April 6, 2021
Mauritania has fallen behind in immigration rights and resources in the United States, as dark-skinned African Mauritanians have attempted to immigrate to the U.S. to escape persecution. In Mauritania, many black Africans still face ethnic persecution, unjust incarceration, and slavery. Circumstances for dark-skinned Africans are so severe in Mauritania that the nation has been referred to in the western press as “slavery’s last stronghold.” The issue has been addressed by anti-slavery activists such as Maryam Bint Al-Sheikh and Houleye Thiam, an activist who hosted a talk on the topic with Ohio Immigrant Alliance on April 6.
Mauritanians who come to the United States must seek legal representation to immigrate. However, due to the poor representation and human rights in their native country, many Mauritanians do not meet the legal thresholds such as a clearly documented birthdate, to be granted admittance in the United States. The Ohio Immigrant Alliance notes also that Mauritanian asylum seekers to the United States often must communicate through an interpreter. There are only limited resources for the dialects of black Mauritanians, which compounds this issue.
One of the largest groups of the dark-skinned tribal Africans of Mauritanian is known as Haratin, which are sometimes referred to as Black Moors. The Haratin have a rich culture that has been shaped by surviving the African Slave Trade’s brutal legacy. For example, the cultural practice of only holding El Medh singings at night came from the exhaustion of the earlier Mauritanian slave days. Slaves had their every daylight hour occupied by serving their masters and so the night was the only time when traditionally Haratin songs could be held. El Medh is a chant-like song accompanied by a drum and clapping. It is a Haratin chant song with words of honor to the Prophet Muhammad and is a part of the Islamic culture of black Africans in Mauritania.
Minortiy Rights Group showcases a traditional Bemdje performance by Haratin people of slave descent.
“This kind of art is performed only at night because the slaves who used to practice it used to be up to their eyes all day long serving their masters,” the TERANIM Arts Populaires wrote in description of the Haratin people’s concerts it broadcast via its YouTube channel.
“Therefore, they did not use to have free time but few stolen hours of nights when their masters are asleep and almost everything is in silence. They used to express their feelings in these songs and get the recreation of their souls who would face a new chapter of suffering that begins with each new sunrise.”
The TERANIM Arts also described other Haratin people’s cultural practices such as the Bendje and the Stick Game.
“To some people, it means deviation from Idembir (refusing to be enslaved) the will to freedom, and a rebellious work against the masters,” wrote TERANIM Arts.
“This kind of music was born from the womb of slavery and marginalization. Thus, the slaves wanted it as a regaining part of their lost history. They produce melodies that take them back to the years of injustice and conquest. Benje art plays an important role in spiritual education. This art is performed in a collective manner without a commitment to the musical roles. It’s originally based on drums and performed mostly by women.”
TERANIM arts also described the Haratin people’s stick game.
This traditional popular art is a kind of dancing with sticks and it is well known in the center and the south of Mauritania. It is a game born in desert conditions characterized by water scarcity and its importance to the Bedouin,” wrote TERANIM Arts.
“This kind of art is a result of the conflict over the water wells and what accompanies the access to sufficient water from competition and conflict up to fighting with sticks. Therefore, this kind of art is originally a defensive skill with the use of sticks that represent the weapon that accompanies the nomads in general.”