A call to honour the shoulders on which we stand

The month of October marked Black History Month which is celebrated in Canada, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom to honour the lives of black people. This is very important as one of the concerns that have sparked a public debate about Sub-Saharan African migrants is their skin colour, which differs from that of the Maltese population. The presence of black African immigrants among us is not a new phenomenon. Black people have already migrated to Malta in the distant past, although not on their own free will. One of the controversies that is leading to a public debate concerning Sub-Saharan African migrants is that they are of different skin colour from the Maltese population.

Studies at the History Department at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Malta by Godfrey Wettinger shed light on Black African slaves in Malta.  Godfrey Wettinger published a scholarly article on this past reality entitled Black African Slaves in Malta. (Source: Mediterranean Seascapes, ed. Simon Mercieca, Malta University Publishers Ltd, 2006, p. 65-82).  Male slaves were employed for manual work, such as construction projects or as rowers on the galleys, while female slaves worked as maids. In some cases, a pregnant female slave was also bought to provide the service of a wet nurse. Paintings and artwork, such as the painting to be found in the tomb of Grand Master Nicolás Cotoner of Aragon at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta bear witness of the existence of Sub-Saharan African Slaves in Malta during the time of the Knights. Many male slaves got married and sought to become integrated into Maltese society, whereas female slaves commonly served the knights as concubines. Concubinage was curbed by the Church in the late 18th Century.

Let us hope that in the near future Malta starts to officially acknowledge its own Black African history and joins Canada, USA and the UK in the commemoration of Black History Month.