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Summary (Opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan population to vaccination against Covid-19)

Georges Gaulithy§

Summary: The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed many victims worldwide. The discovery of various vaccines has brought a glimmer of hope to the battle against this disease. However, despite the availability of vaccines, the Ivorian population has not mobilized strongly to be vaccinated. Why is this so? The aim of this study is to analyze and explain the opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan population towards vaccination against COVID-19. Documentary research combined with a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews were the data collection techniques used in this study. A mixed-methods approach (quantitative and qualitative) was used to analyze the data. The results indicate the influence of social networks and interpersonal communication on people's opinions and attitudes towards the non-adoption of Covid-19 vaccines.    

Key words: Opinions and attitudes, vaccination, Abidjan populations, COVID-19, resistance.


Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed many lives around the world. The discovery of different vaccines has sparked hope in the battle against this disease. However, despite the availability of vaccines, the Ivorian populations did not strongly mobilize to be vaccinated. Why such a reaction from them? The objective of this study is to analyze and explain the opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan populations with regard to vaccination against COVID-19. The documentary study associated with a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews constituted the data collection techniques for this study. A mixed approach (quantitative and qualitative) was favored for the analysis of these data. The results indicate an influence of social networks and interpersonal communications on the opinions and attitudes of populations in the non-adoption of vaccines against Covid-19.

Keywords: Opinions and Attitudes, Vaccination, Abidjan Populations, COVID-19, Resistance.



The concepts of opinion and attitude have been extensively defined, especially in social psychology. An opinion is a point of view, an intellectual position, an idea or a set of ideas held in a given field (Grand Robert de la Langue Française). In addition, it is a judgment that one makes about an individual, a living being, a fact, an object, a phenomenon... In the case of our study, it is the judgment that the people of Abidjan make about the phenomenon of vaccination against Covid-19.

Furthermore, Rosenberg and Hovland's (1-44) definition of attitudes takes into account three dimensions that constitute components. An affective component (positive or negative emotions, favorable or unfavorable towards the attitudinal object), a cognitive component (present and past knowledge and beliefs concerning the object) and a conative component (past and present behaviors of the individual in relation to this object and his or her behavioral intentions (future)). Of course, attitude is a set of predispositions that enable an individual to react favorably or unfavorably in the presence of an object. It is above all internal to the individual. As a result, for us, it is above all a state of mind, an intention, and therefore not directly observable. The aim here is to analyze the intention to act of the Abidjan population with regard to vaccination. Having defined these concepts, what is the state of scientific work on the question of opinions and attitudes towards vaccination against Covid-19 in the world in general and in Côte d'Ivoire in particular?    

As part of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, the major economic and scientific powers made substantial financial resources available so that research could be carried out, or accelerated, with a view to discovering vaccines. In accordance with vaccine research protocol, clinical trials had to be carried out. Detoc et al (7003-7005) found that 48% of their survey sample (3,259 people) would be willing to take part in clinical trials to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 in France, while 75% would be in favor of vaccination against this virus. This intention to vaccinate against Covid-19 concerns healthcare personnel, who are front-line players in this fight. For Dereje et al (8-10), in Addis Ababa, almost half (46.7%) of the participants in their survey had a low level of knowledge about Covid-19, leading to a negative attitude towards it (Covid-19) and its preventive measures. As a result, one in five of those interviewed had no plans to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Conversely, high levels of knowledge about Covid-19 and the vaccines developed to combat it, favored a much higher level of vaccine intention, as highlighted by the work of Al-Qerem and Jarab (632914).

In addition, the level of knowledge influences or even determines confidence in the vaccine. Assessing the level of confidence that populations have in vaccines in general, De Figueiredo et al. (900-906) compared this level in 149 countries around the world between 2015 and 2019. Six countries stood out for their population's disagreement with vaccine safety (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Serbia). Similarly, the public's trust in (institutional) sources of information influences their willingness to be vaccinated, as highlighted by the work of De Freitas et al. (100051). What happens to this trust, especially when these sources of information emanate from other, non-institutional sources? This is the case with social media, which have a negative impact on people's willingness to be vaccinated. This vaccine refusal triggered by information from social media is revealed by the work of Lyu et al (8-12), Luo et al (101712) and Manby et al (5-9). This misinformation and its consequences are highlighted by Roozenbeek et al. (201199). According to Zhu et al. (303-306), misinformation, however brief, can become embedded in long-term memory.          

Beyond the overall negative impact of social media on the uptake of Covid-19 vaccination, the question of beliefs influences whether or not vaccination is adopted. Indeed, this question of the effects of beliefs on the non-adoption of vaccination practice is a long-standing one. Chongwang shows the beliefs underlying the refusal to vaccinate in certain regions of Cameroon. Thus, cultural constraints, urban legends and misinformation fuel these beliefs against vaccines in general. This view is shared by De Figueiredo et al (900-906), who found a link between people's religious beliefs and their hostile attitudes to vaccines. Fridman et al. (e0250123), for their part, believe that risk perception and behavior (less favorable attitudes towards vaccination against Covid-19) are linked to the perception that the virus is less dangerous than it is made out to be. This perception is in line with that of Sallam et al (42). However, these beliefs do not only have a negative impact on vaccination uptake. For example, Sherman et al (1615-1618) suggest that intention to vaccinate is associated with more positive general beliefs and attitudes about Covid-19 vaccination.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the first doses of vaccine were inoculated on March 01, 2021. However, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene, the number of people infected was 32791, of whom 193 died and 31712 were cured. To combat this pandemic, state authorities had already taken a number of measures on March 24, 2020, to protect the population and prevent the spread of the disease. To this end, standard measures such as regular hand washing, the wearing of face masks and physical distancing were decreed for the population. As an exceptional measure, a state of emergency was declared by the Head of State as soon as the first cases appeared in the country. The state of emergency also included the closure of air and land borders, schools and universities, places of leisure and worship, the introduction of a curfew, a ban on unauthorized travel between the district of Abidjan and towns in the interior of the country, and a limit on the number of people authorized to be in the same room. These measures have been met with mixed reactions from the population. They have tried as best they could to comply, often under the coercive gaze of the public security forces responsible for ensuring that the measures are respected. However, in a country where part of the population is poor[1] and have to make a daily living from small jobs, it seems difficult for them to scrupulously comply with all these barriers. The discovery of vaccines has also raised hopes throughout the world. Access to these vaccines, as in many Third World countries, especially in Africa, is dependent on certain initiatives (COVAX[2]AVAT[3]) and donations from developed countries. However, their use raises questions. Indeed, the Ivorian government's numerous appeals to the population to go and get vaccinated seem to indicate a certain mistrust, or even reluctance, on the part of the population with regard to these vaccines (N'Guessan, Kaglan). Priority targets such as health workers, teachers and public security forces did not rush to get vaccinated, so much so that the government quickly extended the program to the entire population. The statistics obtained, as of 21/11/2021, show that 1.18 million people in Côte d'Ivoire are fully vaccinated, i.e. 4.5% of the population (UN Info). In his traditional address to the nation on 31/12/2021, the Head of State mentioned that, to date, some 7 million doses of vaccine had been administered out of a total of some 15 million doses available. What are the opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan population towards vaccination against Covid-19? What are the logics and rationales underlying such behavior among the population? Why such "resistance" to vaccination?

This study aims to explain the opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan population towards vaccination against COVID-19. We hypothesize that the influence of social media combined with negative interpersonal communication towards vaccination is an obstacle to mass acceptance and vaccination of populations against Covid-19. This study is based on Rogers' diffusion theories (221-232) and Dejoy's sequential model of self-protection behavior (6-15). The first theory assumes that people in relationships influence each other when it comes to adopting an innovation. In this case, the negative communication surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine will influence the attitudes of certain subscribers to these social networks, who will end up not adopting the vaccination. The second theory is based on a model originally used in occupational accident prevention, based on four stages: appreciation of the danger, decision-making, initiation of an action and adherence (adoption) to a safety behavior. As soon as the situation is not perceived as a serious threat, the individual takes no protective action. In this case, if the Covid-19 virus is not perceived as a threat to their lives, people would not perceive the need to be vaccinated against Covid-19.   

First, we will assess the Abidjan population's knowledge of COVID-19 and vaccination by means of a questionnaire. We will then present their opinions and attitudes towards vaccination. Finally, we will analyze the factors that explain this reluctance to be vaccinated against Covid-19.


  1. Methodology

1.1 Study area, population and sample

Two (02) communes in the Abidjan district (Yopougon and Cocody) were chosen as the sites for our work. These Abidjan communes were chosen because Yopougon is a densely populated dormitory town. Yopougon is a residential commune, home to many middle-class residents, the residences of the main diplomatic representations and the country's political and administrative elite.

 In addition, we chose the non-random sampling method, namely the convenience sample, because we did not have an exact database for this population, and also because these people were easy to reach and willing to take part in the survey. However, for the sake of representativeness, we distributed the respondents across all the sub-neighborhoods of the above-mentioned districts. Also, with non-probability sampling, the researcher has no way of calculating the extent to which his sample represents the population as a whole. In the case of our study, the sample of the surveyed population comprises 85 people (50 inhabitants for the commune of Yopougon (Niangon Sud à Gauche district) and 35 inhabitants for the commune of Cocody (Blockhauss district)), taking into account the population size of each of these two communes. The sample size was determined according to certain financial and time constraints. 

1.2 Data collection techniques

For the purposes of this research, we felt it appropriate to use desk research and survey-interrogation as the main data collection techniques. For the documentary study, we used all sources of information (print and online media, social networks, official websites of the Ivorian government and UN agencies, scientific books and articles). Through this diversified documentation, we wanted to obtain as much information as possible on the subject. Whether this information is official or not, whether it comes from Internet users or journalists, whether it is the result of scientific research. What's more, we collected all the statistics we felt would be useful to better explain the subject. As for the survey-interrogation, it consisted in administering a questionnaire aimed primarily at assessing their knowledge of the disease and vaccination. We also used semi-structured interviews focusing on their opinions and attitudes towards coronavirus disease and vaccination against Covid-19. In terms of data analysis, we opted for quantitative analysis, using descriptive statistics to quantify the information contained in the data collected from the respondents. Qualitative analysis, on the other hand, will enable us to focus on the discourse of the respondents. This should help us to better understand and analyze the resulting opinions and attitudes that lead to acceptance or non-acceptance of vaccination against Covid-19. Some questions used a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree", to determine participants' opinions and attitudes towards Covid-19 vaccination. 

  1. Results

The results of this work are articulated, firstly, around people's knowledge of Covid-19 and vaccination. Next, we will look at their opinions and attitudes towards vaccination, and finally we will investigate the factors underlying the adoption of these opinions and attitudes.

2.1. Respondents' knowledge of Covid-19 and vaccination

People's knowledge was assessed by means of a questionnaire, the main answers to which are given in the table below.


Table 1: People's knowledge of Covid-19 and vaccination

Knowledge of Covid-19 and the vaccine



I don't know







Have you ever heard of Covid-19?







Is Covid-19 a fatal infection?







Is it fatal for the elderly (over 50)?







Is it deadly for young people and children?







Do you know the modes of transmission?







Do you know how to prevent disease?







Is there a cure without treatment?







Is there a treatment?







Did you know that there is a vaccine?







Is vaccination an effective way of preventing and controlling the disease?







Are vaccines safe?







Source: Our September-October 2021 survey

This table shows that our respondents' knowledge of Covid-19 and the vaccine developed to combat it is considerable. Nearly all of them know that the disease exists (100%), that it is dangerous (98%), and that it is transmitted and prevented (99%). What's more, they all know that there is a vaccine and no treatment (100%) for Covid-19. However, barely half (52%) are convinced that this vaccine is effective in preventing the disease, while almost 60% of respondents are not reassured by the safety of these vaccines.


