Denise Bouche, Les Villages de Liberté
in University of Delaware library and ANFOM library
|Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.|
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The expression village de liberte was coined in 1887 by one of Colonel Gallieni`s entourage to designate a group of freed slaves who were living under French government protection from their former captors. The first reference in the archives seems to be a letter from the Cmdt. of the Cercle of Medine to the Commandant des Cercles in Kayes on 11 April 1888, when he wrote:
"J'ai l'honneur de vous informer que, conformément à vos instructions, je me suis occupé de la fondation du village de liberté ... Je m'efforcerai de copier en tous points le village de liberté de Kayes." (I wish to inform you that, following your instructions, I am in the process of creating a village de liberté ... I am modeling it after the village de liberté at Kayes.)
Gallieni organized his first village de liberté at Kayes between November 1886 and January 1887 at the beginning of his first year in the region, but Lt. Col. Frey had already done something similar the year for freed slaves near Kayes and Bafoulabé.
(p58) Chapter II: Les Circonstances - Le Dépeuplement du Soudan (the depopulation of the Soudan)
(pp58-59) One of the basic needs of the French military was transportation for supplies. The rivers were unsatisfactory because of the large fluctuations in water level, and land transport required labor. Every year during the hivernage (rainy season), the rain damaged roads that had to be repaired before they could be sued again in the dry season. To improve their ability to move goods over land, the French e,ployed "Lefebvre wagons" (light-weight two-wheeled wagons that had large wheels for rough terain), but they required animals to pull them. Animals caused problems because they required drivers, and animals died relatively quickly. Human porters were another solution, but they required humans who were willing to work for the French. The long-term solution was the construction of a railroad, but that required even more labor.
(p59) Porters were the transport medium of last resort because they overcame damaged pistes, low river water, and a shortage of pack animals. Porters became more important the farther one went east from Kayes. In many areas, the only form of transport was head-porterage.
(pp59-60) Captain Peroz was one of few French officers who spoke Malinké. He described the terrible conditions experienced by porters used by the French, such as indeterminant service period far from home, little shelter, lack of food, and exposure to the elements. The author notes that it was little wonder that most porters were obtained at gunpoint.
(p60) In addition, African men taken as porters were not available for agriculture. From 1884-1885 and 1887-9, correspondence from the posts at Kita and Koundou shows that the shortage of millet, mules and porters was more serious than the military problem posed by the armies of Samory or Ahmadou. Note: Kita was the departure point for caravans to Siguri, Nioro and Bamako. Koundou was on the old Kita-Bamako route that was abandoned by the French after they conquered Ahmadou's Segou Tukolor Empire in 1890.
(p60) French commandants tried various means to attract people to the area traversed by the route from Kayes to Bamako. However, the need to attract people made the French officers powerless to punish local chiefs who pillaged the caravans.
(p61) One expedient was to encourage local nobles to found their own villages under French protection, within which they would become chiefs. However, in an example from Serinafara, the chosen noble leader backed out at the last moment, claiming that many of his men had died when they began to construct the village.
(p62) The late nineteenth century was a period of widespread warfare which generated a large floating population of refugees, deserters and prisonners of war. Often, these people had to decide from whom they should accept "protection," and the wrong choice could mean hardship and even death.
(p62) The author used the people of Guidimakha and Kamera in 1887 as examples. Following unrest generated by the rise of Mahmadou Lamine and his son Soybou, Ahmadou (the ruler at Segou) sent an envoy from his secondary capital at Nioro to restore his sovereignty. When the Kamera people asked the French for protection, the French commandant told them they had to move to the left bank of the Senegal River (which was controlled by the French).
(p62) Captain Besançon wrote from Siguri in 1890 that refugees from the Niger River right bank were causing problems for the French. They had fled the empire of Samory, but refused to plant crops or make an effort to settle on the French-controlled left bank. Instead, they were waiting for Samory's defeat so they could return home, but in the meantime, they were causing a food shortage. Besançon referred to them as "bouces inutiles" (useless mouths).
