Military culture in Senegambia and the origins of the tirailleurs Sénégalais army, 1750-1910
Westwood, Sarah Davis
MetadataShow full item record
This project traces the historical evolution of warfare and military recruitment in the Senegambia region. It investigates the conscription and recruitment of indigenous troops and their service in royal and jihādist forces, irregular armed groups, and the French colonial military. Whether through the ceɗɗo armies protecting the states of the former Jolof Empire, the sòfa soldiers who fought in jihāds in the interior, or the French-recruited tirailleurs sénégalais, engaging in regular warfare was one of few paths to personal autonomy. Men who embraced a corporate military identity within the caste systems of Senegambia gained power through complex patron-client relationships with civil and religious authorities. For those whose lives were defined by kinship networks, soldiers formed their own stable social category. A second line of inquiry identifies a subset of soldiers known as volontaires sénégalais, professional soldiers who were so integral to the success of the French colonial army in campaigns in the region that they were given compensation and rations on par with European troops, a de facto admission of their military importance. Enlisted Senegalese men became interpreters, porters, recruiters, spies, policemen, soldiers, and non-commissioned officers, playing a decisive role in combat in the territory that would become modern-day Senegal as well as other West African states and kingdoms, particularly Dahomey. Further, this study asks questions about colonial as well as indigenous power relations and caste identity, examining the ways in which access to political and military power structures affected ethnic, caste, and class relationships. It considers the caste identity of Senegalese men who fought in the various realms that make up present-day Senegal and provides a re-examination of their status as “slaves.” Moreover, it focuses on the development of military culture within these groups, the tactics employed in inter-state conflicts and between indigenous states and a burgeoning French colonial army, and the emergence of war making as a vocation. Drawing on studies of martial and organizational culture, this project reorients our understanding of patron-client relationships and provides a new lens through which to view the development of military identity among indigenous troops from Senegambia.