Salis was one of the most known characters of the last century in the town of Chania. He was a descendant of slaves from the Egyptian occupation in Crete (1830–1840), with Sudanese origin.
In 1856 Hatt-i Humayun abolished slavery, however many former slaves decided to remain in Chania and work as porters.
From a very young age, he worked as a boatman for the blue boat of the president of boatmen of Chania. Because of his strength and speed, his boat was always the first to disembark passengers and their luggage from the ships anchored in the port. Back then, the port of Chania was shallow and unsuitable for mooring ships.
He would spend the money he earned helping poor families by offering them bags of food and anything else he could.
Twice he won at a lottery draw. The first time he spent the money to endow two orphan girls, and the second time he gave the money to two poor young women that wanted to get married, so they could build their dowry.
His love for his town was such that in 1922, during the exchange of populations, he refused to leave with the other Muslims. He even took the British citizenship so he could remain in Greece, a fact that, during the German occupation, caused him a lot of issues.
When he got old and couldn’t work any more, he had to sell his house in Koum Kapi, to be able to survive. When the citizen of Chania saw him sleeping on a mat, they mobilized to give back to the men that spent his life helping others.
Thanks to the writer and poet Georgios Georvasakis, Sali became a Greek citizen, which allowed him, after some time, to get a pension. Even then, Sali would use this money to help as much as he could families in need.
Sali died 29th of February 1967 in his sleep. Because he was Muslim, he couldn’t be buried in a Christian cemetery, so he was buried in a field next to the old Turkish district. After a while, though, because he was so loved in the community, they buried him in the Christian cemetery of St. Lukas.
On his tomb, they wrote: “Salis Chelidonakis the philanthropist black boatman”.