For thousands of years they have lived and prospered in Basra as rulers, administrators, musicians, and scholars. They are the black Arabs of Basra.
Their origins are varied though they obviously share one common genetic ancestor in some distance past on the shores of Africa.
Many of them are from the district of Zubair, descendants of the people who came to Iraq either from Central Arabia, or from East Africa. Some came as sailors, whereas others came as traders or immigrants or religious scholars over the course of many centuries.
Origins of the Black Basrawis
Arab myths agree that the Cushitic King Nimrod crossed from beyond the waters of Ethiopia in the earliest times with a fine crop of soldiers and established what was to become the world’s oldest civilization. Many existing sites in Iraq are still named after Nimrod.
Hebrew myths recount the tale of King Nimrod as well. It is stated in the book of Genesis that Nimrod was a mighty hunter of renown and the first to begin building cities over the face of the world. He ruled in Mesopotamia, in the area covering Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.
All the ancient traditions agree that Nimrod was a black man, and that his soldiers were Ethiopians and Azanians, from what is now called East Africa.
Their descendants live in the region to this day. He was said to have built Erech, Elam, parts of Sumeria, Akkadia and Babylon. The Mesopotamian kingdoms of Sumeria, Babylon, Erech and Elam which thrived in the regions where modern Iraq covers today were thus black civilizations.
Runoko Rashidi demonstrated that the civilization of Sumer was founded by Nile valley migrants from Africa. The Sumerians called themselves the black-headed people and spoke a derivate of Semitic language, a language branch which rose initially from Ethiopia. Innumerable evidence from various cranial, skeletal, archaeological, sculptural and textual sources has confirmed the racial origins of the Sumerians as Nile valley Africans that migrated to Mesopotamia.
According to Martin Bernal, the ancient Greeks designated two populations of black people with the name Ethiopia, one approximated Elam, and one pertained to a group which lived south of Egypt. See Martin Bernal, David Chioni Moore, Black Athena Writes Back p.461.
Elam was a Kushite colony and its heartland was Susa the capital of Elam. Present day descendants of the ancient Elamites still live in southern Iranian province of Khuzestan, very dark in skin colour. Between then and the rise of Islam, different population demography drifted in and out of the Mesopotamia region wherein lies Basra.
Some of those population shifts had political and demographic consequences which bore different fortunes for the black Iraqis, and Iranians of Basra and Khuzestan respectively.
Islamic Era Black Basrawi:
The Cha’ab and the Tsiab
By the 9th century, spurred by the zeal of Islam a segment of the Afro-Arabian tribe of Ka’ab, including Ka’ab bin Rabia, a son of Beni Amir bin Za’za’ah, and Ka’ab’s sons and brothers Uqayl bin Kaab, Muntafiq bin Uqayl bin Kaab (also known as the tribe Khuza’il), Jada’ah bin Ka’ab and Kulaib and other clans of Rabi’a left the southwest of Yemamah ( north of the Rub al Khali) and migrated to Iraq and Syria to support other Arabian Muslims who had settled in those domains. See Dana Marniche (2009)
These tribes of Afro-Arabians had so consolidated their power that by the 16th century, the clans of Ka’ab son of Rabia of the Banu Amir bin Za’za’a began moving to Iran from Iraq and settled in the Khuzestan region of Southern Iran close to Iraq.
George Rawlinson a 19th century European traveler, who passed through the region and described the Cha’b (also called in recent times Chub, Ka’ab, Kub) and Montefik bin Uqayl Arabs in Iraq and Khuzestan as “nearly black” and having the dark “copper” complexion of the “Galla Ethiopians” and other Abyssinians.
Thus we see that in the late 19th century, a group of Afro-Arabian tribes were well established and living in the region of Khuzestan, Iran and around the Persian Gulf as well as Basra, and the Shott al Arab in Iraq. There were known variously as Kaab, (Cha’ab or Chub), Kuleib, Al Muntafik (or Afek), Khuza’il, Khafajah, Uqayl or Aqil, and Jada.
Many of these men are the clearly documented descendants of the Beni Amir bin Sa’sa’a of the Hawazin bin Mansour. They were described until the 20th century as “near black” in color, tall and strongly built. In Iran they are called the “Tsiab”. Many of their descendants live there even today still black in complexion.
This group of Black Iraqis are thus the remaining elements of the pure and original house of Arabia, which rose in ancient times from the Mountains of Ethiopia and migrated onto Iraqi and Khuzestan.
The Zenji of Basra
There was another smaller group of Black people, non-Muslims in out look and practice, who settled in Iraq as victims of forced labour otherwise known as slavery. They were known as the Zenji, from the land of Zanjnia (close to modern Tanzania). However it must be emphasized that there were also a great multitude of free Zenjis who had voluntarily settled in the Gulf.
The Zenji concentrated around Basra and lived co-harmoniously with their Arabian hosts. Some Zenjis worked on the plantations around Basra, doing the hard labour, while others were free traders and landowners. The Zenji took over Basra following an insurrection which took place in the mid-800s. The Zenji then ruled Basra for about 15 years, until the Islamic caliph sent troops. Many of the rebels were massacred, and others were sold to the Arab tribes.
Some under currents of racialism that one finds in present day Islamic societies developed from the fear and post traumatic stress of the reign of the Zenji in Iraq.
Many other Black people in Iraqi came as sailors, traders, immigrants or pilgrims who decided to remain in Iraq. They came especially during the era of the Moorish Islamic Caliphate of Cordoba, Granada, and Egypt (i.e. the Fatimids).
Moors were Africans and Muslims of the Maghrib (also known as the western Sudan), who dominated Islam between the 9th and the 14th century and established a global empire reaching from Senegal to the shores of China.
Many of the Moors sailed in an ancient African ship called the dhow (or Arab dhow by western historians) which traditionally traveled the Mediterranean and Red sea coast of Africa on to Arabia, India and China.
Altogether there are more than 2 million black people in Iraq
Dana Marniche, When Arabia was Eastern Ethiopia, http://www.africaresource.com/rasta/sesostris-the-great-the-egyptian-hercules/when-arabia-was-eastern-ethiopia-part-3-by-dana-marniche
See: Rashidi, “A Historical Overview,” pp. 17-19;
Rashidi, “More Light on Sumer, Elam and India,” pp. 168-169. [qtd. in The Black Presence in the Bible (pg. 152) by Walter Arthur McCray].
Drussila Houston, Ethiopians in Old Arabia
Ivan Van Sertima et al, African Presence in Early Asia
Martin Bernal, David Chioni Moore, Black Athena Writes Back p.461.
The Seven Great monarchies of the Ancient World, Vol. 1 (07) p. 35