Afro-Iranians are Iranians of African descent. They can be found throughout the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, in provinces of Sistan va Baluchistan, Hurmuzgan, Khuzestan, and cities of Bandar Abbas and Abadan.
The history of blacks in Iran was intermittent beginning in ancient times to the 1600s. Black slaves were imported from Kenya and Tanzania, in the early centuries of Islam to work the sugar cane plantation in Khuzistan. Between 869-700, the Zanj Rebellion
spread from Iraq to western Iran. The town of Ahwaz was captured. The latter capture was only possible because of support from black slaves, who were dissatified with conditions on the sugar plantations and joining the zanj of Iraq.
Some were used as soldier to Persian aristocrats. They were also used as eunuchs. Boys were castrated and used as eunuchs, if they survive the process. Shah Sultan Hasay had 100 black eunuchs overlooking his harem. During the 1600s, eunuchs could be found in the Safavid courts and in the households of other elites. Some achieved high status like Yaqub Sultan, who was made governor of Bandar Abbas in 1717.
Slaves were imported in significant numbers in Iran by the mid-1800s. In 1828, Iran signed the Treaty of Turkmanchai, which decrease it source of Christian slaves from Armenia and Georgia. The latter situation made her more dependent on african slaves. Most came from the east african coast--Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania. Slaves were divided into Bambassees or Zanj from Zanzibar and surrounding areas(Lake Nyasa), Nubees from Sudan, and Habeshees from Abyssinia(Ethiopia). At this time, african slaves were mainly used and prized as domestics. Slaves were also used in public works. Women slaves often went to market for the upper class of Persian society, since upper class women were confined to their homes. African women were also used as concubines.
Southern Iran had the largest population of blacks. Shiraz in southern Iran was a major entry point, where slaves were sold and dispersed. By 1847, 3,488 slaves were being imported into Iran per year.
A census, in 1868, stated Tehran had a 12% slave population. 756 were male slaves (ghulam), and 3,014 female slaves (kaniz). The number would have been higher in Shiraz, the entry point. By 1898, Bandar 'Abbas received 25% of slaves entering Iran. Sections of Bandar 'Abbas, where black people lived, were referred to as Manbar-i-Siyahan(black pulpit), Pusht-i Shahr(behind the city), Zanjibad(village built by Africans), Deh-Zanjian(village of Africans). In Baluchistan, the term Gala-Zanjian(castle of Africans) can be found. Lingah, Bushehr, and Qeshm Island were also major slave entry points.
Anti-slavery activities began early. In 1821, Britain pressured Iran to abolish its slave trade. Britain was able to sign a treaty with the Sultan of Muscat to do exactly that. This proved initially futile. As soon as slave import decreased from Tanzania, it picked up from Ethiopia, across from Arabia. In the latter part of the 1800s, anti-slavery advocates increased pressure within and outside of Iranian society. Many slaves rebelled by running away, forming maroon societies during the early 20th century. Slavery was abolished in 1928, in Iran after the Gunabadi, a group of the Ni'matullahi Sufi declared a fatwa against slavery.
Afro-Iranians practice zar or spirit possession. They engage in rituals such as liwat, gowa, and al-nuban to cleanse, appease spirits. The popular Bandari music in southern Iran is of African roots.
Related Article: Asian Terms for Black People, Kingdom of Ethiopia (Abyssinia), Famous Black and Afro-Arab Muslim, Swahili City States
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