anm document

Various documents concerning the Travailleurs de la 2ième portion, 1928-1935
in ANM S 21 fonds recents

© 2006 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Français (Terrasson) to Directeur du Chemin de Fer Thiès-Niger, letter n°A453 (Koulouba, June 6, 1928)

This letter was sent to remind the head of railroad operations that Soudanese forced laborers of the 2ième portion could only be assigned to work within the territory of the colony of Soudan.


Commandant Supérieur des Troupes du Groupe de l'AOF (Benoit), "Circulaire II" n°6629 (Dakar, July 12, 1929)

Tirailleurs (African soldiers), especially those who had served overseas, looked down on the workers of the 2ième portion. There was an incident in April 1929 when tirailleurs molested some ballast workers near Kita, causing minor injuries. In order to prevent a reoccurence, the Commandant Supérieur suggested that the administration emphasize the fraternal bonds between tirailleurs and workers, and point out to tirailleurs that in the event of mobilization for war, members of both groups would have the same status.


Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Français (p.i.), "Addendum à l'instruction locale n°A1472" (Koulouba, October 28, 1930)

Workers who were discharged because of illness were granted 30 days pay as an indemnity.


Inspecteur de Travail (Emirit) to Gouverneur du Soudan Français, n°42AA (Koulouba, August 20, 1933)

This is a detailed inspection report of the work camps located between Kayes and Galougo. It lists 788 workers in the 2ième portion, 1,313 voluntary workers, 18 overseers, 13 petty officers (sous-officiers) and two commanding officers, Capt. Bertrand and Lt. Laclavare. They commanded two contingents divided among six work sites. It also mentions that there were 21 men in the infirmary at Galougo.

Rations were distributed each day to prevent workers from trading or selling them on the black market. Most of the overseers were either African military veterans (ancien tirailleurs) or else former members of the 2ième portion.

In the course of 300,000 man-days, only 2,000 man-days were lost due to men placed in prison.

The term of enlistment for the 2ième portion was supposed to be three years, but workers were only retained for 22 months.

The number of voluntary workers tended to fluctuate with respect to the agricultural seasons. They were paid 4.00-4.50 francs per day and had the option of receiving rations worth an additional 2 francs per day.

This table shows the cercles of origin for workers of the 2ième portion who started their service between December 24, 1931 and March 19, 1932. (Note that not all of these laborers were assigned to work on the railroad. Cercles in bold are located along the railroad.)

Cercle # Workers # Died # Discharged due to Illness
Bougouni 280 17 24
Bamako 140 4 6
Koulikoro 119 4 0
Kolokani 81 0 1
Sikasso 128 5 2
Bafoulabé 105 2 8
Kayes 145 4 1
Kita 65 1 1
Satadougou 40 2 3
Nara 117 1 3
Nioro 190 9 9
TOTAL 1400 49 58


Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Français, "Instructions relatives à l'alimentation des travailleurs de la deuxième portion du contingent" n°A1894 (Koulouba, September 1, 1933)

This notice raised the daily ration of starch, meat, oil and spices to 1250 grams of millet per worker five days per week, or 625 grams of rice on the other two days. Each worker also received 350 grams of fresh meat three days each week and 125 grams of dried fish the other four days of the week. Finally each worker received 60 grams of shea butter (75 grams on cold days), plus 20 grams of salt and five grams of other condiments.


Inspecteur local du travail et de la main d'oeuvre to Lt. Governeur du Soudan Français, "Rapport d'inspection de la main d'oeuvre employée par la Service Spécial des Travaux du Chemin de Fer de Dakar à Niger" n°95AA (Koulouba, 29 June 1934)

Observation: This report verifies many of the details found in Inspection du travail, "Deuxième portion du contingent du chemin de fer de Thiès au Niger" (1929), located in dossier S 79, ANM fonds recents.

Voluntary African workers were most likely to originate from cercles located near the railroad work sites, while forced laborers were brought in from more remote areas.

Housing: Forced laborers were housed in two work camps. The camp located at km747 (near the Medinè branch line) housed 228 workers from the cercles of Kayes and Sikasso, while the camp at km756 (farther east between Kaffa and Tintiba) housed 240 from the cercles of Nioro, Kolokani and Satadougou. Each camp was located roughly 500 meters (one third of a mile) from the work site and equipped to house three hundred workers in round four-men huts. Each worker was provided with bedding. Married workers were housed in separate camps adjacent to each of the main camps.

The camps were more spacious than traditional African villages. There was about 10 meters separating each pair of huts. If the camp was not close enough to use the river for a water supply, the railroad management brought water to the camp in specially-designed tank cars that contained carbon and sand filters plus a line of faucets to distribute water.

Food: Each forced laborer received a daily food ration of starch, meat, oil and spices. Five days a week, each worker received 1250 grams of millet, and 625 grams of rice on the other two days. Each worker also received 350 grams of fresh meat three days each week and 125 grams of dried fish the other four days. To season their meals, each worker received 60 grams of shea butter (75 grams on cold days), plus 20 grams of salt and five grams of other condiments. Finally, each laborer received 250 grams of potatoes or boiled millet flour for breakfast each day. The food was prepared by the wives of some of the workers, but women were only allowed in camp at a ratio of one of fifteen workers. The women were paid 2 francs per day to do the cooking.

