Ralph Austen
Who Was Wangrin and Why Does It Matter?

MANSA Conference. Lisbon, June 2008

The first question posed in my title has a simple literal answer: Wangrin is the hero of a book, L'étrange destin de Wangrin ou, Les rouéries d'un interprète africain, published in 1973 by Amadou Hampâté Bâ 1. But if the clearly fictional name Wangrin already raises identity problems, so does Hampâté Bâ's entire book: is it a partially autobiographical novel, as most readers and many critics initially assumed; or rather the as-told-to biography of a real and separate individual, as the author along with his spouse/literary executor Hélène Heckmann both vehemently insisted? This secondary question can also be answered in a straightforward, if no longer simple, manner. Wangrin-the-book is based upon the life of an actual person, although one who operated under two different names (neither of them Wangrin). Moreover this man's documented career does not fully coincide with the narrative provided by Hampâté Bâ who may also have derived at least some of the episodes in the book from his own career experiences.
Since L'étrange destin de Wangrin has achieved deserved classical status within the canon of modern African literature there is obviously interest in knowing as much as possible about the inspiration for its central figure, although literary scholars might justifiably find such a question of only limited significance. Likewise, the variously stated claims by Hampâté Bâ about the veracity of oral tradition and/or African memory challenge historians to check his information against other sources; but, again, a book written in at least the form of a novel cannot be the most appropriate of Hampâté Bâ's many works to choose for such a test.
As an historian (and less qualified student of literature) I am therefore obliged to make a better case for grubbing up the facts and fictions of Wangrin then merely wanting to know “what actually happened.” My argument rests upon three aspects of Hampâté Bâ's book: first, its substance, which deals with a man who not only played some significant role in West African colonial history as an individual but also represents an entire class of intermediaries between the French regime and its local subjects. Second, this narrative does raise interesting methodological problems concerning its relationship (both in Hampâté Bâ' writing and later research) between written documents, oral history, and literary tropes. Finally, the story of Wangrin has become something of a memory project with a life of its own whether as published docu-fiction, local (mainly in Bobo‑Dioulasso) monuments, or the “Route de Wangrin” recently evoked by our colleague Cherif Keita.
The person upon whom Hampâté Bâ based Wangrin called himself both Samako Gnembélé (or its orthographic variant Niembélé) and Samba Traoré (because of the ambiguity of these names, I will continue to refer to him as Wangrin). Apart from his literary incarnation he gained some fame (or at least the right to fame) for at least two accomplishments in the world of French West Africa. First, while officially employed as a government interpreter in Bandiagara, Wangrin helped assemble one of the most important collections of oral literature (“folk-tales”) from this region, published in 1913 (and republished in 1972) under the name of Victor François Equilbecq as Contes populaire d'Afrique occidentale 2. In the introduction to this book Equilbecq praises “Niembélé” (the name under which Wangrin appears in official employment records) for his intelligence and gives him major credit for the entire project. “I could say that they [the tales] are more his work than mine,” Equilbecq writes “if I had not changed a few words here and there to lend his style the liveliness and expression that he could not achieve to the degree he would have liked, despite his quite advanced knowledge of our language.” (p. 14) 3. What Wangrin himself sought from this undertaking is not clear from any sources although it is unlikely he expected much advancement from association with Equilbecq, a man generally considered quite disastrous as a colonial administrator 4.
Wangrin's other minor but not insignificant historical achievement occurred after his retirement from government service in 1924 in Bobo-Dioulasso. There (under the name Samba Traoré) he became a major urban landlord and the direct owner of the town's first hotel, as well as of a garage operated by a European employee, and lived with his family in the first multi-story house of the town's indigenous quarters. Wangrin's commercial ventures did not survive personal setbacks and the economic crash of 1929 (followed by his own death in 1932) but they still demonstrated that an African could compete with expatriate entrepreneurs in the modern sectors of the local economy.
The life of Wangrin as well as Hampâté Bâ's own memoirs also provide us with valuable insight into a category of West African colonial figures generally overlooked in historical and literary writings: the western educated intermediaries who managed much of the day-to-day business of colonial administration and also played an important role in the local politics of the regions where they served as well as the “office politics” of the territorial regime. I have written about the professional aspects of such a career elsewhere (focusing mainly on Hampâté Bâ) and so will not elaborate on those issues here 5. But Wangrin's generational position, education and his two names also suggest something about the social recruitment of these figures during the early decades of the colonial era.
