I have opened the way. I have abolished the sale of slaves and I will never give up the work of emancipation whilst a slave remains in my dominions.

Such were the words which sealed the ground-breaking decision of Ahmed Bey (1835-1855), the tenth Husaynid ruler, to abolish slavery and the slave trade circa 1846. Tunisia was officially the first country to emancipate slaves in the Arab world and before the Ottoman Empire. But the abolishment of slavery was neither sudden nor conclusive. In 1881, at the beginning of the French Protectorate, slaves were still kept as domestic servants and workers in the countryside, especially in the rural south, where provincial officials’ readiness to enforce the beylical decree differed radically from governors’ willingness in the Sahel. Slaves moved from slavery to another institution, wala’, a sort of patronage relationship which allowed former slaves to inherit the surname of their masters, sometimes adding ‘ abid or shawashin to the name. This fictitious relationship was and is epitomized by the strict prohibition of intermarriage, which is still the rule in rural southern and interior regions of the country.