Leiden: Brill (published 1999)
  • Hunwick, J O, "Black Slaves in the Mediterranean World: introduction to a Neglected Aspect of the African Diaspora", Journal of African History
  • EnNaji, Mohammed; Seth, Graebner, Serving The Master: Slavery & Society in Nineteenth-Century Morocco, St. Martin’s Press (published 1998), p. 62
  • AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, 7 November 2002, MAURITANIA, A future free from slavery? The formal abolition of slavery in 1981 has not led to real and effective abolition for various reasons, including a lack of legislation to ensure its implementation.

ar:الحراطين de:Haratin fr:Haratins pl:Haratyni

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