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Manumitted Slaves

The migrant Arapkirlis were certainly not the only social group worthy of note living in our modest and peripheral neighborhood. The Arapkirlis were the largest but not the only group of migrants living in Kasap ƒlyas. The population of the mahalle was a microcosm that did reflect to a certain extent the wide social and occupational variety that was manifest in the capital-city of such a large and motley empire. There were also some other microcommunities that lived in our neighborhood.
The most striking example is that of the black inhabitants of the mahalle.
In 1885 Kasap ƒlyas contained a nonnegligible number (38, to be precise, and only 6 of which were men) of black people, denoted as arap, zenci, or zenciye in the census listings. Their birthplace was indicated as either Arabia (Arabistan), Sudan, or Ethiopia (Habeœ), and few of them had any declared occupation. All of them were either manumitted slaves (müttekâ) or the offspring of former slaves. The African slave trade in the Ottoman Empire, strictly forbidden by an imperial Edict of 1857, had, although slowed, continued well into the 1860s and 1870s.16 Most of the black slaves whose arrival predated the edict, however, had kept their initial status.
Most of these black inhabitants of Kasap ƒlyas were living in independent households, and a few were married and had children. Four of them were still listed as cooks or as “servants” and were living within various households of the neighborhood. Ahmet efendi, the müezzin, had one such ser- vant. The listing was at times even more explicit than that. In a few cases, the relationship to the head of the household was put down in the census listings as his slave (kölesi) and, in one instance, as his female slave/concubine (cariyesi). The reasons why so many of these manumitted black slaves had chosen precisely this neighborhood for a residence may be related, first, to the fact that Kasap ƒlyas was neither a central nor an expensive one and, second, because of the presence of one of their community leaders.
Neœ’et Kadın was aged 50 in 1885 and was living with her son and seven other women also born in “Arabia” in the house at 22/24 Hamam Odaları Street. She is qualified as Kolbaœı in the census listing. These seven females living with her were of various ages, the youngest being only 15 and the oldest about 80. Kolbaœı was the name given to the head of each of the informal solidarity and support networks established by manumitted black female slaves in late-nineteenth-century Ottoman Istanbul.
These exclusively female informal networks of support obviously provided minimal food and shelter to those former slaves left without a “home.”
They also provided shelters against the tyranny of masters, sickness, and other accidents of life. Before the nineteenth century, the kolbaœı would also intervene to purchase the freedom of black slaves who were on bad terms with their masters. They housed the unemployed manumitted female slaves and occasionally served as informal placement offices for cooks and servants in large konaks. But, in many instances, the Kolbaœı also seems to have provided a location for the meetings and semireligious ceremonies and rituals of African origin that many of these manumitted slaves continued to perform
long after their arrival to Istanbul and after their conversion to Islam. In these exclusively female ecstatic rituals the kolbaœı acted as a sort of priestess, a mediator of the imported African pagan deity. These unorthodox rituals of vodoo-like possession in which only women were allowed to participate were called Arap dü™ünü (Arab wedding) in popular parlance. These pagan rites were sometimes the object of complaints.17
Neœ’et Kadın was apparently the kolbaœı of such an informal group, both priestess of a religious cult and union leader. She owned two houses in the mahalle, one of which was probably rented out. A share in one of her two houses was sold by Neœ’et Kadın in 1885 to another manumitted female slave living in the neighboring area of Etyemez. In three other neighboring houses, all situated within a radius of about a hundred meters from the house belonging to Neœ’et Kadın, lived together a total of nine manumitted black female slaves. Two other natives of “Arabia” lived together in yet another house,
situated in the same street as Neœ’et Kadın.
It appears that Neœ’et Kadın was the wealthiest of the lot and that her presence had constituted a center of attraction for a wider peer group that came to live in her vicinity and all of them in close proximity within Kasap ƒlyas. Hakan Erdem qualifies these groups as “local lodges” of manumitted
slaves, but whether the organization ever acquired that degree of formalism and permanence is far from being certain.18 A total of five houses in Kasap ƒlyas belonged to the members of the same group, all women. One of these, ¥irin Kadın, whose status is clearly specified as being a manumitted slave
(Çorlulu Eyüp A™a’nın müttekâsı) is recorded as having sold her house situated at 8 Horasancı Street in 1883.
According to the last Ottoman population census of 1907 Kasap ƒlyas contained only twenty-five such manumitted slaves. The slave trade had effectively stopped in the 1880s and death had taken its toll. Neœ’et kadın, the kolbaœı, was not there anymore and the twenty-five natives of Arabia, Sudan, or Ethiopia were now more randomly distributed within the mahalle and were not concentrated in just a few households.
The category “Çerkes” was indicated as being the birthplace of thirty six people living in the neighborhood in 1885 (see table 3.1). Although the name of a specific ethnic and linguistic group from the northern Caucasus, this denomination was then used to denote a much wider area and included in
fact all Muslims originating from the Caucasus and from Transcaucasia. The traditional Ottoman slave trade also involved the import of (mostly female) slaves from the area.19 The empire had however witnessed, in the 1850s and 1860s, an inflow of immigrants and war refugees from this area, so that it is difficult to say whether we are in the presence of manumitted slaves or not in 1885. Thirty of the natives of “Çerkes” living in our neighborhood (including Fatma ¥öhret hanım, the wife of Osman Efendi, the muhtar) were women.
Only six are listed as servants or “dependents” living within various households. Only four male household heads were natives of “Çerkes.”
That nineteenth-century Kasap ƒlyas was a variegated but not a particularly prosperous mahalle has already been underlined. The most destitute of the inhabitants, however, were neither the community of Arapkirli migrants nor the members of the small group of manumitted black slaves. Obviously,
none of these two groups were living in opulence but both communities had, after all, some sort of internal organization, a more or less efficient network that supported and housed those in need, took care of the sick and most destitute, found them jobs, and so forth.
Comparing rather badly with these two groups, there also was a small number of people in the mahalle whose only occupation was begging and who were apparently living exclusively out of public alms. In 1885 ten people living in the neighborhood were officially classified as sa’il (beggars) or se’eleden
(one of the beggars), and one person as fukara (poor) in the census listings.
There were two married couples among them, in which both husband and wife were officially classified as beggars. Apart from their being elderly people for the most part, no other particular pattern (as to sex, birthplace, family structure, or location within the neighborhood) is discernible within this small group of beggars. Where they did their begging, or which group of public benefactors, whether on a strictly local scale or otherwise, contributed to the living expenses of these poverty-stricken people living in Kasap ƒlyas is also not known.
We have noted that the census register that contained the non-Muslim population of the neighborhood has unfortunately been lost and we have assumed that the proportion of non-Muslims was the same in 1885 as in the later count of 1907 (10.2 percent). This proportion does not hold, however, as to property-ownership in the mahalle. According to the muhtar’s note-books, of the approximately 250 privately owned pieces of real estate in the neighborhood, only eight or ten were recorded as belonging to non-Muslims.20
All of these property-owners, to judge by their name, were Greek Orthodox.
Kasap ƒlyas was a basically Muslim neighborhood with but a small minority of non-muslims. This was so in the sixteenth as well as in the nineteenth centuries.

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