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The Métis of Senegal

Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa

Hilary Jones

Publication Year: 2013

The Métis of Senegal is a history of politics and society among an influential group of mixed-race people who settled in coastal Africa under French colonialism. Hilary Jones describes how the métis carved out a niche as middleman traders for European merchants. As the colonial presence spread, the métis entered into politics and began to assert their position as local elites and power brokers against French rule. Many of the descendants of these traders continue to wield influence in contemporary Senegal. Jones's nuanced portrait of métis ascendency examines the influence of family connections, marriage negotiations, and inheritance laws from both male and female perspectives.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-18

In 1960, when Senegal achieved independence from France, several descendants of mixed-race families who traced their roots to Saint Louis, the colonial capital, assumed prominent roles in the new nation. The first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, appointed members of these families to ambassadorships in Paris, London, and the Vatican. Some served as the first generation of lawyers, magistrates, journalists, and educators. André Guillabert became minister of foreign affairs and ambassador to France. Prosper Dodds became the first Senegalese bishop to preside over the Catholic diocese of...

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1. Signares, Habitants, and Grumets in the Making of Saint Louis

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pp. 19-39

Signare Cathy Miller rose to prominence as a woman of wealth and high social standing in the town of Saint Louis. She was born in 1760 to Jean Miller, a trader who arrived in Senegal during the British occupation (1758– 1783), and an unknown African woman. She married Charles Jean-Baptiste d’Erneville, the son of a Norman naval captain who participated in wars of conquest along the Mississippi.1 Born in New Orleans, d’Erneville left Louisiana to join his father in France and train as an artillery captain. He served two years in debtors’ prison before rejoining the military. In February 1780, at the age of twenty-seven, he arrived in Senegal with a regiment...

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2. Métis Society and Transformations in the Colonial Economy (1820–70)

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pp. 40-72

Whereas a self-conscious métis population emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century, the social, economic, and demographic conditions that allowed for the consolidation of métis identity occurred in the early nineteenth century. By the 1820s, métis habitants constituted a veritable oligarchy. They obtained a level of economic success that set them apart from Muslim traders and grumets. Métis habitants were chosen to serve on the governor’s advisory council, as mayor of the town, and also in the General Council, a short-lived electoral body established in the 1830s. In 1848, métis habitant Durand Valantin represented Senegal in Paris when...

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3. Religion, Marriage, and Material Culture

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pp. 73-95

On Saturday, 22 June 1889, at nine in the morning, Mayor Charles Molinet pronounced Hyacinthe Devès and Charlotte Crespin married at the town hall in Saint Louis. The marriage act read:
Sir Jean Lazare Hyacinthe Devès, licensed in law, commercial agent, and General Councilor [author’s emphasis], age 29 years and a half and born in Saint Louis, Senegal on the 13th of November 1858, living here as the adult and legitimate son of Pierre Gaspard Devès, wholesale merchant and property- owner and Dame Madeleine Fatma (Tamba) Daba Daguissery, without...

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4. Education, Association, and an Independent Press

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pp. 96-117

In the late nineteenth century, as France engaged in wars of conquest and consolidated control over the states of the Senegal River valley and the peanut basin, some within the métis population joined the Alliance Française, an organization founded to protect and support the spread of French language and culture. Others joined the Masonic lodge and founded newspapers with an anticlerical point of view. They espoused the virtues of the republic in their newspapers, celebrated Bastille Day, joined rifle clubs, and held annual regattas on the Senegal River. Although the métis attended...

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5. From Outpost to Empire

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pp. 118-138

In March 1887, the Mothers of Families sent a letter to the governor of Senegal followed by a second letter to Jean Jauréguiberry, the naval minister and former governor of the colony. The women wrote to inform the governor that “public peace and good order have been put at peril” by the only political newspaper in the colony, Le Réveil du Senegal. The women complained about the newspaper’s attack on key members of the political elite and expressed their concern that the newspaper, “guided uniquely by hatred, jealousy and lowly rancor,” took advantage of the lack of competition from any other newspaper. They continued...

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6. Electoral Politics and the Métis (1870–90)

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pp. 139-155

The decade of the 1870s offered new opportunities for the métis to assert power and influence within the colonial system. Although they had lost their monopoly over the middleman sector of the colonial economy, the economic, cultural, and social networks that métis families had developed allowed them entry into the political arena. In the 1870s, when the Third Republic expanded electoral institutions in Senegal, the métis capitalized on these reforms by winning seats in the local assemblies. Because of their education, ties to metropolitan commerce and the administration, and their familiarity with the local situation, the métis were well positioned to take advantage of the expansion of democratic institutions, and French...

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7. Urban Politics and the Limits of Republicanism (1890–1920)

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pp. 156-180

M. Louis Sonolet, like many twentieth-century observers, considered the existence of democratic institutions in Senegal to be an anomaly. In his view, republican institutions such as the General Council amounted to a premature and dangerous gesture that placed the weighty responsibility of governance in African hands.1 On the eve of World War I, French objectives in West Africa no longer concerned managing two coastal settlements and a handful of river trade posts. Instead, French rule involved maintaining authority over a territory of approximately 4.7 million miles and a vast population of different linguistic, cultural, and political identities.2 Assimilation no longer seemed a logical or rational system for colonial administration...

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pp. 181-188

Justin Devès died on 22 June 1916. Two months later, a delegation representing all of the town’s neighborhoods (Nord, Sud, Guet Ndar, Ndar-Toute, and Sor) presented a proposal to Saint Louis’s municipal council that called for establishing a monument to honor him. They called it “an act of recognition that we devote to the memory of our deceased mayor.” Devès’s deputy mayor, Pierre Chimère, concluded that no matter what one thought of Devès, “he was a mayor who did a lot of good for the indigènes.” The municipal assembly agreed that the front of the monument should read, “The indigène acknowledges.” The council voted unanimously to erect a statue and create a public square for...

Appendix: Family Histories

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pp. 189-196


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pp. 197-244


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-276

About the Author

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pp. 292-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007056
E-ISBN-10: 0253007054
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253006738

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus., 5 maps
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 828736845
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Métis of Senegal

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Racially mixed people -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Saint-Louis (Senegal) -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Sociology, Urban -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis.
  • Assimilation (Sociology) -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis.
  • Saint-Louis (Senegal) -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • Metropolitan government -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis -- History -- 19th century.
  • Political leadership -- Senegal -- Saint-Louis -- History -- 19th century.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- Administration.
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