This man is a slave.
Look at him closely. Look him in the eye.
It is the property of another man.His wife, his children and his grandchildren are also the property of another man.
Perhaps his gaze reflects what it was like to be a slave in ancient Rome or on the cotton plantations of the southern United States.
I met him in Mali, in the conflict zone.He served me food and Tamasheq tea several times. [1I met with a group of Tamasheq and other nobles in Gourma, part of the Sahel,[2 where North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa meet[3.
He was very grateful and honored when I asked him to take a photo of him.As a slave, of course, he has no social status and is entirely dependent on the goodwill of his Lord, on which his supply of water, food, clothing, health and even his life depends.In fact, his Lord has traditionally the right to decide his life (and death!).The soldiers, rangers, and others I work with were fascinated by the fact that I wanted to take a picture of such a person, not of a nobleman with his robes, swords, and other signs of his power.
Don’t be surprised, but such a thing is notuncommon.There are about 200,000 slaves in Mali; but perhaps many, many more, and slavery in the region isgrowing.A recentNewsweekreport on the open sale of slaves in the markets in Libya caused shock and horror around the world.This is a good example of global ignorance,about the actual state of the human and naturalenvironment.Slavery and its growth are a well-known fact, but in most countries we speak exclusively of the slavery of the past.
I work in the conflict zone as a leading instructor of the Malian Anti-Poaching Brigade, a project developed by Chengeta Wildlife,[5Wild Foundation,[6The Canadian Fund for International Conservation[7and other organizations supported.This is not a place where the various NGOs[8)will come in large, shiny, air-conditioned SUVs.Nor is it a place where THE UN peacekeepers[9or other military forces are prepared to enter, except as part of a rapid in- and out mission by air).
I’ve met a lot of men like this. I know the owners and the slaves, and I have also met former slaves. None of these people is afraidto discuss slavery and what they think about it.I tried to take the perspective of the locals to understand it.
No one wants to be a slave. But like a kidnapped man suffering from Stockholm syndrome[10),the slaves identify with their master and, as unbelievable as thatsounds, often bring love and affection to them.The slaveholders often refer to their slaves as their “children”. Most there could imagine a life without chiefs and nobles more easily than a life without slaves.
I have also met a number of former slaves who have risen through the ranks of the Malian armed forces to command men who themselves come from slave families. Most of these men have severed ties with their former owners and have very surprising future prospects.However, they usually refer to slaves and slaveholders as “their people” and rarely hold a grudge against their former masters.While they value being free, they see their slavery or freedom not as a matter of right or wrong, but as a shift from one system to another, or even as their own personal ascension.
This is, Ibelieve, one of the keys to understanding slavery.Slavery is not a simple question of justice or perceived freedom. It is a social and economic systemin which status, power and wealth are rewarded with privileges.To stop slavery, the whole culture needs to change. The whole system.
Returning to the modern world is always a bigger thing for me than a simple journey.It is always very difficult to change my mind from this world back to the 21st century. I can’t help but be fascinated by the many parallels and hypocrisy I see when I return home.
People in the modern world are losing their sense of equality and modesty, and openly revere the unbridled pursuit of wealth, power, and status as true virtues.
Creativity, knowledge, wisdom and society all fade into the background as values.
It seems that the slaves agree to be slaves, believing that they could somehow make it out of the pit and at the top of the heap.