2.2. Sources of information about the disease and vaccination

2.2.1. Sources of information about the disease

The following graph shows the sources of information people have about the disease:

Source: Our September-October 2021 survey

The graph shows that television (35%), the Internet (social networks) (31%) and interpersonal communication (20%) are the main means used by our respondents to access information on the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). 

2.2.2 Vaccination information sources

The following graph shows the sources of information people have about the disease:

Source: Our September-October 2021 survey

Looking at this pie chart, it's worth noting that the Internet (social media) is the primary source of information on Covid-19 vaccination (41%), followed by interpersonal communication (26%). These two sources captivate more than 2/3 of respondents by providing them with information on vaccination. These "unofficial" sources of information seem to be favored over "official" sources of information, such as television, the press and radio (33%). 

All in all, we can see that, whether on the subject of disease or vaccination, respondents generally trust "unofficial" sources such as social networks and interpersonal communication (Cumulative percentage of 51% for disease and 67% for vaccination) to the detriment of "official sources" (Television, Radio and Press). This could be explained by the fact that these "official sources" are no longer trustworthy, as they only relay information from the political authorities in power, who are also criticized for their lack of transparency in communication and management of many affairs. But more than that, this suspicion (lack of transparency) weighs on many governments around the world, in a context of "global village" where over-communication is exercised through various channels.




2.3 Opinions and attitudes towards vaccination

Our respondents' opinions and attitudes to vaccination are as diverse as they are varied. These opinions are more or less linked to opinions about the disease. So, while for some of our respondents, their opinions on coronavirus disease, and precisely the virus, are in line with current scientific data, this is not the case for many others. For the former, the virus is very dangerous, so it's best to follow the advice of the health authorities. K.K.F (65), a retired civil servant in the commune of Yopougon, testifies: 

Personally, I think that the information given to us by our competent authorities on Covid-19 is accurate. What opinion do I have to give that this is an invention by white people to kill black people? Don't those who speak this way see the consequences of this disease for their black brothers in the Caribbean?

All these people, whose opinions are in line with current health knowledge, are in favor of vaccination. They all have a positive attitude towards the vaccine. S.L. (38), who lives in Yopougon and works as a driver for a businessman, confides:

We work a lot with different partners. So, when it started, we were anxious because we could encounter this virus anywhere. As soon as the vaccines arrived in Abidjan and we were told that it was possible, I didn't hesitate for a moment to get vaccinated.

C.L. (48), an executive in a local bank who lives in the commune of Cocody, says it all:

I'm fully vaccinated. I know about the coronavirus because I contracted it. I was on the verge of death because I was fucked up here at the CHU de Cocody. People need to stop fooling around with this very dangerous virus. They need to get vaccinated.

However, these opinions are countered by other respondents who have other opinions contrary to these. It's not uncommon to hear in interviews that the disease has little effect on young people, let alone Africans. For example, K.K.B. (22), a carpenter in the commune of Yopougon, asserts: "This coronavirus business is a white man's business. It's no match for us Africans. Look how it killed them over there! How many people did it kill here? Their business (virus) isn't as dangerous as that". This type of reasoning is shared by many of our interviewees. P.C. (30), who runs a maquis (bistro) in Cocody, adds: "The virus can't stand the heat, especially in our climate. Corona is a white people's disease, and it doesn't kill the youngest. That's what I saw on TV". The opinions of some respondents on vaccination are unfavorable, as they feel it's not worth the effort. Other respondents confided in us that the vaccine was responsible for the death of many vaccinated people (celebrities). S.L. (43), a schoolteacher in Cocody, wonders.

Look, most of the celebrities who died recently from Covid-19 were all vaccinated. Why did they die despite being vaccinated? It's strange, I'm not in favor of this vaccination and I don't intend to have it. 

Alongside these two groups of respondents are others who, even if their opinions are in line with health knowledge, are hesitant about vaccination. They have doubts about the reliability of the vaccine. A.I. (35), a computer scientist living in Yopougon, testifies:

I think the speed with which vaccines have been developed means we have to be cautious. For the time being, I refuse to vaccinate myself. We don't know enough about the side effects of this vaccine on those who receive it.

In this study, respondents with a positive opinion of vaccination (34 people or 40%) also have a positive attitude towards vaccination, as they all support vaccination. However, those with an unfavorable opinion of vaccination (50 respondents or 59%) also have a negative attitude towards vaccination. If denial, concealment and trivialization of Covid-19 often lead to non-adherence to barrier measures, or even refusal to accept vaccination, what about the factors underlying such an attitude?     

2.4. Factors underlying the adoption of opinions and attitudes

The factors justifying this hesitancy or even refusal to adhere to vaccination are linked to a two-dimensional factual explanation. On the one hand, we have the fact that the rate of contagion is low, as is the number of deaths among people infected with Covid-19. On the other hand, popular beliefs about how to combat the disease reinforce this reluctance.

The relatively low rate of infection and death due to covid-19 (61,581 cases of infected people, including 702 deaths as of 1/11/2021) in Côte d'Ivoire compares with the millions of infected people and hundreds of thousands of deaths in countries such as the United States, Brazil, Italy and France... All of which seems to confirm the intention of many people in the population not to be inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine. The testimony of M.B.T. (28), a shopkeeper in Cocody, speaks for itself: "Ever since the Covid-19 story broke, look at the figures. Infection and death are almost non-existent among us compared with whites. So why vaccinate me in this context?" It's a fact that the official figures seem to be greatly underestimated (low screening capacity, many people asymptomatic, people generally only go to hospital when the disease is at an advanced stage, whereas Covid-19, like seasonal flu, generally resolves itself...). Covid-19 has certain similarities with malaria, which is widespread in this part of the world, and is often confused with the latter, leading to self-medication with pharmaceutical or phytotherapeutic products. The fears of WHO officials about the damage this pandemic would do in Africa have not been realized, reinforcing the desire of some people not to be vaccinated. 

In addition, popular beliefs are a major obstacle to vaccination. In Côte d'Ivoire, as in many African countries, and indeed around the world, there is a widespread belief that certain grandmother's remedies can be used to prevent disease.[4] were effective in preventing and even combating Covid-19. It is not uncommon to hear that eating chilli, garlic and even drinking alcohol, notably Koutoukou (local brandy), are effective against Covid-19. As C.K.T. (36), an upholsterer in the commune of Yopougon, puts it: 

Corona medicine, we have that here. You eat a spicy sauce and then drink gbêlê (koutoukou) corona s'en va loin. Even if it's weird (complicated), you take a steam bath with Chinese "mentholateum" (minty balm) and that's it.

Likewise, when these popular beliefs are combined with the disinformation provided by social networks, they generate beliefs that are deeply rooted in the individual's psyche and difficult to shake off. On certain social networks, for example, it is widely believed that people who have been vaccinated have a life expectancy limited to 2 years from the date of inoculation. For Dedy (52), these popular beliefs are "that popular knowledge which conditions, to a greater or lesser degree, the attitude and behaviour of individuals with regard to disease and, in particular, with regard to prevention".


  1. Discussion

People's opinions and attitudes generally determine behavior, which is merely the visible expression of this whole mental process. In this study, we found that people's opinions and attitudes towards vaccination against Covid-19 are influenced, for the most part, by information gathered from social networks and interpersonal communication (67%). These results confirm the work of Lyu et al (8-12), Luo et al (101712) and Manby et al (5-9). This reluctance, or even refusal, to adopt the vaccine also depends on rumours and other misleading information, but above all on popular beliefs. In this respect, the work of Fridman, Gershon and Gneezy (e0250123), Sallam et al. (42), Chongwang and De Figueiredo et al. (900-906) confirms the negative impact of these beliefs on vaccine uptake in general, but specifically that of Covid-19. These results support Dedy's (50-55) view of the weakness of health awareness in Africa.

Notwithstanding these facts, it is also remarkable that people's distrust of the government's will (imposition of vaccination) combined with certain conspiracy theories (insertion of microscopic chips in vaccines with the aim of controlling the world's population) reinforces, rightly or wrongly, the position of all those people who remain skeptical about Covid-19 vaccines, as Taïeb has already revealed with regard to other vaccines (272-285).


At the end of this study, it should be noted that people's opinions and attitudes to Covid-19 vaccination are strongly influenced by the flood of information in which they are immersed. Most of this information comes from social networks and interpersonal communications, which confirms our initial hypothesis. So, whether they come from official or unofficial sources, they influence and modify the perceptions and beliefs of those who follow them. Beyond the question of vaccines, this study questions the influence of the media, especially social networks, on people's behavior. These social media tend to supplant the information delivered by official communication channels.

The limitations of this study are seen in the weakness of the sample and the representativeness of the sites (one sub-neighborhood per commune, which poses a problem of representativeness, and the fact that two communes were chosen out of the thirteen in the Abidjan district) make it impossible to generalize the results.


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How to cite this article:

MLA: Gaulithy, Georges. "Opinions and attitudes of the Abidjan population towards vaccination against Covid-19". Uirtus 2.1 (April 2022): 33-50.


 [email protected]

[1 ] 39.5% of the population lives below the poverty line according to data provided by the World Bank in 2018.

[2] COVAX "The Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access" is a United Nations initiative that aims to collaborate for global and equitable access to vaccines against the COVID-19 virus.

[3] AVAT "The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust" is an initiative of the African Union which aims at the grouped purchase of vaccines by the African Union for the benefit of member countries.

[4] A body of knowledge based on the know-how of elders (grandmothers) that draws its sources from plants and other natural products used to combat various illnesses, and which are said to have proven therapeutic virtues.

Summary (Biography of Assou, a high-ranking dignitary in the Kingdom of Sahe (1704-1733))

Arthur Vido§

Résumé : Cet article retrace la vie et l’œuvre d’Assou, un grand dignitaire du royaume de Sahé. À partir des récits laissés par quelques voyageurs européens des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, l’auteur nous décrit un bel homme de grande taille, avec un esprit positif. Généreux et loyal, il est très attentif aux soins de sa famille. Pour le compte du pouvoir royal, il s’occupe des relations extérieures et est dans l’intimité du monarque. Ministre très influent, il a droit aux honneurs publics et est adulé par les négociants français. À la mort du roi Ayisan le 8 octobre 1708, c’est lui qui fait introniser de force le jeune Houffon. Cependant, miné par des divisions internes, le royaume houéda est envahi en 1727 par les soldats du Danxomè. Assou entre alors en résistance et finit par perdre la vie le 15 juin 1733. La mort du roi des Houéda, survenue quelques jours après celle d’Assou est évocatrice de la complicité qui existait entre eux et des liens qui les unissaient. Répondant ainsi aux plaintes enregistrées de nos jours du fait de la perte des valeurs dans la société béninoise, cette étude matérialise par l’écrit la mémoire d’un personnage marqué par la bravoure, le patriotisme, l’effort du progrès collectif et l’esprit d’abnégation.

Mots-clés : Biographie, Assou, dignitaire, royaume de Sahé.

Abstract: The author traces the life and work of a great dignitary of the Kingdom of Sahé named Assou. Thanks to the stories left by some European travelers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he describes a handsome tall man, with a positive spirit. Generous and loyal, he is very attentive to the care of his family. On behalf of the royal power, he deals with external relations and is in intimacy of the monarch. A very influential minister, he is entitled to public honors and is adulated by French merchants. On the death of King Ayisan on October 8, 1708, it was he who forced the enthronement of young Houffon. However, undermined by internal divisions, the Houeda Kingdom was invaded in 1727 by the soldiers of Danxomè. Assou then enters into resistance and ends up losing his life on June 15, 1733. The death of the king of the Houeda, which occurred a few days after that of Assou is evocative of the complicity that existed between them and links that united them. Responding to the complaints recorded today because of the loss of values ​​and landmarks in Beninese society, this article materializes in writing the memory of a character marked by bravery, patriotism, the effort of collective progress and the spirit of self-sacrifice.

Keywords: Biography, Assou, civil servant, Kingdom of Sahé.


