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History/French Guinea/Colonial Administration

Emily Lynn Osborn
Interpreting Colonial Power in French Guinea. The Boubou Penda-Ernest Noirot Affair of 1905

in Intermediaries, interpreters, and clerks: African employees in the making of colonial Africa. Benjamin N Lawrance; Emily Lynn Osborn; Richard L. Roberts, eds. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. viii, 332 p., maps

Emily Lynn Osborn

In an article published in 1922, a high-ranking French colonial official* , wrote about the challenges that African colonial employees presented to French administrators. He noted that administrators find themselves “at the mercy” of their interpreters “who abuse the situation, betray the administrator and sell themselves to the highest offer.” Speaking from personal experience, Guy counseled his French officials to “learn the language of the country that they govern.” Guy went on to describe an investigation he conducted in which he would have committed a “monstrous” miscarriage of justice “due to [his] interpreter, who falsified the depositions of witnesses.” Guy rectified the situation, however, when his “domestic” told him of the “betrayal of the interpreter. ” 1 As it turned out, the household help proved more credible than the interpreter, and the information he provided changed the outcome of the case.
The processes of mediation to which Guy refers has been discussed by other participants and observers of colonial rule: in the memoirs and fiction of Amadou Hampate Ba, the novels of Chinua Achebe and Ahmadou Kouroumah, as well as the historical analyses made by Pierre Alexandre, Henri Brunschwig, and the contributors to this volume 2.
These writings all expose a persistent feature of colonial rule, one that this essay also confirms: the proximity, access, and interpretive skills of African intermediaries played a critical role in shaping the meanings and nuances that colonialism acquired in practice.
In 1905 a scandal broke in the French West African colony of French Guinea that sheds light on the powerful but obscured position occupied by African employees. The case involved a French colonial official, Ernest Noirot, and his interpreter, Boubou Penda. The pair worked side by side for almost twenty years. But in 1905 Noirot and Boubou came under investigation for their alleged involvement in a variety of crimes including extortion and “abuse of power.” 3 Despite considerable pressure, Boubou and Noirot denied the charges leveled at them, and each refused to implicate the other. The scandal took a heavy toll on Noirot's career and ultimately cost Boubou his life. The loyalty of Boubou and Noirot to each other may have been unusual, as was the degree of Boubou's influence within the colony of French Guinea. But Boubou's life and career provide a vivid illustration of the power and influence that African employees could derive from their affiliation with the colonial state, while also revealing how intermediaries could shape colonial politics. This case shows that although colonialism imposed an alien grid of governance on African peoples and institutions, Africans made inroads into the apparatus of rule and shaped its operation. Colonial rule, in other words, was not a topdown, unidirectional event but a complex process shaped by uneven power relations, strategic bargains, and competing interests.

Noirot and Boubou in Senegal

From the vantage point of dedicated French imperialists, Ernest Noirot participated in the most dramatic period of French colonial expansion.
Born in 1851, Noirot served in the military as a young man. In 1881 he joined a small French-sponsored diplomatic expedition to the Futa-Jallon in present-day Guinea (Conakry). The purpose of the trip was to promote French commercial interests and weaken the well-established commercial networks that linked the region to the British port city of Freetown, Sierra Leone 4. That mission shows that the French initially relied on informal diplomacy to expand their influence in the interior of West Africa. This strategy changed and became more muscular in the late 1880s, when the French launched a series of military campaigns through present-day Senegal, Mali, Upper Guinea, and northern Cote d'Ivoire. The state that Noirot visited in the early 1880s, the Futa-Jallon, or Futa, was an Islamic theocracy that had been founded in the early eighteenth century. Most inhabitants of the Futa are members of the Fulɓe, or Peul, ethnic group, and they are speakers of FuFulbe, or Pulaar. The leader of the Futa was the almamy, and the holder of this office overlooked a series of lesser chieftaincies resident in nine diiwal, or provinces.

[Errata. (a) The correct spelling of the name is Fulfulde, not FuFulbe. It designates the group of dialects spoken East of Maasina, around the Niger river Bend, whereas Pular or Pulaar denotes the varieties of the language spoken West of that region. Hence, the moniker Pular/Fulfulde applied to the entire Fulɓe domain, aka the “Peul Archipelago” or “ Peul Planet”; (b) the Almami was, de jure and de facto, a first among peers (primus inter pares (Diallo, 1972) . He depended greatly on the rulers of the provinces (diiwe, sing. diiwal), who appointed representatives to the Supreme Council (Teekun Mawɗo). That body, in turn, had the final say on important state matters. It continuously held the Almami in check, often challenged challenged his decisions, and sometimes deposed him. — Tierno S. Bah]

But as Noirot learned during his visit, the Futa's leadership structure featured a distinctive twist. Two ruling families, or houses, alternated holding the highest office in the land, the almamymate, every two years.
The families, the Soriya and the Alfaya, were ancient rivals. This system of power sharing reflected a truce that had been brokered between the houses, probably in the 1840s 5.