(p66) Chapter III: Les Circonstances - Captivité Africaine et anti-esclavagisme (African slavery and anti- slavery)
(p79) Chapter IV: La Creation des Villages de Liberté (Promoteurs, Réglementation, Localisation) (Supporters, Organization, Location)
(p79) The Soudan was the most important area for the creation of villages de liberté, thanks to 20 years of annual military columns that required supplies and manpower. The idea of villages de liberté appeared several times in French thinking--according to the author, each time that a French administrator found himself confronted with a labor shortage in slave country. In 1882, Colonial Minister Jauréguiberry proposed the creation of villages de liberté between St. Louis and Dakar as a solution for the large number of refugees who had become dependent on the French. Since the alternative-- returning them to slavery--was unthinkable, the government compromised by creating a system of contract labor on large projects, despite its abolition in 1859.
(p80) Prisoners from the early campaigns were distributed to African auxiliaries--openly during the military administration, and clandestinely under Grodet's civilian administration. However, the French figured out relatively quickly that a few Africans could be reserved for service to the administration.
(p80) The first two villages de liberté were created at Bafoulabé (by French officer Péré) and Mediné (by officer Brisay). The first does not appear in the archives, but the second, known as "Brisayville" was founded in June 1886 and was still in existence in April 1888. However, it was renamed Liberté-Faidherbe before the end of 1886.
(p81) Gallieni's successor, Colonel Archinard, described the means by which France could hope to end slavery. It involved the creation of routes that would replace head-loading of porters.
"Nous ne pouvons remplacer le régime du travail des captifs par celui d'hommes libres rétribués. Ce résultant doit venir tout seul, comme conséquence de notre occupation, et les seules manières sérieuses de travailler à l'abolition de lesclavage, c'est créer des routes et des moyens de transports permettant de faire le commerce autrement qu'en faisant partir les marchandises à tˆtes d'hommes et nous permettant avec nos faibles effectifs d'aller assez rapidement d'un point à un autre pour maintenir la paix. Ce sont en effet des guerres continuelles qui approvisionnent les marchés d'esclaves et ce sont seulement les captifs pris en guerre qui sont véritablement esclaves. Les autres, les captifs de case sont plutôt des serviteurs." (We cannot replace slavery with wage labor. That must come of itself, as a consequence of our occupation, and the only serious way to end slavery is to build routes that allow commerce to move without relying on head porterage, and allow our small forces to move rapidly to one point or another to maintain the peace. It is the interminable wars that provide slaves for markets and it is really only war captives who are truly enslaved. "House slaves" are really more like servants.)
The author asserts that each new war between French and Africans resulted in an influx of refugees and the creation of new villages de liberté.
(p82) Under Governor Grodet, the first civilian administrator (arrived 1895), the village de liberté became a regular institution of French policy. In part, this was because the civilian administration tried to substitute a coherent policy concerning freed slaves for military improvisation. Also, France signed the 1892 Treaty of Bruxelles, with its obligation to combat slavery. Since they were required to periodically submit documents to Brussels showing the results of the anti-slavery efforts, the villages de liberté provided a ready source of documentation.
(p82) Following Grodet's arrival, it became customary to establish a village de liberté near each French post. After July 1894, commandants were required to submit numbers of freed slaves to the governor, and this appears to have provided the motivation for the creation of many villages de liberté. In addition, a substantial number of new villages de liberté were created along the Kita-Bamako route by order of Governor Grodet.
(p82) Although almost every post in Niger had its own village de liberté, their populations varied and were never very large. Kabara, near Timbuktu, had the most at 400, but some had as few as four (Boromo, near Koury in January 1907).
(pp83-84) villages de liberté were also created in Senegal, Guinea, and Ivory Coast.
(p84) The Soudan was the only place where villages de liberté were accompanied by legislation.
(p85) Colonel Gallieni issued the following instructions concerning the villages de liberté: "Il serait bien désirable en effet, ainsi que je l'ai vu dans les Rivières anglaises du Sud, qu'il se créƒt peu à peu aux environs de chacun de nos postes un village o— nous recevrions les captifs évadés de la rive droite et o— nous leur rendrions la liberté en les employant comme manoeuvres ou comme tirailleurs, en les décidant, en un mot, à venir se grouper autour de nos établissements." (It is desireable to follow the example of the British in the Southern Rivers region and little by little create a village near each of our posts to receive freed slaves where they will receive their freedom in exchange for service to us as laborers or soldiers.)
