Silvia Falconieri

Madmen, mystics and rebels. Colonial law and mind alteration in French Equatorial Africa

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In the territories occupied by France in sub-Saharan Africa in the 20th century, the colonial administration and justice were confronted with the problems connected to the treatment of the mental pathology of the native populations in a plurality of contexts that did not respond directly to health concerns, but rather to the need to guarantee colonial public order and the «prestige of the coloniser». This is the case of a series of revolt movements «politico-religious», which opposed the French presence between the 1920s and 1930s. Orchestrated by charismatic personalities, endowed with a strong influence on the local populations, these phenomena constitute a particularly interesting observatory to interrogate one of the different approaches of colonial law towards madness, a term that recurs frequently in the archival documentation related to the repression of these movements. How does the question of mental derangement emerge in the discourse and practices of colonial law? Is it possible to hypothesise that movements of revolt and dissent acted as a catalyst for some of the issues related to mental pathology and its treatment?


  • Madness
  • Colonial Law
  • Indigenous


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