Sylviane Diouf


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A reading from Sylvaine Diouf’s well received book, “Servants of Allah”: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. Pg. 150-153.

The Muslim Factor in the Haitian Revolution

‘What the French did not realize was that their most profitable colony, Saint-Dominique (now Haiti), was fertile ground for Muslim maroons and rebels. The island had always had numerous maroon communities, and an average of a thousand runaways were advertised every year. The notices posted by the plantation owners, who listed the disappeared give a measure of the place of the Muslims among the maroons. Although large numbers of Muslims had been forcibly baptized, some had retained their original names, such as Ayouba, Tamerlan, Aly, Soliman, Lamine, Thisiman, Yaya, Belaly, and Salomon who appear in the notices. Female runaways, such as Fatme, Fatima, and Hayda, are also mentioned.

The Africans fled individually and, more usually, in groups. For instance, twelve Mandingo men, aged twenty-two to twenty-six, fled one night in 1783 from their owner’s house in Port-au-Prince. They were all professionals—masons, carpenters, and bakers.

It is not known if some maroon communities were entirely composed of Muslims, but major communities had Muslim leaders. Yaya, also called Gillot, was a devastating presence in the parishes of Trou and Terrier Rouge, before he was executed in September 1787. In Cul-de-Sac, an African Muslim named Halaou led a veritable army of thousands of maroons.

"Levee Camp Holler" is no ordinary song. It's the product of ex-slaves who worked moving earth all day in post-Civil War America. It has lyrics that, like the call to prayer, speak about a glorious God. But it's the song's melody and note changes that closely resemble one of Islam's best-known refrains. Like the call to prayer, "Levee Camp Holler" emphasizes words that seem to quiver and shake in the reciter's vocal chords. Dramatic changes in musical scales punctuate both "Levee Camp Holler" and the adhan. A nasal intonation is evident in both. Upward of 30 percent of the African slaves in the United States were Muslim, and an untold number of them spoke and wrote Arabic, historians say now. Coincidence or not, this traditional AfroAmerican folk music possesses features that are found in Islamic African music and hardly at all in other styles. Grehart Kubik, a musicologist who specializes in African rain-forest music, concludes: "Many traits that have been considered unusual, strange and difficult to interpret by earlier blues researchers can now be better understood as a thoroughly processed and transformed Arabic-Islamic stylistic component. What makes the blues different from African American music in the Caribbean and in South America is, after all, its Arabic-Islamic stylistic ingredients."

"Servants of Allah opens a new door on the African Diaspora and provides readers with even more insight into Islam, as well as enslaved Africans. Diouf's study greatly enhances current literature on the Diaspora."
--Jason Zappe, Copley News Service Dec '98

"This historical study is ground-breaking not only in its theme but also its approach, which can be described as pan-Africanist to the extent that it relates the histories of these deported Muslims to the political upheavals of medieval Africa...; forges links between the varied sites of their dispersal from the 16th to the 19th century...; and examines the issue of return to Africa and the lineage (or the absence thereof) of this first American Islam."
--Sylvie Kandé, QBR Jan/Feb '99


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