The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa

By Hilary Jones | Go to book overview

Introduction

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 Senegal and Gambia. Others served among the country’s first high-ranking military officers. Still others held elected office in the cities, towns, and the National Assembly. Although some left Senegal for France, others remained to play important roles in the new country.1

For those familiar with Senegal’s modern political history, the role of the métis in the postcolonial nation comes as no surprise. Indeed, the political history of Senegal’s nineteenth-century colonial towns is a history of the métis. Descendants of African women called signares and European merchants or soldiers who resided in the fortified coastal depots, the métis formed a self-conscious group in mid-eighteenth-century Senegal. Saint Louis, an island port located where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic, became the nexus of métis society, although the métis also trace their origins to Gorée Island on the Cap Vert Peninsula off the coast of Dakar. Shaped by the expansion of French colonial rule, they became the first mayors, city councilors, newspapermen, and local advisors to the colonial administration in the nineteenth century.

An inward-looking group, the métis spoke French, attended Catholic schools, and adopted the dress, tastes, and habits of the French bourgeoisie.

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