We do not know Wangrin's date of birth but he seems to have entered school in the 1890's and graduated in the early 1900's. The first record of his employment in the colonial administration 6 is as a moniteur (elementary school teacher) in 1906, although he may have begun this job in the previous year. He was apparently not, as Hampâté Bâ states, the first such moniteur in “Diagaramba,” because we know that someone held this position there in 1904, two years before Wangrin arrived from a previous post in Banfora 7.

In Hampâté Bâ's book, Wangrin describes himself as a former pupil in the Ecole des Otages at Kayes, then the only serious base for French education in the colony of Haut-Senegal-Niger (present-day Mali). In order to qualify as a moniteur (and also attain his well-documented high level of French) he would have gone beyond the elementary level of this school into its école professionnelle i.e. the equivalent of middle school 8. Pupils recruited into these early schools were supposed to be the sons of chiefs (the official name of the Kayes school in the 1890's was “Ecole des fils des chefs”) . We do have one document that may record Wangrin's recruitment to Kayes on this basis 9. However, neither the opening chapter of Hampâté Bâ's book nor recently recorded family accounts state that Wangrin's father was a chief or even a wealthy man 10. However, in a later section Hampâté Bâ describes Wangrin getting out of one of his many scrapes by discovering an inheritable gun permit given to his “uncle” Tiémogofing Tréaro “chef de province” (p. 360). Assuming that, in keeping with other names in the book, Tréaro is a deformation of “Traoré,” the name used by Wangrin in private life, we now have a possible clue to his original status.
My present conjecture is that Wangrin's Niembélé family were servile dependents of a Traoré/Tréaro ruling household. This is based on what we know about early reluctance to send legitimate sons to French schools and also Gregory Mann's discovery that many servile recruits into the colonial military forces had dual names of this kind 11.
Military and clerical careers have different precolonial antecedents and eventually different colonial trajectories in West Africa. Hampâté Bâ, in his memoirs, makes a point of distinguishing himself from the first generation of interpreters who had been drawn from military ranks and thus possessed neither high family status nor a command of metropolitan French. But Wangrin represents the first wave of Malians to receive a serious French education and their social origin, despite French efforts to the contrary, may well have been closer to the servile military “sofa” than what became the later norm.
Hampâté Bâ, the scion of a high-ranking family who also began his professional life as a colonial clerk, represents the next wave of such intermediaries. It is interesting that of the two non-relatives who most influenced his secular activities one, his “father” Koullel, is quite clearly a family retainer and ex-sofa 12. Hampâté Bâ describes Wangrin as seeking out the patronage of his own uncle after arriving in Bandiagara 13. On the basis of this relationship, “uncle” Wangrin recruited the schoolboy Amadou into the Equilbecq folklore project 14. Yet Hampâté Bâ, as “Amkoullel,” later becomes, in effect, the griot for the possibly servile Wangrin, who for all his skill in French, cannot write his own story. Thus, with some caution, it may be possible to extend Mann's concept of a complex “post-slavery” West African society beyond his bounds of the military and political into the realms of bureaucracy and literary production.
Despite his education and bureaucratic experience, Hampâté Bâ did not base his account of Wangrin, or even much of his own memoirs, upon written documentation 15. The compostion was done, as the author himself insists, almost entirely from memory and even (or especially, given her own background in French clerical service) Hélène Heckmann makes various corrections to his writings on such matters as dates 16. However, we have good reason to trust Hampâté Bâ's account of Wangrin's education and early years as a moniteur for two reasons: first, they correspond to the independently documented general and personal information we have on these aspects of Malian history; and second, it is difficult to imagine that Hampâté Bâ would have been so well-informed from any other source than Wangrin himself about such developments, which took place either before his birth or during his early childhood.
Since Wangrin was both a government employee and an urban landowner/entrepreneur there is also a paper trail about his life that can be used as a check upon and supplement to Hampâté Bâ's story as well as other oral history collected on Wangrin. Based on such sources I will first try to determine what is or is not historically accurate about Hampâté Bâ's account of Wangrin's biography, more particularly its public aspects. I will also try to transcend my Rankean instincts to get the story right and move on to larger issues about the means and ends of reconstructing such an African past.
