Pearling and the Language of Freedom

Navigating the Manumission System in the 1930s Persian Gulf

In: Journal of Global Slavery
Robyn Morse University of Virginia USA Charlottesville, VA

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As international anti-slavery pressure on the British increased in the early twentieth century, officials in the Persian Gulf began to manumit a growing number of enslaved persons. Enslaved pearl divers needed to physically approach the British in order to start their manumission application. In this process, their memories and history would be typically condensed into a one-page document. I argue that not just imperial archival methods influenced these statements, but the memory of British imperial experience with slavery influenced the ways in which they approached, understood, and targeted slavery in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. The manufactured English-language applications in the archive corresponded with British conceptions of slavery, but the interpretations of slavery placed on Persian Gulf communities didn’t conform to local understandings of the institution. I demonstrate the process of translation, in which local realities of enslavement were transformed into British understandings of freedom.

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