[Notes. The paper loosely introduced the two ruling families. Thus, it overlooks (a) the kinship ties and the precedence between the two branches of the same lineage. Historically, Alfaya came first and Soriya asserted their legitimacy in the decade following the death of Karamoko Alfa mo Timbo, the first ruler. As members of the Bari Seediyaaɓe clan, the two groups share the same ancestry ; (b) Al'islamaaku was the official name of the Fuuta-Jalon regime. It is still called so, in either written (ajami) or spoken Pular; (c) perhaps, the use of the neologism “almamymate” conflicts with Imamate, which was the official name of the Fuuta-Tooro state in today's Senegal; (d) the Almami was not merely the representative of the Bari dynasty of Timbo. He was, first, an educated — in some cases an erudite — “warrior-priest”. Yet, although some almaamis assumed spiritual and temporal roles, most of them ruled practically as secular heads of state. For the official spiritual charges belonged to a related but distinct Bari lineage, the Seeriyaaɓe of the province (diiwal) of Fugumba. That aristocratic family held the exclusive privilege of coronation of the new sovereign the new sovereign. As a hereditary “pontificate” (Marty, 1921) Fugumba led the hierarchy of the clergy in the Islamic theocratic state. — Tierno S. Bah]

The Futa made a deep impression on Noirot. After returning to France in 1882, Noirot completed a lively book about his visit, and in 1886 he secured a permanent position working for the colonial state as a third-class commander 6. Initially posted to Dagana, Senegal, Noirot was then transferred to Sine Saloum, where, as historian Martin Klein notes, he demonstrated energy, passion, and a tendency to produce long memos 7.
It was while in either Dagana or Sine Saloum that Noirot first met and employed Boubou Penda. Boubou was initially hired as a ”boy,” or house servant, but he soon became involved in Noirot's official duties.
An 1889 treaty drawn up by Noirot with various chiefs from Sine Saloum bears Boubou's uncertain signature (see figure 1) 8. But the documentary record offers few details about Boubou's youth and little explanation for why he came to work for Noirot. While Noirot always insisted that Boubou was of noble birth, almost everyone else believed that Boubou was, as one of his later adversaries put it, of “base extraction.” 9 Broader patterns of colonial recruitment and employment offer further indication that Boubou was probably of low social status. The French faced considerable difficulties in finding African men to work for them; usually the only ones willing to do so were slaves, former slaves, or descendents of slaves 10. Boubou's humble social origins make the interpreter's later ascent to a position of power and influence all the more stunning and, for many of the African elites with whom he came into contact, problematic and offensive.

Talla and Boubou Penda
Boubou Penda and his wife, perhaps Talla
(from Lucien Famechon, Notice sur la Guinée française. Paris, 1900)

The period that Boubou and Noirot spent in Sine Saloum, Senegal, proved significant in the careers of both men. Noirot impressed his superiors enough to earn a significant promotion in 1897. Boubou, meanwhile, seems to have established himself as Noirot's indispensable and trusted aide.
While Noirot and Boubou solidified their working relationship in Senegal, political tensions intensified to the south in the Futa-Jallon, the region Noirot had visited on his first trip to West Africa. The Futa had maintained its status as an independent, sovereign state, but its leaders felt the squeeze of French territorial aspirations from three sides:

These external pressures mounted at a time when internal conflicts threatened to fracture the Futa from within. A member of the Soriya clan had refused to give up his position as almamy after his allotted two-year term. In 1896 the dispute between the Soriya family and the Alfaya family over the almamymate threatened the political stability of the region.
In a decision that proved critical to the future of the Futa, Oumarou Bademba, of the Alfaya family, turned to the French for support in his quest to reclaim the almamy's turban 11. French officials agreed to help on the condition that they could build a French post in the region. When a small French force marched into the region in late 1896, the opposition to Bademba dissolved. Bademba was then installed in Timbo, the capital, as almamy, and the French declared the region a French protectorate 12.
In occupying the Futa, the French established what was, in effect, a system of indirect rule. The French resident in Timbo was responsible for the “oversight” of the almamy and for French district commanders who were to be attached to the lesser chiefs in each of the Futa's diiwe (provinces). The man charged with establishing French rule in the Futa was Ernest Noirot, who was appointed the first French resident of the Futa-Jallon.
In 1897 Noirot arrived in Timbo accompanied by his servant-turned interpreter, Boubou Penda.

Treaty Sine Saloum
1889. Treaty, Sine Saloum, Senegal. The first time that Boubou Penda enters the documentary record. Boubou's signature is on the upper right, while Noirot's is on the lower left. (from Ernest Noirot's personal papers)

The Official Record, 1897-1900

Noirot worked quickly to make himself a significant power broker in the Futa by leveraging the region's fierce rivalries into a foundation for French rule. Using diplomacy, coercion, and intimidation, Noirot forged coalitions with individuals and factions he thought to be sympathetic —or vulnerable— to French interests. Soon after his arrival, Noirot took aim at the highest position in the land, the almamy. When Noirot arrived in the Futa, he was met by Almamy Bademba, whom the French had helped install. In 1898 Noirot decided to invoke the rule that the position of almamy should rotate every two years between the Alfaya family and the Soriya family. In a meeting that brought together the Futa's notables, Noirot successfully championed a weak and probably ineligible candidate from the Soriya clan, Baba Alimou. By engineering the appoitment of Alimou, Noirot seems to have thought that an almamy of questionable legitimacy who owed his position to the French would be more malleable to colonial demands. To help reinforce the new almamy's authority, Noirot put a small military regiment of ten African men in French uniforms at Alimou's disposal 13. But neither French endorsement nor a colonial militia altered the general opinion in the Futa that Almamy Alimou was a usurper and a fraud 14.

Almami Oumarou Bademba (Alfaya)
Almami Oumarou Bademba (Alfaya)

Having destabilized the almamymate, Noirot further manipulated the Futa's ruling structures through his relationship with another prominent leader, Alfa Yaya. Alfa Yaya was the chief of the diiwal of Labe, the economic capital of the Futa and the region's most important commercial hub. For years Alfa Yaya had tried to extricate himself from the strict ruling hierarchy that subordinated his chieftaincy and the diiwal of Labe to the almamy in Timbo 15. In Alfa Yaya's agitations against the authority of the almamy, Noirot saw an opportunity to win an ally and weaken a potential foe. Noirot elevated the status of the Labe chieftaincy and bequeathed Alfa Yaya with the utterly invented title “King of Labe.” By allowing Alfa Yaya to operate under his direct supervision, Noirot took Labe out of the traditional ruling structure and deprived the almamy of oversight of the Futa's most important provinces 16.

