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

By Hilary Jones | Go to book overview

4
Education, Association, and an
Independent Press

Colonial cultures were never direct translations of European society
planted in the colonies, but unique cultural configurations, homespun
creations in which European food, dress, housing and morality were given
new political meanings in the particular social order of colonial rule.

—Ann Laura Stoler, “Rethinking Colonial Categories:
European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule.”

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 French schools, adopted French dress, and identified closely with the ideals espoused by the Third Republic, they also transformed these cultural idioms to serve their purposes. They solidified their role as the predominant French-educated and professional elite of Senegal’s colonial capital.

The notion of a unified, monolithic colonizer conquering and permanently altering the kinship structures, political economy, and daily life of the heterogeneous African masses is no longer tenable. Anthropologists have turned the lens back on European communities in the colonies to

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