L’historiographie béninoise est riche en études portant sur la biographie de certains personnages. Dans son mémoire de Maîtrise intitulé Biographie du roi Agaja, Adolphe Houénou décrit physiquement et moralement ce roi fon de la première moitié du XVIIIe siècle, avant de faire part de ses conquêtes et de ses relations avec les négriers européens. Dans Guézo : la rénovation du Dahomey, Joseph Adrien Djivo a publié la biographie de celui qui dirigea le Danxomè de 1818 à 1858. Quant à l’article écrit par Abiola Félix Iroko et intitulé Autour de l’identité de Toussaint Louverture, il présente et explique les différents prénoms et surnoms donnés à Toussaint Louverture. L’exercice a été fait par le même chercheur sur Gbèhanzin dans Anthroponymie et royauté : le cas de Béhanzin, qui présente les différents anthroponymes dont est issu le nom fort du monarque fon de la fin du XIXe siècle. Un ouvrage a été consacré à une haute personnalité du Bénin : Mathieu Kérékou. C’est à travers le livre Le président Mathieu Kérékou : un homme hors du commun que Félix Iroko a tracé le portrait de cet homme. Il y a été également question de son enfance, de son parcours scolaire, de sa carrière militaire et de son apparition sur la scène politique à partir du 26 octobre 1972.

Si ces publications ont l’avantage de sortir des sentiers battus, elles ne traitent cependant que de personnalités bien connues, ignorant de fait que la renommée de ces dernières n’est pas due qu’à leurs seules actions et compétences. En réalité, il y a toujours des personnes dans l’ombre qui aident d’autres à être des hommes de prestige. Cette étude se propose donc de faire connaître Assou, un de ces personnages qui a été un haut dignitaire houéda de la première moitié du XVIIIe siècle.

1704 équivaut ici à l’année au cours de laquelle apparaissent les premières informations sur Assou. Quant à l’an 1733, il correspond à la fin de sa vie sur terre. Son décès est survenu à la suite de plusieurs combats de résistance qu’il dirigea aux côtés de Houffon.

Notre travail s’est effectué sur la base des comptes rendus de voyage des négriers européens des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Ces documents constituent, malgré leurs limites et insuffisances, de véritables mines d’informations à exploiter dans le cadre de l’histoire précoloniale des sociétés africaines. Dans l’ensemble, il s’agit de sources de première main dont les auteurs, venus sur nos côtes pour le commerce négrier, sont des témoins oculaires doublés de leur qualité d’excellents narrateurs. Il est question ici d’analyser le regard porté par les auteurs européens sur la vie et l’œuvre d’Assou.

La collecte et l’analyse des informations nous permettent d’aborder le sujet suivant trois parties. La première présente le personnage sous ses aspects physique et moral avant de parler de sa famille. La deuxième aborde les différents rôles joués par Assou à Sahé avant et durant la conquête du royaume par Agaja, en 1727. La troisième partie fait état des luttes menées par Assou en vue de reprendre Sahé des mains de l’envahisseur fon.

1. Le personnage

L’étude biographique d’Assou passe par une bonne connaissance de ses traits physique et moral. Sur ces points, des récits laissés par quelques voyageurs européens des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles nous livrent d’importantes informations. Nous nous en sommes servi pour tracer son portrait et parler de sa famille.

1.1. Aspects physique et moral

Plusieurs négriers européens ont visité Sahé. Par exemple, l’Anglais Thomas Philips accosta à la rade de Gléhué le 20 mai 1694 et le Hollandais Guillaume Bosman, en 1697. Ils ont laissé des notes de leurs séjours. Cependant, leurs rapports ne font aucune mention d’Assou. Suivant nos recherches, la première mention faite d’Assou nous vient du corsaire français Jean Doublet de Honfleur. Ce lieutenant de Frégate sous le roi Louis XIV fit sa première visite des côtes de Gléhué le 27 septembre 1704.

La description d’Assou commence par la signification de son nom. Que signifie donc Assou ? Le silence des traditions orales houéda sur la quasi-totalité de l’histoire de leur royaume ne nous permet pas de connaître le sens ni les circonstances ayant été à la base de ce nom. La certitude est que dans nos traditions africaines, le nom donné à un nouveau-né n’est pas fortuit. Il résulte, soit des circonstances de sa naissance, soit de sa période de venue au monde, ou encore du rang qu’il occupe parmi les enfants. Dans ce cas-ci, nous ignorons tout des évènements liés au choix du nom. L’autre axe de réflexion consiste à supposer qu’Assou ne soit pas son nom de naissance mais un nom de fonction comme Aplogan ou Gogan. Que signifierait alors Assou ? À partir de quel roi la fonction aurait-elle été créée ? Le seul élément d’appréciation que nous avons est que les premières informations sur Assou commencent à partir de 1704, au cours du règne d’Ayisan (1704-1708). Est-ce ce dernier qui aurait créé cette fonction ? Aussi, en considérant que le nom soit une création des négriers, notamment français, que signifierait-il alors dans la langue française ? Il nous paraît vraisemblable que ce nom soit typiquement africain car nous savons qu’en fongbé, Assou désigne le mari, l’époux et ce dernier signifie Ossou en houédagbé. On peut aussi considérer qu’Assou soit une déformation française d’Ossou. Mais en considérant Assou au lieu d’Ossou, comment peut-on justifier le port d’un nom fon par un Houéda surtout qu’à cette époque, Sahé n’était pas encore conquis par Agaja ? L’hypothèse la plus vraisemblable est que son nom soit Ossou ou Ossue qui est d’origine houéda et par lequel Guillaume Snelgrave le désigne (136). Ainsi, le vrai nom de notre sujet serait Ossou et Assou ne serait qu’une déformation. En définitive, nous ne savons pratiquement rien de la signification de l’anthroponyme de ce personnage. Cela ne saurait nous empêcher de tracer son portrait.

Il faut tout d’abord rappeler que la présence d’Assou à Sahé est bien antérieure à 1704 parce qu’étant probablement né et ayant grandi dans ce milieu. Nous ignorons tout de son année de naissance et de son adolescence. Les renseignements que nous avons de lui commencent à partir de son entrée au palais, lorsqu’il fut nommé ministre ou haut dignitaire. Jean Doublet qui l’appelle Asson, le présente comme un homme « très bien de taille et d’esprit ». Il précise même que Assou est « un des plus beaux noirs que l’on puisse voir ayant de beaux traits, un nez bien fait, point les lèvres grosses, grands yeux et un beau front, d’une taille de cinq pieds 8 pouces et bien proportionné de corps et très poli et gracieux » (Bréard 254 et 258). Assou est alors une personne agréable à regarder. La description faite de lui par Jean Doublet révèle qu’il a une taille de cinq pieds huit pouces. Ces données permettent de déterminer la taille approximative d’Assou. En effet, « pied » et « pouce » sont des anciennes mesures de longueur. Un pied équivaut à 12 pouces alors qu’un pouce vaut 27 millimètres. Si Assou a 5 pieds 8 pouces, il aurait en tout 5 fois 12 pouces plus 8 pouces, ce qui fait 68 pouces. En considérant qu’un pouce vaut 27 millimètres, Assou mesurerait alors 1836 millimètres, soit 1,836 mètre. La taille d’Assou serait approximativement égale à 1,84 mètre.

Au cours de l’audience accordée à Jean Doublet par le roi Ayisan, Assou était présent et se chargeait des affaires qui liaient le palais aux Français. La sincérité et la loyauté dont faisait preuve Assou dans la gestion des affaires du pays ont amené le voyageur français à dire qu’il était un homme généreux. Ces propos sont partagés par un voyageur anonyme français du début du XVIIIe siècle qui décrit Assou comme le « le plus droit et le meilleur » des Africains (28). Aux dires des auteurs-témoins, Assou était une personne de bonne moralité que Jean Doublet appelle affectueusement « Notre capitaine Asson (Assou) » (Bréard 258).

Sur le plan vestimentaire, Assou, en tant que ministre à la cour, a une manière de s’habiller qui diffère de celle d’un simple citoyen. Celle-ci est constituée de la peau de bœuf dont la tête et les pattes avant sont enlevées, celles de derrière se joignent et servent à passer autour du cou. Ainsi, la peau de l’animal côtoie le sol (Anonyme 28). Assou porte cet insigne aussi bien à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur du palais. En étant beaucoup plus précis sur le sujet, Jean Doublet nous renseigne que les ministres ou dignitaires s’habillent très bien car : « ils portent une peau de veau dont les extrémités en sont ôtées, et la pend avec un cordon de cuir du bout où était la queue pendue à leur col, le poil, en dehors traînant de l’épaule gauche aux genoux » (Bréard 257). C’est la marque de leur supériorité et de leur grandeur si bien que : « lorsqu’ils passent par les chemins, les peuples se croupissent sur leurs talons et joignent leurs mains qu’ils frappent l’une contre l’autre très doucement en baissant la tête et se relèvent lorsque ce ministre (ces ministres) les a dépassés » (Bréard 257). 

C’est grâce à cette marque qu’on identifie l’homme dont certains membres de sa famille ont vécu, tout comme lui, à Sahé.

Portrait n° 1 : Le haut dignitaire Assou

Source : Portrait réalisé par Cyr Raoul Sehou-Houindo (2018).

1.2. Sa famille

            L’étude de la généalogie d’Assou commencera par ses géniteurs car les informations sur ses ascendants directs existent. Ces dernières portent uniquement sur son père. En effet, le Chevalier des Marchais nous informe qu’Assou offrit des sacrifices d’hommes et d’enfants afin d’obtenir la guérison de son père (Labat 274). Nous ne connaissons ni le nom du père ni sa fonction dans le royaume.

Son frère est le deuxième membre de sa famille dont nous parlerons. Les observations le concernant ont été faites par Jean Doublet de Honfleur. Le corsaire nous indique que le frère d’Assou est le grand sacrificateur du royaume : « Son frère n’est pas si bien fait ni poli quoique grand marabout » (Bréard 258-259). À Sahé, c’est le grand sacrificateur qui s’occupe de tout ce qui est religieux. Quel est son nom ? Des Marchais nous renseigne qu’il s’appelle Beti. C’est donc Beti, le frère d’Assou qui s’occupe des sacrifices faits aux divinités du royaume et c’est lui qui les invoque, sous la demande du roi, pour la prospérité du pays. Aussi, cette fonction, à Sahé, fait partie de celle ministérielle. Beti était, tout comme son frère, un ministre de la cour. Cela dénote de la place et de l’importance de la famille d’Assou au sein du royaume houéda.

La famille d’un homme n’est pas confinée dans les bornes de ses géniteurs et de ses frères. Ainsi, que sait-on par exemple de la vie matrimoniale d’Assou ? Combien de femmes avait-il eu ? Nul ne le saura avec exactitude. Cependant, la certitude est qu’il était un polygame car : « La coutume du pays autorise la polygamie à l’excès. Il est assez ordinaire aux Grands (capitaines ou ministres) d’y avoir plusieurs centaines de femmes et de concubines » (Snelgrave 3). De cette observation, il est clair que la polygamie était la norme à Sahé. Assou, en tant que ministre, était sans doute, un polygame. Le fruit d’une union polygamique ou monogamique est la mise au monde d’enfants. Et parlant d’enfants, Assou devrait en avoir eu un certain nombre. Cependant, les informations dont nous disposons ne parlent que d’un seul appelé Favory (Gayibor 906).

2. Le dignitaire et sa place dans le royaume

Assou a exercé plusieurs fonctions à la cour de Sahé. Il était toujours au service des rois dont il militait pour l’intronisation et luttait pour la protection du royaume. Il en a tiré profit en bénéficiant d’un statut prisé à l’époque. Cette partie du travail s’intéressera aux différentes tâches qu’il a exercées auprès des souverains avant la conquête de leur royaume.