On the surface Noirot's efforts to establish the French presence in the Futa paralleled the “divide and rule” strategies used at the time by other French colonial officials throughout West Africa. But a careful reading of evidence from 1897 to 1900, the period during which Noirot served as French resident, reveals that a more complex set of power relations operated below the surface of official reports and formal mandates.

Boubou in the Futa-Jallon

The man who always stood by Noirot's side and joined in all official negotiations was Boubou Penda. Noirot publicly described Boubou as his “man of confidence” and as “my son,” and he frequently reminded French and African audiences alike that “the words of Boubou” were his own. Noirot made it clear that he expected Boubou's orders and declarations to be respected just as if they had been issued from the resident himself 17. One French official, Hubert, later testified that “the confidence shown by Noirot for Boubou was … notorious. Everyone, Europeans and natives, knew it.” Hubert explained that when he first arrived in the Futa, “everyone” warned him about Boubou. He was told:

“Noirot is a brave man, unfortunately at his side is his interpreter, Boubou Penda, and if you are not in the good graces of Boubou, Noirot will not tolerate you… [A person] who wants to get along well with one must get along with the other.” 18

Hubert's observations are confirmed by three incidents that involved Boubou Penda. They show that Boubou carried the mantle of French authority with considerable effect on local populations.

Colonial Tirailleurs

One day in December 1898, a group of about twenty tirailleurs, or African soldiers in the French military, harassed Boubou on the roadside as he passed by on horseback on his way to see the almamy. The tirailleurs were angry because Boubou had told Noirot that they had stolen some alcohol. Boubou managed to escape their threats and insults, but he subsequently reported the incident to Noirot 19.
This initial event alone offers a number of indications of Boubou's primacy in the Futa. First, the tirailleurs were angry because Boubou had reported them for theft. Boubou's allegations had been proof enough for Noirot, who had then disciplined the soldiers. Second, when the tirailleurs confronted Boubou, he was riding horseback to see Almamy Baba Alimou. Expensive to acquire and maintain, horses in the Futa were typically owned and ridden only by wealthy elites. The symbolic significance of an affiliate of the French state and a man of putative slave descent riding a horse would not have been lost on the population of the Futa. Finally, that Noirot's interpreter was on his way to see the almamy, whether for official reasons or not, demonstrates that Boubou was a figure of importance in the region.
The hostilities between the tirailleurs and Boubou did not stop with this initial confrontation. A day later, the tirailleurs attacked Boubou again, this time at the colonial post. Noirot saw the assault, and he rushed to his interpreter's side, throwing himself in the middle of the scuffle. Bystanders broke up the altercation, but not before Boubou and Noirot received minor injuries 20.
Noirot's willingness to intercede in defense of his interpreter created a minor furor among the Futa's European community. It was unseemly for the French Resident to brawl in the courtyard of the colonial post. Furthermore, Noirot's display was probably troubling because it crossed racial lines and undermined the hegemony of whiteness in the French colonial state. A small committee of French officials was subsequently assembled to investigate the matter and collect testimonies from eyewitnesses and community members. The story of one of the men interviewed provides the second notable illustration of Boubou's interpretation and use of French authority.

Almami Baaba Alimou Timbo, Noirot et Pobeguin. Timbo, 1897
Almami Baaba Alimou, Noirot et Pobeguin. Timbo, 1898

A Local Blacksmith

Ousmane Sissoko, a blacksmith and jeweler, told the committee that he had suffered at Boubou's hands. Sissoko explained that one day he sent his brother to the market to sell some rings. The brother returned quickly, reporting that Boubou had stopped him, taken his rings, and then beaten him. Sissoko then went to the market and confronted Boubou, who explained: “He's a Bambara and I mock all Bambaras.” 21 To reiterate his disdain for this ethnic group, Boubou then hit Sissoko. A day later Boubou gave Sissoko a franc, but Sissoko did not know if it was intended as payment for the ring or for other, still uncompensated work he had done for the interpreter 22. This episode shows the latitude that Boubou enjoyed in the Futa: Boubou could act with violent whimsy and pay at will for goods and services rendered.
Sissoko's deposition apparently caused little concern, and ultimately little came of the inquiry into Boubou and Noirot. But it was not the last time that news of Boubou's actions traveled official channels of communication.

A French Colonial Administrator

In 1899 Rauch, a French official posted to the Futa, wrote to Noirot about Boubou. Rauch related that while visiting a neighboring village, one of the local chiefs presented him with a letter that Boubou had delivered.
The letter contained an order, written allegedly by Noirot, for the chief and his village to give a certain number of goats to Boubou. Upon reading the order, Rauch knew something was amiss. As he wrote to Noirot, “I understood immediately … it [the letter] was not from you … [Y]ou would never have given such an order.”
Rauch explained that he questioned Boubou about the letter, but the interpreter insisted on its legitimacy. Then, complained Rauch, Boubou “allowed himself, even though he does not know me well, to give me the order to enforce his illegal request.” 23 Offended by this African interpreter, who clearly was used to getting his way, Rauch warned Noirot, “ [Y]our interpreter used your name to try to commit an abuse of authority, an illegal act that I would even qualify as theft.”
Throughout the letter, Rauch made clear his assumption of Noirot's ignorance of Boubou's actions. But Rauch's attempt to alert Noirot quietly and diplomatically did not produce the intended result; Noirot was not in the least convinced of Boubou's guilt. On the contrary, Rauch's accusations enraged Noirot, and he publicized widely his dissatisfaction. According to one French observer, Noirot told Rauch “that Boubou was a bureaucrat with the same title as him and that he had to show him respect and not attack his reputation.” According to this observer, Rauch was “extremely affected by this unjust reprimand.” Moreover, everyone knew from that day forward that Noirot regarded Rauch with “an implacable hatred that even death would not dilute.” 24
This incident, like the others, reveals the sometimes painful lesson that local residents, elites, and French officials learned about the politics of colonial rule in the Futa. Boubou had to be treated as an extension of Noirot himself. Boubou was, in effect, the second-in-command of the French colonial state in the Futa.

