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Our New Husbands Are Here

Emily Lynn Osborn

Publication Year: 2011

In Our New Husbands Are Here, Emily Lynn Osborn investigates a central puzzle of power and politics in West African history: Why do women figure frequently in the political narratives of the precolonial period, and then vanish altogether with colonization? Osborn addresses this question by exploring the relationship of the household to the state. By analyzing the history of statecraft in the interior savannas of West Africa (in present-day Guinea-Conakry), Osborn shows that the household, and women within it, played a critical role in the pacifist Islamic state of Kankan-Baté, enabling it to endure the predations of the transatlantic slave trade and become a major trading center in the nineteenth century. But French colonization introduced a radical new method of statecraft to the region, one that separated the household from the state and depoliticized women’s domestic roles. This book will be of interest to scholars of politics, gender, the household, slavery, and Islam in African history.


Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book could not have been written without the assistance of a number of individuals and agencies. I carried out the initial stage of research for this project with a Fulbright IIE grant. At the University of Notre Dame, I received generous grants from the Dean of Arts and Letters, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. The...

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Introduction: Households, Gender, and Politics in West African History

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pp. 1-20

In the late 1990s, when conducting oral interviews in the village of Somangoi, in Guinea-Conakry, West Africa, I met a very old woman named Fanti Traoré. She described for me local memories of the French colonial conquest, which took place at the end of the nineteenth century. Although Traoré was in her nineties when we met, she had not yet been born when the “Scramble for...

Part I

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pp. 21-22

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1: Origins: The Founding of Baté, 1650–1750

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pp. 23-48

When I interviewed people in the Milo River Valley about the origins of the state of Bat

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2: Growth: Warfare and Exile, Commerce and Expansion, 1750–1850

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pp. 49-73

Around 1770, a warrior-chief, named Condé Brahima, violently attacked the Muslim enclave on the banks of the Milo River Valley. As a result, the state of Baté disintegrated: many of its residents were killed, others fled, and yet others were taken captive and enslaved. But Condé Brahima’s assault did not destroy the state altogether. After living in exile for some years, a number...

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3: Conflict: Warfare and Captivity, 1850–81

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pp. 74-91

From the seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century, a fairly consistent model of manhood runs through Baté’s historical narratives. Baté’s male elites are depicted as devout Muslims, often as clerics, sometimes as merchants. They are not remembered as warring men who rely on organized violence to accumulate power and authority. In the mid-nineteenth...

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4: Occupation: Samori Touré and Baté, 1881–91

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pp. 92-112

Today in the twenty-first century, the town of Kankan-Kuda, or New Kankan, sits on the other side of the river from the city of Kankan. Behind Kankan-Kuda rises a large, uninhabited plateau that offers an expansive view of the Milo River Valley: rolling hills lie in the distance, the river meanders by below, and the city of Kankan rises on the opposite bank. The view is a nice one, but...

Part II

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pp. 113-114

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5: Conquest: Warfare, Marriage, and French Statecraft

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pp. 115-140

In 1891, Colonel Louis Archinard, a French military officer, sought to increase France’s territorial holdings in the interior of West Africa by launching an aggressive military campaign against Samori Touré. He explained his motives for advancing into the Milo River Valley by declaring, “I have come to return to Daye the country of Baté.”1 French forces did occupy Kankan and restore...

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6: Colonization: Households and the French Occupation

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pp. 141-160

To illuminate the distinctive approach that the French took to household-making and state-making, it is useful to compare the governmental seat that the colonizers built in Kankan with that of jinkono, the family compound from which the Kaba family had historically ruled Baté. In the early 1900s, the French obtained a large tract of land on Kankan’s western edge, and...

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7: Separate Spheres? Colonialism in Practice

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pp. 161-177

Some important questions remain about the relationship between household-making, statecraft, and colonization. Did the household-state structure that the French tried to impose through their decrees and laws—which were supposed to flatten indigenous social hierarchies and treat men as active agents and women as domesticated dependents—translate into practice? Did...

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Conclusion: Making States in the Milo River Valley, 1650–1910

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pp. 178-186

This book started with an anecdote about the women of Somangoi, who, in the early colonial period, welcomed the French colonizers as “new husbands.” The verses sung by those women expose a world where politics and intimate household relationships overlapped and reinforced one another. The French men whom the women of Somangoi addressed did not, however, share these...

Appendix I

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p. 187-187

Appendix II

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pp. 188-190


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pp. 191-240


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pp. 241-262


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pp. 263-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443972

Publication Year: 2011