"Ils seraient simplement nourris, pendant les deux ou trois premiers mois et seraient employés aux travaux. Mais il serait bon, je crois, de leur laisser un ou deux jours par semaine pour cultiver les lougans dont l'emplacement leur serait fixé par le commandant de poste. Ces cultures auraient naturellement pour but de retenir ces indigènes sur notre territoire." (They will receive nourishment during the first two or three months and be employed at various work projects. It would be a good idea to grant them one or two days each week to cultivate gardens on land designated by the post commander. This will encourage them to remain in our territory.)
"Je vous prie donc de généraliser les mesures que vous venez de prendre en envoyant des instructions détaillées dans ce but à tous les commandants de poste." (I ask that you encourage the universal adoption of these ideas by sending detailed instrucitons to all post commanders.)
"Il va sans dire que cette mesure ne s'applique qu'aux gens évadés de la rive droite et des possessions des chefs qui cherchent à entraver notre action et notre influence dans le Soudan. Ces villages seraient d'ailleurs soumis à toutes les règles d'hygiène, d'embellissement, de largeur de rues, etc. . . que j'ai établies en dernier lieu." (It goes without saying that these measures will only be applied to people who have escaped from the [Niger River] right bank and lands controlled by our opponents. These villages will conform to all of the rules of hygiene, planning, width of streets, etc.)
(p85) Following Grodet's administration, when military rule was reestablished under Humbert, references in the archives to villages de liberté become rare.
(p86) There was always a paradox concerning the length of time that residents would stay at a village de liberté--were they transients, or permanent residents? Transients had little interest in cultivating gardens as Gallieni ordered, while permanent residents were most interested in purchasing the freedom of relatives still held as slaves.
(p87) By 1906, the French records show that the idea of transient residents had become the norm, as villages de liberté were referred to as "village de refuge." This answered a question that had not been considered by either Gallieni or Archinard, who referred to the villages in terms of the labor shortage and the anti-slavery fight. Trentinian was the first to refer to the villages as part of a permanent solution to slavery.
(p87) The commandant de cercle selected the location for each village de liberté. Usually, it was constructed as a new village adjacent to an existing village, possibly the ruins of a village destroyed during the wars, often an existing French post. The sites were chosen for their utility to the French, rather than for the possibilities they offered the freed slaves to produce a viable community. This served two purposes: they could be more easily defended by the French, and the inhabitants were available for labor on the French military supply lines.
(p88) The author offers the following evidence that the inhabitants' concerns were of little account to the French: the village of Mounia in Nioro was so exposed that the French issued four flintlocks to the inhabitants for their defense against nomad raiders. Another village de liberté, located along the Baoule River, was flooded during the hivernage.
(p88) Kéniéro and Dalaba (both between Kankan and Siguiri) were constructed next to ruined villages, as was Manambougou (on the Kita-Badumbé route). Other villages de liberté were constructed next to existing agglomerations, such as Mounia-Liberté (next to Mounia, a Woloff village near Yélimané), Dioubéba (Bafoulabé), Kassaro (Kita), Yélimané and Sara-Médina (Nioro).
(p88) A few villages de liberté were created where nothing stood before. Koussoumalé (in the Cercle de Nioro, between Sara-Médina and Birou) was built to divide a 34-kilometer stretch of the supply route to Nioro in two. Diélikébafata and Kobaboulinda (Kita) were built along the route to Bafoulabé at a pair of tributaries of the Bakhoy River which had always been way stations on the resupply route. Bading-Ko and Baoulédougou were built where the Kita-Bamako route crossed the rivers of the same names. Kourako and Nounouko were the names of tributaries of the Bakhoy River at places were the route Siguiri-Kita passed, before they became villages de liberté. All of these villages were located at stops (gŒtes d'étape) along the supply routes to protect water sources in the Sahel or to aid the crossing of rivers.
(p89) Until the end of 1893, the French route to Bamako passed from Kita via Koundou. Afterwards, it moved to the present route used by the railroad.
(p93) Chapter V: Le Recrutement des Villages de Liberté
(p93) Trentinian listed the candidates for admission to villages de liberté. However, this represented the French policy relatively late (1897) in Soudan, and doesn't describe what happened in other periods and places. The criterion for admission were:
(p93) In addition, any slave who requested his/her freedom for reasons of cruel treatment or insufficient food was required to remain in a village de liberté while the commandant du cercle examined the request and rendered a judgement. If the slave was not reclaimed by a master within three months, and had not been found guilty of any crime, they were declared free and given a certificate de liberté signed by the Lt. Gov. Moors (northern nomads) were not permitted to reclaim their slaves in any case. The commandant was required to inform all other slaves that upon the payment of 200 francs to their owners, they will be freed, and the owner is obligated to accept this sum.
