Discover Georgia
The Tale of Afro-Abkhazians
07 March, 2015
Black slavery was not limited to the America’s and Africa’s. Despite being outlawed in most of Europe, it still existed in peripheral areas linked to the Muslim world as well as Venice and Genoa. Apparently, one of slave trading hubs was located in the Georgian region of Abkhazia. Moreover, some medieval maps of the Black Sea have several towns located in what is today Abkhazia marked with a vertically crossed “S,” denoting a slave market. This sign is an abbreviation
of Venetian “sciavo,” meaning “slave.”


“Africans were brought to Abkhazia in XVII by a local count Sharvashidze, who purchased them at a slave market in Istanbul.”

Abkhazian black people were a very minor ethnic group in Abkhazia. Nicknamed “Shavi Katsebi” (black men) by the native population, they mainly inhabited the village of Adzyubzha and a few settlements near Kodori Gorge. According to historians’ estimates, they were brought to Abkhazia in XVII by the local Count Sharvashidze, who purchased them at a slave market in Istanbul to work the citrus plantations.
Another version, dismissed by many as a legend, tells of a slave merchant’s ship that sunk near the Abkhazian coast. It implies that so-called Afro-Abkhazians are descendants of slaves who survived the shipwreck.
Historian Mikheil Labadze shares his insight into what happened. According to him, Venetian chronicles confirm that ingeotv.ge the second part of XVII century, Abkhazian Count Sharvashidze purchased black slaves from Arab merchants. The payment involved both money and barter, with other slaves exchanged for black ones.
The fact that the settlement of “black men” was located at the mouth of Kodori Gorge implies that protection of Samegrelo’s border was included into the list of their duties. This is also confirmed by the fact that by the XIX century they were all largely assimilated into the local culture, having learned the Abkhazian language and adopted the local attire. It seems that local feudal lords saw little difference between local or foreign slaves, and cared little for both. This seems to be the main reason why the black slaves discarded their native language and culture so quickly.

“According to historian Bryan Sykes of the Oxford University, the gigantic remains of a woman discovered in a remote mountainous Abkhazian village are of Sub-Saharan African origin.”

Arab sources also tell of the slave trade that took place at the Black Sea Coast. One of the more interesting pieces of information on that subject is an anonymous manuscript that was written during the Mamluk rule in Egypt and kept in Paris since XVIII century. It describes the invasion of Ethiopia by Mamluks, their rounding up of the Falasha (Ethiopian Jews, who belong to the Congoid race and have little to do with Jews aside from religion) and selling many of them to an Ottoman Sultan.
geotv.geThe fact of Ottoman sultan owning Falasha slaves is confirmed by one of the Russian chroniclers, which describes a ship that carried them as a gift from the Ottoman Sultan to the Crimean Khan sinking at the Black Sea’s eastern coasts. Most of the slaves drowned, but the chronicler claims that some survived, managing to reach the lands of the Kasogs (Circassians) and the Ubykhs (extinct Caucasian ethnos that inhabited parts of modern-day Abkhazia). The locals captured the shipwreck survivors and again sold them as slaves.
Studying the history of Abkhazian Africans is important because it is yet another piece in the puzzle that is the Caucasus, despite them having been driven away and/or exterminated by communists in the 1930s. Not a trace of them remains in Adzybzha village or other settlements today, aside from a single archeological find. According to historian Bryan Sykes of the Oxford University, the gigantic remains of a woman discovered in a remote mountainous Abkhazian village are of Sub-Saharan African origin and do not belong to an unidentified relic hominid. Nicknamed “Zana,” this woman, who died of old age in 1890, most likely was a descendant of “Afro-Abkhazians.”

geotv.ge

“I was amazed by a purely tropical landscape before me. Straw-topped huts rose from a sea of immaculate green, with black-skinned children playing around them and black-skinned men clad in white attire going about their business. There was little difference between them and Abkhazians. They spoke the same language and followed the same religion,” Writes ethnographer Yevgeny Markov in the “Kavkaz” publication, 1913.









Author: Mikheil Labadze

Related story:

How black people came to Abkhazia


Print