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History / Slavery

Martin A. Klein
Slavery and colonial rule in French West Africa

Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. African studies series, 94. xxi, 354 p. : ill., maps

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Most histories have neither a beginning nor an end. They are part of a seamless web. We cannot say when slavery began in western Africa, though it was certainly long before the period I am studying. And we cannot say when it ended, though there is no place in the three countries being studied where persons are legally owned by other persons. There are still people who are referred to as slaves in various local languages, though very few of them are under the control of another person. Historians impose beginnings and ends in trying to order our understanding of the past. This is a study of slavery in three African countries. I chose to begin with the abolition of slavery by the French National Assembly in 1848, but I am not interested in writing a history of French policy. I am interested in slavery within Africa, which involves understanding how Africans related to each other and to the European intruders in their lands. This means that I had to step back and look at the world in which the French were intruding and which they helped to create.
There is no concluding date. The heart of the study deals with the period between 1876, when a maverick prosecutor named Darrigrand tried to enforce the law, and ends about 1921, when the disruptions caused by the return of tirailleurs from World War I ended. But the struggle was not over, and in some ways is not over yet. In each generation, the terms of the struggle change, but the fact of struggle remains. It has often been repeated that the export slave trade integrated Africa into the world economy, but it is even more important that the horror of centuries of slaving and slave-trading have left their impact on the social structures, cultures and personalities of Africa. I originally intended to study all of French West Africa because I was not sure how much data I would find. I had already been struck by the silences in the record. I ended up with more data than I could cope with, in part because I kept digging on and off for twenty-five years. The oral record was the most difficult because almost all people of slave descent are reluctant to acknowledge that descent, but the interviews I did provided me both with moments of truth and with a more profound understanding of the peoples I was studying.

Most of my documentation came from archival sources. Though often disappointing in their gaps, those records provided extensive documentation every time there was a crisis. I was also helped by the missionaries who responded in a very humane way to the suffering of a system colonial administrators and military men accepted and provided an insight on both slavery and the colonial administration. It has been a long and very rewarding voyage and it has been shared by some wonderful friends and colleagues. I cannot list all of the people who in one way or another have helped me or stimulated my analyis but I must thank some of them.

At the head of the list have been those who guided on my forays into the field. My trip with Mohammed Mbodj to Kaymor in Senegal in 1975 began twenty years of friendship. In Wasulu in 1988, Issaka Bagayogo taught me a great deal about research strategy. Jonkoro Doumbia traveled with us and enriched my understanding of Wasulunke history. Aly Kampo helped me in Bamako and did research for me in Masina Almamy Malik Yattara also helped me in Bamako in 1981. The late Abdoulaye Barry translated many of my tapes. In Dakar, Boubacar Barry and his wife, Aida Sow, often provided me with a home, with introductions and with Intellectual stimulation. Charles Becker gave generously of his knowledge of his adopted country. Abdoulaye Bathily often found time in his busy schedule to drag me off to lunch. Saliou Niang provided us with hospitality in Kabakoto in Saalum and the Ngom family in Kaolack and Dakar, especially Babacar, Boubacar, Doudou, Frankie, Habib and their father, the late Alboury Ngom.

I bad some other partners. Richard Roberts and I have had a twenty-five-year-long conversation and Paul Lovejoy has provided me with more ideas than I could use. More than anyone else, Claude Meillassoux has shaped my thinking about slavery, though I have sometimes argued with him. Fred Cooper is probably the most perceptive critic I have ever had. I have leaned at times on the research and collaboration of Bernard Moitt and Ann McDougall. And I shared Senegal with Donald and Rita Cruise O'Brien, Wes and Marian Johnson, Jonathan Barker and Peter Mark. Richard Roberts, Fred Cooper, Paul Lovejoy, Charles Becker, Elka Klein and Suzanne Sill Klein all read this manuscript and helped me polish it. Parts of it were also read by Nehemia Levtzion, James Searing, David Robinson and Suzanne Miers.