The written records on Wangrin up to this point are quite limited although still of great value: a series of references to his educational and administrative career in the Journaux officiels of Haut-Sénégal-Niger and Haute-Volta; Equilbecq's book; and the municipal archives of Bobo-Dioulasso 17. The oral sources include not only Hampâté Bâ, but also an elder and former colonial clerk of Bobo-Dioulasso, Amadou Diakité (born 1925), interviewed by Laurent Fourchard in 1995 18, as well as information from Wangrin's descendants recorded by Hélène Heckmann and Cherif Keita.
The written records confirms the main outline of Hampâté Bâ's narrative. Wangrin, under the names Samako Niembélé (or Gnembélé) was employed first as a teacher and then an interpreter in Haut -Senegal-Niger (mainly Bandiagara 19) from at least 1911 to 1919. He then transferred to the newly created territory of Haute-Volta where he worked in the places mentioned (in thinly disguised form) by Hampâté Bâ: Ouagadougou, Ouahigouya, and Bobo Dioulasso. He retired in the last town and went into private business.
The records also give some evidence of Wangrin's rivalry with another great figure within the African administrative ranks of this era, Moro Sidibé. Hampâté Bâ dates the antagonism between the two men to Wangrin's replacement of Moro Sidibé as interpreter at the choice post of Ouahigouya. The Journal officiel records such a handing over in 1920 although without any indications beyond this bald fact 20. But these same records render more problematic Hampâté Bâ's account of a later conflict between the two men in Bobo Dioulasso. By the time of his retirement Wangrin, with his high level of education, had been promoted from the category of “interprète” to that of écrivain (clerk) and finally “commis” (literally “agent” but more accurately “senior clerk,” a post often occupied by Europeans). Moro Sidibé, on the other hand, while probably only slightly older than Wangrin, had moved into the interpreter corps from the non-commissioned ranks of the military. Hampâté Bâ, in his memoirs, records meeting Moro Sidibé at Ouahigouya just before Wangrin replaced him there. He describes the “grand interprète” as a man of great physical stature and administrative status, wearing a medal of the Legion d'honneur, but also speaking only pidgin French 21. Thus, despite promotions in class, Moro Sidibé retained the title of “interprète” instead of becoming even “écrivain-interprète,” 22 an office created in 1924 so as to exclude any more “illiterate natives” from entering the administrative cadres 23. By 1924 he and Wangrin could not, therefore, have occupied the same post at any administrative station. Moreover, Moro Sidibé only arrived in Bobo Dioulasso in June 1924, some months after Wangrin had retired so it is unlikely that the scenes between them there depicted by Hampâté Bâ ever actually occurred 24.
The are many other events in Hampâté Bâ's book which cannot be documented although existing records do not render them as implausible as the Wangrin-Moro Sidibé conflicts in Bobo-Dioulasso. Most significantly, these lacunae in the written records include the criminal acts which pitted Wangrin against various French administrators as well as Moro Sidibé. One of them, a cattle procurement scam undertaken during World War I from Bandiagara, is presented by Hampâté Bâ as not only quite spectacular but also detected by the French authorities, leading to a trial in Dakar and a life-long enmity with “le comte de Villermoz,” the careless European official whom Wangrin duped into functioning as a legal cover for his maneuvers 25. According to Hampâté Bâ, Villermoz used his influence to hound Wangrin in his later posts; but the published record, formal and limited as it is, reveals a series of promotions that seem incompatible with such a situation.
In the general history of colonial clerks and interpreters there is plenty of evidence for behavior of the kind that Hampâté Bâ attributes to Wangrin 26. Nonetheless, in the account of his own career, Hampâté Bâ claims that he and most of the African administrative staff of 1920's Haute-Volta did not use their positions for embezzlement of funds 27. Wangrin was one of these administrators and we now have to ask why Hampâté Bâ attributed to him crimes that he very possibly never committed.
I do not want, at this point, simply to switch from an incomplete detective story to free-floating reflections on memory and “narratology.” No doubt limits of recall and the desire to tell a good story (on the part of both Hampâté Bâ and Wangrin) explain a good deal about the apparent inaccuracies of L'étrange destin de Wangrin. But the form of these narratives derives from a specific African/colonial context. One aspect of this context is the oral literary tradition with which Hampâté Bâ was so preoccupied in his research. Wangrin's career fits the archetypes of both tricksters and Mande epic heroes (the issue of secret sources of power and their vulnerability to seductive women acting on behalf of male rivals is particularly relevant here in both his rise and fall as is the treatment of archival records as “occult knowledge”).
