anm document

Transport par Chemin de Fer. Aller. Recrutement. Situation des Navétanes. Retour (1932)
in ANM K 64 fonds recents

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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L'Administrateur en Chef des Colonies Duranton to Gouverneur du Soudan Français,
report n°16 (Kayes, September 17, 1932)

L'Administrateur en Chef des Colonies Duranton made an inspection tour to determine whether the reduced train fare for navétanes would have a positive effect on the amount of labor available in Senegal. This is his report.

(p2) Soudanese families were opposed to their children becoming navétanes because many didn't come back. If the navétanes walked, they could return from Senegal to Soudan by January, but had to leave again in March in order to reach the coast in time for planting. In addition, conditions along the way were very bad.

The new navétane rail fare would accomplish several things. By encouraging them to use the railroad, it reduced the travel time so navétanes were more likely to return home and that made families happier. By selling round- trip tickets in Senegal, it increased the likelihood that the navétane would return to work in Senegal the following year. It also forced Africans to invest a portion of their profits in next year's labor before they could spent it all on other things.

Duranthon raised several questions and then dismissed them. He thought that Africans would not lose the return ticket stub from one year to the next because in his experience, they all produced tax receipts when asked.

(p3) The existing railroad fare to Senegal was just under 220 francs: 69.35 francs from Koulikoro to Kayes in 4th class and 150.35 francs from Kayes to Kaolack in 3rd class (there was no 4th class on the Chemin de Fer Thiès-Kayes) A reduction in the price of rail transport to the coast to 30-60 francs each way would provide incentives for about 6,000 navétanes.

(p4) The navétane rail fares were adjusted to favor workers from Bamako-Nara-Bougouni over those from Kayes.

(p6) Administator Duranton recommended that the navétane fare be kept as simple as possible - no identity cards or minimum group size.

(p7) The following table contains statistics on navétanes that came from interviews with chefs de canton, who determined colony of origin of each worker by language spoken. This produced some obvious errors, such as Malinke speakers from Siguiri who were grouped with the Soudanese.

Cercle where
they worked
Workers from
Workers from
Workers from
Workers from
other parts of Senegal
Workers from
other places
Kaolack 29,084 7,301 1,369 6,954 548 45,256
Baol 2,897 335 n/a ,3004 n/a 6,238
Thiès 1,099 520 n/a 1,585 n/a 3,204
Total 33,080 8156 1,369 11,543 548 54,698

Roughly 23,000 Soudanese were resident in Senegal. The harvest paid 40-60 francs per 100 kilgraoms of harvested peanuts, so each navétane finished the season with a profit of about 500 francs after expenses.

L'Administrateur en Chef des Colonies Duranton à Gouverneur du Soudan Français,
report n°18 (Kayes, October 3, 1932)

This 10-page report describes the life of a navétane in detail, and it provides an itemized list of navétane expenses. They total about 250 francs and include things like seed, travel, food while traveling, etc. Therefore, the gross profit per season is about 750 francs and the net profit is 500 francs.

L'Inspecteur des Affaires Administratives Geismar
to Directeur du Chemin de Fer Thiès-Kayes (Kaolack, November 3, 1932)

Navétanes who returned to Soudan were exempt from Senegalese taxes. Geismar recommended that navétane rail tickets be sold in the local cercles as well as at the train stations so that record keeping on those who remained and those who left would be more accurate, and ticket sales would be higher because they were more easily available.

L'Administrateur en Chef des Colonies en Mission Duranton to Gouverneur du Soudan Français, rapport n°68 (Kita, June 19, 1932)

Administrator Duranton toured the western Soudan to learn about the origins of navétanes, and produced this 10- page report.

(p2) There was an average of 15,000 navétanes per year, half of whom came from Nioro and half who came from Kayes, Bafoulabé, Kita, Bamako, Satadougou, Bougouni and Nara.

In 1930 and 1931, roughly 8-10,000 navétanes were stuck in Senegal because they didn't earn enough to go home. They supported themselves with odd jobs in the ports and along the rail line. Another 3,409 were recorded as "bons absents" during the annual conscription registration. An additional 6,101 used the train to travel to Senegal for planting. This adds to a total of something like 20,000 Soudanese navétanes.

(p3) In Nioro, one eighth of the population of 66,800 worked as navétanes, or about 8,000, according the Rapport du Commandant de Cercle de Nioro of March 28, 1932.

On page 3, there is a chart showing the distribution of "bons absents." On page 4, there is a similar chart showing usage of the railroad. This table combines the two:

Cercle Men who were unaccounted for
bons absents
Train passengers
Nioro 1624 1409
Bamako 500 517
Kayes 470 845
Bafoulabé 289 1159
Satadougou 205 639
Kita 200 1030
Nara 119 298
Bougouni 2 207

(p5) Table of workers who are in Senegal at the moment (summer 1932)

Cercle Men who traveled
on their own
Men who were
unaccounted for
bons absents
Other men
non-bon absent
Men who took
the train
Kayes 500 470 1,000 845 2,815
Nioro 4,500 1,624 2,000 1,409 9533
Bafoulabé 300 289 1,450 1159 3,198
Kita 50 200 500 1,030 1,780
Satadougou 200 205 300 636 1,341
Bamako 400 500 500 517 1,917
Nara 73 119 n/a 298 490
Bougouni 202 2 600 207 1,011
Total 6,225 3,409 6,350 6,101 22,085

(p6) Before the Depression hit, the people of Nioro considered work as a navétane as a rite of passage. Young people looked forward to going to Senegal because it meant they would return with gifts and marriage money. After the first years of the Depression and many people could no longer earn enough to pay their way home, they became scared.

(p7) This report recommends reducing the railroad rates so that workers can return. This was essential if Africans were to be convinced to return to Senegal as navétanes.

(p8) The government needed to intervene to improve the food and living conditions of navétanes.

(p9) It was important for government officials to remember that the system of navétanes functioned for over 20 years without government involvement, so any government effort should be kept to a minimum.