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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:From Slaves to Benefactors: The Habashis of Mamluk Cairo
Author:Petry, Carl F.
Periodical:Sudanic Africa
Geographic term:Egypt
Subjects:social inequality
Islamic law
property rights
historical sources
History and Exploration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Abstract:This essay is based on an analysis of two kinds of source in Arabic which developed into highly elaborate forms during the Maml¯uk period in Egypt and Syria (1250-1517 AD), viz. the 'q¯am¯us tar¯ajim' or biographical dictionary, and the 'waqfiyya' or deed of charitable endowment. The essay shows how these sources offer new data about the status of a special category of persons from Sudanic Africa who attained prominence in the Maml¯uk Sultanate, the '.Habash¯is' (commonly translated as 'Ethiopians' or 'Nubians'). They were purchased from the Upper Nile Valley and the eastern Sudan as slaves destined for the households of Maml¯uk sultans and the majority were eunuchs, having been emasculated before their arrival. Virtually all the people who form the base of this study had been manumitted before reaching their prime. The achievements of the 50 persons in the sample prove that status as a eunuch posed no inherent barrier to social mobility. As free men, they attained prominent positions in executive-bureaucratic offices; mercantile and commercial occupations; custodianship of holy sanctuaries; and pious scholarship. Eunuchs who managed to accumulate large fortunes, sought out the 'waqf' or religious endowment to perpetuate their own memory. Eight eunuchs founded 'madrasas' (colleges of law). The S¯abiqiyya 'madrasa' in Cairo (founded in 1361-1362) serves as an illustration. Notes, ref.