But for present purposes I want to concentrate on the more immediate colonial models for Wangrin. These fall into two categories: first, there are the historically verifiable accounts of trickery by colonial clerks which Hampâté Bâ and others have attributed to the iconic figure of Wangrin; second, there is the earlier literary presentation of such stories in European “romans coloniaux,” particularly those produced by the prolific Robert Arnaud 28.
If we posit the hypothesis that Wangrin himself was not responsible for any corrupt dealings in either Bandiagara or his various Haute-Volta postings, who are the actual African officials that inspired Hampâté Bâ's story? For the World War I cattle scam Anna Pondopoulo has suggested the case of a Senegalese interpreter, Racine Kane, with a similar education to that of Wangrin and a long history of intrigues both (apparently) by himself and (more evidently) against him 29. There is also considerable resemblance between the trial scene in this episode and a Ouagadougou judicial procedure in Hampâté Bâ's memoirs, although in the latter case the European administrator in question is presented as entirely culpable for the misdeeds in question and the maneuvers of local African clerks (including Hampâté Bâ) serve the cause of justice 30.
The most obvious models for criminal behavior among African fonctionnaires in 1920's Haute-Volta are neither Wangrin nor Hampâté Bâ himself but rather Moro Sidibé and another interpreter, Bakary Kouyaté (or Koyate). Both of these men served in Bobo Dioulasso at the time Wangrin resided there as a private entrepreneur and they were both transferred out of the town on the same date in 1926 31. Administrative correspondence on these men describe their various delinquencies. Moro Sidibé was accused of setting up a series of bordellos in Ouagadougou in the early 1920's and thus transferred to Bobo Dioulasso 32. The reported misdeeds of Bakary Kouyaté are closer to those laid by Hampâté Bâ on Wangrin (and his name is substituted in local memory for Wangrin's “Samako Gnembélé”) : theft and taking bribes for the appointment of chiefs. He was dismissed from the administration in 1932 33.
It is possible that Wangrin was just as corrupt as all these interpreters whose crimes, or alleged crimes, are documented in the colonial archives, the only distinction being his greater ability at covering his tracks (or resigning from his government job before they were uncovered). In the oral memory of Bono Dioulasso he seems to be remembered mainly for his business success and high level of education (with the nickname “Samba l'école” 34).
If we think of Wangrin as a novel based on historical events rather than an actual biography it stands out within the corpus of modern African literature because it deals entirely with the colonial era. The most likely literary model for Hampâté Bâ would thus not be other African writers but rather the semi-fictional romans colonials produced by French administrators. Perhaps the most famous of these authors is Robert Arnaud, a man whom Hampâté Bâ not only encountered in Haute Volta but whose books he knowledgeably and enthusiastically discusses in his memoirs 35. These novels treat themes similar to those of Wangrin and also use some of the same techniques (e.g. anagramistic deformations of names; Arnaud wrote under the pseudonym of Randau). When interviewed about the writing of Wangrin sometime during the late 1970's, Hampâté Bâ talked about his readings in French literature without mentioning Arnaud. This omission may reflect the low status of such novels (or, for Hampâté Bâ, fiction in general) as opposed to whether they actually inspired his own work 36. However, the list of French classic works that Hampâté Bâ offers his interviewer, along with an admission that they were read in abbreviated school-text form, reflects the same kind of colonial education that Wangrin himself would have received (and shows off in the early scenes of the book). Hampâté Bâ claims not to have read anything more (other then works on Islam) while he was in colonial service because even subscription to a newspaper would have marked him as politically dangerous to his European superiors. Yet books written by one of these superiors could hardly have been seen as so seditious or, if done only later in his life, obviously struck Hampâté Bâ as worthy of his attention. It is this acquaintance with literary genres capable of communicating (even if in dramatized forms) real life experiences that marks Hampâté Bâ’s transcendence over Wangrin’s French literacy and thus made him the vehicle (with at least some degree of accuracy) for writing the older man’s life.