I owe a debt to many archivists and librarians. I worked in more than a dozen archives, libraries and centers of documentation. I owe a special debt to Jean François Maurel in both Dakar and Aix, to his able successor, Saliou Mbaye in Dakar, the late Father Bernard Noel of the Holy Ghost Archives at Chevilly-Larue, to Father René Lamey of the White Fathers in Rome and Aly Onoigba in Bamako. Claude Ardoum was a guide to Mali and to Bambara cuisine. Of the many fnends I made on archive staffs, special mention must go to Oumar Ba in Dakar and the gang in Bamako. Many fellow scholars sent me their theses or manuscripts, among them François Manchuelle, John Hanson, John O'Sullivan, Moustapha Kane, Andrew Clark, Kathryn Green, Maria Grosz-Ngaté, James Searing Babacar Fall, Steve Harmon, and James Webb. At different times, Judith Irvine, Commandant Louis Baron. Andrée Wynkoop, Salmana Cissé, Peter Mark and Robert Baum have discussed their researches. Each one of them helped me resolve one or more questions. Marie Perinbaum enriched my work with her scholarship and her friendship. I mourn her recent death, as I do that of Moustapha Kane and François Manchuelle. All still had much to give. Commandant Baron kindly gave me a typescript copy of Charles Monteil's diary. Robert Harms provided a copy of Ismael Barry's thesis. I also thank Mamadou Diouf, Pathe Diagne, Papa and Francine Kane, Momar Diagne, Omar Kane, Samba Dieng, Amady Ali Dieng and Mbaye Gueye in Dakar. I am grateful to Alpha Oumar Konare, now President of Mali, and his historian wife, Adam Bâ in Bamako. Denise Bouche probably started me off on this quest, but Roger Pasquier, Jean-Loup Amselle, Emmanuel Terray, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, Marc Michel, Jean Bazin, Jean Boulègue, Francois Renault, Paule Brasseur, Jean Copans, Jean Schmitz, Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Sydney Kanya-Forstner, Myron Echenberg, Patrick Manning, Joseph Miller and Dennis Cordell have all helped. Countless graduate students have done some research or translation for me, among them Maria de Sousa Lahey, Anshan Li, Chidi Nwaubani, Ugo Nwokeji and Chima Korieh. Igor Kopytoff has stimulated me by arguing with me. Philip Curtin has been a model of scholarship, though here too, I have sometimes honed my ideas in opposition to his.

This research has been generously funded over the years by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I also received grants from the Canada Council and the Social Science Research Council. A grant from the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington made it possible for me to start writing in a wonderfully collegial atmosphere. I would also like to thank various editors from the Cambridge University Press for their patience. I originally promised this book to Robin Derricourt over fifteen years ago. In the final stages Jessica Kuper nurtured me through one final revision and Janet Hall was an eagle-eyed copy-editor. Finally, I have three special debts. The first is to Suzanne, who got rid of both split infinitives and lapses into franglais. She has lived with this project since the beginning and has been one of its most perceptive critics. The second is to my mother. Her wit and her companionship have enriched my life and work. I wanted this book for her, but I think she understood that there were good reasons why it took so long. Finally, there are the elderly men with calloused hands and grey hair who received me into their lives, often lodged me and offered me their history. I particularly want to honor those who sought freedom and their offspring who have continued the rebuilding process.

I thought at one time that I should keep the names of my informants secret, but as I got deeper into the research, I developed an admiration of those who overcame adversity and built new lives. The high points in my field research were small moments of self-affirmation. I remember Biraan Toure talking about how he worked by himself to create the settlement which is now a prosperous hamlet. I remember Dokoro Samake saying that those living in Ntentu were there because their parents returned from slavery and rebuilt the village. I remember most of all the old man in a village within sight of the trans-Gambian highway who kibitzed throughout the interview, and then at a certain point, told me to look at the trucks carrying the peanut highway. Many of them, he said, were owned by and driven by jaam. And then, he announced proudly that he had only one master, Léopold Sedar Senghor, then president of Senegal. I celebrate them and their achievement.

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