Beyond the Futa

In 1900 Noirot was promoted again, this time to Conakry, where he became the director of Native Affairs, the most important position in the colony after the governor. As director of Native Affairs, Noirot oversaw the commanders who were posted to districts throughout the colony. Noirot also continued to rely on his interpreter, Boubou Penda, who also moved to Conakry in 1900 and joined the Department of Native Affairs 25. In 1902 Boubou was promoted from fourth-class to third-class interpreter, becoming one of the better paid African employees in the colony 26. Boubou and Noirot did not simply work together, however. In 1900, Boubou accompanied Noirot on their second trip together to France (they had visited France for the first time in 1897) 27. And in 1903 each applied for and received neighboring land concessions in Camayenne, on the outskirts of Conakry 28.
Noirot and Boubou's close personal and professional relationship may not have been as extraordinary as it might appear in retrospect. At the tum of the century, Conakry was a boom town built on the trade in wild rubber. It was home to a small, tightly knit group of French administrators and businessmen who considered themselves resourceful and fiercely independent advocates of French civilization and commerce 29.
This entrepreneurial spirit reflected the particular context of the early colonial occupation of Guinea. With few financial, military, and personnel resources, Guinea's first generation of French administrators relied on what they could acquire, manipulate, and manage locally. In this setting Noirot s willingness to use whatever means available, including the skills of his interpreter, to promote French rule reflected the modus operandi of colonial Guinea. Noirot's relationship to Boubou may have stretched the bounds of acceptability, but it was probably viewed more as an eccentricity than as a problem.
Until 1905 Noirot's resourcefulness and flexibility were consistently praised by his superiors. In a 1902 personnel report, Guinea's governor described Noirot as zealous and devoted, a man of “brilliant” achievements 30 In Dakar, however, the governor general's reaction to Noirot's review was less enthusiastic. While the governor general agreed that Noirot had given “excellent service” to the colony, “his sympathies for the Peul population render him sometimes unjust with regards to the other populations of Guinea.” The governor general further warned that Noirot's ties to prominent chiefs in the Futa compromised official French policy 31. The governor general's assessment of Noirot was but a small indication of changes that were taking place in the colonial governance of French West Africa.

Changing Colonial Prerogatives

In 1905 the approach to colonial rule that had helped give form to colonial Guinea came under fire from two arenas, from the governor general in Dakar and from the population and leadership of the Futa. These pressures transformed Guinea's colonial situation and the paradigm in which Noirot and Boubou lived and worked.
Administratively the roots of change came out of the governor general's attempt to systematize the administration of the West African colonies. In 1895 the governor general of French West Africa arranged France's West African colonies into a federation to centralize policy and finances. For several years little attempt was made to impose policies on or collect revenues from the federation. That changed in 1902 with a new governor general who sought to implement procedural uniformity throughout French West Africa. These efforts, however, were not well received by “old Guinea hands,” who resented sending taxes to Dakar and who had no interest in enforcing laws that had been generated elsewhere. Whenever possible Guinea's French officials simply ignored the decrees and directives issued from Dakar.
Guinea's recalcitrance did not sit well with Dakar. The governor general sent an inspector to investigate the colony's affairs in 1904. The inspector concluded that Guinea needed a more “formal” administration, “less paternal, less influenced by the demands of commerce, and which [would] have more direct action on the natives.” 32 Soon thereafter a new governor, Governor Frezouls, arrived in Guinea. For the first time Guinea was to be governed by someone who had no ties to or previous experience in the colony. The change was significant. Noirot's generation of colonial administrators—flexible, versatile, and able to “make do” with limited resources— often spent their whole career in one place. Members of the second generation of administrators embarked on a very different career path. They were attuned to bureaucratic principles of governance, possibly having been trained in the newly formed Ecole Coloniale in Paris, and were unlikely to develop enduring relationships in any one colony.

[Note. Nearly four decades later, and on the trail of Faidherbe, Gaden, etc., Gilbert Vieillard would buck this trend of no personal attachment to the colonized peoples. But he did so at the general level, identifying with and successfully advocating Fulɓe culture, whether in Guinea or elsewhere in French and British West Africa. Read G. Balandier short obituary of this short-lived mentor of Amadou Hampâté Bâ. — Tierno S. Bah]