(pp94-98) The author included several anecdotes concerning villages de liberté outside of Soudan to show that there was no real recruitment policy and that the French administration was ambivalent about the whole thing. Despite an official policy against slavery that awarded freedom to any slave who asked for it at a French post, the French administrators had no use for freed slaves and they were sensitive to the reaction of the masters. Bouche uses the example of the post at Bakel, administered by a man named Réaux, who freely admitted slaves in the first half of 1896. After nearly 1,000 had arrived from as far away as Nioro, Kayes and Siguiri, overwhelming the village de liberté, the French governor sent out a new administrator.
(p98) Slaves who had escaped from French enemies were the principal source of people for the villages de liberté as late as 1894. Until 1886, they were placed in charge of loyal chiefs and these became the inhabitants of the first villages de liberté. However, some of the chiefs apparently believed that they had received the slaves as presents because not all could be accounted for during a government census in Bafoulabé in August 1887. From that point on, the captives were placed directly in villages de liberté.
(p98) During the time of Gallieni and Archinard, this policy produced large numbers of Africans who came to the French posts. For example, Gallieni telegraphed in May 1887 that more than 6,000 people were settled in villages de liberté between Kaméra and Bamako. The two campaigns against Samory (in the 1890s) provided recruits for the villages de liberté in northern Ivory Coast, but by 1904, administrator Poulet no longer mentioned this source in his reports.
(p98) Slaves who escaped from the Moors and Tuaregs were a special case. The French considered the Moors and Tuaregs to be especially cruel, as well as instrumental in the depopulation of the Soudan. No slaves were to be returned to them under any circumstances.
(p99) However, as Tuareg groups submitted to the French, this requirement was relaxed. In 1897, the Commandant du Cercle de de Nioro told the chief of the Sidi Mahmoud that he couldn't return captives even though the Sidi Mahmoud had submitted to the French for a long time already. On the other hand, when the Tenguériguifs submitted to the French in 1896, Col. Trentinian ordered the French commandant to aid them in recovering about 3/4 of their slaves.
(p99) Very few captives arrived as a result of unclaimed inheritances, which was normal for a patriarchal society. Traditionally, such slaves would have gone to the chief of the village except for house slaves, who were freed. The French regulation would have sent them all to villages de liberté.
(p99) French confiscations of slaves produced more results. Slaves were confiscated from disloyal chiefs, from Dioula traders who obtained captives from the enemy Samory (thanks to an order against trading guns or horses to Samory), and from anyone who opposed the french administration.
(p100) In fact, the confiscation of slaves was fairly arbitrary. On one occasion, a captive who was the object of dispute was placed in a village de liberté in order to cut short all of the arguments. Anti-slavery activity was only a secondary motive.
(p101) Under Grodet's administration, there are some records of the numbers of slaves liberated in each cercle. Kayes/Medine had the most, Bamako was second, Segou was a distant third and none of the rest of the cercles reported any "liberées." After the oldest portions of the colony, the area most affected by the end of the slave trade was in the southern cercles.
(p102) After Trentinian replaced Grodet, French policy enforced the anti-slavery measures along the edges of the colony ("cercles situé à la périphére"), but refused to intercede in the trade within the French zone. This ended when Governor William Ponty took over. On 10 October 1900, he ordered that all slave caravans be intercepted.
(p102) The last category of inhabitants of the villages de liberté were those slaves who fled their masters. If they were unclaimed after three months, they could stay. If they were claimed, but the commandant ruled against the owner for reasons of mistreatment or some other excuse, the slave stayed in the village de liberté.
(p104) Archinard cited the Koran on maltreatment of slaves. But slaves were only freed from masters who had already killed one or more slaves. Using an example from Nioro, where 23 stayed in villages de liberté while 28 were sent back to masters, the author concluded that more slaves were returned than freed by administrative decision. This policy was also reversed under Governor Ponty, who gave the order to all commandants du cercle on 1 February 1901 to give refuge to all slaves who sought it.
