Definitions


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An Azalaï was a large annual or biannual shipment of desert salt from Taoudenni to Timbuktu by camel.


Banco construction used sun-baked earthern bricks used to construct buildings. It is similar to Adobe construction in used in the southwest part of the United States


A Canton was a unit of French political administration that was smaller than a cercle and larger than a village. A canton included a number of villages.


A Cercle was the smallest unit of French political administration that was headed by a European officer. A cercle consisted of several cantons, each of which in turn consisted of several villages.


A Chef de canton was the highest position attainable by Africans in the French system of colonial administration prior to World War I. After the war, a few obtained higher positions. Chefs de canton were never Europeans.


A Cheminot is a railroad worker.


CIRCONNIG was the abbreviation for the Compagnie Cotonniére du Niger, a private firm that operated in the 1920s to grow irrigated cotton along the Niger River Valley near Ségou.


The Compagnie Français de l'Afrique Occidentale (CFAO) was a French commercial firm that established comptoirs throughout West Africa.


A Comptoir is literally a "counter" that you might find in a store or restaurant. In French West Africa (AOF), the term referred to a branch store of a commercial firm located in the African interior that resembled a frontier trading post.


Decauville was the generic name in French reports for narrow-gauge railroad track (50-60 centimeter) and equipment. It was used on construction sites, to transport bulk goods within towns, and occasionally to serve as feeder lines to river ports or a larger railroad.


A Dyula (also spelled djula or dioula) is one of a multi-ethnic contingent of professional traders who operated over long distance routes throughout French Africa. They were mistaken for a single ethnic group by early colonial administrators, in part because they spoke a distinct language.


Epizootie is the French word for a disease that afflicted livestock (possibly hoof-and-mouth disease).


Gardes-de-cercle were Africans used as auxiliary policemen to support local coloniasl administrators. Since they were often called upon to arrest people and to compel them to supply forced labor, the French usually recruited them from outside the cercle where they served. As a consequence, they were often disliked and distrusted by the local inhabitants, even though they were Africans.


A Goum was a nomad soldier recruited to serve with the French command in the desert regions. Goumiers were based in Timbuktu, Araouane and Gao during the interwar period.


The Haut Commissaire de l'Afrique Occidental Française was the term used for the top French official in French West Africa (AOF) following the reorganization of the empire in 1946. This position succeeded that of the Gouverneur-Général.


Karité is the name of an oil-producing tree that grows in West Africa. The nuts contain oil (called beure de Karité) that can be used in cosmetics and as a lubricant. The English term for this oil is "Shea butter."


The Kounta are desert dwellers who ceased to resist the French fairly early. Some Kounta men accepted service with the French as camel-mounted scouts.


A Laptot is a laborer on a boat or ship. Many Africans were employed as laptots on the Senegal and Niger Rivers.


A Méhari is a camel. A Méhariste was a soldier in the camel calvary that operated in the desert regions.


Messafric was the common term used in French administrative documents to refer to the Société des Messageries Africaines, which operated a steamship service on the Niger River from the 1930s to independence.


A Navétane was an agricultural laborer who migrated towards coastal areas (principally Senegal) and worked as a sharecropper to produce export products (mostly peanuts).


The Office du Niger is the government company that acquired control over a series of development projects in the Middle Niger River Valley. The Office du Niger supervised hydroelectric dams, irrigation canals and agricultural villages devoted to the production of rice and cotton. Its headquarters are located in Ségou and its main workshops are at Markala.

A Patente du Dioula was a permit to engage in long-distance commerce. Africans obtained these permits in order to move from one cercle to another in search of trade opportunities. See also Dyula.


Peloton means "group." In these documents, a military detachment is often referred to as a peloton.


The Peuhl (also spelled "Peul") are nomadic pasturalists who inhabit the Sahel. The French considered their range in the colony of Soudan to be the Inland Delta area north of Mopti. In the British colonies, they are known as the Fula or Fulani, and in their own language, they are called the Pulaar (singular: Pulo).


A Pirogue is a wooden canoe used on the rivers of West Africa. Where trees are alrge enough, they are fabricated out of a single tree trunk, but in the Middle Niger Valey, they are made by sewing together planks of wood and packing the seams with rope and tar. Niger River pirogues are some times quite large and may displace as much as ten tons.


A Piste is a dirt road. In the context of French West Africa, where most roads were unpaved, a piste may be a major thoroughfare, such as those that cross the Sahara Desert. Although they are unpaved, pistes are maintained by smoothing out the surface after each rainy season, or by removing drifted sand in the desert.


A Precepteur du marché was an African employed by the administration to watch market activity, collect pernmit fees from merchants, and provide statistics on commercial activity.


Prestation refers to a form of forced labor in which Africans were required to work on local projects ranging from road building to supplying food for administrators and their African auxiliaries. It was the form of forced labor that affected the most people.


The Régie des Chemins de Fer du Mali (RCFM) is the government corporation that operates the railroads in independent Mali.


Le Reveil was the newspaper of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africaine (RDA), the political party of West African unity that was founded in Bamako in October 1946.


A Rezzou was a military operation in the desert that relied on speed and surprise. An alternate word in English is "raid."


Rimaïbes were the slaves (or their descendants) of the Peul nomadic pastoralists who inhabited the Middle Niger Valley in the region between Mopti and Timbuktu.


The Sapeurs were a military unit composed of Africans who maintained the railroad between Bamako and Koulikoro just prior to World War II. See Compagnie Indigéne des Sapeurs du Chemin de Fer


The Section de Exploitation of a railroad is the part that operates the trains. It includes conductors, station personnel and everyone who is involved with providing a train with passengers and/or freight.


The Section de Voie et Batiments of a railroad includes everything that is connected with maintaining the track, right-of-way and buildings.


The Section de Material et Traction of a railroad includes everything that is connected with maintaining and moving trains. It includes engineers, firemen, brakemen, mechanics and employees at repair facilities.


The Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) is the French National Railroad Company.


A Somono was an African who lived along the Niger River in the area approximately from Bamako to Ségou. The French relied on Somonos for river transport in the early years of the conquest, and recruited Somonos to work on riverboats after steamship service was established.


A Spahi was an African cavalry soldier.


The Service Temporaire d'Irrigation du Niger (STIN) was the government construction firm that built canals and dams for the Office du Niger project in the 1930s.


Tirailleurs (literally "sharpshooters") were Africans who served in the French colonial army. The first tirailleurs were from Senegal, so the units were often referred to as the Tirailleurs Sénégalaises. They served in sub-Saharan Africa, France, Algeria and Indochina.


A Trimestre is a three-month period, equivalent to a "quarter" when used in business reports.


A Village de Liberté was a settlement created by the French in the 1880s and 1890s to house freed slaves and prisoners-of-war taken during the conquest of the region. In exchange for labor, residents of a Village de Liberté received housing and food. Conditions were generally poor and Africans tried to leave as quickly as possible.