The new arrivals tended to view the tactics of the first generation of colonizers with mild alarm, seeing them as too irregular, arbitrary, and personal.
From the outset Governor Frezouls made it clear that he wanted to wrest control of the colony from entrenched French interests. Not surprisingly Frezouls's efforts to “clean house” met with great hostility.
One group of residents claimed that the new governor was “filling the colony with a terrible terror.” 33 Another official asserted that Frezouls “undertook hasty reforms without knowing the country” and that he thereby immersed the country “in fire and in blood.” 34 Frezouls coolly dismissed the reactions of Guinea's old guard, explaining that they were the predictable result of “a period of inevitable transformation.” 35
Frezouls also took a dim view of the man who occupied the number two spot in the colony. Frezouls commented that Noirot “possesse[d] no administrative understanding” and that he would never have a place in an “organized colony.” Furthermore, Noirot “identifie[d] with the natives, whose usages and tendencies he [had] adopt[ed].” Frezouls expressed particular concern about Noirot's reliance on Boubou, noting that Noirot's actions were “nothing but the reflection of Boubou Penda, his interpreter and friend.” 36 To demonstrate Boubou's influence, Frezouls had only to quote a letter that Noirot had sent him the previous year. Noirot had written: “For 19 years, Boubou Penda has lived in the most absolute intimacy with me. His affection toward me blends with his interests.” 37
Meanwhile, another critique of Guinea's colonial order came out of the Futa, in the form of a general exodus out of the region 38. Whole villages were leaving for neighboring British territories, abandoning their fields, and taking their herds. Areas around Timbo, the capital, had emptied completely. Moreover, the militia of ten men that Noirot had organized years before to prop up Almamy Baba Alimou was running roughshod through the countryside. On learning of these agitations, Frezouls decided to take action, but the way in which he did so gives some indication of his precarious position atop the administrative hierarchy.
Frezouls apparently felt that it was impossible to investigate the unrest in the Futa with the old guard, including Noirot and his interpreter, in the vicinity. Frezouls first sought to remove Noirot from the colony. In January 1905 Frezouls demoted Noirot and ordered him to carry out an extended mission to the Upper Niger and the Liberian border 39. Noirot initially resisted the assignment, claiming that the mission was not necessary and that, quite implausibly, he did not understand his orders. The real reason that Noirot stalled, however, was because he had learned that Boubou was in danger and that it would be wise to “distance Boubou from Conakry.” 40 Noirot arranged for Boubou to be secreted out of Guinea and back to Senegal. On March 22, 1905, after a stern letter from Frezouls, Noirot could no longer defy his superior, and he headed to the interior, leaving Guinea behind 41.
With Noirot gone and Boubou missing, two major impediments to colonial reform in French Guinea had been removed. But at least two remained. The first was Georges Hubert, Noirot's replacement as French Resident of the Futa, and the second was Alfa Yaya, chief of Labe, longtime ally of Noirot's, and one of the most powerful men in the Futa. Hubert garnered suspicion because his alliances lay clearly with the first generation of French administrators and, moreover, his administrative skills seemed lacking, a point that a later investigation clearly confirmed.
Hubert's exit was easily arranged, for he left the colony voluntarily to take his vacation to France. On his arrival there, Hubert learned that he had been formally suspended from the colonial service.
Removing Alfa Yaya proved somewhat trickier, but Frezouls resolved the challenge by inviting Alfa Yaya to visit Conakry. Expecting to be received with accolades and honors by the new governor, Alfa Yaya arrived in the capital with great fanfare. He was promptly arrested and deported to Dahomey (today's Benin)42.
Having eliminated these major powerbrokers, Frezouls sent a team of colonial inspectors to the Futa to investigate the causes of the region's unrest. The immediate focus was Hubert, Resident of the Futa, a feeble administrator who, it turned out, had a prodigious capacity for excess and abuse. It is somewhat ironic that Hubert is on record for noting with great derision that Boubou and Noirot allegedly ate together “at the same table.” 43 Hubert himself did not in any way live according to the racial code and definition of “proper” colonial behavior that this remark implies. He had married five Peul wives, two of whom were twins, a fact that particularly horrified local populations. Hubert frequently went on tours through the countryside, accompanied by an enormous retinue, and he also required both French and African officials to fund public ceremonies held to celebrate the birth of his children 44 The investigative team discovered that Hubert's grandeur, the cost of which was borne by the elites and commoners of the Futa, was a primary cause for discontent and the depopulation of the Futa.
The colonial inspection teams did not, however, confine their focus to Hubert. Hubert's actions generated questions about his predecessors in the Futa, in particular Noirot and Boubou 45.

Boubou Penda in the Spotlight

While previous events serve as indicators to Boubou's influence in the Futa, the investigation of 1905 fleshes out that picture. The investigation revealed that Boubou's personal enemies and allies helped to shape the foundations of French colonial rule in the region. Witnesses explained, for example, that the real reason that Bademba had been pushed out of the position of almamy had nothing to do with ideology or respect for the traditions of political power in the region, as Noirot claimed. Bademba was ousted because of a conflict he had with Boubou over a woman. Bademba testified that when Noirot and Boubou arrived in the Futa, he gave Boubou many gifts, including money and a woman, Talla. Boubou married Talla and had children with her 46. But Bademba soon learned that Boubou had eyes for another woman, Satourou. As Bademba explained, “One evening, Boubou Penda … came to my house to ask me to give him a princess named Satourou in marriage … Boubou sought to marry this woman because she was rich and she possessed a number of herds and slaves. I refused because Satourou was already engaged to my son … and because Satourou herself would not consent to marry a man of base extraction such as Boubou. The next morning, Boubou returned … I gave him the same response and added, moreover, that I had already given him a wife, name Talla, whom he still has with him and with whom he has since had three children. Boubou came back again in the evening with the same motive.” 47 Bademba continued to refuse Boubou. Angry, Boubou warned the almamy:

« A man who has no fingers cannot milk a cow, but he can upset the calabash that contains the milk. It is like that I will have you deposed and chase you from the country. You will live in the bush like a monkey. » 48

