The Moors of Monte-Negro, Bosnia Hezergovinia: The Black Europeans

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The Blacks of Ulcinj (aka the Nigri/Mauros Latinis)

Has anybody heard the story of the Black african families who live around Ulcinj, they date back from Roman times.[Editor: when they probably came as Moorish cavalries of the Roman legion.]

They have stayed in that area ever since keeping themselves to themselves.

I heard there are only 6 families left, but they all speak Serbo Croat.

A friend of My father Mr Cuddon, who was also my english teacher at school [an expert of Yugoslavia too], wrote a travellers guide to Yugoslavia and went in search of these people.

He searched high and low, but could not find them, until one day he was in a remote part of Montenegro near Ulcinj standing under shelter because it was pouring with rain and a deep voice asked him what the time was in perfect Serbo-Croation, he turned around and to his amazement he saw a black man, who was one of these African Montenegrins, unfortunately the black man had no info on his ancestors and had a lack of education because of no schooling, so it was hard to get any info off him.

Does anybody know anymore info on these people?

Cetinje, 1915


Illyrian Muurs

Nigri Latinis

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8 thoughts on “The Moors of Monte-Negro, Bosnia Hezergovinia: The Black Europeans”

  1. A short article on African-Diaspora folks in a small Euro town.JA.Rogers wrote on Albania having African-Black descendants of slavery living there in the early 20th century.
    Good link Mob379.

  2. Im from Bosnia.I never heard of these people at all.In that part of Montenegro its mainly Bosniaks who live there and they speak Bosnian not Srbo Croatian.Illyrians are the ancestors of Bosniaks the very name Bosnia comes from Illyrian word Bosona meaning the land of running waters or rivers.We have Black people living in Bosnia who have been there since god knows when they speak perfect Bosnian and also live like normal Bosniaks.For example the director of the biggest Library of Bosnia is Black and its normal we are Muslims we don’t judge people by their skin color.We also have people from Sudan and Egypt,Kenya (Bosnian National Runner that compiled in the olympics is original from Kenya or Tanzania not sure).Our Soccer clubs also National Basketball team has people of african descent playing.There is also a tribe in Numbia that call them self Bosniaks are of mix of bosniaks and native africans that were born during the Ottoman expansion into Africa.They call them self Bosniaks today too.

  3. I was at the Albanian village of Zogaj (on the southern shore of Lake Shkodër) in MAY 2016. I spotted a ‘black’ man with curly hair typical of Africans or Afro-Carribeans. He was fishing alongside some ‘white’ Albanian villagers, with whom he spoke in Albanian.

    I would have love to have asked him his origins, but felt that might have been too intrusive.

      1. Im from this city a couple of black families came here after the end of the Ottoman Empire, they all came from the city of Ulqinj they were freed Ottoman slaves.

  4. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Barbarez, and she was Serbo-Montenegrin to the core. I have been trying to trace her family for years and I think the Spanish line may arguably have been through the Moors of Montenegro. I’m planning to get a DNA test in the next few years which will remove all doubt.

  5. By the beginning of the Cretan War in 1650, Ulcinj had become a significant trading post for Christian slaves. These slaves were brought to Ulcinj after being captured by local pirates on the shores of Italy and Dalmatia, but also from other parts of the Ottoman Empire. Ulcinj had gradually displaced Herzeg Novi, which had served as the main point for the purchase of slaves during the 16th century, as the principle destination for slaves on the Adriatic coast.

    Slavery was a profitable business at that time and legally sanctioned. Humans became the most valuable and expensive commodities in the Mediterranean until the early 19th century. In order to staff the competing fleets battling it out in the Mediterranean, leading powers would also resort to slaves, prisoners of war and condemned individuals who were chained to the galleys as oarsmen.

    UntitledUlcinj’s population generally kept slaves as prisoners, instead of using them as a labour force, hoping instead to collect ransoms from the family, friends and compatriots of those seized. To do this, they needed to allow those enslaved to report back to their hometowns and families that they were being held captive in Ulcinj and that they could be repurchased at the infamous Slave Market in the Old City. Often the final transaction would occur in neutral territory, usually in Dubrovnik.

    In the mid-18th century, the demand for specifically Black African slaves increased. In 1770, Ulcinj’s Ali Basha brought two female slaves from Egypt, while another group that returned from Northern Africa in 1775 brought with it thirteen African male and female slaves. Later, Ulcinj’s residents began purchasing slaves in Tripoli (where slaves from Sudan and Chad were mainly brought). They would then be resold in other ports across the Mediterranean or would be brought back to Ulcinj, where after a certain period of time they would become free citizens working in agriculture or seafaring.

    Untitled1When they gained freedom, they became like any other citizen, speaking Albanian and dressing ‘alla turca’ (including the fez and the loose pants worn by other residents of Ulcinj at the time). These Afro-Albanians would often be given the last names of the captains and merchants that had brought them there or of those who employed them. Others were simply called ‘Arab,’ which in Albanian (and Turkish) means ‘black.’

    Increasingly they were integrated into the community, sharing in the town’s happy and carefree life. Even when called upon to serve other sovereigns they did not want to leave an increasingly peaceful life in Ulcinj. As noted by Czech researcher Jozef Van Svatek, who lived in Ulcinj during the early 20th century, Prince Nikola I of Montenegro had offered an Afro-Albanian resident of Ulcinj to serve in his court in Cetinje (due to a reputation for height and strength). He refused the offer knowing that he would be an object of ridicule at the hands of Montenegrins.

    This was because Afro-Albanians started gradually living like all other citizens in Ulcinj, in the middle of the city. Ulcinj’s residents, mostly sailors and merchants, had a religious inclination against racial discrimination, given that as Muslims Islam barred such discrimination, and given that Muhammad was an ‘Arab.’ Eventually, some of the Africans living in Ulcinj began intermarrying with the local population, including Zahra (originally from Sudan) who married Haj Khalil Fici, a Major in the Ottoman Army.

    Experience had already taught Ulcinj’s residents that one could only survive in this space if unity, equality and solidarity of all citizens was preserved (regardless of who they may be, which race and religion they belong to, or wherever they came from). The main parameter was their contribution to the community.

    In this context, it is easy to understand why Afro-Albanians like Ali Arapi and Daut Kalija eventually became naval captains with their own boats. Kalija was the owner of one of Ulcinj’s largest boats as well as a beautiful house with carved ceilings, which was an artistic rarity.

    Following Montenegro’s takeover of Ulcinj in 1880, some of Ulcinj’s African population moved to Albania. For instance, the ship-owner Bet Djuli brought with him eight individuals, while Hajji Mehmet Beci brought five. As a result, only around sixty Afro-Albanian residents remained in Ulcinj.

    The 20th century in Ulcinj was marked by Ulcinj’s most famous Afro-Albanian, Rizo Šurla, although the community’s numbers overall continued to fall. Today, only one member of the community – Rizo’s sister – remains the only direct descendant of Ulcinj’s African community. Their children have mostly intermarried with others and no longer live in Ulcinj. All that remains in this city is their history and memories, not to mention a large emptiness that has been left behind them.

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