Arab Slave-Catching Caravans
In addition to ending the piracy emanating from Tripoli, the US victory over Yusaf Bashaw (bashaw is the equivalent of “pasha”) brought an end to the latter’s white Christian slave trade. The British sent Dr. Joseph Ritchie and British naval officer George Lyon to Tripoli for the possibility of commerce and the extirpation of the slave trade, which Africans and Arabs alike would not cease on their own. Dr. Ritchie died on the expedition related below.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Arab Slave-Catching Caravans
“Yusaf Karamanli . . . held Tripoli’s throne . . . [and] ruled Tripoli from 1795 to 1835, extending his authority southward with bloody wars against nomadic tribes. One explorer, watching Yusaf Bashaw’s army returning after a campaign in the hinterlands, counted two thousand human heads on the tips of Cologhi spears. These grisly trophies belonged to rebellious Tuareg whose decapitated bodies were burned in the desert.
The basaw realized that the age of piracy was ending. Under his reign, piratical practices had already been the cause of war in 1805 between Tripolitania and the United States. It was . . . a huge financial blow to the bashaw. No longer could his treasury be supported by ransoms and the sale of stolen ships and booty.
By 1825, the bashaw found that all sources of revenue from the old trade of piracy and Christian slavery had dried up.
On March 18, 1819, the bashaw received [Dr. Joseph] Ritchie and [George] Lyon at an official audience with their consul, telling them they could head south with his ally, the newly-appointed bey of Fezzan, Mohammed El Mukni, was soon to leave Tripoli on a slave raiding campaign. El Mukno . . . was collecting a force of armed Arabs to attack African villages.
[They saw enroute] members of the fierce Tebu tribe, parties of whom occasionally descended from the Tibesti Mountains to plunder passing caravans. These tall and handsome people, veiled like the Tuareg and wary of strangers, were black Africans, not Berbers, the northernmost part of a larger group of Tebu people whose territory extended to what we know today as Chad, Niger and Sudan.
Though the Tuareg and Tebu nominally espoused Islam, they were fiercely independent and deviated from accepted Muslim norms when it suited them.
On February 9, 1820, Lyon . . . joining company with a slaving caravan, set out on the journey back to Tripoli. Day after day . . . he watched twelve hundred slaves [who were captured], most of them women and children, shepherded painfully across the hilly wastes. Mounted [Arab] overseers battered this mass of wretched humanity with whips and sticks; sick slaves were thrown by the road and left to die. Nauseated by the spectacle, Lyon took notes:
“These poor, oppressed beings were, many of them, so exhausted as to be scarcely able to walk; their legs and feet were much swelled and by their enormous size formed a striking contrast with their emaciated bodies. They were all borne down with loads of firewood; and even poor little children, worn to skeletons by fatigue and hardship, were obliged to bear their burthen, while many of their inhuman masters rode on camels, with the dreaded whip suspended from their wrists.”
Exhausted by his own hardships, Lyon was haunted by memories of the brutalized slaves. He went to the slave market [in Tripoli] to say good-bye to them. Recognizing him, they greeted him with smiles, some with tears.”
(The Race for Timbuktu, In Search of Africa’s City of Gold, Frank T. Kryza, HarperCollins, 2006, excerpts, pp. 68-72; 77-79)