Mr. Vidal to Mr. Hunter.
Tripoli of Barbary, Nov. 6, 1873. (Rec’d Jan. 27, 1874.)
Sir: In answer to my communication No. 26, in regard to the negro slave traffic carried on between Tripoli and Constantinople, via Malta, I had the honor to receive from the Department dispatch No. 22, by which I was informed that “the specifications mentioned in the paper are scarcely sufficient to warrant a definitive opinion upon the subject. You will consequently furnish the Department with any other facts in regard to it which you may have or may obtain.” From the moment that dispatch came to my hands I thought it my duty to endeavor to place the Department in possession of more satisfactory information relative to that trade. I took measures accordingly.
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For that purpose I engaged as one of my household servants, Mejbura, a negro woman who can speak, besides her own vernacular, the Arabic language, the Turkish tongue, and the Bernoo idiom. Knowing perfectly [Page 44] well that on board the steamers plying between this place and Malta, it is but with the greatest difficulty that a man can talk to a Mussulman woman, under the most favorable circumstances, I judged it better to send Mejbura to Malta, so that she could, during the voyage, have an opportunity to inform those among the black passengers who were slaves that on the moment of their arrival in Malta they could be free if they so chose.
I decided at the same time that Lueschi, the intelligent and devoted janissary of the consulate, who can speak good or bad Arabic, English, French, Greek, Italian, Maltese, and Turkish, and who had already been in Malta, should accompany that woman to the island, to act as her protector and interpreter.
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I sent them off on the 7th of August last by the Ottoman steamer Trabulus Gharb.
My inclosure No. 1, which is a translation of the statements made under oath on the 16th of August by Lueschi and Mejbura, immediately after they were back at this port, will show the Department that they would have succeeded in their undertaking had it not been for the indifference exhibited in that case by the Ottoman consul at Malta, as well as the unwarrantable interference of the brother of the Tunisian consul, who is in no way an official person, and had no business to meddle with the case, and more than all the scandalous and very extraordinary partiality shown by the Malta police in favor of those passengers engaged in the unlawful traffic.
It will be sufficient to call the Department’s attention to the following facts mentioned in Lueschi’s paper:
There were fifteen or sixteen black women on board the steamer, eight of whom were examined before they landed. However, seven hours later, when the examination was resumed on shore, there were but twelve negroes present, among whom are to be counted the eight women already examined. What had become of the four, other ones? They were probably poor creatures who, having decided to claim their liberty in spite of the threats and promises of their mistresses, were prudently withheld from the police’s eyes.
The inn where the examination was resumed is the general resort of Mussulman people in Malta, and most of the time one is sure to find there eastern travelers with their servants. Who can know whether the four negroes who were examined there were the same ones who were on board the Trabulus Gharb, or servants of other guests, borrowed to play a part in that criminal farce?
The Department will please notice the strange proceeding of the Malta police-officer. As long as the negroes would declare that they were not slaves, he was satisfied with that answer; but the moment one of them stated that she was a slave and would rather die than go along with her mistress, he stopped the examination and left the unfortunate being for seven long hours among her mistresses, instead of rescuing her at once and taking her ashore. What right had he to prevent that negro from landing the very minute she wanted to leave?
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It was my intention to make another trial, with the hope I would have better luck next time. However, I soon found a solace to my disappointment in the knowledge that I had so far succeeded in being the instrument to prevent, at least for a time, the exportation of more slaves. For the Pasha Governor of this regency, and probably some gentlemen in the Constantinople foreign office were led to suspect, when they were [Page 45] informed by the Ottoman consul of what had just occurred in Malta, that Lueschi and Mejbura were sent by me to the island to act as my emissaries. By his long connection with the United States consulate, Lueschi is well known in that island as well as here; and during the examination at the hotel, those among the Osmanli ladies who were most excited against him attempted several times to shame him into silence by calling him a Roomee, (Christian,) an epithet as much insulting to a Mussulman as that of Jew would be when applied to a Christian witness in one of our court-houses.
The Ottoman officials were fairly frightened, lest I would succeed, at a future time, in fastening guilt on them all. Therefore, on the 21st of October last, when instructions from Constantinople had time to be received, Sahmi Pasha, governor-general of this regency, issued an order, herewith inclosed marked No. 2, informing the people and the consuls that measures were taken to punish severely those who would be found engaged in the slave-traffic. I consider that document as a very important one, for it is the official admission from a high Ottoman functionary that the exportation of slaves from Tripoli was heretofore carried on in spite of all treaties and imperial decrees, a fact which I had the honor to denounce to the Department in my dispatch No. 27.
May I be pardoned if I add that, on the other hand, I look also upon those orders as complimentary to me; for do they not show that by my personal exertions alone an odious trade which has been prosecuted for centuries, lately under the very shadow of the British flag, and on British soil, too, has been checked at last?
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But the tyrant was killed, at any rate, and the slave-traffic is not in this regency. I know from experience that in these countries all good laws, rules, and ordinances enacted by persons in authority are not intended to be strictly enforced, being promulgated solely because they read well on paper. The very functionaries whose duty it is to see those laws enforced are the very first to break them. There is not, for instance, a high dignitary, let him be general, colonel, cadi, bey, mufti, moodir, mutassariff, who does not, when he sends his family from Tripoli to Constantinople, or any other European or Asiatic province of the empire, improve the opportunity to ship away one or two dozen of negro slave girls.
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Wishing to ascertain that the Pasha’s orders were respected, for the present at least, I sent Lueschi on the 2d instant once more to Malta, on board the steamer Vilaïet. * * * * * But it was too soon after the issuing of the orders, and no slaves were that time on board the Vilaïet. I was informed that two poor Arabs of this place, who were detected at about that time with slaves in their possession, were sent to jail for a year. As the people here say in their imaged speech, “the smallest donkeys are ridden in preference to larger ones.”
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I must also add a word to what I said in my dispatch No. 27, explaining how those slaves, once in Malta, will invariably answer that they are free. There is in Soudan, south of Kanou, a country named El Zendj, whose inhabitants are anthropophagi. They even file their teeth to make them as sharp as a dog’s, in order to be better prepared to eat their prisoners. When the negroes of the other districts are captured by the Fellatahs, to the number of several thousands at a time, those wretched people imagine that they are to be eaten like sheep. Gradually [Page 46] they see their error; but their Moslem masters tell them that while Mussulmans don’t feed on human beings, Christians do. Hence their dread of being left in Malta. The most wretched slave, when asked, pro forma, by a Maltese policeman, whose whiskers and manners look ferocious in her estimation, whether she wants to stay in the island, will answer, terror-stricken, “Sidi Stamboul”—the only two Arabic words she knows—that is to say, “Stamboul is my lord, my preference.”
I am, &c.,