Clothing: each man received one blue or khaki work suit, one sweater (tricot de marin), one khaki army shirt, one blue cap, two blankets, a 2-liter canteen, a sleeping mat, and one isolateur en bois (not sure if this is a wooden partition or bed frame). The regulations permitted each laborer to receive a new work suit every six months, but because they were in plentiful supply, replacements were made every four months.

Other equipment: The workers were organized in groups of sixteen. Each group received two serving dishes, a 25-liter boiler, two 20-liter buckets, and one mortar and pestle. In addition, each camp was equipped with two millet grinders.

Salaries and bonuses: Ordinary forced laborers received 0.75 francs per day, they were eligible for bonuses of 0.75 francs per day, and they were entitled to up to eight sick days at half pay. There were also four levels of African overseers who were compensated as follows:

Title Salary (francs/day) Bonus (francs/day)
surveillant 1 classe 11.45 11.50
surveillant 2 classe 7.95 1.00
surveillant 3rd classe 4.15 0.85
surveillant stagiaire 1.25 0.50

Workers received only two thirds of their salaries and bonuses during the period of the contract, and the remaining third after they completed their contract. They worked two four-hour shifts with a two-hour lunch break, six days a week. On Saturday, the afternoon shift was devoted entirely to camp maintainance. They were not required to work on Sundays.

Workers were grouped according to where they came from (i.e. all workers from Kayes were kept together). The best workers were rewarded by being allowed to finish for the day after completing a specific amount of work (travail à la tâche), even if it took them less than eight hours.

The work: The main task was to move dirt with shovels because the soil was too stony to work with mechanical equipment. Other jobs included track-laying, removing rocks, and breaking rocks into small pieces for use as railroad ballast. Specialized workers like masons, carpenters, drivers and scribes were given jobs that used their skills.

Medical care: Each worker received a medical examination twice a month. Workers could receive medical care at a special facility constructed from portable buildings. A 3-room building housed the doctor's quarters. A 2-room building held the pharmacy and the examiniation room (salle de visite.) There was also a separate 2-room building for Europeans who became ill, and separate huts made of banco were available to house patients who needed hospitalization (i.e. recuperation). An ambulance vehicle was stationed at Galougo. Seriously ill workers were transported to Kayes for treatment.

The most common illnesses were wounds, infections, shock, malaria, and dysentery. In 1934, there were 8 deaths due to pneumonia, one due to sunstroke and one due to urinary infection. Twelve other workers were discharged for various medical reasons.

Voluntary labor: Voluntary workers were housed in their own camps separate from forced laborers. There were a total of 1,992 voluntary workers distributed among eight work camps and the headquarters at Kayes (Dépot de Kayes).

Their camps resembled regular African villages because most of the voluntary workers were accompanied by their wives and families. They were offered food rations valued at 1.50 francs per day, but most chose to buy their own food out of their wages, which they received at the end of the month. They had to buy their own clothing.

The railroad management authorized a European merchant to sell goods to African workers, but set maximum prices for various commodities. African traders and merchants also sold to the workers. One member of each family had the right to take the train to Kayes once a month to shop for food.

In the general, the railroad management tried to create a village lifestyle that was superior to what the workers knew back home. In that way, they hoped to convince Africans of the value of working for the railroad and of travail en commun (working together for the public good).

Ordinary voluntary workers received a salary of 3.50-4.00 francs per day. Other types of workers received the following salaries (francs/day):

The largest numbers of voluntary workers were assigned to the construction headquarters at Galougo (150 wokers), at Tambacoumba Fara (150), and at the Kayes depot (40). Like the forced laborers, all worked an 8-hour day with a 2-hour lunch break for 5 1/2 days per week, they received the same medical care as forced laborers, and the best workers were allowed to leave before eight hours if they completed their assigned work. They were not required to maintain their camps on Saturday afternoons.

In general, the African workers demonstrated "de sa docilité et de sa discipline" (obedience and hard work). Some forced laborers signed up as voluntary laborers after their original enlistment was finished, and thanks to their experience, they were often employed as overseers.


Gouverneur du Soudan Français (Fousset) to Direction des Affaires Politique et Administratives, letter n°A1877 (Koulouba, August 28, 1934)

The Governor of French Soudan described his colony's labor recruitment needs for 1935: 600 workers for the Service Temporaire d'Irrigation du Niger (STIN), but none for the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger because the 420 workers received in 1934 were enough. The STIN had 2,320 workers from 1934 and 576 from 1933 whose contracts were nearly ended. Because they needed a total of 2920 workers, another 600 would be enough.


Chef de Service Spéciale des Travaux p.i. du Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger to Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Français, letter n°8/D (Mahina, January 16, 1935)

This is an inspection report. It gives the daily ration for forced laboers as 1,100 grams of millet or 600 grams of rice, 300 grams of meat or 125 grams of dried fish, 25 grams of salt, 60 grams of animal or vegetable fat (75 grams on cold days), and 5 grams of condiments. Volunteers could purchase the ration for 1.25 francs, but very few did.


Secrétaire Général p.i. (Éboué) pour le Gouverneur du Soudan Français (p.i.) absent (Flottes de Pouzols) to Directeur du Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger, letter n°308AS (April 23, 1935)

There was evidence of vitamin deficiencies among forced laborers on the railroad, specifically dental problems. The Secrétaire Général, writing on the authority of the Governor (who was absent) ordered the Directeur du Chemin de Fer to provide onions and peanuts in order to balance their diet. (Note: Secrétaire Général Éboué was unusual among French colonial officials because he was a black man born in a French colony.)