Saint-Louis du Sénégal


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Human origins to the first Empires

  • Man is born from water... On the banks of the river Senegal were found numerous human bones, with their procession of stone tools cut. 50 000 years ago, man was already present in Senegal, as seen by the most recent excavations made on the peninsula of Cape Verde (Dakar). Also, circles of megaliths in laterite, raised towards the sky, were found in the neighborhood of Nioro-du-Rip, around thirty kilometers from Kaolack, the capital of Sine-Saloum. We know today that they are by a civilization that praised the sun. Jewels, tools and pottery of various periods have been found in the pyramidal monuments (tumuli), they prove the age, but also the continuance of the human presence in Senegal, from the Paleolithic until the end of the prehistory.
    African history ignores the writing. In the Third or IV-th century, the empire of Ghana is born, extending from Niger to Senegal. From the VIII-th century, the Arabic travelers were dazzled by the magnificence of its court, by its kings covered with gold and with jewels, and by the army rich in dozens of thousand archers. The empire maintained numerous business connections with North Africa; its caravans regularly crossed the Sahara, loaded with salt, copper, ivory, and brilliant cloths. It is from the Sahara where will come the Almoravides, Berber warlike monks who, in the XII-th century, will launch the jihad: the holy war. They reached the river Senegal, and, in 1076, the empire of Ghana was swept. The peul leader Wara-Oyobé is converted to the Islam, as well as the Toucouleurs, who dwell in the small realms along the river.
    The rest of the population, profoundly shaken by these conversions, decide to stay faithful to animism and are pushed away towards the northwest
    and the South of the country. Thus, the Sérères slid towards the Sine-Saloum and the Wolofs towards the river Bounoum. A new empire emerges in the XII-th century: the Mali, or malinké empire; it extends from the northeast of Guinea to the current southwest of Mali. At the beginning of the XIII-th century, turmoil set Soundiata Keita, one of its big emperors, against Sournangourou Kanté, Ghanaian sovereign of the Sosso. The last was undone and killed. From then on, Soundiata and his successors did not stop widening their dominion, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara and Guinea to Niger. Just like the empire of Ghana, the malinké Empire streamed with splendors, with wealth, with power. Known to Europe, it cultivated the arts and sciences, thanks to the presence of poets, artists, learned in Arabic who attended the court. Kankan Moussa dies in 1337, a unanimously respected emperor whose disappearance sounds the end of a once glorious realm. Harassed by the ethnic groups they subjected, the malinkés retreated up towards the High and Middle Casamance. In the XIV-th century, at the instigation of Abou Beker Ben Omar, a descendant of the Almoravides, is born the empire of the Djolof; it is at the origin of the cultural unity of Wolofs, who constitute today the most important ethnic group of Senegal. The Djolof Empire began by absorbing the small monarchies that were fighting for the spoils of the empire of Mali. It then built a society on a hierarchical basis, which depended on castes. Very fast, personal ambitions crack the bases of this new empire. The Djolof Empire bursts at the end of the XVI-th century. The fratricidal fights however continued for the next three hundred years.

Ndar's discovery By Louis Caullier


"one can assert that the first inhabitants who frequented this part of the African coast were French, and, doubtlessly, from the fearless dieppois marine " writes Jules Verne about Senegal, in his " Geography illustrated with France and with his colonies ". There are few documents to support the thesis of the writer; but Léopold Sédar Senghor supports it personally. Certain stories place the discovery of the Cape Verde by the Norman sailors in 1364 or 1365 almost a century before the arrival of the Portuguese. In Senegal, the Dieppois navigators would have dealt in ivory. Afterward, Dieppe became famous in the work of this substance. In search of a new spice route, the Portuguese caravels arrived at Gorée in 1445. It is a decisive changing point in the history of Senegal and African continent. Then desert, this island offers a very sure moistening spot, away from the dangerous coast. The Portuguese made a port of reception, privileged for their vessels on their way towards India and South America. Until then, the main traders known as the African transsahariennes were made by caravans.

These would loose importance and were gradually substituted for the sea routes. The Dutch occupy Gorée. The Atlantic Ocean is more and more frequented. In search of new commercial outlets, French go up the river Senegal, the English venture into the Gambia River. Both show the same ambitions of hegemony. In 1638, a French navigator named Lambert first builds a house on the island of Bocos in the middle of the river Senegal. In 1659, a Norman, Louis Caullier, decides to move this house to another island: Ndar. Closer to the ocean and better protected from the floods, it constitutes an almost impregnable strategic site. Thanks to the river, it is a good place for the departure of inland expeditions. A defense outpost is also built there in the place of the current Governance. This outpost then grew to include a strengthened colonial counter with slavers, shops, kitchens, a prison, a chapel, barracks, a cemetery and gardens. For security concerns, the first establishments were built near the strong. The island was baptized Saint-Louis-du-Fort in homage to young French King of time, Louis XIV.