(p106) Conclusion for this chapter: The different sources contributed different numbers of residents for the villages de liberté. The biggest group were refugees from the enemies of the French, but the scanty evidence suggests that they did not remain. Gallieni delivered 6,000 to the villages de liberté along the supply route during his campaigns in 1886-1888, but Archinard complained that there was no one left in 1888. The first census of the villages de liberté was taken in July 1894.
(p106) Disinherited slaves were rare. Confiscations produced a few residents, but they came in groups. Even by 1904, out of 2 million slaves in AOF, only 2,500-3,000 were freed each year (0.15%) according to anti-slave figures published by people who were critical of the government. The French blamed the low numbers on African reticience and ignorance that freedom could be had from the French. Other reasons were the Africans' fear of their masters and their loyalty to family members who couldn't get away.
(p107) The use of agricultural villages to feed and employ freed slaves meant that the French could not realistically attempt to free everyone at once. As the incident at Bakel in 1896 showed, the French needed a slow, steady rate of liberations.
(p107) The decree of 1 February 1901 by Governor Ponty threatened to inundate the French system with new freedom-seekers, but the commandants du cercle employed a new expedient called "après entente commune" (by mutual consent). Slaves were asked in the presence of the commandant and their masters if they wished to return to their masters. In this way, many slaves were intimidated into saying yes, and that limited the number of slaves seeking freedom.
(p108) After the census figures start in 1894, the average number of new inhabitants in the villages de liberté each year was between 1,000-2,000.
(p113 Chapter VI: La Population des Villages de Liberté
(p113) Despite the steady stream of liberated slaves, the population of the villages de liberté did not increase. There were other causes to be sure, but the heterogeneous population of the villages was a principle one. Liberated slaves were placed in villages de liberté without any option to decide for themselves where they would go or live. However, there were very few slaves freed directly by their masters or the French. Generally (especially after 1897) they bought their freedom with the proceeds of work for the French administration, or had it purchased by family members who took responsibility for them.
The following table shows several figures for the total population of the villages de liberté:
|Date of report||Number reported||Note|
|1 May 1894||3,868|
|1 October 1895||7,931||44 villages|
|10 December 1903||11,590|
(p114) Villages de liberté that were adjacent to French posts received a constant influx of people, but the others withered away. Sikasso declined from several thousands to several dozens between 1898 and 1900. Its population on 1 October 1898 was 998, on 31 December 1899 it was 659, in 1903 it was 480, in 1906 it was 370 and in 1908 it was reduced to 80 people.
(p115) Bouche explains why freed slaves seldom formed viable villages. First, most freed slaves were of the lowest caliber-- clumsy, lazy, rebellious. The best were reclaimed by their masters while the worst remained. Of those, the best were sent to mission schools and government posts. The remained were often invalids, sickly, children, or aged.
(p115) Even within the villages de liberté, individuals were sometimes taken away by missions, Europeans or other African employers. In areas where the Europeans were most numerous, the numbers of such "confiés" were greatest.
(p116) Differences in clothing, language and customs prevented the residents of the villages de liberté from forming homogeneous communities. Ethnic groups frequently followed their own headmen within the village, and even came to blows over disputes.
(p116) The French made no effort to settle freed slaves in the territory from which they came. Instead, people were deliberately moved to remote regions. For example, the villages de liberté of Bamako received people from Bougouni, Segou and Sikasso. Kita received people from Segou and Siguiri. Segou received people from Timbuktu. Koulikoro received them from Sokolo and Segou.
(p116) Oddly enough, most of the requests for women to live in villages de liberté were sent to Nioro, where Moor caravans were broken up.
(p116) The author lists a few villages with homogeneous population. Mambys (Bafoulabé) was composed of captives who moved between Mambys and Kangara. Guemou was composed of former slaves of Umar from Kaarta who were liberated in Segou and sent back to Kaarta. Hérémakono (near Kissi) was compsoed of Toma people who stayed together after others left the village de liberté.
(p117) The liberation of a slave was not complete until the freed slave had married and begun a family, but the male/female ratio in villages de liberté did not facilitate this. Moreover, marriage to tirailleurs or other officials was a means for females to escape the village de liberté.
(p117) French officials reported a shortage of females at the same time that the "situation numeriques" (population censuses) showed most villages de liberté to have a majority of females. The reason was that most were old women who could no be counted for marriage or family purposes.
(p118) There were various reasons for leaving the villages de liberté. women left to marry, men left to become tirailleurs or other types of government employees, and people of both genders left as deserters.