2.1. Ses fonctions

À l’époque où Jean Doublet visitait Gléhué, Assou était déjà au Conseil de gouvernement du roi Ayisan. Il est donc possible de faire remonter sa présence dans les arcanes du pouvoir avant cette date. L’historien nigérian Isaac Akinjogbin nous indique qu’Assou avait été le leader du clan des ministres ayant soutenu l’intronisation d’Ayisan, qui était le fils cadet au détriment de son frère aîné (40). Pour y arriver, notre personnage avait reçu l’aide du ministre Aplogan et des négriers européens installés à Gléhué (Sogbossi 26). S’il est donc évident qu’il a soutenu et milité pour l’accession d’Ayisan au pouvoir, c’est dire qu’il a probablement appartenu au Conseil de gouvernement de son père et prédécesseur. Ainsi, Assou a été ministre sous au moins trois monarques houéda : Agbangla, Ayisan et Houffon. Il est donc clair que ses fonctions au sein du royaume remontent à une période antérieure à la venue du corsaire en 1704, même si nous ne saurions la dater ni préciser les fonctions qu’il a exercées. Nous ne savons pas avec exactitude les rôles joués par Assou du temps du roi Agbangla, mais il nous paraît évident qu’ils ne soient pas différents de ceux joués sous son successeur. Jean Doublet nous présente le personnage étudié comme le ministre de la marine (Bréard 254). Comme déjà mentionné plus haut, il se chargeait de recevoir et d’introduire les négriers européens au palais pour une audience avec le roi. À la suite de la visite du corsaire, le roi le convia à un dîner pour le lendemain. Là encore, intervint Assou qui le fit entrer au palais pour le repas. Cela dénote de la présence effective et de la fréquence d’Assou à la cour. C’est dire qu’il est très proche du souverain et l’assiste. Sa place régulière aux côtés du roi Ayisan ne souffre d’aucune contestation et elle est confirmée par un autre fait, qui prouve également toute l’importance de ce dignitaire dans le royaume. En effet, au cours du dîner, Assou était à table avec le roi et ses invités. Or Bosman nous dit qu’hormis les reines, aucune personne ne doit voir le roi manger (383). Seules ses épouses ont ce privilège. Pourtant, le corsaire fit remarquer qu’Assou avait partagé le repas avec eux. C’est un grand statut dont a bénéficié Assou sous Ayisan. Nonobstant, cette place ne le soustrayait pas du respect qu’il devait au souverain car il s’adressait à lui en étant toujours à genoux.

Assou s’exprimait agréablement en français sans être sorti du pays. Cette langue apprise aux côtés des négriers européens lui permettait de servir d’interprète à la cour royale (Bréard 254). En outre, il était chargé de prélever, pour le compte du roi, des coutumes et droits auprès des Français désireux de mener à bien leurs activités commerciales dans le royaume (Anonyme 28). Négociant avec probité pour les marchands européens auprès de son roi, Assou était considéré par des Marchais comme le protecteur de la nation française (Labat 71-72).

L’importance du personnage se retrouve également à travers la résidence qu’il possédait. Des Marchais nous renseigne que les habitations de la capitale n’avaient généralement qu’un seul niveau (Labat 232). Elles étaient construites en terre battue et couvertes de paille. Tous les sujets du roi avaient de telles résidences. Mais en dehors du roi, seul Assou avait une maison à deux niveaux et un canon devant celle-ci pour la protéger. C’était un privilège dont il bénéficiait en raison de son importance et son implication dans le développement des affaires du royaume. Son implication dans l’intronisation de Houffon pourrait aussi justifier ce privilège à lui accordé.

À la mort d’Ayisan le 8 octobre 1708, Houffon était encore un mineur et ne pouvait donc pas accéder au trône, conformément aux lois coutumières (Anonyme 33). En fait, ces lois prévoyaient qu’en cas de non désignation du prince héritier par le roi avant son décès, l’intérim devait être assuré par le Gogan jusqu’à ce que le Conseil du gouvernement n’élise le nouveau souverain. Elles ne statuaient pas sur l’accession d’un mineur au trône. Les ministres n’étaient pas unanimes quant à la solution à adopter. Assou et Aplogan militèrent pour l’intronisation du jeune Houffon. Deux clans apparurent donc et s’opposèrent. Pour faire passer son vœu, chaque clan usait de ses forces. Ainsi, le Gogan réunit 12 à 13 mille soldats derrière lui alors qu’Assou fut aidé par environ huit mille soldats et des marins européens. C’est fort de cela qu’Assou et ses partisans parvinrent à faire de Houffon le roi de Sahé (Akinjogbin 39-41). Tout cela confirme son rôle non moins négligeable et sa place dans le Conseil du gouvernement.

Ces oppositions et divergences d’intérêts au sein du pouvoir, conjuguées à d’autres évènements ne manquèrent pas d’ébranler le royaume qui fut conquis par Agaja en 1727.

2.2. La prise de Sahé en 1727

Les luttes intestines désorganisèrent le royaume de Sahé et le rendirent vulnérable. En effet, Snelgrave nous raconte que le jeune âge de Houffon lors de sa prise du pouvoir, fait qu’il ignorait tout des affaires du pays (4-6). Celles-ci étaient donc gérées par ses ministres durant plusieurs années. Chacun d’eux se comportait comme un « petit roi » et ne s’intéressait qu’à ses propres affaires, laissant ainsi de côté le bien-être du royaume. Cela entraîna la division au sein du Conseil et du peuple, puis permit la conquête du royaume. Dans le même ordre d’idées, Valère Sogbossi parle de l’attitude d’Aplogan, ministre et administrateur de la province de Gomè (28). Ce dernier a soumis son territoire à Agaja en 1726. Mais, il faut noter que les Houéda ont défendu leurs terres avant d’abdiquer. En effet, le sieur Ringard, capitaine du navire le Mars de Nantes, qui accosta à Gléhué le 3 mars 1727, assista à la résistance houéda dirigée par Assou. Selon le voyageur, Assou et deux autres dignitaires continuaient de lutter malgré la désertion d’un grand nombre de soldats devant l’ennemi (Law 321-328). Assou continua de défendre la capitale avant de fuir à son tour à cause de la supériorité militaire de l’adversaire. Ainsi, Agaja s’empara de la capitale, étape primordiale pour la prise de Gléhué. Quel fut le comportement des Houéda à la suite de la conquête de leur royaume ?

3. Assou et la résistance post conquête

La conquête fon a causé la destruction de la capitale du royaume houéda et la mort d’un grand nombre de personnes. Néanmoins, certains ont réussi à s’enfuir avec le jeune roi. D’après les recherches (Gayibor 898 ; Pliya 527 ; Soglo 71-73), Houffon ne dut la vie sauve qu’à une fuite précipitée vers l’ouest, traversant le lac Ahémé, accompagné d’un groupe important. Parvenus sur l’îlot boisé de Mitogbodji, les fugitifs installèrent les reliques de leurs ancêtres et les précieux objets de leurs cultes. L’endroit devint alors un véritable sanctuaire au milieu du lac. Mais son exiguïté et le souci de pureté autour des temples religieux conduisirent à la fondation de nouvelles localités comme Agatogbo, Akodéha, Houéyogbé, etc. Assou fut aux côtés de son roi en exil. En août 1729, Guillaume Snelgrave, de retour sur les côtes africaines, apprit que le roi déchu et Assou étaient dans les environs de Grand-Popo (131-132). D’après le voyageur anglais, les Houéda en fuite prirent des dispositions sécuritaires pouvant leur permettre d’être à l’abri de toute attaque. Le lac Ahémé derrière lequel ils s’étaient réfugiés les mettait hors de danger et leur permettait de mettre en place des stratégies pour reprendre leur royaume.

Lorsqu’Agaja conquit Sahé, non seulement il y installa une garnison mais pensa aussi pouvoir avoir un accès facile à Gléhué. Ce ne fut pas le cas car cette ville était protégée par les forts européens (Sogbossi 30). Cette situation permit au capitaine Assou et à plusieurs Houéda de mener la résistance. Ils reçurent l’aide des Sahouè avec qui ils formèrent une coalition (Gayibor 97). Après l’échec des différentes tentatives de réoccupation de Sahé menées par Assou, Houffon fit appel à l’alafin d’Oyo. Ne voyant pas d’un bon œil les conquêtes d’Agaja dans la région, celui-ci envoya ses troupes contre le Danxomè à partir de mars 1728. Face à un ennemi devant lequel il ne pouvait résister, Agaja se retirait régulièrement dans des cachettes sûres aménagées dans la brousse. À partir de 1729, les cavaliers yoruba firent de Kana leur quartier général d’où ils lançaient des attaques en direction des cachettes du roi fon (Gayibor 899-901). Affaibli, Agaja ne put donc plus contrôler ses possessions et affronter efficacement la résistance menée par les Houéda. Assou et ses partisans profitèrent pour faire des incursions régulières sur la ville de Gléhué. Voici le témoignage de Guillaume Snelgrave à ce sujet :

Peu à peu l’armée (fon) se trouva diminuée considérablement, ce qui encouragea le capitaine Ossue à quitter les îles, et à venir s’établir, avec beaucoup de ses gens, tout proche du fort français, qui est à environ quatre miles de Sabée (Sahé) : croyant que la grosse artillerie de la place serait bien capable de les protéger contre les insultes de ceux de Dahomè, au cas qu’ils osassent tenter quelque chose contre eux. (Snelgrave 135)

Mais, dès que le roi Agaja fut informé du retour des Houéda, il dépêcha une armée contre eux. Face à la menace fon, Assou et sa suite paniquèrent et décidèrent de se réfugier dans l’enceinte du fort. Un jour après, les troupes d’Agaja arrivèrent à Gléhué et assiégèrent aussitôt le fort. Malheureusement pour les réfugiés houéda, le toit de chaume qui couvrait les bâtiments du fort prit feu. L’incendie causa d’importants dégâts humains et matériels. Assou eut le temps de prendre la fuite et trouva asile chez les Anglais :

Cet accident alarma les Blancs, qui sachant qu’il y avait une grande quantité de poudre dans leur magasin, et ne voyant aucun moyen d’éteindre ni d’arrêter le feu, prirent le parti de s’enfuir au fort anglais (…) Mais les Noirs, qui ne connaissaient pas si bien dans quel danger ils étaient, souffrirent beaucoup quand le magasin vint à sauter : il y en eut plus de mille de tués, et une grande quantité de blessés, par ce malheur imprévu. Cependant, à la faveur de la fumée, et dans la confusion, le capitaine Ossue, et plusieurs de ses gens, gagnèrent le fort anglais. (Snelgrave 137)  

Assou et les autres survivants furent ainsi accueillis par le directeur du fort anglais d’alors, Testefole, qui les fit évader la nuit suivante. Pour s’être immiscé dans les affaires politiques locales, ce directeur fut enlevé par les soldats fon et mourut de façon tragique (Cornevin 259). D’autres affrontements ne manquèrent pas d’arriver. Suivant les écrits de Snelgrave, Assou était toujours à la tête de la résistance : 

Les autres à la tête desquels était le capitaine Ossue avec les troupes de Popo, voulaient hazarder (hasarder) une bataille. Pendant cette contestation, l’armée de Dahomè avançait toujours fièrement, mais le capitaine Ossue et le Général Popoe marchèrent à eux, avec une contestation aussi fière et aussi brave : ils attaquèrent même avec tant de vivacité leur aile droite, qu’ils le firent plier et ils les chassèrent devant eux, pendant quelques temps. (Snelgrave 149)   

Mais en 1730, un traité de paix fut signé entre Agaja et l’Alafin d’Oyo (Gayibor 905). Ce qui freina les ambitions de la coalition. Les raids d’Oyo sur le Danxomè furent interrompus. Le roi fon s’activa alors à protéger ses possessions houéda. En 1731, Houffon voulut négocier avec Agaja afin de réoccuper son territoire mais il se ravisa sur les conseils de Mynheer Hendrick Hertog, alors directeur du comptoir hollandais de Jèkin, qui lui promit son soutien. Plusieurs autres tentatives de réoccupation du royaume, conduites par Assou furent menées, mais échouèrent. Ces combats de résistance ont cependant ralenti le commerce négrier à Gléhué à cause de l’instabilité qui y régnait. L’intention d’Agaja de mener directement la traite avec les négriers blancs ne se concrétisa pas de sitôt. Il dut attendre l’affaiblissement de la résistance menée par Assou. Les négriers ont aussi subi les affres de cette résistance. En effet, d’après Joâo Basilio, directeur du fort portugais de Gléhué de 1728 à 1743, les troupes d’Assou, aidées par Hertog, ont pillé et tué deux négriers portugais qui allèrent vers le lieu de refuge de Houffon. Un autre qui alla accoster à la rade de Gléhué, fut également massacré (Verger 41).

