Ceci n'est pas une signare: Locating Women in Nineteenth-Century Urban Coastal Senegal Using French Representations of the Signares Restricted; Files Only

Boyd, Bronwen (Spring 2022)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/j098zc337?locale=en


This project analyzes a particular group of métis (racially and culturally mixed) women called the signares to map out French treatments of race, gender, and class in nineteenth-century urban coastal Senegal and to locate Black slave women within these very same communities. The signares’ proximity to white French men as their wives and to Black slave women as slave owners and women of color lends them the unique ability to shed light on both the French colonial project and Black slave women’s histories. Through French drawings, ethnographies, travelogues, and a feuilleton series, this thesis treats colonial depictions of the signares as inscriptions of French biases towards race, gender, and class. The French attitudes revealed by these analyses are then used to map out the social, economic, and ideological spaces Black slave women occupied before and after the inflection point of abolition in 1848. This project does not claim to reconstruct Black slave women’s voices, nor does it purport to reconstitute the signares’, but it does clarify the race, gender, and class hierarchies women of color inhabited in urban coastal Senegal across the nineteenth century.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Context, Colonialism, and Controversy on the Signares of French Senegal……10

           Signares, Marriage, and Family

           Signares, Property, and Trade

           Signares, Christianity, Morality, and “Civilization”

           Signares: Sexual entrepreneurs or collaborators? Did they fall or endure?

Chapter Two: Ceci N’est Pas Une Signare……43

           Late-Eighteenth Century to 1817: Early Formalization of the French Colonial Agenda

           1817 to 1840: The Rise of French Catholic Conquest

                       “Une Signare I-III,” 1841: Signareship as Slavery, Frenchness as Freedom

           1841 to 1860: Emergence of the “Declining Signare” Narrative

           1860 to 1891: Not Quite African and Not Quite French

Chapter Three: Locating Black Women in Nineteenth-Century Urban Coastal Senegal……91

           Race, Gender, and the Civilizing Mission in Nineteenth-Century Senegal

           On the Erasure of Black Slave Women

           Black Slave Women: Unfreedoms Across Abolition

           Locating Black Slave Women through their Relationships with the Signares



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