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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Colonial Policy and the Family Life of Black Troops in French West Africa, 1817-1904
Author:Thompson, J. Malcolm
Periodical:International Journal of African Historical Studies
Geographic terms:French-speaking Africa
West Africa
black soldiers
History and Exploration
Women's Issues
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Military, Defense and Arms
Cultural Roles
Family Life
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/219598
Abstract:This study examines the families of African soldiers in French West Africa as they struggled to survive and reproduce themselves in the 19th century. Black soldiers were especially important in the conquest of Senegal (1852-1886) and the Western Sudan (1882-1898). Though the French military originally frowned upon the presence of women, it gradually recognized the importance of a stable family life to the black soldier. Establishing 'tirailleur' families and households in the villages next to the posts lowered the rate of desertions. Wives were a bridge between the military and the civilian population, allowing the colonial State to harness the resources of the peasant economy. This worked well in the Upper Senegal from the 1850s to the 1870s, where the peasant sector remained intact. In larger urban centres or in the Western Sudan, ravaged by war and famine in the 1880s and 1890s, the soldiers themselves subsidized extended families. In most cases, the soldiers' rations and pay were insufficient means of support for wives and children, which meant that soldiers' families looked towards each other for support. The interdependency of the 'tirailleur' families was also the result of the nature of the soldiers' background as slaves and their occupation as agents of colonial State coercion which alienated them from the civilian population. Notes, ref.