C’est dans ce contexte d’affrontements armés qu’Assou décède le 15 juin 1733 (Gayibor 906-907). D’après une lettre datant du 29 novembre 1733 laissée par M. Levet qui assurait la direction du fort Saint-Louis de Grégory, le personnage étudié perdit la vie une vingtaine de jours après être tombé malade (Verger 166). Les documents consultés ne donnent pas d’informations relatives à sa maladie. Quant à Houffon, il mourut deux jours ou six semaines après Assou. La mort du roi des Houéda, survenue quelques jours après celle d’Assou est évocatrice de la complicité qui existait entre eux et des liens qui les unissaient.


Cette étude a permis de mettre en lumière le personnage Assou. Beau et mesurant environ 1,84 mètre de taille, il s’était toujours conduit en gentleman envers les négriers européens, qui ne tarissaient point d’éloges à son égard. Son engagement aux côtés des chefs locaux    a permis à son royaume d’être compté parmi les entités politiques de renom au début du XVIIIe siècle. Il a été ministre de la marine, interprète et défenseur de la cause des Français. Ces différentes fonctions lui ont permis d’avoir un statut enviable dans la société. La conquête du milieu houéda, à partir de 1727, n’émoussa pas ses ardeurs de toujours servir son jeune souverain Houffon. Pendant la guerre, il n’abandonna pas son roi. Il mena la lutte jusqu’à l’épuisement de sa force physique avant d’abdiquer. Suite à la prise de Sahé, il a suivi Houffon dans sa fuite et l’a aidé à mener la résistance dans le but de reconquérir son trône. Son engagement aux côtés de son roi est la preuve de son courage et surtout de sa grande loyauté.

Bien souvent, les personnalités les plus connues ne le sont que grâce à l’action de leur entourage constitué de gens peu ou mal connus. Une étude sur ces hommes et femmes de l’ombre constitue un terrain fertile en données utilisables sur lequel les historiens doivent s’aventurer.

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How to cite this article:

MLA : Vido, Arthur. « Biographie d’Assou, un haut dignitaire du royaume de Sahé (1704-1733). »  Uirtus 1.2. (décembre 2021): 487-501.

§ Université d’Abomey-Calavi (Bénin), [email protected]

Abstract:A qualitative analysis of the psychosociological determinants of the choice of form of delinquency by young people in Côte d'Ivoire: The case of the cybercriminal (brouteur) and the child in conflict with the law (microbe)

This study analyzes the psychological determinants of the choice of the type of delinquency by children in conflict with the law (microbe) and cybercriminals (grazers). This research is qualitative. We interviewed a microbe and a cybercriminal. These subjects were subjected to a semi-structured interview. Their words are exploited using content analysis. Subjects were interviewed for their socio-economic background, personality, peer influence or gang membership, drug addiction, use of mystical practices, misdemeanors and crimes committed. An examination of the results shows that the personality is the prominent factor, determining the shift into delinquency and the choice of the form of delinquency.

Keywords: Delinquent, Microbe, Cybercriminal.

Full Text                               

Abstract:Qualitative analysis of the psychosociological determinants of the choice of form of delinquency by young people in Côte d'Ivoire: The case of the cybercriminal (brouteur) and the child in conflict with the law (microbe)

Amegnan Lydie Kone§

Saga Bernard Loba


Logon Albert Thierry Djako

Abstract: This study analyzes the psychosociological determinants of the choice of delinquency type among children in conflict with the law (microbes) and cybercriminals (grazers). The research is qualitative. We interviewed a microbe and a cybercriminal. These subjects were subjected to a semi-directed interview. Their comments were analyzed using content analysis. The subjects were questioned about their socio-economic background, personality, peer influence or gang membership, drug addiction, use of mystical practices, and offences and crimes committed. The results show that personality is the most important factor in determining whether or not to become involved in delinquency, and which form of delinquency to choose.

Keywords : offender, microbe, cybercriminal.

Abstract: This study analyzes the psychological determinants of the choice of the type of delinquency by children in conflict with the law (microbe) and cybercriminals (grazers). This research is qualitative. We interviewed a microbe and a cybercriminal. These subjects were subjected to a semi-structured interview. Their words are exploited using content analysis. Subjects were interviewed for their socio-economic background, personality, peer influence or gang membership, drug addiction, use of mystical practices, misdemeanors and crimes committed. An examination of the results shows that the personality is the prominent factor, determining the shift into delinquency and the choice of the form of delinquency.

Keywords: Delinquent, Microbe, Cybercriminal.


The world is changing. New discoveries are being made in various scientific fields: medicine, information technology, communication, psychology... As in these fields, we are confronted with new types of fashions, illnesses, ailments, delinquency or offenses punishable by law, aggressive and damaging activities legally repressed (Doron et al.).

In recent years, new types of delinquents have emerged in Côte d'Ivoire. These include "grazers" and "microbes". What they have in common is the practice of theft. But they differ in the methods they use to achieve their ends. Some use cunning, lies and computer tools. Others resort to violence, using bladed weapons. This study aims to identify the psychosociological determinants of the choice of one or other of these two forms of delinquency.

The emergence of juvenile delinquency in Africa can be traced back to the post-independence era. Depending on the era, the culture and the values promoted in society, delinquency takes on a variety of forms. Mucchieli poses three problems in this regard. According to Mucchieli, as the law is constantly evolving, certain behaviors cease to be criminalized, while others become so. Delinquency is made up of all the transgressions defined by criminal law, known and pursued by those involved in social control. 

An article published by states:

In Europe and the Americas, the phenomenon of youth gangs is rampant. In France, 6 people were killed and 252 injured in 2011. This is the result of the growing activism of violent youth gangs, who no longer hesitate to attack the French police head-on. Gangs made up of an even younger population, kids, are making their appearance. A report published in the French newspaper "Le Figaro" mentions that no fewer than 313 gangs were scouring the country. It shows that the proportion of minors involved is rising sharply. They accounted for 56% of the 992 gang aficionados arrested, compared with just 40% in 2010. What's more, in recent years, experts have warned that the formation of juvenile gangs under the age of 13 has been detected in several Ile-de-France conurbations. In the absence of parental authority, these youngsters imitate the behavior of the "grown-ups" who serve as their role models, appropriating the latter's "values".      

In the 1970s, Côte d'Ivoire experienced the "Ziguéhis" and "nouchis" phenomenon, characterized by open acts of violence perpetrated by gangsters against the people of Abidjan. The main actors were well known and the phenomenon almost under control.

Since 2012, in the aftermath of the post-electoral crisis, a phenomenon of aggression and violence of a rare barbarity perpetrated with knives by young adolescents and sometimes kids has emerged. describes the microbes in these terms:

Armed with knives and always ready to spill human blood, these young murderers, who often disguise themselves as beggars, are no longer hesitating to make news in Abidjan...the microbes, as they are called, have made a bad name for themselves in some of Abidjan's districts and communes, killing their victims with knives, often in broad daylight. Aged between 9 and 15 years, these young murderers no longer hesitate to make a name for themselves. 

According to a report by the Conseil National des Droits de l'Homme en Côte d'Ivoire, CNDHCI, microbes or children in conflict with the law are mostly illiterate and frustrated at not having joined the army like their elders after the post-election crisis, due to the age criteria in force.

Originating and spreading in Abidjan's Abobo district, this phenomenon has spread to the city's various neighborhoods.

In parallel with this phenomenon, the scourge of chattering or cybercrime is evolving and multiplying its followers and victims. Cybercrime is a criminal offence committed on or through a computer system, usually connected to a network. In recent years, the democratization of computer access and the globalization of networks have been factors in the development of cybercrime, which, like the scourge of juvenile gangs, has taken on a universal character. It is recognized by many experts as the new form of crime of the 21st century. To control it, France, for example, has set up a number of anti-cybercrime bodies.

According to Rahali, in recent years, special interest has been focused on the phenomenon of cybercrime, which is taking on worrying proportions. She refers to the unprecedented hacking of Oracle, the company that manages commercial payment terminals worldwide, and the biggest names in the USA, such as Twitter, Amazon, Ebay, CNN, the New York Times and others, all victims of a cyber-hack that disrupted their computer systems for over two hours. She deduces that evil is becoming more and more entrenched as technology advances, and in all countries.

Cybercrime is a new form of crime and delinquency that differs from traditional forms in that it takes place in a virtual space, " cyberspace ".

The phenomena of "microbes" and cybercrime have both similarities and differences. Their aim is to make a quick buck without any effort (far from working in a conventional, valued profession) for their followers, who rob their victims. Some courageously face their victims openly, while others perform the same task from behind a computer or laptop screen. The actors all belong to the younger fringe of the population.

Several factors determine the type of delinquency practiced by these "gangs". Some scientific studies emphasize the importance of gender. According to several studies, boys are more involved in delinquency than girls. However, these studies specify that this ratio varies according to the form of delinquency. As the seriousness of offences increases, girls' involvement decreases. Classic theoretical approaches link delinquency to individual (personality, character, temperament, etc.) and environmental characteristics. Agnew, quoted by Lucia and Jaquier, postulates that societal or individual stressors (failures in the pursuit of a goal, need for autonomy, grief...) drive certain individuals to engage in delinquency, preferring illegitimate opportunities to legitimate ones.

Socio-economic status is also identified as a determinant of delinquency. Research carried out by Interspeace and Indigo shows that, although an in-depth analysis of the individual trajectories of young "microbes" reveals a complexity of factors behind their inclination towards violent action, the economic and social environment in which they evolve constitutes a fairly decisive ecosystem. Indeed, the authors of this research, recounting the history of the settlement of the Abobo district, note the characteristics of the populations who live there: low income, promiscuity of housing, desertion of homes by parents, young people living on the streets due to cramped housing and the need for children to earn a living, culture of violence.

There are different types of risk factors. Some of these factors are internal, i.e. specific to the individual, while others are external. From this point of view, risk factors would be divided into five spheres of life: (1) personal aspects; (2) family; (3) peers; (4) school; and (5) community or neighborhood (Loeber & Farrington), cited by Day and Wanklyn.

Research such as that by Bowlby and Spitz suggests that risk factors experienced early in life, for example, during the prenatal and perinatal periods of development, have the most detrimental effects throughout life. These risk factors include not only maternal drug and alcohol use and birth complications, but also abuse and neglect during the first five years of life. Large siblings and poor family management are also risk factors.

Some adolescent risk factors are school performance and peer relationships. These factors tend to be stronger predictors of delinquency in adolescents and adults than risk factors present in childhood.

As noted above, the microbe and cybercriminal populations are roughly in the same age bracket (teenagers and young adults). They share a common ultimate goal: to dispossess others of their property and enrich themselves without exercising a conventional form of valued profession. The choice of modus operandi is undoubtedly linked to the individual's personality (aggressive or Machiavellian), background, level of education, socioeconomic origin and so on. What they have in common is the D factor (Moshagen & al.). According to these authors, a general component known as Factor D can be identified in the field of malice. The D-factor defines the psychological tendency to place personal interests, desires and motivations above any other aspect, be it people or other circumstances. This factor contains the entire spectrum of behaviors that make up malice. It is made up of nine obscure traits: selfishness, Machiavellianism, lack of ethics and morality, narcissism, psychological entitlement, psychopathy, sadism, social and material self-interest, and malice. Factor D can be understood, they argue, as the dark personality incorporating many of these traits.

