By Kristina Richardson
Children in Slavery through the Ages, edited by Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers and Joseph C. Miller (Ohio University Press, 2009)
Introduction: The category of slave in the Middle East encompassed a number of different duties and positions: eunuch, chattel, domestic servant, sexual subject, infantryman, concubine, entertainer, laborer, and sometimes a trusted and valued member of the household. As Shaun Marmon has noted, “there can be no single model for the study of slavery in Islamic societies,” and to parse the statement further, especially not for intersections of slavery, gender, and childhood. Even so, there is some use in reading aspects of female slavery against Hegel’s model of the master-slave dialectic and Orlando Patteron’s elaboration of that theory. I have selected them because Patterson’ model does try to accomodate Islamicate slave systems though it does not take gender and childhood into account as an important aspect of it.
Patterson argues in Slavery and Social Death that all slave systems – from dynastic Mesopotamia to early medieval Ireland to modern Sudan – dominate the subject’s body and mind. A slaver’s physical movement is controlled, her labor forced, and in many instances she is made to submit sexually to the master. The psychological domination starts in the first days of ownership with the alienation of a slave from her native surroundings. Or if she remains with her family, she recognizes that her master has authoritative power over her. In Hegel’s formulation of master-slave relationships, the slave validates the master’s existence because she existes only to fulfill the master’s will. As a result, the slave’s identity is wholly tied to that of her master. The slave dies unto herself and is reborn, so to speak, as an extension of the master’s ego and will and a physical confirmation of his personal esteem. This alienation of the slave from a community (other than that of her master) negates her social existence, engendering “social death.”