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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Basra, Maysan, Dhi Qar
Arabic, Persian
Islam (mostly Shiite, Sunni minority)
Related ethnic groups

Afro-Iraqis are an ethnic group that is descended from people of Zanj heritage in Iraq. Most are found in the southern port city of Basra, with many speaking Arabic and adhering to Islam.[5][6] There are more than 500,000 Afro-Iraqis.[1][2][3][4]


Most Afro-Iraqis are the descendants of sailors, traders and slaves that were brought to Iraq from the Zanj region. The term Zanj also used to describe them is attributed to Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania. Slave trade begun by early Arab traders started in the 9th century and lasted over a millennium. Most of these slaves were imported to work in large dates and sugarcane plantations.[5]

To protest their treatment, Zanj slaves from Basra staged a successful revolt against Baghdad the Muslim capital for 15 years (refer to Zanj Rebellion). During this period they created a city called Moktara. In 883, the Army from Baghdad was able to put the revolt down. Afterwards, locals did not engage in large-scale plantation-type slavery. Slavery lasted up until the 19th century.[5] However, there were reports of dark-skinned slaves in Iraq in 2008.[7]

Social condition

Unlike in the Americas of the 19th century, slaves in the Middle East were allowed to own land, and their children were generally not born into slavery. Also conversion to Islam precluded further servitude and gave freedom. Skin color played a distinctive role even amongst slaves. Many activists amongst Afro-Iraqis complain that they are unable to find opportunities to improve their social condition. However, the same complaint is often also made by Iraqis of Arab Semitic descent as well.[5][6]


Most Afro-Iraqis still are able to maintain rituals related to healing that are of Zanj origin. The languages used in these rituals are Swahili and Arabic. Instruments such as Drums and tambourines are used in these ceremonies. In a song called Dawa Dawa, the words are a mix of Arabic and Swahili. The song, which is about curing people, is used in the shtanga ceremony, for physical health. Another ceremony called nouba, takes its name from Arabic for paroxysm or shift, as Sophi performers take turns at chanting and dancing to ritualistic hymns.[8] There are also unique ceremonies to remember the dead and for occasions such as weddings.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b MRG condemns killing of Black Iraqi leader in Basra, calls for full investigation into his death
  2. ^ a b Iraq: Black Civil Rights and Political Group Loses Leader
  3. ^ a b To Be Black in Iraq
  4. ^ a b Black Iraqis Struggle to Shake Legacy of Racism
  5. ^ a b c d e A Legacy Hidden in Plain Sight
  6. ^ a b Descendants of Iraq's black rebels back Obama
  7. ^ IRAQ: Black Iraqis hoping for a Barack Obama win
  8. ^ "السماح.. رقص التسامي الجمعي، أرواحاً وأجساداً- د. خير الدين عبد الرحمن". Albahethon. Retrieved 3 January 2017.

External links