(p118) The French placed freed slaves from the north in villages de liberté near Segou in order to forestall desertion.
(p120) The French also ordered the chiefs of sensitive villages de liberté, like Soumakolo on the route from Bafoulabé to Nioro, to prevent their people from leaving.
(pp146-153) Chapter IX: Le Travail (The work)
(p146) Residents of the villages de liberté were expected to work for the French post and to cultivate fields for themselves. Work for the French was the most important to the French administration. Gallieni proposed in 1887 that the residents be given one or two days a week to work for themselves, but Archinard wrote that: "Il nous assure, au chef-lieu de nos possessions, une réserve de manoeuvres sur laquelle on peut entièrement compter et qui constitue une précieuse resource pour nos travaux et nos transports, lorsqu'il se produit une grève parmi les gens du pays, comme cela est arrivé tout récemment, à la suite d`une réduction de salaire ordonée par le Département." (The [the residents of the villages] provide a labor reserve for our centers that provides labor and transportation in the event of a strike like that which occurred recently when wages were reduced.)
(p146) By 1894, the commandants of Nioro and Mediné referred to African labor in terms that suggested they considered the labor as an obligation. Even if labor was considered to be na obligation, it did not always receive compensation. For example, at the end of 1888, the commandant des cercles ordered 30 men from the village de liberté at Medine to work on the railroad and specified that they be told they would be paid.
(pp146-147) Some of the jobs performed by freed slaves included the construction of a temporary school at Badumbé, carrying water water for the post's gardens, and cleaning up around the post.
(p147) It became customary to differentiate between unpaid daily jobs and errands, little jobs and paid jobs of longer duration, such as working on the railroad. However, the salary sometime consisted solely of a daily ration of millet. Daily jobs- -sweeping, for example--were usually performed by the newest arrivals.
(p147) By 1899, the commandant of Kita asked that residents of the villages de liberté who lived along the supply line be excused from taxes, since they already performed "construction des campements, entretien, réparation de routes, corvées, construction de magasins à mil et on ne leur paie pas leur travail" (construction of campgrounds, road maintenance and repair, construciton of millet warehouses and other unpaid work).
(p147) The worst thing for the villages de liberté was that their residents were the first taken to work on the railroad and on long-distance porterage. By 1901, the villages de liberté at Nioro and Yelimané were obliged to supply labor for the railroad because the villages de liberté along the route could no longer do so.
(p148) Given that their primary purpose was to provide labor for the French, agriculture at the villages de liberté was rarely successful. Residents taken away for labor could not work their fields.
(p148) Even before villages de liberté existed, the French commandants du postes kept a few freed slaves around for labor, at least in a few cases. But the French needed to feed them, so they were often inclined to "give them away" to local leaders.
(p149) The French only provided food on work days, so they wanted to residents to cultivate their own food. To that end, the French administration distributed unoccupied land to newcomers, but they were not always careful about "titles" and as a result, disputes between the local residents and the newcomers often occurred.
(p150) The residents of the villages de liberté had neither clear use of land nor the time to cultivate it. Work as porters took them far away from home for long, indeterminant periods. In the villages de liberté, they waited to plant until the men had returned, but since this could be as late as July, they had already missed the first 5 or 6 weeks of farm work which involved clearing, burning, weeding, and hoeing.
(p150) Villages de liberté always showed lower numbers of livestock than other villages in their cercles. For example, residents in 1890 Liberté-Bafing (Bafoulabé) had 5 cattle and 10 sheep per 140 inhabitants, whereas the average for the cercle was 2 goats per inhabitant.
(p150) In general, experimental agriculture was not successful in the villages de liberté. In 1897, the villages de liberté along the supply route were ordered to plant crops that were useful to Europeans. The most important of these was long-fiber cotton. In 1899, Egyptian cotton was planted at Kossoumalé (Nioro) In 1902, rubber was planted in large plantations in the Cercle de Bougouni.
(p150) Residents of the villages de liberté augmented their income by foraging for wood which they then sold to the French administration.
(pp151-152) Some Africans were placed in villages de liberté as punishment for cooperating with French enemies, their failure to pay taxes, or for other sins.
(p152) Conclusion for this chapter: Although the villages de liberté occasionally served as asylums for people who had no where else to turn, they generally served as jails and forced labor camps for the French.
