Gender and the End of Slavery in the Region of Kayes, French Soudan : The Sam’s Court Cases (1925-1926)

Through a detailed examination of a series of court cases, which took place in French Soudan in the 1920s and which all concerned marital disputes between the spouses Sams, this paper aims to analyze some of the consequences of the end of slavery and colonialism on gender in the region of Kayes in the first quarter of the 20th century. On 17 May 1925, Mariam Sam went to court in Kayes in order to obtain 50 000 francs back from her husband, Boubakar Sam, that were the result of the sell of a property belonging to her. She declared that her husband had received this money wrongfully and had given her only a small part of it. The court decided that Boubakar had to give the money back to his wife. Boubakar, however, went on appeal. From this first judgment and Boubakar’s appeal onward, a series of court cases started between Boubakar, his wife, and the colonial prosecutor, most of these judgments would be ultimately declared as Mariam’s fault. These series of court cases took place over 16 months with a final decision on September 1926 denying Mariam Sam the property rights that were involved during the first judgment of 1925 because of her former slave status.

This case is quite exceptional as it allows us identifying the different discourses on slavery, which were clearly expressed by the different litigants during the proceedings. It is also unique by its length over 16 months and for all the new developments that regularly occurred between 1925-1926. Besides, the final decision in the last judgment tells us much about how the colonial administration ultimately dealt with the legacy of slavery. It also shows the increasing intervention of the colonial power into the regulation of marital relations. Finally, the Sams court cases demonstrate how the reorganization of property in post-abolition Mali entailed numerous social and gender conflicts between former slaves and former masters. It shows how investment in real estate became an important post-abolition stake not only for noble families but also for those men and women of slave origin who had some success in accumulating wealth over the first twenty years of the twentieth century.

Marie Rodet is Lecturer in the History of Africa at SOAS (University of London). Her research interests lies in the field of modern gender and migration history in francophone West Africa. Her Ph.D. work examined Malian female migration networks in West Africa during the colonial era (1900-1946). She used archival sources and oral interviews in order to analyze neglected patterns of female migration, such as women’s participation in slave exodus, family migratory itineraries to the Senegambian peanut basin, as well as female desertion of the marital home into colonial cities. Her thesis, published by Karthala (Paris 2009), reintegrates women into the narrative of African migratory history. Her current research offers a historical overview of gender dynamics in the context of abolition. The project examines the complex interactions between gender, mobility, and the end of slavery in Mali/West Africa at the turn of the twentieth century (1890-1920), focusing on slave women from the Malian region of Kayes. She approaches this subject through three topical aspects: Retrieving Slave Women’s Voices in the Emancipation Process; Gender, Migration, and the End of Slavery; Sex, Power, and Slave Women’s Emancipation. In 2009, she devoted four months to a project to salvage 100 years of archival materials for the cercle (colonial administrative district) of Kayes. Concomitantly, she has been collecting oral and written data on slavery in Mali and in Senegal.

Colonial Legal Regimes, Customary Law and Gender Justice among Maasai Pastoralists in Tanganyika, 1916-1961

Historians, anthropologists and other scholars of gender have long looked to the implementation and interaction of colonial and customary legal regimes as rich sites through which to explore colonial gender productions and contestations. Some scholars have examined how colonial efforts to codify customary laws fixed previously fluid and dynamic considerations and decisions into written legal principles that reinforced the power and privileges of elder men over women and junior men, especially in the realms of marriage, divorce, bridewealth and adultery. Others have documented how some African women took advantage of the presence of new colonial judicial bodies to circumvent customary mechanisms for dispute resolution. Few of these studies, however, take a step back to consider what the colonial insistence on creating and naming a discrete field of social relations as the realm of “law” meant for the complex moral, political, and social ideas, relations, and mechanisms of gendered justice among Africans: How did the colonial codification of customary law and creation of legal institutions like native courts marginalize other understandings of and approaches to justice, including those deployed by women? What were the gendered consequences of reinforcing androcentric forms and forums of “law” predicated on principles of individual rights, secularism, rationality, and neutrality for alternative conceptions of justice premised on ideas of morality, respect, and social interdependence? To explore these questions, I draw on long-term archival, oral historical, and ethnographic research about and among Maasai pastoralists in Tanzania to analyze the gendered consequences of the creation and implementation of customary law and colonial legal institutions for not just relations between and among men and women, but for broader Maasai ideas and practices of justice, respect and morality in which women and the (primarily female-identified) Maasai divinity Eng’ai were significant.

Dorothy L. Hodgson is Professor of Anthropology & Director, Institute for Research on Women of Rutgers University (New Brunswick). She is the author of Once Intrepid Warriors”: Gender, Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Maasai Development. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Paperback edition, 2004 ; The Church of Women: Gendered Encounters between Maasai and Missionaries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005 ; and Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neocolonial World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (in press).