The general relationship between historical fact, transformed memory and literary construction in Wangrin probably surprises few modern critics and does not so much undermine Hampâté Bâ's claims for the literal accuracy of “la tradition” as it places him within rather than above the culture for which he still speaks with some authority. The source of that authority is not only the knowledge and verbal skill he acquired from his African world but also command of what he himself called a “universal language” (French) and, much as he might play down or restrict it, familiarity with various forms of European literature. These capacities made Hampâté Bâ something of a “monument” in the latter decades of his lifetime. Our concern with such sites should not be focused entirely (or perhaps even primarily) upon how accurately or by what devices they transmit their accounts of the past but also on why they are effective in the present.
In the case of Wangrin that effectiveness did not depend upon the author's already well-established status as a “traditionalist,” since the book reached far beyond the audience that would even have heard of his previous writings on history, African culture and religion or knew anything of his position in UNESCO or the affairs of West Africa. Most readers saw it (correctly, I would now argue) as fiction based on real experience. But the book is also cited and taught by historians (including myself) as a unique African account of colonial African life and politics. It now shares that role to some degree with Hampâté Bâ's memoirs (published only after his death but also still in print); either alone (because it is briefer and already translated into English) or together with the other two volumes 37 it will probably retain this status into the foreseeable future.
Despite the account of Wangrin’s somewhat catastrophic demise in Hampâté Bâ's book, the ex-intepreter’s family actually survived him in very good social and economic standing and some members are concerned with preserving the one material monument to his career, the multi-story house in Bobo Dioulasso 38. Professor Cherif Keita of Carleton College has also organized, over several recent summers, a “Route de Wangrin” tour across various locations in Mali and Burkina Faso associated with his career. Whether or not this tour continues it has been also been recorded on film and thus further contributes to the incorporation of Wangrin's story into physical and visual lieux de memoire.
It is far too early to see how enduring or powerful these non-literary monuments to Wangrin will be. But their very existence indicates that, in some form, the identity of this multiply ambiguous figure of the colonial era does matter a great deal.

Appendix: the Chronology from Written Sources other than Wangrin
Date name location function/rank event/situation source
1906 Samako Niembélé Banfora-Bandiagara moniteur stagiaire tranferred to Bandiagara JO/HSN, Sept. 16, 1906:78
ca. 1910 Samako Niembélé (dit Samba Taraore)   interpreter   Equilbecq:76
1911 Somako Gnambele Fada N'Gourma interprete aux., 1e cl.   JO/HSN, May 15,
1911-12 Samako Niembélé (dit Samba Taraore) Bandiagara interpreter collecting folk tales Equilbecq,: 14
1915 Samako Niembélé Bandiagara interpreter war fund donation JO/HSN, Dec. 15, 1915:609
1919 Samako Gnambele Bandiagara interpreter 4th class transferred to HV JO/HSN, ; Aug. 1-15 1919: 480
1919 Samako Gnembélé Ouagadougou interpreter transferred JO/HV, Dec. 15, 1919:16
1920 Samako Gnembélé Ouahigouya interpreter replaces Moro Sidibé JO/HV, May 15, 1920:66
1921 Samako Gnembélé Bobo Dioulasso interpreter 3rd class transfer JO/HV, Aug. 1, 1921:133
1923 Samako Gnembélé Bobo Dioulasso écrivain expéditionnaire de 2e classe promotion JO/HV, Mar. 15, 1923:15
1924 Samako Gnembélé Bobo Dioulasso commis expeditionnaire 5e classe promotion (exam) JO/HV, Jan. 14, 1924:10
1924 Samako Gnembélé Bobo Dioulasso same transfer to Ouagadougou JO/HV, Feb. 15, 1924:25
1924 Samako Gnembélé Bobo Dioulasso same resigns from service JO/HV, Mar. 15, 1924:36
1928 Wangrin/Samba Bobo Dioulasso private business tells life to AHB already bankrupt OMC:326-29
1928 Samba Traore Bobo Dioulasso private business owns various properties ANCI, DDX-24-478/1878, cited in Fourchard, 2003.

1. Paris: Editions Union générale, 1973.
2. Paris: G.P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1972.
3. This shared authorship parallels to some degree Hampâté Bâ's own experience with his own first two books, although I am not sure he was aware of this when writing Wangrin, in which he makes reference to the Equilbecq project (p. 7) but not the book which resulted from it.
