Documenting Slavery and Emancipation in Kita, Western Mali (EAP820)

Aims and objectives

The national archives in Mali are the second largest archival depot of all Francophone Africa, after the national archives in Senegal. But this is without taking into account the regional deposits which are still not well known and which tend to disappear quickly due to the lack of regional preservation plans. Research in the National Archives in Bamako and a short research trip to Kita in 2010 have proven the importance of the site of Kita in the history of rural slave emancipation in Western Mali at the turn of the twentieth century. Kita is the district of Western Mali which hosted the highest number of “liberty villages”(17 in total) following the French conquest (Western Mali was the first region of today’s Mali to be colonized by the French from the 1890s). Liberty villages hosted the slaves of the defeated enemies of the French army. They also provided a refuge for mistreated slaves, for those threatened with sale by their masters, or for those whose family masters had already sold. Following the colonial abolition of slavery in 1905, they increasingly hosted formerly enslaved populations escaping their former masters. Independent freed slave communities were also established elsewhere in the region. Indeed, in districts where there was a high percentage of liberation, as in Kita, liberty villages were often simply transit zones that formerly enslaved populations soon left to resettle in other villages. The colonial reports and correspondence as well as court registers held in the Cercle archives of Kita attest to this specific history of slavery and emancipation in Western Mali.

The collection of the Kita Cercle is unfortunately in a poor state due to a lack of local archival expertise and preservation plans. During a visit to the region in 2010 the archival collection was discovered and was stored (or rather crammed) in plastic boxes without any indexing/classification, which are clearly inappropriate storage conditions for preservation of historical documents. The collection contains both colonial and postcolonial documentation (1890-1980) but the current pilot project will only be concerned with the colonial parts of the archival collection dealing with slavery and emancipation in Kita, and more specifically with the administration of the liberty villages at the turn of the twentieth century. The main concern is to assess the extent to which the collection concerned with the local history of the Kita liberty villages may have been further damaged in the last four years, to digitise the most relevant and endangered documents, but also to check how a major project could be implemented in the near future to salvage the entire collection.


The project digitised the oldest and most vulnerable records and evaluated the volume and nature of the documentation as well as the conditions of conservation. Recommendations for better organisation and preservation of the archive were also given. The most ancient document found was dated from 1899 and the most recent 1993. Other documents more ancient or recent may exist in the collection but only a detailed inspection within the framework of a major salvaging project can determine this. During this project, the team examined 89 file boxes (see survey). This documentation comes from the Governor’s cabinet (postcolonial era), diverse administrative departments from both the colonial and postcolonial era (justice, general administration, economic and financial affairs, education, security, agriculture, water, forestry etc.), such as: laws and rules; diverse process-verbal; activity reports from diverse administrative services; administrative tour inspection reports; district and village monographs; correspondence; maps; court registers, ID applications; district chief books and information sheets; personal files, etc.

There is currently no appropriate storage location for these archives. The conditions of conservation are poor, the room is too small, the door and windows are not secured, the ceiling is not waterproof, the walls are humid, and there is no light in the room. There is also no appropriate equipment to store the archives (such as closets, shelves), nor archival boxes. It is probably due to the fact that there is no budget dedicated to the archives at the Kita Préfecture. In general most regional services in Mali encounter similar issues as resources are scarce and archive conservation is not prioritised.

The collection is extensive, ancient and rare in its content. The majority of the documentation held there is unique and copies cannot be found anywhere else. The lack of an adequate storage room constitutes the main archival issue at the Kita Préfecture. Without an appropriate archival room, any further action will be meaningless, though a new room to hold the archives is planned. Due to the importance and the diversity of the collection, a future salvaging project needs to include a training programme on the management of both the existing physical and the future digital collection. The personal must be trained to collect, file, preserve and communicate the collection in a functional archive service.

Survey report: PDF download (458 KB)

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: