NOTE: These reference notes accompany an article entitled "Fact and Fiction in God's Bits of Wood" that was first published in Research in African Literatures, vol. 31, no. 2 (Summer 2000), 117-131 (Copyright 2000 by Indiana University Press). The article is available on-line at the African history website of West Chester University.


  1. This information was culled from 1926 reports by Inspecteur de 2è Classe des Colonies DEMONGIN located in Archives Nationales de France, Section d'Outre-Mer (ANFOM) Travaux Publiques, Series 1, carton 92, dossier 25; and an anonymous 1930 report on railroad personnel located in ANFOM Travaux Publiques, Series 1, carton 94, dossier 6.

  2. See for example, the letter from Governor Soudan TERRASSON DE FOUG RES to the Director of Railway "au sujet de recrutement de la main d'oeuvre, nø862, 8 June 1920, in Archives Nationales du Mali (ANM) S 1 fonds anciens.

  3. Sembene refers to the period of precolonial kingdoms in two passages: the watchman Sonkaré recalls Mour Dial, a local chief who opposed railroad construction, and Beaugosse refers to "the time of the Damels, the warrior-knights of Senegal" (129 & 181). Sembene's own fascination with this period in African history extends to the name of his production company (Samori Productions), his plan to make a film about the life of Samori Touré, and the picture of Samori on his office wall (interview).

  4. .For example, the governor of Soudan referred to "les efforts faits par le parti Communiste pour intensifier la propagande pan-nègre et anti-coloniale" in his Rapport Politique Annuel, 1932, in ANFOM Affaires Politiques, Carton 160.

  5. Police informants provided reports on the party's activities. See Direction de la Surété Générale to Inspecteur Général du Travail, "Renseignements a/s Grève éventuelle des cheminots Africains, état d'esprit," letter nø4542/DS, 7 October 1947, in AOF K 457 (179). See also the newspaper report in Sud Quotidien, Bamako, 13 December 1947.

  6. One official blamed the wide impact of the strike on African "social organization" and referred specifically to "enlarged families." Copie d'un télégramme addressé à Jules MOCH, Ministère de l'économie Nationale, télégramme FZM LTG 15, Bamako (70 19 0925, coded date some time in November 1947), in AOF K379 (26).

  7. Although there were no systematic attempts to sample African public opinion, clues are available in newspaper editorials and police reports. See M. édine, newspaper editorial in Sud Quotidien [Bamako], 10 October 1947, 2; and Inspecteur de la brigade mobile du Soudan ROTH, "Extrait du rapport du 7 December 1947 au sujet de la passage à Toukoto le 2 December 1947 du Conseilleur de l'Union Racine MADEMBA," 7 December 1947, 1, in AOF K 379 (26).

  8. Even Africans who did not work for the railway supported the strike. When the administration tried to hire four hundred replacement workers in Bamako near the end of the second month of the strike, at a time when economic hardship began to become widespread, only one hundred applicants appeared. See police report, 6 December 1947), in AOF K 457 (179); and news report in Sud Quotidien, nø69, 20 December 1947.

  9. The European union and the rival African union are described in a police report (17 March 1948) and a letter from François GNING to Directeur Fédéral de la Régie du Chemin de Fer de l'AOF (22 March 1948), both in AOF K 458 (179).

  10. The Union des Syndicats de Dakar was affiliated with the Confédération Génerale des Travailleurs, which was in turn associated with the French Socialist Party and heavily influenced by French communists as well. After World War II, Lamine Diallo became the new leader of the union confederation. (Cooper, Decolonization 244).

  11. The family names of Bakayoko's parents were Bakayoko and Cissé, both of which are from the Soudanese interior. The discussion of Niankoro's life offers similar clues (Sembene 2 & 170).

  12. The Association Amicale et Professionelle des Agents du Chemin de Fer du Thiès-Niger was founded in 1926. It became the Syndicat des Travailleurs Indigènes du Dakar-Niger in 1937, and one of the founding unions of the Fédération des Syndicats des Cheminots Africains in 1945. On the employment of technical school graduates, see Inspecteur des écoles ASSOMPTION, "Note de Service de l'Enseignement," nø463SE, 17 July 1926, in ANM 1 G 155 fonds recents.

  13. French security forces kept a close eye on Sarr, and their reports provide detail on his travels and speeches. See police report, 9 September 1947; Direction de la Surété Générale to l'Inspecteur Général du Travail, letter nø4542/DS; and "Renseignements a/s Grève éventuelle des cheminots Africains, état d'esprit," 7 October 1947, all in AOF K 457 (179).

  14. The most frequent reference to African women was in correspondence about the size of workers' families, such as "Note sur le standard de vie indigène à Gao," 25 October 1943, 1, in ANFOM Affaires Politiques, carton 2098, dossier 8. One exception was the report prepared for the governor-general in the mid-1930s by Denis Moran-Savineau entitled "La Famille en Afrique: la Condition de la Femme" but it describes only traditional female roles of mother, farmer and small merchant (Lydon 1-2).

  15. In fact, the European residential neighborhood adjacent to the railway headquarters in Thiès is called the Cité Ballabey, named after the railway director who supervised its construction in 1923.

  16. This is my translation of a statement entitled "Le vrai sens de l'oeuvre coloniale française" which was part of the instructions for the writing assignment in "Concours d'admission à l'école Primaire Supérieur et d'Apprentissage de Bamako," 1938, in ANM 1 G 237 fonds recents.

  17. This information was culled from various newspaper and police reports in 1947. On the fortification of railway stations, see Commandant de gendarmerie PONTJEAN, report nø158/4, 11 October 1947, in AOF K 457 (179). The "Arrˆté municipal de Bamako nø72" limited the right to post notices and posters, and the "Arrˆté gouvernemental nø2528 A/P/A S/2" required everyone in French Soudan to carry an identity card. See Bulletin Quotidien de la Chambre du Commerce de Soudan, nø3394, 8 October 1947 and nø3407, 24 October 1947. On speeches by prominent Africans in support of the administration, see Inspecteur de la brigade mobile du Soudan ROTH, "Extrait du rapport du 7 December 1947 au sujet de la passage à Toukoto le 2 December 1947 du Conseilleur de l'Union Racine MADEMBA" in AOF K 379 (26). On the eviction of strikers from company-owned housing, see the police report dated 9 January 1948 in AOF K 457 (179). The arrests of the stationmasters at Kita and Oualia for joining the strike were mentioned in a police report dated 3 November 1947, and Commissaire Spécial de la S–reté MARCHER's "Procés Verbal nø5," 8 March 1948, both in Archives Nationales du Sénégal (ANS) 2 M 62.

  18. For details on the sabotage that derailed the 1926 express, see Chef du Service de l'Exploitation FRISSARD, "Rapport sur l'accident parvenu le 4 Juillet à 1h45 au kilometre 285.500 entre Koungheul et Koumpentoum. Deraillement d'une partie du train 22 Express à la suite d'un acte de malveillance," 18 August 1926, in ANS M 84 (112).

  19. European business interests and parliamentarians also affected the course of the strike, but Sembene does not include them in his novel.

  20. During the spring of 1992, I interviewed forty-eight people who lived or worked along the route of the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger, and had casual conversations with many more. Numerous informants spoke of the general sense of unity generated by the strike. However, every informant was aware of Ousmane Sembene's book, so there may be some "contamination" of sources. [See summary notes on interviews that took place in Mali.]