Materialism, Contention, and Rebellion : The Changing Demands on Marriage in Colonial Zanzibar

This paper will trace constructions of gender and sexuality during the British colonial period in Zanzibar through the lens of Islamic courts, known as kadhi’s courts along the East African coast. Whereas Middle Eastern historians have innovatively drawn on legal records to access voices of historically marginalized groups, such as women and slaves, for the last three decades, Africanist scholars have yet to explore the wealth of Arabic legal records to reassess our understanding of gender relations in Muslim sub-Saharan Africa. The onset of ‘modernity’ in the legal sphere, introduced by the colonial authority in Zanzibar from 1890 onwards, produced a new field of tension and competition for religious identities and ‘modern’, westernised family values versus ‘traditional’ ones. Focussing on the realm of family law (marriage, divorce and property cases), this paper will explore how women and men reshaped their relationships by drawing on colonial and Islamic ideologies as well as colonially introduced legal avenues to improve their socio-economic status. It attempts to outline strategies employed by Zanzibari women and men to engage with social, religious, political and economic changes affecting their families and ‘Islamic identities’ during the first half of the twentieth century. Court records from the early twentieth century indicate the wide range of bargaining-discourse which was denied by colonial administrators and Western scholarship until recently. Situating gender discourse in the kadhi’s courts within theories of Islamic law and customary practice, this paper will account for dynamics of gender relations and reassess female agency within patriarchal structures. Its arguments will engage with the wider body of literature on gender and courts in Africa and the Muslim world in the colonial period.

Elke E. Stockreiter is Assistant professor in the department of history of the University of Iowa. She is the author of Irreconcilable Predicaments: Kadhis, Colonial Officers and Social Change in Post-Abolitionary Zanzibar Town (book manuscript, in progress), Co-editor with Anne K. Bang and Sean R. O’Fahey. Arabic Literature of Africa, Vol. III B. Leiden: Brill, forthcoming ; “Child Marriage and Domestic Violence: Islamic and Colonial Discourses on Gender Relations and Female Status in Zanzibar, 1900-1950s” in Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, ed. Emily Burrill, Richard Roberts and Elizabeth Thornberry, p. 210-241, Athens, Ohio University Press, 2010 ; “British Kadhis and Muslim Judges: Legal Innovation and Role Reversal in Zanzibar’s Colonial Judiciary”, Special issue, New Directions in East African Legal History, Journal of Eastern African Studies (peerreviewed) submitted “Islamisches Recht und sozialer Wandel: Die Kadhi-Gerichte von Malindi, Kenya und Zanzibar, Tanzania”, Stichproben. Wiener Zeitschrift für kritische Afrikastudien 2, n° 3, 2002, p. 35-61.

Re-reading Compliance : Women in the Colonial Record in South West Nigeria, 1870-1930

Cette intervenante n’a malheureusement pas pu venir au colloque.

Narratives of the past in Ado-Odo (S.W. Nigeria) paint a picture of a time when women were compliant with their parents wishes, endured their marriages and conformed with societal expectations that a woman must be ‘under’ a man. Pasts in the present serve a normative purpose, used to chastise errant youth. The past that emerges from court records and colonial documentation tells a different story, one in which women colluded in evading unattractive marriage prospects, or literally ‘went astray’ having escaped pressurising parents. This paper will be based on a close reading of cases documented in the records of the nearby coastal town of Badagry in the late 1870s, prior to the establishment of the Protectorate and subsequent colonisation of Nigeria, and on cases from the colonial court established in Otta, between Ado-Odo and Lagos, in the first decades of the twentieth century. It begins with the story of one woman who came to seek release from a marriage marred by boredom in 1879, petitioning the colonial official resident in Badagry to release her from her tedious husband. It goes on to consider on a string of cases in the decades that followed the introduction of divorce legislation, in which a series of feisty characters are revealed, whose demeanour departs substantially from the tales that were told of the era of early colonial rule in oral histories. These cases, I suggest, offer interesting re-readings of women’s encounters with colonial governance, as well as on the making and shaping of gender relations under colonial rule.

Andrea Cornwall is Professor of Anthropology and Development in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. Following PhD research that combined anthropology and history, she worked at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex for 12 years, where she published widely on gender, sexuality and governance. Her books include Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies (co-edited with Nancy Lindisfarne, 1994), Readings in Gender in Africa (James Currey, 2005), The Politics of Rights: Dilemmas for Feminist Praxis (co-edited with Maxine Molyneux, 2009), Feminisms and Development: Contradictions, Challenges and Contestations (co-edited with Elizabeth Harrison and Ann Whitehead, 2007), Gender Myths and Feminist Fables: Struggles for Interpretive Power in Gender and Development (co-edited with Elizabeth Harrison and Ann Whitehead, 2008), Development with a Body: Sexuality, Human Rights and Development (co-edited with Sonia Correa and Susie Jolly, 2009), Democratising Engagement (2009) and Negotiating Empowerment (edited with Jenny Edwards, 2010).

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