In conducting this research, we aim to identify the factors involved in the choice of one of the two forms of delinquency under study. The overall aim is to show that the choice of delinquency is linked to certain personality traits, the adolescent's environment and level of education.

  1. Methodology 

This study focuses on two types of delinquents in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Using a qualitative approach, our study analyzes the psychosociological determinants of the choice of delinquency among two types of young offenders: the "microbe" (a type of violent and aggressive hold-up man) and the "brouteur", a form of cybercriminal.

  1. Sample

The population under study is that of delinquents in the age bracket from adolescence to young adulthood, i.e. from 12 to 25 years of age. This includes cybercriminals or "brouteurs" and "microbes" or children in conflict with the law, in Côte d'Ivoire.

We are conducting a case study of a 21-year-old "microbe" or child in conflict with the law from a family of 15 children (including 5 boys and 10 girls) and a 19-year-old cybercriminal or "grazer" from a family of 5 children (including 2 boys and 3 girls). Both are single, out of school and from disadvantaged backgrounds. The first comes from a Christian family and dropped out of school in 5th grade, while the second has a high school diploma and comes from a fetishist family.

  1. Hardware

The data collection instrument used is a semi-directive interview guide. The choice of this type of interview is motivated by the fact that it offers the subject the opportunity to explain his or her answers, to substantiate them, ... In addition, it allows the researcher to ask new questions in order to produce a deeper understanding of the subject's responses. This instrument is structured around 6 points:

  • biographical information (gender, age, family and sibling size, level of education) ;
  • life history of the subject ;
  • personality characteristics ;
  • origin of delinquency ;
  • relationship with drugs, alcohol and narcotics ;
  • frustration tolerance.

This interview guide was used to conduct an interview with each of the two respondents.

The verbal productions thus collected are processed using thematic content analysis, the procedures of which are described in the following lines. 

  1. Data analysis: implementing content analysis

The practice of content analysis, according to Aktouf, consists of 6 steps:

  • reading the document ;
  • definition of themes or categories ;
  • definition of the unit of information or context ;
  • definition of recording or coding unit ;
  • determining the numbering unit.

We used the method of two independent judges. First, two analysts independently read the two interview protocols collected in order to identify the themes and sub-themes around which the respondents' discourse was organized, and to classify the opinions expressed by theme.

After careful and repeated reading of the interviews, we then identified 7 themes covering all the opinions expressed by the participants:

  • personality ;
  • misdemeanors and felonies ;
  • desire for power;
  • drug addiction ;
  • peer pressure or gang membership ;
  • socio-economic background and unsatisfied needs ;
  • practice of mysticism.

The "Personality" theme encompasses all the statements describing an individual's relatively stable way of being, their habitual way of reacting to the various situations they face. This theme can be broken down into 7 sub-themes: "criminal", "violent", "risk-taking", "deceitful", "reckless", "carefree" and "camouflaged".

The "Misdemeanors and Crimes" theme deals with the subject's confessions to reprehensible acts or acts punishable by law that he or she has committed in the course of his or her life. This theme is divided into 5 sub-themes: "Robbery", "Theft", "Assault", "Abortion" and "Murder".

The "Desire for power" theme covers a set of opinions expressing the respondent's aspiration to power, material wealth and popularity. It comprises 6 sub-themes: "Desire to lead", "Desire for power", "Desire to be known and popular", "Refusal to submit", "Desire to be loved" and "Desire for money or wealth".

The "Addiction" theme refers to opinions describing the participant's relationship with narcotics. It is further broken down into 4 sub-themes: "Drugs", "Alcohol", "Gasoline" and "Drug sales".

The theme "Peer influence or gang membership" refers to opinions indicating either the subject's membership of a delinquent gang, or his or her influence by a criminal gang.

The theme "Socio-economic background and unsatisfied needs" deals with the subject's dissatisfaction due to his parents' inability to meet his pecuniary and/or material needs, precisely because of their financial difficulties due to their poverty.

Finally, "Mysticism" describes the individual's propensity to use the services of specialists in the occult sciences (fetishists, marabouts, clairvoyants, etc.) to ensure the success of their criminal activities.

The attribution of the various parts of the discourse to the thematic categories highlighted is based on the choice of the following three analysis criteria:

  • the recording or coding unit. It enables the text to be broken down into its unitary constituents. Here, we've chosen the idea as the recording unit;
  • the context unit, which is used to classify the recording units (in this case, the ideas expressed) into the various themes identified. In this work, any idea expressed by the respondent in relation to one of the above-mentioned themes is considered a context unit;
  • the unit of enumeration is the frequency of appearance of ideas related to one of the above themes. The frequency of a theme corresponds to the number of times an idea relating to this theme or sub-theme is evoked in the entire interview protocol of a participant.

The practice of thematic content analysis has produced some instructive results.

  • Results

The content analysis of the subjects' words and their statistical analysis have produced results that clearly show the similarities and differences between our two subjects, on the one hand, and between them, on the other. 

These results are presented in a summary table and in synthetic and detailed histograms.

Table 1: Content analysis results

Scrambler Microbe
THEMES Subtopics Frequency % % total Frequency % % total
PERSONALITY Violent 3 8% 42% 7 10% 34%
Criminal 2 6% 7 10%
Cunning 3 8% 4 6%
Camouflage 2 6% 5 7%
Bold 3 8% 0 0%
Risk-taker 1 3% 0 0%
Carefree 1 3% 0 0%
DESIRE FOR POWER Desire for power 2 6% 3 4% 10%
Desire for money or wealth 4 11% 1 1%
Desire to be known and popular 2 6% 0 0%
Refusal to submit 0 0% 1 1%
Desire to lead 0 0% 2 3%
SOCIO-ECONOMIC NOMIC ORIGINS AND TION OF NEEDS Poverty of parents or family 2 6% 8% 1 1% 4%
Unsatisfied personal needs 1 3% 2 3%
TOXICOMANIA Drugs 1 3% 3% 3 4% 10%
Alcohol 0 0% 2 3%
Drug sales 0 0% 1 1%
Gasoline 0 0% 1 1%
MISDEMEANORS AND FELONIES Flight 3 8% 8% 7 10% 27%
Assault 0 0% 5 7%
Robbery 0 0% 3 4%
Murder 0 0% 2 3%
Abortion 0 0% 1 1%

This table presents the results of the statistical processing of the data collected during the content analysis of the subjects' discourse. Each percentage of appearance of the theme evoked by the subject is represented graphically to give the reader a better idea of the level of influence of each theme and sub-theme on the subjects' choice of type of delinquency.  

Figure 1: Histogram of overall results

The results of the content analysis of the study subjects reveal that personality is the most important factor influencing the practice of these two forms of delinquency, for both the microbe and the grazer. However, peer influence, drug addiction and the commission of misdemeanors and felonies are more important for the "microbe". The grazer is distinguished from the "microbe" by his strong desire for power and his attachment to mystical practices.

Analysis of the elements making up the sub-categories sheds more light on the personalities of these two types of offenders.

Figure 2: Histogram of personality components

In terms of personality, the "microbe" is characterized by violence, a strong criminal streak and a propensity for camouflage. The "brouteur", on the other hand, is characterized by great cunning, a strong desire for power, and a high degree of recklessness, which manifests itself in taking high risks in the practice of mysticism, despite knowing the drawbacks associated with this practice.

Figure 3: Histogram of manifestations of the desire for power

The desire for power is more obvious and prominent in the grazer than in the microbe.

Figure 4: Histogram of offences and crimes

The microbe is clearly distinguished from the grazer by the sheer number, forms and violence of the offenses and crimes committed. The aggressiveness of the grazer is masked. The child in conflict with the law interviewed for this study confessed to his aggressiveness. He said that as a child, he liked to fight and that on two occasions, his opponent had bled. His father told him he'd get into trouble whether he won or lost a fight. The fear of trouble prompted him to stop fighting. When this aggression didn't disappear, it was converted and redirected. Thus, this subject's prey had to undergo mystical aggression, forcing them to accede to the "grazer's" demands.     

Figure 5: Histogram of substance abuse levels

Grazers are characterized by one major crime: theft. They only commit crimes occasionally, according to the needs expressed by their fetishist or marabout.

Given the violence and forms of crime it commits, the microbe has recourse to several types of drug.

  • Discussion

This study was motivated by the need to discover the psychosociological factors determining the choice of form of delinquency practised by young people, particularly grazers and microbes. It emerged that the criminal personality factor was prominent. However, the prominence of personality sub-factors varies according to the type of delinquency practised by the subject. Thus, we noted the strong attraction and mystical practices characteristic of cybercriminals or grazers.

This is in line with the findings of a study by Bazare et al. These authors note the practice of mysticism and associated ritual crimes by cybercriminals to bewitch their victims into complying with their financial demands, and to evade the police. These researchers also note the use of mystical practices at all levels of grafting, the characteristics and level of which vary according to the type of results expected.

A study carried out by Carignan, whose aim was to investigate how the origin of a cybercriminal can influence the characteristics of the crimes committed, reveals that the motivations of cybercriminals differ according to continent. While cybercriminals from developed countries infiltrate computer systems for ideological reasons and to challenge state authorities, those from African and Arab countries are motivated by financial gain and target individuals. These findings concur with those of the present research, which shows the low socio-economic level and unsatisfied needs of the cybercriminal studied.  

 According to the CNDHCI and Yao report, the microbes are children who fought alongside the "Invisible Commando of Abobo" during the post-electoral crisis, and were frustrated when they were not recruited and integrated into the army as promised. According to this report, they are organized in gangs. They prey on everyone they meet on their way, snatching money, cell phones, jewelry and clothing, and attacking stores. They stock up on drugs and alcohol and, under the influence of these substances, terrorize the population, robbing, beating, slashing or killing those they attack. The subject studied in this work differs from the subjects described here in his motives and mode of integration into a gang of microbes. In addition, having dropped out of school in the seventh grade, this subject falls into the category of illiterates who will have difficulty using a computer tool and the verbal exchanges characteristic of cybercriminals.

The subjects all display aggression, although in the case of cybercriminals, it's veiled under a great deal of guile; the blows inflicted on the victim are mystical and therefore concealed.

It could be said that, while the cybercriminal is in love with glory, the microbe courageously assumes his personality and his crimes and misdemeanors.

The results of this study concur with the theory of Moshagen & al. The microbe and the grazer share the D factor. In each of our subjects, the elements constituting Factor D are found at varying levels, motivating the choice or form of delinquency practised. 


The aim of this study was to show that the choice of type of delinquency among microbes and cybercriminals in Côte d'Ivoire is determined by personality and sociological factors. Three lessons can be drawn from it. Firstly, it confirms that personality is the most important factor in determining a person's inclination towards delinquency and the choice of the form of delinquency, in this case the phenomenon of grazing and cybercrime. Secondly, it indicates that each of the subjects was influenced by peers and the type of delinquency practised by them. Thirdly, it reveals that our two subjects have in common an average socio-economic background and dissatisfied needs.

In view of the above, it would be advisable, if we want to solve the problem caused by these two phenomena, to think about and implement a social policy that would reduce the level of poverty, enrol all school-age children in school, and promote better school supervision. Birth control, depending on social level, could also prove beneficial.

In addition, the type of programs or films broadcast by our various TV channels must be carefully selected.

However, the small size of our sample may have limited our ability to circumscribe the certainly extensive field of determinants of the choice of the form of delinquency practised by young people. Research on a larger and more varied sample will give us a better understanding of the phenomenon under study.

Works quoted

Bazaré, Raymond Nébi, Bamba Ladji and Dolle Kadidja. "Cybercrime or "Broutage" and ritual crimes in Abidjan: Logiques des acteurs et réponses au phénomène cas des communes de Yopougon et d'Abobo." European Scientific Journal, 13(23) (2017): 104-128.