Satourou did marry Bademba's son as planned, but the new groom took the precaution of paying Boubou three hundred francs to stay away. Boubou took the money, but “this did not stop [him] from taking [Satourou] by force and returning her only after he had served himself of her for four days at the [French] post.” 49 This episode is indeed telling, for Boubou was so assured of his position—and the protection that came with being Noirot's favored associate—that he could kidnap and rape a noble woman without fear of punishment. Even the almamy himself could do nothing when the author of such gross violations was Boubou.
Bademba believed that his refusal to turn Satourou over to Boubou polluted his relationship with Noirot. According to Bademba, Boubou used his influence over Noirot to turn the French resident against him and toward Baba Alimou. Recalling how Boubou warned him that he would “live in the bush like a monkey,” Bademba reflected, “this is, in effect, what has happened to me.” 50
This episode is but one of the many ways in which Boubou molded colonial rule in the Futa. Gaining an audience, a favorable judgment, or a coveted position required plying Boubou with gifts and attention. Baba Alimou, for example, enumerated the gifts he had given Boubou to help promote his unlikely but ultimately successful bid to become almamy.
Moreover, as the people of the Futa discovered, Boubou's mere proximity could be costly ; Boubou demanded that villagers and elites pay their respects in slaves, women, cattle, goats, sheep, grain, cloth, gold, and cash 51.
One of Boubou's African colleagues in the colonial service, Alioune Salifou, described the wealth that Boubou thus accumulated. Salifou, who also worked as an interpreter in the late 1890s, once witnessed Boubou count “his treasure,” which consisted of two sacks filled with gold dust and gold pieces. Salifou noted that Boubou's also owned many slaves, who farmed and looked after his herds of goats and sheep. As Salifou pointed out, Boubou's salary of thirty francs per month could not account for such wealth 52.
It is difficult to ascertain the degree to which Noirot was aware of or party to Boubou's actions. Did Noirot profit from Boubou's demands on local populations ? Did Noirot order these excesses ? Or was Noirot ignorant of Boubou's greed and brutality? The views of witnesses, French and African, diverged considerably on these points. But Boubou and Noirot nevertheless expose a whole new set of causalities, possibilthes, and relationships to explain shifts in colonial policy in French Guinea at the turn of the century. Boubou could influence and filter information to Noirot. The interpreter could and did act with violent cruelty and never felt threatened by recourse or recriminations. Boubou very clearly mattered to colonial rule in the Futa Jallon, and in the mind of local elites and local commoners, he mattered very much.

The Aftermath

Eight months after he left Guinea on his mission, Noirot returned, exhausted and sick, to a very different colony, one that no longer tolerated close working relationships of African and French colonial employees.
That became evident by news that Noirot received on the day hearrived in Conakry, when he learned that the man with whom he had worked closely for twenty years had died in prison. “My poor Boubou, succumbed to his miseries, had been buried the previous day.” 53
Before leaving Guinea, Noirot had done his best to protect Boubou by arranging for him to go to Senegal. But Boubou was located there and sent back to Conakry, where he was imprisoned and interrogated. Although he suffered from neglect and a lack of food, Boubou steadfastly refused to testify against his long-time employer and companion.
Boubou eventually succumbed to illness. Noirot was not allowed, however, to stay in Guinea to mourn his loss ; he was suspended from the colonial service and sent to France.
Ultimately, the investigation into Hubert, Noirot, and Boubou fizzled.
The affair received coverage in the French press in 1906, usually to the detriment of Governor Frezouls, the man who had tried to reform Guinea's colonial administration. Although Frezouls ultimately managed to disassemble the colonial machine he had found in Guinea, his superiors proved unable to withstand the negative publicity that those actions produced. Having served just two years as governor of Guinea, Frezouls was removed from office and sent back to France 54.
Noirot proved more resilient. In 1908 the ever-persistent Noirot was reappointed to the colonial service in Senegal, where he earned a letter of commendation 55. Soon thereafter, he retired and moved back to his hometown in France, where he died in 1913.
To the end Noirot refused to implicate Boubou or even to concede that Boubou had been anything but a faithful servant loyal to France. In a 1906 statement Noirot contended, “[I]f I have rendered service to French colonization, I consider that the collaboration of Boubou was a large part of it.” 56 In another interview during his suspension, Noirot asserted, “[Boubou] was a proud man, with a beautiful character. It is because of his devotion not only to myself but to the interests that I was defending, that I was able to obtain the results that I did in Futa.” 57
Even after Noirot was reinstated into the colonial service, he continued to write letters to the colonial ministry decrying Boubou's wrongful death 58.
In 1905, as Boubou's death and Noirot's exile demonstrate, the terms of colonial rule in Guinea changed. The personalized methods of rule that were the cornerstone of the first generation of French officials, such as Noirot, came under fire from a younger generation who held different views of the colonial project and of African colonial employees. The new arrivals did not see African colonial employees as resources who could be trusted and relied on, as Noirot did Boubou. They viewed them as threats to the racial and administrative hierarchies of the colonial state. New rules and policies of the French state made it impossible for a French official and an African employee to work together for as long and as closely as did Noirot and Boubou. But it would be a mistake to think that regular transfers of French officials and rigid bureaucratic procedures meant that influence of intermediaries evaporated.
As Camille Guy's concerns discussed at the beginning of this essay show, African colonial employees continued to complicate significantly colonial agendas.
It is well known that European colonial rule was a highly arbitrary and coercive system of rule. But Boubou demonstrates that the brutality and violence of colonialism could be appropriated and controlled by people overlooked and ignored by the upper reaches of the colonial hierarchy. Boubou's power in the Futa derived from his employment within the French state and from the confidence he enjoyed as Noirot's trusted aid and advisor. Boubou helped determine both the allies and the enemies of the French. He was recognized by local populations as a key figure in the colonial hierarchy; as gatekeeper and translator, Boubou effectively managed the interaction of local populations with his superior and thus with the colonial state. Boubou's particular position in the Futa, however, cannot be understood simply as the result of colonial affiliation: Boubou's influence was widely and begrudgingly recognized by élites, commoners, and French officials. But Boubou was also heartily despised, because he made claims to privileges that defied the Futa's cultural conventions and flaunted its social hierarchies. He, a man of putative slave descent, intervened in the political intrigues of the Futa's elites and demanded noble women—even forcibly possessing one on at least one occasion. Understanding the significance of Boubou's role in the Futa therefore requires looking beyond the confines of the colonial state and recognizing the nuances and implications of his actions in the context of local norms and practices. This analysis shows how Boubou — despite his social status and relatively low rank within the colonial hierarchy—became an important representative of the colonial state and powerful interpreter of French rule in French Guinea.

