Plague and Violence in Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal, 1917-1920

Document Type


Publication Title

Cahiers d'études africaines



Publication Date



In this article I will examine the impact of the plague epidemics that hit the urban colonial society in Saint-Louis between 1917 and 1920. This research shows that because the poor, who lived in appalling hygienic conditions, were the most affected, the measures taken against the plague soon became discriminatory. The refusal by the medical authorities to find a compromise between what was necessary to prevent further contagion and the cultural and religious practices of the poor, especially funeral rites, provoked anger amongst the poor and resulted in a disobedience campaign which lasted several months. This crisis revealed a deep gap between the medical authorities who advocated the use of force against the rebels on the one side, and the political authorities on the other. Although well-know figures such as Carrera and Blaise Diagne intervened with the inhabitants of the contaminated areas, they failed to reconcile the two sides. The frightening idea of seeing the epidemics reach the better-off classes pushed the authorities to declare a state of emergency, force the recalcitrants to go to the lazaret, and set fire to the contaminated areas. The evacuated remained homeless until the day when the decision was made to rebuild Guet-Ndar.