Saint Louis, Economic crossroads


From 1664 till 1674, the French Company of West Indies had the monopoly, granted by Colbert, for the exploitation of the African and American domains of the realm of France. The name evokes the magnificent epic of the navy with sail, but also a magnificent commercial success, sometimes owed to adventurers without scruples. The French Company of West Indies was born in Saint Louis. It was called at first the Royal Concession of Senegal. It had for object the exchange of tissues, glass jewelry, and iron coming from France, against ivory, golden powder, oil, from palm and gum produced by Senegal. The slaves served also as bargaining chips. Very quickly, the Company realized considerable profits, assuring so the development and the prosperity of the town, in particular the half bloods, the Signares. Saint Louis became then a crossroads of the Atlantic, the Saharan and the Sudanese roads and allowed the intensification of the exploitation of the gold of the region of Ngalam, gum Arabic of the Sahelian steppes, and the ivory of the Sudanese suranes... And also the slave trade.

During period 1659-1779, nine trading companies succeeded one another. The most famous are the Company of the Cap Vert and Senegal and the Company of West Indies. The population of the island reached about 10.000 inhabitants and numerous marriages between French and freed women promised a crossed descent which bit by bit will established a fortunate elite. Saint Louis is the main French establishment of the western coast but remained, until the appointment of the first Governor of Senegal Lauzun in 1779, a commercial counter that was considered marginal by the present big companies on the scene. From 1822 till 1827 the baron Roger built the " Maurel et Prom " company's building which was, for a long time, the most imposing building of the colony. He also built the current cathedral, which is the oldest of Senegal.


Saint-Louis, political capital


On September 13, 1827, the fort becomes the hotel of the government. In 1840 the first General Council is created. Until then an economic crossroads, Saint Louis becomes the political capital of Senegal.
In 1848, the abolition of slavery leads France to doubt the utility of keeping its two Senegalese bastions: the island of Gorée and the city of Saint Louis. But the expansionist policy of England brings the government of Napoleon III to push aside the idea of abandoning these territories.
Louis Faidherbe, a very smart officer who graduated from Polytechnic, becomes the governor of the colony in 1854. Internal fights characterize the country then. With a handful of men and reduced military materials, Faidherbe begins the reunification of the country.
In Saint Louis he begins the connection of the island in the two banks of the river.

In 1865 the bridge Faidherbe which connects Sor's continental district with the island is constructed.
The bridge Servitius (currently called Malick Gaye) and the bridge of the Gaol that gives them access to the districts of Guet-Ndar and Ndar-Toute as well as the ocean are finished around 1856. Thanks to these installations, from then on the town does not stop widening outside the island.
Faidherbe also steps up security measures around the island by creating watchtowers in Ndialakhar, Ndiago, and Gandiol. Finally, his attitude becomew one of territorial conquest in the direction notably of the Walo (annexed in 1858), of the Fouta, Djoloff and the coast. In 1872, the city finally becomes a proper commune of France with all its privileges


The Rise and Fall of Saint-Louis


A departing point to all kinds of expeditions through out Black Africa, Saint Louis was at the time the heart of the colony of " Senegal and its dependencies ", capital of the colony of Senegal and finally in 1895 capital of French Western Africa and its four territories: Senegal, Sudan (Mali), Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. It is an exceptional period for Saint Louis. It is the capital of Senegal and AOF, a center of instruction and the French culture. It is also a capital of pain, the draft and slavery as it served as a counter relay between the inland of the country and the export of slaves to the Americas from Faleme and from high Senegal. In 1902, seven years later, the function of capital of French Western Africa was lost. Advances in the port of Dakar made this city the moving plate of the colony. In 1914, a black man representing Senegal sits, for the first time, in the Seat of the French National Assembly: Blaise Diagne. The sanitary situation improves; the animistic social orders disappeared for the benefit of the Islam one. The William-Ponty school, in Sebikhotane, forms the first real Senegalese elite: from the first quarter of the XX-th century is outlined current Senegal.

