Who were the Magyarabs?
We have talked about the Turks, the Hungarians, and the Germans but we haven’t mentioned those tens of thousands of Hungarian and South-Slavic, Wallachian people who had been sold to slavery by the Ottomans during the 300 years of wars.
Many of them finished their life far away from their homes, sometimes on another continent like Africa or Asia. Before telling the story of the Magyarabs living in Egypt, the distant descendants of Hungarians, let us say a few words about slavery.
According to the famous Hungarian historian, Professor Fodor Pál:
„Slavery has always been steadily present in human history. It has been accepted in many societies in Europe until the early modern period and it was a reality in the Muslim world, too.” (…) „Slavery in the Muslim world was significantly different from the slavery of the ancient ages, though. “(…) „In the Muslim society, the keepers used their slaves primarily for making their life more comfortable and to guard their palaces and to maintain them. These slaves in Muslim society had better conditions than the slaves of earlier periods. This practice derived partly from their religion, partly from the special nature of their society. Muslim law was quite humane compared to other contemporary practices. They said that the nature of the man is freedom and it is banned to turn somebody into a slave, except in a few cases. It was forbidden to enslave a Muslim and a free man could never be a slave because of debt or sell himself. So the slaves are not merely properties anymore but human beings with some very restricted rights. Thus, bad treatment was a crime and the judges had the right to set the slaves free even against the will of their owner.
These rules have made the obtaining of new slaves a bit harder because many of the slaves were set free; moreover, the „zimma” was a law that provided protection to people who were of a different faith. When the initial great territorial conquest has ended and there were not enough prisoners of war anymore, the Muslim society had to satisfy its need for slaves from markets from the outside.
During the first time, the Central and Eastern European Slavic people were in focus, later the folks from the steppes of Eurasia and from Africa.
When the Ottoman Empire was born, the torrent of slaves began to flow from the neighboring Christian countries. The permanent wars made the income of slaves continuous. Its effect was that the state began to use them in more ways, putting them to work in all walks of life. The greatest slave-distributor was the state and the slaves were used mostly in the army. We are not talking about only the Janissaries but there were many slaves around the military commanders and in the entourage or private army of the Ispahies, too.
The Muslim state obviously violated its own rules (seriat) since the end of the 14th century when they introduced the „devshirme” among the Christian subjects of the Empire. It was the child tax and it contributed slaves not only to the army but to the administration as well. Besides, the fleet needed more and more slaves to pull the oars of the galleys.
There was a great demand for new slaves and a well-organized market has been built out. This market was built upon the traditions of previous Venetian and Genoese, Byzantine, and Egyptian markets of the past. There were slave markets in each sizeable town of the Ottoman Empire. Most slaves arrived from four directions during the 15-17th centuries:
1. from the area of the Black Sea (thanks to the famous Tatar lands);
2. from the Mediterranian area, mainly by the pirates;
3. from the Balkans and Hungary, due to the constant wars and raids;
4. from Africa, mostly from the area populated by black African people.
The greatest distributing points were in the towns of the Crimean Peninsula, particularly in Kaffa. From there, the slaves were herded on land or carried by boats to Istanbul and to the slave markets of the Middle East. According to Grand Vizier Ibrahim, this trade had brought in 30,000 Ducats of profit between 1526-27, only from the tax offices of Kaffa and Kilia.
The Ottoman state had imposed taxes on the slave trade and as a result of this, they could have a double profit. There are largely three categories of fees collected after the slaves:
1. there was the so-called „fifth” or an „import fee” instead of it;
2. there were taxes collected at certain crossing places when the slaves were transported;
3. there was a fee charged at the moment of the sale.
The introduction of the „fifth” began in the second part of the 14th century, during the reign of Sultan Murad I (1362-1389). The principle of the „fifth” can be found in the Quoran, namely that one-fifth of the bounty always must be given to the Muslim community (which was mostly the state).” (…) „The face value of a slave was originally a fixed amount of 125 silver Akche so the „fifth” was 25 Akche. This tax could be collected either in cash (usually it happened when someone took less than five slaves home) or in nature, if there were more slaves.”
As for the Janissaries, we know they were young boys taken from western Rumelia, Primarily Dalmatia, Bosna, Hercegovina, and Albania, the lands of “Old Illyria”.
Hungarian children were also taken and together with south-Slavic people were made Janissaries, thus enlisted into the Ottoman Army. However, after a time, fewer Hungarian boys were taken because they had a bad reputation. The Ottomans claimed they were unreliable and turned against their masters, often killing them.
A group of Hungarians seemed to have kept their language and traditions intact: they were re-settled by the Sultan to guard the borders of Egypt.
They became the “Magyarabs” (“Magyar” means “Hungarian” in Hungary.)
The Magyarabs are an ethnic group in North Sudan and Egypt that claim descent from Hungarians. It was Sultan Selim I who had them in his army in 1517. Allegedly, they had come from Transylvania.
Legend has it that Hungarians who were under Ottoman control were fighting in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, some stayed and intermarried with local Nubian women. Their first leader was Hassan el-Magyar who led them from Alexandria to Nubia, after a military revolt. The second group of Magyarabs arrived in the 18th century: they had converted to Islam in Hungary during the Ottoman rule and it was why they were dispelled by the Habsburgs.
These people have rather lighter skin and browner hair. They use “Hungarian style” spices for cooking and they make the sign of the cross with the knife when cutting the bread. Many Christian customs have also been preserved. They draw a cross on the forehead of the newborn babies. According to their DNA, they are from the Carpathian Basin, with a Hungarian and south-Slavic origin.
You can find them in the villages of Anába, Tuska, and Gatta.
First, they were discovered by Count Almássy László and his historian friend, Hansjoachim von der Esch in 1935. They said they knew that they had brothers somewhere in Europe and had been waiting for their visit for a long time.
During WW2 they were prosecuted by the British because of their Hungarian identity.
They became members of the World Association of Hungarians in 1992.
They have a Middle Eastern appearance due to intermarriage.
Here are some proverbs they have:
“The Hungarian does not pray in the mosque.”
“The Hungarian’s head is as hard as stone.”
“The Hungarian wears a hat.” ( and not a turban )
(Source: Horváth Gábor)
Here are some pictures of them:
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