Monday, August 11, 2008

Freeing One Mauritanian Slave (2 of 4)

Translating the first of the three-part French documentary on slavery in Mauritania, and the efforts of one brother to free his sister from her forty year life as a chattel slave.

Part 1:

Chasseurs d'esclaves_1/3
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Part 1 of "Chasseurs D'Esclaves", "Slave Hunters":

The opening credits explain that this is one of two documentaries on the taboos of slavery.

At 0:30, the narrator welcomes us from Dakar, Senegal, and we join him in a visit to Gorée Island, former minor transhipment point for the West African slave trade.

1:00: "When we think of slavery, there are images that impose themselves upon us. Goree, here, and its 'house of slaves'. ..."

1:40: "Slavery is not just a scourge of yesteryear. It is also a scourge today. Slavery is not just about whites against blacks. It is also an affair of arabs against blacks. Of blacks against blacks. And even arabs against whites. It is a story totally removed from all of those that you have, that **we have**, been told until now..."

2:20: [a summary of the two documentaries shown as part of the double feature on "The Taboos of Slavery". The first is the one whose translation begins here, "Slave Hunters". The second, "Forgotten Slaves" (Esclaves Oubliees), chronicles the arab slave trade. You can see that one, in French, here: part 1, part 2, part 3.]

3:00: "Slavery, a topical story, not yesterday's news. The proof: If we continued the boat trip a few kilometers more north, we'd arrive in Mauritania, the Mauritania that abolished slavery in 1981, the Mauritania where slavery persists, nevertheless."

4:00: Nouakchott, Mauritania's capital city. Bilal, an escaped slave, visits Biram, an anti-slavery activist.

Bilal: "If I've come to see you, it's because my sister is still back there. She remains a slave. She fetches the water from the well, she takes care of the herd, she does the cooking, she gets no rest. She has two daughters; one is paralyzed. Guess who their father is. Her master. A man who will never acknowledge his children. If you should see her, you would see how she suffers."

5:04: With a haunted look in his eyes, the brother says: "Listen to me: I could never be happy, if I failed to free my sister from her slavery."

6:20: We meet Aminitou, the other participant who will join the "abolitionist caravan". They are both members of SOS Esclaves, an association of 150 members who have waged a ten-year struggle against slavery in Mauritania.

6:51: Biram: "We must end the crime of slavery here. To put a stop to the existence of slavery. Separate the slaves from their masters; this must be the first phase. The second phase, we must find a way to put the criminal slave owners in prison."

7:14: Narrator: "Officially, these activists are sustained by the Mauritanian government. They are even mandated by the state's national commission on human rights. But in the field, it's another matter." Shortly after they drive out of the city, they hit the desert.

8:03: Aminitou: "There is an enormous amount of slavery in this [bush country]. Look at all these camps, there are only slaves here... because their masters, during these hot periods, the masters leave them to go to the city, they leave the slaves to watch over the place."

8:24: The rescue team arrive at a tent city serving as a refugee camp for runaway slaves. The de facto leader of the squalid camp, a former slave himself, says that their only hope for freedom was to flee their masters...which is what he decided to do, along with another one hundred slaves, over a year ago. "We are poor... but it is better to be poor, than a dependant. To be free is to be alive, and that is above any price."

10:25: Narrator: "How did these men live, when they were slaves? Chained, with iron balls attached to their legs? No. They were condemned to toil at all the hard chores, under the hot sun, in their master's place. A domestic slavery, a tradional practice in Mauritania, so traditional that it is extremely difficult to eradicate it."

11:15: The team is arrested by suspicious guards at a security checkpoint. Biram says: "They want to know if we're terrorists. Here, terrorists are militants for human rights."

12:30: During the drive to the police station, Aminitou reveals: "This shows the taboos that exist around this problem... Here, they don't want to hear about human rights."

12:59: Hidden cameras capture their interrogation by local officials: "What's this, this paper?" "An offical authorization from the National commission for human rights. A state organization." "What state?", asks the official. "The Mauritanian state!" replies the frustrated rescue team.

14:45: Later, when their status is confirmed, the police official persists in badgering the anti-slavery activists, about the presence of the documentary film crew. "We are both Mauritanian citizens, so let us resolve our problems between us. We should not draw the attention of strangers, on... on very specific realities."

15:12: Narrator: "Keeping quiet. Hiding slavery. ... Slavery still structures society. Here, men are born masters, especially the white Moors of arabic-Berber origin. Other men are born slaves, especially black Moors of negro-African origin. A millenial slavery, pre-islamic, and islamic.... a caste system that is hard to break."

[ Part 2, translated here. Part 3, translated here. ]

1 comment:

Eowyn said...

If you ask me, here's the crux:

"We should not draw the attention of strangers, on... on very specific realities."

Tired, old, tried-and-true, psy-ops, power and control-wise. You see it now in Mauritania, but it's been used everywhere, including the "United" Nations.

Well, guess what. Some of us -- in fact, a great many of us -- don't buy it. Try and make it work. Go ahead. We'll be waiting for you.