Bowlby, John. Maternal care and mental health: the World Health Organization's contribution to the United Nations programme for the protection of homeless children. WHO Palais des Nations Unies, Geneva: 1954.

Carignan, Mathieu. Geographic origin as an explanatory factor for cybercrime. (Mémoire) Montréal: Université de Montréal, 2015.

Day, David M. and Sonya G. Wanklyn. Identifying and defining key risk factors for antisocial and delinquent behavior in children and youth (Research report) Toronto: Ryerson University of Toronto, 2013.

Dayan, Jacques. "Understanding delinquency?" Adolescence, 82(4) (2012): 881-917. doi:10.3917/ado.082.0881.

Doron, Roland and Françoise Parot. Dictionary of Psychology. Paris: PUF, 2011.

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----. The microbe phenomenon in Abidjan: who are they? And where do they come from? Are we entitled to question), 2015.

Indigo Côte d'Ivoire and interspeace. Exister par le gbonhi, engagement des adolescents et jeunes, dits microbes dans la violence à Abobo.Recherche participative en vue de la réinsertion de 40 jeunes dits microbes. (2017): 24-30

Le Goaziou, Véronique and Laurent Mucchielli. La violence des jeunes en question. Editions Champ social, coll. "Questions de société", 2009, EAN : 9782353710690.

Lucia, Sonia and Véronique Jaquier. "Delinquency, victimization and risk factors: differences and similarities between girls and boys." Déviance et Société, 36(2) (2012): 171-199.

Moshagen, Morten et al. "Measuring the dark core of personality." 32(2) (2019) : 182-196.

Rahali, F. Djalia. Report phenomenon of "gnambro" and "minors in conflict with the law", CNDH CI, Hebdomadaire Crésus. N° 72, (2017) : 5

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Yao, Séverin Kouamé. Nouchis, ziguéhis et microbes d'Abidjan: Déclassement et distinction sociale par la violence de rue en Côte d'Ivoire. Le Dossier, Politique africaine, 148, (2017): 89-107.

How to cite this article:

MLA: Kone, Amegnan Lydie, Saga Bernard Loba and Logon Albert Thierry Djako. "Analyse qualitative des déterminants psychosociologiques du choix de la forme de délinquance par les jeunes en Côte d'Ivoire: Cas du cybercriminel (brouteur) et de l'enfant en conflit avec la loi (microbe)." Uirtus 1.1 (August 2021): 169-185.

§ Université Félix Houphouët Boigny, [email protected]

Abstract (A Neo-slave Narrative Reading of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (2016))

Kpatcha Essobozou Awesso§

Abstract: Colson Whitehead's TheUndergroundRailroad (2016) is a narrative that carries the reader to the historical context of the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century United States of America. More than two (2) centuries after, Whitehead re-imagines this episode of African American history in a skillful readership that deserves critical attention. Why does Whitehead retell the history of the abolitionist movement known as the Underground Railroad in fiction? Why does he choose a twelve year girl, Cora as the central character? Is the theme of slavery still relevant in today's social discourses? These are some questions that call on a literary analysis of this masterpiece. The paper relies on the Neo-slave Narrative approach to analyze the rationale behind this historical novel.

Keywords: Neo-slave narrative, the Underground Railroad, Abolition, Slavery, Neo-Slave Narrative Approach.

Summary: Colson Whitehead'sThe Underground Railroad (2016) is a narrative that transports the reader into the historical context of the 19th-century abolitionist movement in the United States of America. More than two (2) centuries later, Whitehead re-imagines this episode in African-American history in a deft read that deserves critical attention. Why does Whitehead recount the history of the abolitionist movement known as the Underground Railroad in fiction? Why does he choose a twelve-year-old girl, Cora, as his central character? Is the theme of slavery still relevant in today's social discourse? All these questions call for a literary analysis of this masterpiece. This article uses the neo-slavery narrative approach to analyze the logic of this historical novel.

Keywords: Neo-slavery narrative, the Underground Railroad, abolition, slavery, neo-slavery narrative approach.


Reimagining the past in contemporary literary creation is not new, especially if the whirling effects of this past have lasted throughout the time. For instance, in the American context, black slavery and its consequences much fueled literary imagination known as the Slave Narrative genre. This literary genre accounts for the evils of bondage, written either by former slaves or scholars outside the slavery system. Ruth Miller and Peter. J. Katopes write about Slave Narratives that, they:

have their roots in Puritan writings, particularly in journals, diaries, autobiographies, and narrations, all designed to record the Puritan experience of the "walk with God." Slave narratives use a similar form to record the flight to freedom; they are chronological in structure, episodic, and provide little, if any, transition. Events are drawn from common experience; incidents that dismay or horrify or repel are frequently recounted with a lack of passion usually associated with literature designed to demonstrate the truth. There are auction blocks, lashings, escapes, and recaptures; there are tears and prayers and exhortations; there are special providences recorded, coincidences, suspenseful moments in flight, tricks to outwit captors, all of this presented in a tone that is pervasively sober. If there is a preponderance of gloom, there is also optimism; despair mingles with joy. And the overriding purpose of the narrative is to activate the will of the reader to abolish first the slave trade and finally slavery. (21)

Miller and Katopes provide a comprehensive definition of the Slave Narrative literary genre, which emerged at the post-Civil War America as a medium of slaves' accounts of their lives in bondage. Many decades after slavery, writers still frisk in the memories of the antebellum South to bring out some untold stories with contemporary expectations. The imagination of slaves' accounts to make them relevant in contemporary context is what is known as Neo-slave Narrative, and Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (2016) is an example. Ashraf H. Rushdy in his book Neo-slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary Form declares that "Neo-slave narratives are modern or contemporary fictional works substantially concerned with depicting the experience or the effect of new world slavery" (533). Rushdy argues that the contemporary world exhibits some forms of enslavement typical to the historical black slavery in the Americas, and creative writers address such issues by using the slave narrative tradition. These slave narratives in contemporary literature are qualified as neo-slave narratives, since they carry the traditional slave narrative features, but have contemporary implications. Marta Frątczak opines that ''.... saving from oblivion the memory of the dispossessed, and conveying their historical experience through fiction, has always necessitated finding the way to reconcile undocumented histories with the practical demands of novelistic narration''(33). According to Frątczak, the necessity to retell slave narratives today resides in the writers' commitment to keep the slaves' memory alive and exhume untold stories in order to heal the black people's bitter past. Colson Whitehead released TheUndergroundRailroad in 2016, and Michael Szczechowski argues that:

Whitehead uses the simple premise of a slave girl's odyssey through a hellish, early19th century southern United States and conveys his thoughts and concerns for modern-day America, specifically of the lingering effects that slavery and racism has had on Americans, and bravely paints an honest picture of the people we are.

Szczechowski is then suggesting a contemporary interpretation of Whitehead's fiction which addresses modern day societal concerns from a Slave Narrative perspective. Bernard W. Bell argues that Neo-slave Narratives "combine elements of fable, legend, and slave narrative to protest racism and justify the deeds, struggles, migrations, and spirit of black people" (289). Bell's definition takes into account black people's frustrations born from the antebellum South tradition, and that justifies their behavior among other ethnic groups in America. Bell seems to argue that, in a Neo-slave Narrative, there are some ashes of the past brought in the present to understand the behavior of the descendants of slaves in contemporary America. Angelyn Mitchell refers to the genre as "liberatory narratives", since they mostly focus ''on the enslaved protagonist's attainment of freedom" (4). Mitchell's assertion is much complex when she uses the term ''liberatory narratives.'' She seems to refer to stories, in which the protagonist forcibly attains freedom, softening by then the atrocities and inhuman conditions he had to face before reaching freedom. The reading of Whitehead's historical novel goesads me to venture on the field of Neo-slave Narrative. From the preceding critics' views, my work argues that, Colson Whitehead's creative work not only refreshes slaves' conditions of the antebellum South, but also seems much allegorically to address contemporary social injustices and how to cope with them. The paper focuses on the contemporary meaning that Whitehead's novel carries and which makes it a Neo-slave Narrative. The interest of this analysis resides in the novelist's choice of plantation Slave Narrative tradition to address contemporary racial issues in the United States. If black people still fight for freedom up to this twenty first century, it means that the ghost of slavery still haunts them and they should get rid of it. Obviously, the study is conducted from a Neo-slave Narrative perspective, which deals with contemporary creation of Slave Narratives. The Neo-slave Narrative theory helps in this context draw a contemporary meaning and relevance of Whitehead's antebellum South narrative. Apart from Whitehead's novel which is the primary source of this work, additional information will be drawn from articles, books, and other relevant materials to strengthen the point being made. The work first overviews the Neo-slave Narrative genre with reference to Whitehead's novel by discussing the meaning of the title, the thematic approach and the characterization. Further, the paper analyses the relevance of reimagining Slave Narratives in the twenty first century as a form of resistance.     

1. The Underground Railroad: A Neo-Slave Narrative

Colson Whitehead's novel is published in 2016, when the Black Lives Matter movement was already rallying thousands of people to the cause of innocent and defenseless black male victims of white police murderers. Nikita Carney writes:

The BLM movement began in 2012 when George Zimmerman was acquitted after shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. Three Black women activists, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, started the movement that subsequently engaged many, including many youth of color, in social justice activism across the country (181).

The movement evolved as an outcry for justice to the innocent victims of police harassment. It is quite arguable that Whitehead's novel finds a fertile ground for debate, since it is all about a struggle for freedom, just like the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Whitehead's novel opens with the account of Ajarry, the grandmother of Cora, the protagonist. Ajarry is arrested and sold to slave traders at the port of Ouidah, and eventually shipped to the New World[1] where she was sold many times to different plantation owners. Cora was resentful to escape slavery when Caesar brought the idea for the first time, (TUR 9) but when she remembered Mabel, her mother, she decided to flee. The story evolves through Cora and Caesar's hard journey northwards, stopping times to times at railroad stations, where some secret agents helped them with food and accommodation until they reached north. Ridgeway, a slave catcher was to bring Cora back to Georgia, but was ultimately defeated in a fight against Cora in a railroad station on Valentine. The Underground Railroad, though published in the twenty first century tells the story of a runaway slave girl, bringing the reader centuries back in the South American slavery tradition. Bringing back fugitive slaves' narratives in the twenty first century is Colson Whitehead's concern in The Underground Railroad, and he must have strong motives to refresh the old slavery tradition in a contemporary American society where the descendants of the former slaves are still oppressed. Colson's novel which is classified as a Neo-slave Narrative genre is part of many fictional works produced by non former slaves and out of the context of slavery, but which vividly depict the lives of black slaves on the southern plantations.

The debate around this literary genre has gained interest since its rise in the second half of the twentieth century, and according to Ashraf H. Rushdy, the Neo-slave Narrative genre is about the "contemporary narrativity of slavery" concerning "contemporary novels that assume the form, adopt the conventions, and take on the first-person voice of the antebellum slave narrative" (3). Rushdy refers to writers, who never experienced slavery, but deal with the plantation narrative style, of course with a specific purpose in mind. Valerie Smith observes that, the Neo-slave Narrative genre mostly refers to:

texts set during the period of slavery as well as those set afterwards, at any time from the era of Reconstruction until the present. They approach slavery from a myriad perspective [...] from realist novels grounded in historical research to speculative fiction, postmodern experiments, satire and works that combine these diverse methods (168).

