What was the indigénat? This article approaches this question via three arguments. First, a study of the indigénat (the regime of administrative sanctions applied to colonial subjects) challenges the idea that French West Africa formed part of an ‘empire of law’. Second, a dynamic spectrum of political statuses developed around the indigénat until its abolition in 1946. This spectrum is no less significant than one of its poles alone, that of colonial citizens. Third, the indigénat, its narrative of reform, and its relationship to law, bureaucracy, and authority illuminate the tensions between imperial rhetoric and colonial governance.
Key Words:West Africa; colonial administration; law; state
* A very preliminary version of this paper was presented to Leonard Smith's French Empire Workshop, Oberlin College, 18 November 2005. I thank Professor Smith and his students, Alice Conklin, Eric Jennings, and Daniel Sherman, for their comments on that occasion; Eike Karin Ohlendorf, Daouda Gary-Tounkara, Jim Brennan, and Marcia Wright for comments or assistance; and Laurent Manière for sharing his thesis.