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Slavery in Malta

How satisfying it was to read about the marking of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the UK during the month of March. Both the British Prime Minister and the Queen paid homage to the event and offered apologetic words on the misfortunes of the victims of the African slavery trade. Britain had started on its way to this abolition 200 years ago this year. The actual practical abolition was really effective in the British Empire a few decades later.

Little Malta, during the brief administration of the French Republic in 1798, had abolished slavery from its shores on June 16 of the same year by an arrêté of General Bonaparte. All slaves were set free including those known as buonavogli who had sold themselves for life to the galleys of the Order of the Knights of Malta. The contracts of the latter were declared "dishonourable to the human race" and were destroyed. The French consuls in Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers were instructed to inform the Beys of those countries that Bonaparte in Malta had liberated 2,000 slaves whom the Order held in the galleys and that henceforth the Maltese were to be respected "as being now French subjects" and were to liberate any Maltese they had in slavery.

What a golden date, abolition of slavery nine years before the British Empire.

This letter is aimed at today's readers. To date I have not heard of any anniversary celebration let alone some form of apology for the rampant slavery of Christians and Muslims in Malta, or for that matter in the Mediterranean, neither from the Order of the Knights of St John, nor from today's representatives of the Ottoman Empire. It also never occurred to governments in Malta to take the initiative and mark a day in memory of the thousands of Maltese and foreigners who succumbed to slavery in Malta or our neighbouring Muslim countries during the many centuries when our Island was one of the crossroads of this infamous trade. When one remembers that a percentage of today's Maltese families know their beginnings to Muslim slaves who were turned free, converted to Christianity and married Maltese nationals, the need for such respect becomes even more pertinent.

We missed the 1998 200th anniversary celebration. We never thought of erecting a monument or marking a day for this part of our history but it is never too late.

With expert historians and researchers such as the eminent Godfrey Wettinger, who is an authority on the subject, and other historians like Frans Ciappara, one cannot afford to let more years pass without this part of our history catching up with us today.

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