4. See the many negative comments in Equilbecq’s personnel file: Dossier Personnel 237bis, (Equilbecq, Victor Francois), Archives Nationales de Sénégal.
5. Ralph A. Austen, “Interpreters Self-Interpreted: the Autobiographies of Two Colonial Clerks,” in Benjamin Lawrance, Emily Lynn Osborn, and Richard Roberts (eds.). Intermediaries, Interpreters, and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Colonial Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); see also the rest of this book.
6. For written documentation of Wangrin’s career, see the appendix.
7. Denise Bouche, L'enseignement dans les territoires français de l'Afrique occidentale de 1817 à 1920 : mission civilisatrice ou formation d'une élite ? (Lille: Université Lille III , 1975), vol 2, p. 643; unless otherwise indicated all historical background on Wangrin's schooling and teaching career comes from this book (see espec. pp. 438-42, 590-91, 643-46). In the first volume of his memoirs Hampâté Bâ gives the date of Wangrin's arrival in Bandiagara as 1911 or 1912 but on the basis of the written record (see appendix) and even the temporality of Hampâté Bâ's own narrative, this must refer to his return there from Fada NGourma as an interpreter; see Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Amkoullel, l'enfant peul. Mémoires (Arles, Actes Sud. 1992), p. 345.
8. See Bouche; also, all but one of the five moniteurs appointed at the same time as Wangrin are specifically described as having passed the “l’examen de sortie” of the Kayes school (Boyagui Fadiga, who got the highest grade, was given an initial appointment one rank above that of the others, including Wangrin). JO/HSN, 1906:78.
9. “Un seul de habitants du cercle pourrait envoyer un de ses fils a l'école de stage, Samba Diey (illegible name),” Commandant du cercle de Bougouni to Kayes in Rapport Politique du cercle de Bougouni, 1895 Archives Nationales du Mali (ANM), Fonds anciens (FA), I E 27 (I owe this document to the very generous help of Brian Peterson, Union College). 10. Cherif Keita, private communication. Hélène Heckmann, however, does make this claim and implies that it comes from the grandchildren of Wangrin; “Annexe II. La véritable identité de Wangrin'” in Amadou Hampâté Bâ, Oui mon commandant! : Mémoires (II) (Arles, Actes Sud. 1994), pp. 394-95.
11. Gregory Mann. Native Sons : West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century (Durham : Duke University Press, 2006).
12. Hampâté Bâ took his nickname, Amkoullel (Little Koullel), from this man whom he cited as a source for both the content and skill of his story telling without ever explicitly discussing his social status (any more than he does for Wangrin). For clues to Koullel's status see Theodore Monod, “Au pays de Kaydara” in Première conférence internationale des Africanistes de l'Ouest: Comptes Rendus. Paris: Adrian-Maisonneuve, 1950, I, 19-31 and Ralph A. Austen, “From a Colonial to a Postcolonial African Voice: Amkoullel: l'enfant peul,” Roundtable on Amadou Hampaté Ba, Research in African Literature, 31, 3 (Fall 2000), 1-17.
13. Bâ, Amkoullel, p. 347; see also Wangrin, pp. 41-43.
14. Equilbecq, p. 101; Bâ, Amkoullel, pp. 345-47.
15. A preliminary examination of Hampâté Bâ's personal archives indicates very little effort to preserve personal and historical records as opposed to literary materials; see (once they again become publicly available) FHB (Fonds Hampâté Bâ), IMEC (l'Institut Mémoires de l'édition contemporaine), Abbeye d'Ardennes, Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe, Normandy, France.
16. Hélène Heckmann, Annexe I. Genèse et authenticité des ouvrages L'étrange destin de Wangrin et la serie des Mémoires in Ba, Oui mon commandant !;, p. 514; see also note by HH, “Erreurs courantes” [on AHB's inaccuracies in dating], FHB, IMEC, 6GD 28-5, 174 bis.
17. For this material in the form of a chronological table, see the appendix. At some point I hope to supplement them with archival records but see below on searches up to now.
18. I want to thank Laurent Fourchard for supplying me with a transcript of this interview as well as the contents of other archival documents cited in this papr. For his own use of this material see Laurent Fourchard, “Propriétaires et commerçants africains à Ouagadougou et à Bobo-Dioulasso,” Journal of African History, vol. 44 (2003): 456-7.