* His lieutnant-governor title notwithstanding, Camille Guy was actually the head of the colonial territory of Fench Guinea, from 1910 to 1912. The Ouali of Gomba Affair took place during his tenure (read Marguerite Verdat, 1950). It coincided with Alfa Yaya's return from a five-year exile in Dahomey (Benin), imposed by Governor Frezouls in 1905. In 1910, faced with agitation and tension in Fuuta-Jalon and amid widespread arrests and reprisals for the assassination of French administrator Bastié in Pita, Camille Guy, too, arbitrarily decided to send Alfa back into exile. It would be the last one for Alfa Yaya, who died prisoner in 1912, in the harsh Penal colony (bagne sec) of Port-Etienne (Nouadhibou, Mauritania). — Tierno S. Bah
1. Camille Guy, “La langue française,” 42. This and all translations in this chapter are the author's.
2. Amadou Hampaté Bâ, Oui mon commandant ! Hampâté Bâ, L'etrange destin de Wangrin; in English: Hampâté Bâ, Fortunes of Wangrin. Achebe, No Longer at Ease; Kourouma, Mannè; in English: Kourouma, Monnew; Alexandre, “Chiefs, Commandants and Clerks”; Brunschwig, Noirs et Blancs.
3. Boubou is referred to by his first name; Penda is likely the name of his mother and not a family name.
4. I. Barry, Le Fuuta-Jaloo, 1:114- 19.
5. lt is often asserted that the truce dates from the late eighteenth century, but according to Jean Suret-Canale it was probably of a more recent vintage. Suret-Canale, “Fouta-Djalon Chieftaincy,” 81. For the conquest and colonization of the Futa jallon, see I. Barry, Le Fuuta-Jaloo; B. Barry, Bokar Biro; Th. Diallo, Alfa Yaya; McGowan, “Fula Resistance to French Expansion.”
6. Noirot, A travers le Fouta-Diallon.
7. Klein, “Rule of Law.” See also Debien, “Papiers Ernest Noirot,” 676.
8. Sine Saloum Treaty, 1889, Personal Papers of Ernest Noirot, 1881-1909, Hoover Institution, Stanford, Calif.
9. Testimony of Oumarou Bademba, “Affaire Hubert Noirot,” Archives Nationales de la Guinée, Conakry, Guinée (hereafter ANG) 2 D 115. (Much of this essay draws on this report.) Noirot frequently claimed that Penda was an aristocrat. Noirot, June 2, 1911, Fonds Ministeriels, Series Geographiques, Centre d'Archives d'Outre Mer, Aix-en-Provence, France (hereafter CAOM) AOF/XVIII/1-4.
10. On recruitment, slavery, and French colonial rule, see Klein, The End of Slavery; Echenberg, Colonial Conscripts, 7-19.
11. For more details on these complex disputes, see Suret-Canale, “Fouta-Djalon Chieftancy,” 82-84; B. Barry, Bokar Biro, 72-7), 84-85.
12. When his loyalty later came into question, Bademba reminded colonial officials how he had “called on all the notables of the Fouta” to recognize French authority at his coronation. Deposition of l'Almamy Oumarou Bademba, May 29,1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
13. There is some dispute as to when the French state stopped paymg the salaries of the militia. See deposition of Amadou Djawende, June 2, 1905; Extract of deposition of Baba Alimou, Almamy of Timbo, June 2, 1905; Translation of letter from Baba Alimou, Almamy of Timbo, and elders, n.d. (probably January 1905); Deposition of Maillet, June 10, 1905. All depositions in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
14. Letter from Frezouls to Gouvernor-general, July 10, 1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
15. B. Barry, Bokar Biro, 73.
16. Suret-Canale, “Fouta-Djalon Chieftancy,” 84- 86.
17. Deposition of Pierre Francon, May 22,1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
18. Deposition of Georges Hubert, Administrateur adjoint de 2ieme classe, 1906. Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
19. Official telegram to governor in Conakry, no. 876, December 25, 1898, CAOM FM/SG/GIN/IV/6B.
21. Declaration of Ousmane Sissoko, blacksmith in Timbo, CAOM FM/SG/ GIN/IV /6B. Bambara is an ethnic group. Among the Bambara, as with other West African ethnic groups, lineage determines who works in certain artisan professions, such as blacksmithing. See David C. Conrad and Barbara E. Frank, Status and Identity in West Africa.
23. Rauch, Native Affairs clerk to administrator of Futa Jallon à Timbo [Noirot], September 15, 1899. Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/ 1.
24 Deposition of M. Francon, May 22, 1905, pp. 292-93, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
25. Penda may have worked briefly in Senegal in 1900-1901 with Governor-General Ballay (previously the governor of Guinea). “Verbal d'interrogatoire de M. Noirot,” Rheinhart, Inspecteur du 1iere classe des colonies, August 24, 1906. Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/ 1.
26. In Guinea there were very few first- or second-class interpreters at this time; most were third- or fourth-class. Boubou earned the relatively hefty annual salary of Fr 1320. “Nominations et Mutations,” 6 June 1, 1901), Journal Officiel de la Guinée Française (hereafter JOGF).
27. “Verbal d'interrogatoire de M. Noirot,” Rheinhart, lnspecteur du 1iere classe. Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/ 1.
28. “Décision par laquelle une concession provisoire est accordée à M. Noirot;” and “Decision … à M. Boubou Penda.” 27 (February 1, 1903), JOGF. The pair also participated in activities important to French Guinea's colonial community: both contributed to the campaign to construct a monument to Guinea's first governor, Governor Ballay

