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Resistance, Revolts, and Returns to Africa Frugal, serious, and dedicated to hard work in order to get their freedom or reach the upper echelons of the slave structure, the African Muslims may have appeared, at first glance, to be “model slaves.” These characteristics, however, represent only one facet of their experience in the Americas, that which drew on their education and discipline in Africa. They also brought with them a tradition of defiance and rebellion, because as Muslims, they could be only free men and women. They proved antagonistic toward their captors from the very beginning, and from a few years after the arrival of the first Africans in the New World, anti-Muslim measures were being implemented repeatedly to protect the colonies from their assault. As early as 1503, one year after he had been appointed governor of Hispaniola, Nicholas de Ovando asked the Spanish Crown to put a complete stop to the importation of Africans, because they fled, joined the Indians , and taught them “bad customs.”1 Nevertheless, Africans continued to be shipped, and in ever greater numbers; and the Muslims among them caught the colonists’ attention. On May 11, 1526, Spain passed the first item in a series of anti-Muslim legislation. A royal decree (cédula) specifically forbade the introduction of “Gelofes” (Wolof) from Senegal, negros from the Levant, blacks who had been raised with the Moors, and people from Guinea. Muslim Rebels and Maroons in Spanish America The Wolof were the only African population targeted by name. The Spanish settlers had reason to be familiar with them, because the Senegalese had just led the first slave revolt by Africans in the Americas. In 1522, Wolof revolted on the sugar plantation of Admiral Don Diego 5 145 Colon—Christopher Columbus’ son—in Hispaniola, in the territory of what is today the Dominican Republic. As they went from plantation to plantation trying to rally other Africans, they killed a dozen whites.2 Wolof had also rebelled in San Juan, Puerto Rico; in Santa Marta, Colombia; and in Panama. It appeared as if they were establishing a trend, and so, six years after the first cédula, the Crown issued another, which made reference to uprisings having resulted in the deaths of several Christians and stressed the danger still posed by the Wolof. They were described as “arrogant, disobedient, rebellious and incorrigible.”3 This attitude is consistent with men who, as Muslims, thought themselves free. They could not accept being enslaved by Christians or being forced to convert. Their complete refusal of their new situation translated into disobedience and rebelliousness and, as noted by the legislators , could not be “corrected.” The arrogance is equally typical of men who, as Muslims, would think themselves better than “infidels” and Christians. The Wolof, in addition, were accused of fomenting trouble by preaching insubordination to the other nations, which were “more paci fic and of good habits.” The royal decree also excluded mulattos, Jews, gente bereberisca (a blanket name for Muslims), and moriscos, or Muslims (often Moors from Spain) who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism. These last were considered especially dangerous, an indication that they profoundly resented their conversion and were possibly disposed to go to great lengths to return to their former faith. Still another piece of legislation was issued on August 14, 1543. It stated that Muslim slaves and free Muslims who had recently converted to Catholicism, as well as their children, were prohibited in the colonies because they had occasioned much “inconvenience” in the past. Unfortunately for the colonists, the situation did not improve, and on July 16, 1550, new instructions were given to the Casa de Contratación that again prohibited blacks from the Levant and Guinea, because they were “mixed with the Moors”—in other words, Muslims. The interdict was not respected, however, and the authorities in the Caribbean Islands, as well as in Mexico, Peru, and Chile, continued to protest the introduction of African Muslims. No fewer than five pieces of anti-Muslim legislation were issued by the Spanish authorities in the first fifty years of Spain’s establishment in the New World. Though the decrees issued prohibitions concerning Jews and mulattos, only Muslims were targeted repeatedly and with extraordinary 146 | Resistance. Revolts, and Returns to Africa vigor. The Spanish Crown was worried for two reasons: it feared the expansion of Islam in America, and it was confronted with deadly rebellions fomented by Muslim slaves and maroons. The inconvenience alluded to in...


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