19. Hampâté Bâ does miss his earlier employment in Fada N'Gourma, a datum which casts some doubt on the very dramatic account in the book of how Wangrin, while still a teacher, challenged the previous Bandiagara interpreter (a man who corresponds very much to figures encountered in Hampâté Bâ's own administrative career).
20. JO/HV, May 15, 1920:66.
21. Oui Mon Commandant !, p. 102.
22. Moro Sidibé's career can also be followed though the JO HSN and HV from 1909 to 1927. He is listed as born in 1872 in Ouassoulou (the same general region as Wangrin), leaving military service with the rank of corporal in 1909, and serving as an auxiliary interpreter in Ouahigouya by 1911.
23. Lieutenant Governor arrêté of 31 December 1923, Journal Officiel de la Haute Volta, 6, 102 (15 January 1924), p. 6.
24. The conflicts that Hampâté Bâ describes may have taken place between Moro Sidibé and another member of the interpreter corps, Bakary Kouyaté. According to the JO/HV (15. viii-1.ix.26:205) both these men were transferred out of Bobo-Dioulasso on the same date (Aug. 7, 1926). Furthermore, the informants of Laurent Fourchard (2003:456) identified Kouaté with Wangrin, although this is impossible given their administrative records and the nyamakala (“caste”) implications of the latter's name. See more on this misidentification below.
25. I looked in vain for records of this event in Dakar judicial records during and immediately after the war and also in the political reports from Bandiagara/Macina from 1915 to 1921 (2G15/8/3, 2G/6/8, 2G17/8, 2G18/03, 2G19/04, 2G20/07, 2G21/10). The ultimate piece of evidence here would be the personnel file of Samako Gnembélé which, if it still exists, would most likely be found in the national archives of Côte d'Ivoire, the territory that took over the administration of southern Haute Volta after 1932.
26. Henri Brunschwig, “Rois de la Brousse”. Les interprètes” in Noirs et blancs dans l'Afrique noire française, ou, Comment le colonisé devient colonisateur, 1870-1914, ed., Henri Brunschwig (Paris: Flammarion, 1983), 105-23; Lawrance, Osborn, and Roberts, Intermediaries, Interpreters, and Clerks, passim.
27. Oui Mon Commandant !, p. 414.
28. For both of these insights I am indebted to Anna Pondopoulo, who is preparing her own paper on the Wangrin phenomenon; in particular, she is working on the Arnaud connection, which will not be elaborated here.
29. Anna Pondopoulo, “Au sujet des éventuels prototypes sénégalais de Wangrin,” unpublished text. In 1924 the administration received letters which “accusent l'interprète [Racine Kane] de réquisitionner à son compte les vaches, les moutons et l'argent des habitants de Podor et de tout le canton.”
30. Oui mon commandant !, pp. 285-89.
31. See note 19 above.
32. Governor of Haute Volta to Dakar, 21 juin 1932, ANS, 10 G 17 (107) (cited in Fourchard, “Propriétaires,” pp. 455-56). 33. Letter of February 17, 1927, Ministère de l'Administration Territoriale et de sécurité, Ouagadougou concernant la nomination du chef Bassabati Millogo (en 1926) (canton de Sidaradougou); letter of September 18, 1932 , Bobo Dioulasso archives (both documents generously shared with me by Laurent Fourchard).
34. Diakité interview.
35. Oui mon commandant !, p. 283-84.
36. FHB 6GE8-4/361 bis. “Pourquoi j'écris Wangrin,” excerpt from interview with Biton Coulibaly. I have not yet found the full published version of this interview but the interlocutor must surely be the Ivoirien writer Biton Koulibaly who describes his relationship with Hampâté Bâ in a 2001 online interview with Jean-Marie Volet ). Ironically, Koulibaly himself went on from working as a publisher to writing a long and very popular series of romance novels, for one of which (Ma joie en lui. Abidjan: Nouvelles Editions africaines, 1984) Hampâté Bâ contributed an introduction.
37. A third, going up to the mid-1940's, exists in unedited manuscript and should eventually be published but does not appear — based on partial reading at IMEC — to have the same general appeal as its predecessors. The University of Chicago Press has plans for an English translation of the first two volumes.
38. Private communication from Cherif Keita.