[Erratum. Dr. Jean Bayol was the first governor of Guinea, from 1882 to 1890. In 1881, he led the mission to Fuuta-Jalon that included Noirot. Ballay succeeded him, from 1891 to 1900. See the list of French governors on webGuinée. It is more accurate than the information published on Wikipedia. — T.S. Bah]

Noirot contributed one hundred francs and Penda twenty-five to help pay for the construction of a statue that still stands in Boulbinet, Conakry. “Souscription pour le monument Ballay,” 16 (Apri 11, 1902) JOGF.
29. On Conakry's growth and the rubber trade, see Arcin, Histoire, 591; Goerg, Commerce et colonisation, 337 58; Goerg, Pouvoir colonial, municipalités et espaces urbains; Osborn, “Rubber Fever.”
30. Notes of lieutenant governor, French Guinea, Bulletin individuel de notes, 1902, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
31. Response of the governor-general, 1902, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
32. Arcin, Histoire, 715.
33. Letter signed “Un groupe d'habitants,” March 26, 1906, CAOM FM/ SG/ AOF/XVLII /2bis.
34. Arcin, Histoire, 717.
35. Governor Frézouls to governor-general, “Rapport trimestriel,” July 11, 1905, ANS 2G5 1.
36. Personnel Report 1905, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
37. Letter from M. Noirot to Gouverneur, November 1904 in Personnel Report 1905, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/ EE / II/1160/1. 38. Letter from Frézouls to Gouvernor-general, July 10, 1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
39. Letter from Noirot to Minister of Colonies, June 2, 1911, CAOM FM/SG/AOF/XVlll/1-4
40. “Verbal d'interrogatoire de M. Noirot,” Rheinhart, Inspecteur 1ère classe, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1. The story that Noirot recounted then is remarkably consistent with his narrative written five years later. Letter from Noirot to Minister of Colonies, June 2, 1911, CAOM FM/SG/AOF/XVIII/1-4.
41. Correspondence, Frezouls to Noirot, 1905. Noirot's 1911 letter also indicates that Noirot “received word” of Boubou's imminent danger. Letter from Noirot to Minister of Colonies, 2 June 1911, CAOM FM/SG/AOF/XVIII/1-4
42. Considerable debate took place over Alfa Yaya 's alleged culpability. It is clear, however, that from the outset Alfa Yaya played a crucial role in the French annexation of the Futa and that he was a close ally of Noirot. See Crespin,“ Alfa Yaya et M. Frezouls”; Fillot, “Affaires de Guinée”; Arcin, Histoire, 682.
43. Deposition of Georges Hubert, Administrateur adjoint de 2ème classe, 1906, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
44. Deposition of Alioune Salifou, June 1, 1905, “Affaire Hubert Noirot”; Depositions of Bademba Abdoulaye et al., June 6, 1905; Deposition of Soryba Camara, June 7, 1905, all in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115. Deposition of Georges Hubert, Administrateur adjoint de 2ème classe, 1906, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/II/1160/1.
45. Report by Mr. Guyho, “Question Special,” Cercle de Labé, Mission Saurin, 1908, CAOM FM/Contr/908.
46. Deposition of Oumarou Bademba, May 29, 1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
47. Bademba, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
48. Bademba, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
49. Bademba, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
50. Bademba, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
51. Bademba, in “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
52. Deposition of Alioune Salifou, June 1, 1905, “Affaire,” ANG 2 D 115.
53. Correspondence, Noirot, Personal Papers, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University.
54. Frezouls came under attack for the way he handled the investigation and—in another intriguing twist—for his reliance on Alioune Salifou. Salifou, the interpreter who had served in the Futa under Noirot (and Boubou), had translated the testimonies collected during the investigations into Hubert and Noirot. It was pointed out that Salifou was not an impartial observer but a man whose own ambitions had been frustrated by Boubou and Noirot. CAOM FM/ EE/II/1160/1; CAOM Dossier Personnel, Frezouls; Guinée Française, Affaires diverses, ANS 7 G 61.
55. Decree of March 2, 1907, Ministry of Colonies to governor-general, Paris, March 19, 1907. M. Noirot earned a letter de felicitations, July 15, 1909, for action he took in Senegal against Fode Souleymane Bayaga, Noirot, Personal Papers.
56. “Verbal d'interrogatoire de M. Noirot,” Rheinhart, Inspecteur de 1ère classe des colonies, August 24, 1906, Noirot, Dossier Personnel, CAOM FM/EE/11/1160/1.
57. CAOM FM/EE/11/1160/1.
58. “Letters from Noirot to Ministry of Colonies, 1909 and 1911, Noirot, Personal Papers”, Hoover.