In 1944, the general de Gaulle takes advantage of the conference of Brazzaville to speak about the independence of Senegal. With the end of the Second World War, important alterations are announced. Torn by two wars, entangled in the Indo-Chinese conflict then Algerian, victim of a political system out of breath, France lost much of its authority and its prestige. The road of the decolonization is opened. In Senegal, it will come true around a personality of exception: that of Léopold Sédar Senghor. On November 25, 1958, the Senegalese Republic, member of the French Community, is proclaimed. During the first years, the national political life will be essentially animated by Saint-Louisiens such as François Carpot, Lamine Gueye, Dugay Cledor and Galandour Dion. Nevertheless, the start of the XX-th century is also the beginning of the decline of Saint Louis and the emergence of Dakar. Dakar finally gets the title of capital of Senegal in 1958.


Slavery in Saint-Louis


For the first time in 1441, Portuguese arrested and took to Europe Africans to sell as slaves. It was the beginning of the négrière draft that, during four centuries, entailed the deportation of about twelve million Africans across the Atlantic Ocean. West Africa was one of the sectors of the triangular trade: boats left Europe, loaded with tissues, iron bars, weapons and ammunitions, alcohol, glass jewelry, etc. On the African coast, these were exchanged for slaves who were resold on the markets in the Americas and the Caribbean islands to work in the sugar cane, cotton or coffee plantations and also in mines. It is these last products that slave vessel traders brought back to Europe in the term of a fruitful journey. Rather quickly, the African leaders saw the advantages of this traffic and raided their weaker neighbors to acquire slaves to sell to the slave traders. During XVI-th century, the Portuguese were almost the only ones to practice this business. During the following century, the French, the English and the Dutchmen will dash there in turn, provoking an important increase in the volume of the draft. The XVIII-th century is the period during which the Atlantic draft was the most intense. Saint Louis played the role of transit in the routing of the slaves of the interior towards the direction of the Americas. The most recent studies estimate that about 10 000 slaves a year were passing in transit by the island in the XVIII-th century. At the height of the draft, about 150 slaves passed in transit in captiveries. Only one has always existed, which was situated by the road of the store Maurel and Prom. It was constituted by two rows of dark cells. The draft entailed profound political and social alterations in the Walo, in the Fouta Toro, in Cayor and in Baol. In the Sine, the authorities did not engage in battle except for wars related to this very active business. In low Casamance, Diola and Balant were opposed to it. During the activity of transit of the slaves towards the Americas, Saint Louis also developed a particular shape of slavery: domestic submission. Every family had slaves allocated to housework and to economic activities. So was born an esclavagiste society the prosperity of which depended for a long time on the work of " captives of compartment " who outnumbered most of the time the free men. The decree of April 27, 1848 outlawed the " captivity of compartment " and slavery but the practice continued until the middle of the last century.

In the XVIIII, century, the main European ports for slave traders were Liverpool (the most important of all) and Bristol in England, Nantes and Havre in France, Middelbourg and Amsterdam in the Low Countries. In the archives of the port of Nantes, there are tracks of 877 campaign négrières which took place between 1707 and 1793 and during which 294.489 slaves were embarked. On average, every vessel transported 336 slaves. The abolitionist movement imposed itself upon the XIX-th century, conditioned by the industrial revolution.

The Atlantic draft was as a rule forbidden in 1807 by England and, from 1808, ships of Royal Navy patrolled along the African coasts to prevent the secret draft. The abolition becomes a fact in the English colonies in 1833. Meanwhile, Liberia's republic was established on the African West Coast in 1821. For France, Napoleon signed the decree of March 29, 1815 abolishing the draft, but it continued in secret during a good part of the XIX-th century. Slavery strictly speaking was abolished in the French territories in 1848. The transsaharienne draft had begun much earlier, doubtless from the VIII-th century. It fed the caravans which crossed Sahara and which went northward by taking slaves native to the South of Niger. From the Maghreb, the caravans left with dates, glass jewelry, jewels, and tissues. In mid - course, they stopped in holiday cottages in the country to get some water, salt and copper. All these products were exchanged in western Sudan for gold, slaves and ivory. The slaves stayed a little while at the South of Morocco to be in good condition at the time of their sale on the markets of the Maghreb and the Middle - East. The importance of this draft is estimated at about thirteen million persons. The slaves were intended for domestic use (servants, common law wives, eunuchs), servicemen in plantations (sugar canes, date palms cacao trees cotton clove trees) and to work in the mines of copper, salt or gold. In the XIX-th century the Arabic draft on the East Coast of Africa took over from the transatlantic draft, to reach its paroxysm between 1880 and 1890. Zanzibar was the moving plate of it. This tragic exploitation gave the European countries an excuse to intervene in central and Eastern Africa and try to terminate this traffic. They never succeeded in it completely.



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