(p153) Work policy in the villages de liberté was contradictory. The residents were supposed to work the land in order to learn how to support themselves in freedom. Yet they were also expected to supply part of their own food in the Soudan which had been ravaged by war, and work cheaply and obediently for the administration which needed labor. All of this was presented to French public opinion as part of the anti-slavery effort.
(pp156-166) Chapter X: Le Fin des Villages de
Liberté (The End of the
(p156) Villages de liberté began to disappear after 1904 and were totally gone during the years from 1908 to 1911.
(p156) The villages de liberté program was based on the idea that freed slaves could be converted into yeoman farmers. Unfortunately, the program had no chance of success. The villagers had insufficient land of poor quality, too little seed, not enough direction from Commandants du Cercle who had no particular expertise as agronomy teachers, and the work performed for the administration took the residents away from their fields. In addition, Africans felt that there was no prestige associated with the villages de liberté. The residents were known to other Africans as captifs des blancs (slaves of the whites) because they were forced to live in the villages and provide labor for a poor daily ration.
(p158) The people who went to live in the villages de liberté were thought to have "betrayed" their masters by other Africans. The only way to redeem themselves was to purchase their freedom from their former owners. The need to pay off their debt drove them to seek wage labor with the French administration, working, for example, on the railroad.
(pp158-159) The author does not believe that slaves often developed a sense of themselves as a group--i.e. a "collective slave consciousness." Normally, slaves believed themselves to be slaves until such time as they reimbursed their owners and purchased their freedom. Bouche gives an example where freed slaves supported slaves against their owners at Kassakaré in 1896, but says that more often, residents of the villages de liberté wished to own their own slaves.
(p160) In 1904, the railroad was completed to Bamako and the villages de liberté lost their reason for existence. As late as 1903/11/10, a decree stated that although the French did not recognize slavery, tribunals indigènes (native courts) could not take cases concerning slavery, nor could they accept cases between slaves and freed men.
(p161) Government policy had always been to repatriate freed slaves to their region of origin, but before 1904, this was exceptional rather than the rule. The villages de liberté in the vicinity of Kankan, Kouroussa and Bissandougou all disappeared during 1893-1895. In 1899, the residents of the southern region were all sent back from the villages de liberté near Medine. The resident of Segou sent some former slaves home in 1900 because they were not needed in Segou. The residents of Français-Kouta were refused permission to return to Ouassoulou in 1899, for fear that the entire village would leave. By 1902, the population of the villages de liberté around Kita were in decline due to the absence of slave trade.
(p161) After 1904, the movement of former slaves back to their homelands picked up. All the residents of Hérémakono were "freed" in 1904. The États numeriques include a category for "anciens serviteurs ayant demandé à retourner dans leurs pays d'origine" beginning 1909. As long as their taxes were paid, the residents of the villages de liberté were free to leave.
(p161) The French were satisfied that Africans emancipated from the villages de liberté would take up residence elsewhere in French-controlled territory once the conquest was complete.
(pp161-162) At hearings in 1904, Governer-General Roumé testified that the villages de liberté had declined for two reasons. The type of assistance they offered tended to promote laziness in Africans, and the permanent tax exemption they offered Africans did not encourage work.
(pp163-4) From 1908-1911, the position of chef de village de liberté was suppressed and residents were warned that they would lose their tax exemption. By 1911, the only cercles still reporting village de liberté populations were Satadougou, Nioro, Ouagadougou, Sokolo and Niafunké.
(p164) After 1905, the French documents refer to "villages de refuge" instead of "villages de liberté" to show their temporary nature. In Kita and Bafoulabé, the villages began to serve as way stations for the repopulation of areas devastated by war.
(p165) Although a number of villages de liberté still existed in 1927, they were actually new villages on the old sites, often populated with returned residents of other villages de liberté.
(p165) Another byproduct of the villages de liberté was the development of two large population centers in Kayes and Bamako. The records do not show how many were former slaves, but the cities were logical places to find work and create new social ties. In Bamako, the village de liberté was called Oulofoboubou. Bafoulabé and Kita also received a large number of freed slaves.
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(pp259-273) The appendix contains lists of the Villages de liberté founded in each of the colonies of French West Africa. Each list contains the name of each village, the date that each was founded, the maximum number of inhabitants recorded at each village, and the date that each village closed.