This article uses the example of Conakry (French Guinea) and its suburbs to illustrate how the past was used in administrative politics at the level of city wards and surrounding villages. The events occurring in Conakry were part of broader changes within French colonial politics from the 1880s to the 1950s. Two distinct moments appear during this period: initially, immediately after the French came to power, any allusion to the past was ignored, or even held in contempt, on account of certain chiefs' resistance and in accordance with the principles of direct rule. Between the wars, however, the past became the predominant criterion in the choice of chiefs; reference to ancestors became a necessity for colonial authorities and the colonized alike. How did this transition change from the denial of the past to a valorization of the past within a demographic context that mingled populations with a longstanding presence in the area (the Baga and the Susu) with recent migrants (the Fulani)? How did French colonizers intervene in local politics? and to what extent did they exploit the existence of internal rivalries? How did local or administrative chiefs and candidates adapt to this change of policy and use it for their own agenda? Finally, this article seeks to understand how the French imposed on diverse local contexts a common political strategy, based on stereotypical representations of a variety of African populations. The play on memory and inventiveness that these processes imply are explored in the present article, drawing on hitherto unexplored administrative documents, which reveal that the past became a tool in the administration's policy sometime in the 1920s.


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pp. 3-27
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