The Black Community of the Black Mountain
A swashbuckling history of pirates and slave traders, and a legend of Miguel Cervantes being held as a slave in the local tower are all part of the colorful background of the town of Ulcinj. And it is the descendants of those who were left behind after the slave trade ended that are the most interesting, because it in this town that a community of African Montenegrins existed until very recently.
There were probably never more than 100 families at the community’s largest point, and that number has dwindled today into the one elderly woman who survives.
In the beginning, rules stated that those Africans in Ulcinj who were enslaved could only marry each other, but those who were free could, and did, intermarry within the community. Those of African descent can still often be identified by their surnames, which were taken from the ship captains that brought them to the Adriatic as slaves.
The African Montenegrins from Ulcinj shared in the hardships of World War II Yugoslavia as well. Rizo Šurla, whose father was a sailor from Northern Africa and whose mother was from Ulcinj, fought and was wounded on the front in Srem.
After the war Rizo returned to Ulcinj and opened the town’s first photography studio, acted in movies, and became a member of the League of Communists.
“I never had any problems. I always felt like a Yugoslav, a Montenegrin. I was born here, in this multinational environment, and I think I lived a beautiful and happy life.“
There was not nearly enough research done on the African Montenegrins of Ulcinj before the community began to die out, and so, unfortunately, many of their customs and much of their history remains unrecorded. We do know that they developed the Saravali dance, which combines African rhythms with Balkan instruments; but their family histories have been lost to time.
To read more about slavery, please click here.