Smith contends that, the Neo-slave Narrative genre is a writing style that alerts on the still rampant residues of bondage and injustices in America. The Neo-slave Narrative is a genre that links the past slavery pains to contemporary ones and Saidiya Hartman argues "If the ghost of slavery still haunts our present, it is because we are still looking for an exit from the prison" (133). Bridging past slavery traumas to the present forms of injustices (especially done to black people) is not only an outcry to end social injustices, but an opportunity to reveal some untold stories about slavery, and make them fit the modern social calamities. This is an alternative reception of slave narratives which were supposed to end with the last survivors of slavery. Timothy A. Spaulding observes in his work Re-forming the Past: History, the Fantastic, and the Postmodern Slave Narrative that, modern narratives on slavery ''create an alternative and fictional historiography based on a subjective, fantastic, and anti-realist representation of slavery" (2). Conclusively, a Neo-slave Narrative is the blending of Slave Narrative genre storyline with contemporary paradigms that serve as clues to draw meaning. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad better fits the Neo-slave Narrative genre from its third person narrative point of view, where the reader is well informed about characters challenges and their inner thoughts. The traditional narratives by former slaves have mostly involved adults struggling to free themselves from the grids of bondage, but Whitehead's novel spots a fifteen years old Cora, a defenseless girl who is fighting alone against the whole slavery structure. Whitehead's choice of a vulnerable character foreshadows the degree of hardship ahead on the journey of freedom. Ridgeway, the villain is defeated in a close fight with the young Cora, and this implies that, the oppressed must stop running away from the evil, but he must definitely fight and cancel it from his existence. The contemporary meaning of the Slave Narrative genre is its still recurrent theme of injustice done to the most vulnerable people of the society, and which requires their own investment for total liberation, in the image of Cora.         

2. The Underground Railroad: Struggle against Institutionalized Injustice

Colson Whitehead may have enough reasons to name his fictional work after the historical anti-slavery movement known as the Underground Railroad. Junior Ranger in his article ''Discovering the Underground Railroad'' writes:

The "Underground Railroad" is not actually a train operating along hidden railroad tracks. Instead, it refers to an idea. The Underground Railroad refers to the efforts of enslaved African Americans to gain their freedom through escape and flight-and the assistance of people who opposed slavery and willingly chose to help them to escape-through the end of the U.S. Civil War.

This anti-slavery movement was according to slave holders an illegal movement and this is in response to their assumptions that the title is given to the novel, to keep a close watch on social injustices and fight them. In this perspective, it is arguable that the title of Whitehead's novel is to remind the readers that, in contemporary societies, there are still many forms of human subjugations, and philanthropists must rally with victims in their search for liberation as was the case of abolitionists. The title of Whitehead's novel is to be understood beyond the context of African Americans' bondage, which in fact provides much of the meaning to the narrative. Addressing to the Underground Railroad in the twenty first century may suggest that, there are new tales about the movement (the untold ones or the new interpretation the former ones embody today). There are hidden forms of injustices which politics fails to notice, and even when the victims raise alert, they are repressed by laws that seem too old to contemporary realities.

Colson Whitehead's novel finds place in contemporary discourse because of the continuous subjugation of the masses by a handful of powerful people. Though the institutionalized black slavery is legally abolished, it had left much stain on the victims' psyche. Their past trauma still springs whenever justice is twisted. In this part of my analysis, I consider the struggle for freedom, which is the main idea of Whitehead's novel as a relevant topic in contemporary discourse. In her research work titled Modern Representations of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia Eldra D. Walker investigates what remains of the antislavery movement in Philadelphia and comes to the conclusion that, for the sake of memory and what it represents today, it must be preserved.

There are many ways to preserve the UGRR. One way of preserving the story of the UGRR is to preserve the documented 'stations' where fugitives sought aid. Another method is re-telling the stories of those fugitives who escaped bondage. In recent years, Congress has created laws to determine if the story of the UGRR can be preserved and how to honor the story of the UGRR. However, to truly commemorate and interpret the story of the UGRR, it must be reframed with the preservation of the stories of slavery, antislavery, and other forms of resistance (24).

In the center of Walker's argument stands the imperious need to retell or reframe the stories of those who were involved in this philanthropic system. In Whitehead's fictional context, the scenes of atrocities inflicted on black slaves meet the sympathy of Sam, one of the white conductors of the Underground Railroad. Sam's job is to feed and host fugitive slaves, and upon Cora's and Caesar's arrival at the station, he declared: "This is my job,"... "You wait here until they come and fetch you"... "You made it,"... "You're really here".... "You're a long way from Georgia,"... "South Carolina has a much more enlightened attitude toward colored advancement than the rest of the south. You'll be safe here until we can arrange the next leg of your trip. It might take time" (TUR 73, 74). Still in the hands of the conductors of the Underground Railroad, Cora and Caesar are not safe and this accurately shapes the novel's vibrant quest for freedom. Conclusively, Lander, one of the slave catchers remarks on the Valentine farm that, "Here's one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can't. Its scars will never fade" (TUR 217). The novel finds its contemporary relevance in Lander's words, which much bend on the psychological everlasting scars of slavery, that still exist in twenty first century under various forms, and much exercised against the descendants of black slaves. The Underground Railroad is a readership that serves as a reminder of the right of all human beings, regardless any difference in the pursuit of happiness, as stipulated in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. It is because the handful of people on power position marginalizes the right of the masses that protests and discomforts of all sorts are regularly expressed in modern societies. Whitehead displays the constant search for freedom in modern societies through the repetitive advertisements of reward (that begin some of the chapters of the narrative) for he who brings back a runaway slave to his holder (TUR 15, 68, 112, 155, 183). These advertisements are the very insidious facet of the unconstitutionally institutionalized black slavery, since runaway slaves are never safe, even once in antislavery territories. Cora, the heroine of the narrative did never rest, she was always held in motion, most of the time hiding from Ridgeway, the slave catcher and his crew. Her endless run much illustrates the unsafe human conditions, which need to be permanently improved regarding the new contexts.

The plight of the black characters in the novel is visible through the author's use of some paradigms embodying contemporary interpretation: the Griffin Building which is twelve stories high and the hob, which represents a modern psychiatric asylum or a ghetto. The Griffin Building is the highest building of the town and it hosts many businesses, among which Mr. Anderson's office of contracts in cotton (TUR 69-70). The Griffin Building with its high-tech features and the businesses its hosts represent modernity and the American capitalism, which has much developed from slaves' labor. By purposely inserting modern symbols in a story that is supposed to occur in a far remote time, the author is foreseeing the endless black slavery in the context of modern progress. The hob on Randall plantation is the cabin of the outcast women slaves (TUR 33-34), and it quietly fits a psychiatric asylum of modern times. This also helps understand how social ostracism worked on black people at the post-Civil War reduced them into psychologically disabled people overcrowded into ghettos and slums.    

3. The Underground Railroad: Empowering Women

Colson Whitehead gathers appropriate and efficient materials in the hands of his heroine for her project of running for freedom. Cora is described as a fragile and a strong female character, much lucky enough to overcome all the adversities on her way to freedom. The narrator recalls that Cora has inherited the capacity to cope with difficulties from her grandmother Ajarry and resistance from Mabel, her mother (TUR 18). Cora's odyssey from the Randall plantation in Georgia to her encounter with Ollie the last conductor of the Underground Railroad heading to California (TUR 232) is much like a fairytale. It seems that all the gods are with her and assist her whenever trouble comes. Cora represents all these social disinherited and unprivileged who struggle to achieve an average living in the midst of social challenges. Cora's young age, contrasted with the enormous challenges she faces quietly determines the strong moral character that hosts her innermost. Cora has to be empowered in one way or the other in order to endure the brutalities of plantation life and the dangers of the flight. Depicted from the image of Harriet Tubman, the well-known female figure of the historical Underground Railroad movement, Cora's omniscient thoughts guide her along her journey. She temporally lived in South Carolina under a fake identity: ''BESSIE Carpenter was the name on the papers Sam gave her at the Station'' (TUR 72). Sam is one of the white agents operating on the Underground Railroad, and his assistance allows Cora to temporally enjoy freedom before her hunter Ridgeway erupted in the city. Cora's permanent flight from one station to another well illustrates the unrest state of the contemporary marginalized, who demonstrate from various forms to have their requests heard and satisfied. She is a modern emblem of protest as she embodies many social representations like gender, race, age etc. Visibly, by choosing Cora as the protagonist, Whitehead enhances the discourse of struggle for freedom, which has formerly involved adults and much more male characters. Current protests around the world are much rallied on social networks platforms where the youth stand as key actors. Commenting on the central role played by the youth in contemporary social movements discourse, Nikita Carney observes in ''All Lives Matter, but so Does Race: Black Lives Matter and the Evolving Role of Social Media'' that, ''While the public sphere is not universally accessible, the rise of social media appears to be increasing accessibility to national discourse, particularly for youth who are coming of age with the rise of this technology'' (184). The rapid control of the internet by the youth, who ask for much freedom and justice all across the world, may have weighted on the Whitehead's choice of Cora as the central freedom fighter. Cora's early awareness about the unconstitutional aspect of slavery from now on strengthens and fuels her behavior:

The whites came to this land for a fresh start and to escape the tyranny of their masters, just as the freemen had fled theirs. But the ideals they held up for themselves, they denied others. Cora had heard Michael recite the Declaration of Independence back on the Randall plantation many times, his voice drifting through the village like an angry phantom. She didn't understand the words, most of them at any rate, but created equal was not lost on her. The white men who wrote it didn't understand it either, if all men did not truly mean all men..... Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood (TUR 91).

For Cora, the Declaration of Independence rightly stipulates that: ''We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness'' (XLV). Cora better understood the controversy of the institutionalization of slavery after reading the above passage, and started searching for ways to readjust it. Being endowed with such great ingenuity, Cora is able to play her card through the manacles of the system, but still she is hunted by Ridgeway, the unrest slave catcher and his crew, who symbolize modern structures of hindrance to human fulfillment. Cora's final encounter with Ridgeway is a close fight in which the slave catcher is severely wounded, watching helplessly Cora run away. The scene of their fight is recalled as follows:

Tonight I will hold him close, as if in a slow dance... She waited until the slave catcher was on the third step. She spun and locked her arms around him like a chain of iron. The candle dropped. He attempted to keep his footing with her weight on him, reaching out for leverage against the wall, but she held him close like a lover and the pair tumbled down the stone steps into the darkness. They fought and grappled in the violence of their fall...Cora untwined herself from Ridgeway and crawled toward the handcar, left leg in agony. The slave catcher didn't make a sound. The big bone in the man's thigh stuck out of his trousers and his other leg bent in a gruesome arrangement (TUR 229).

Obviously, Cora could not stand her hunters' assails and Whitehead has to get her miraculously out of danger. Her victory over Ridgeway and his men makes her a heroine of black protest, and furthermore an emblem of universal freedom fighter. Nihad M. Farooq argues that ''Ridgeway hunts Cora with a particular vengeance because he had lost track of her mother, Mabel, who ran from Randall six years earlier'' (88) and this explains his ferocious assails on Cora. She has to be more than an ordinary character, doubly assisted by the Providence and the sympathy of strangers she met on her northward journey to freedom. 

4. The Underground Railroad: Reimagining the Slave Narrative Genre in the Twenty First Century

The reader may be inquisitive about the relevance of Whitehead's The Underground Railroad in the twenty first century beside the emergence of new trends in creative literature. I hold it that, reimagining a Slave Narrative genre in the contemporary context may imply an articulation of resistance against modern forms of injustices. The then plantation slavery that subjugated black people is translated into modern context of injustice, ranging from the fight for human rights to the engagement into ecological causes. Exhuming the Slave Narrative genre today in creative literature is to relight the flame of hope among desperate people, because it is a story of hard struggle to remain alive and afterward free in a country where minorities struggle to make a safer place for themselves and their descendants. Especially, for black people, a Slave Narrative genre in the twenty first century is a reminiscence of their endless journey to freedom. In Whitehead's novel, slavery is not to be solely considered as the historical Trans-Atlantic trade and servitude of Africans in the Americas, but all hindrances (mostly man made) to human fulfillment. The contemporary context of violation in human rights suggests to think of slavery beyond the historical enslavement of Africans on the American soil. It would be much incoherent if Colson Whitehead had told the story from a stereotype black slave point of view, without inserting contemporary paradigms (the high tech Griffin Building, the women hob, the clinical tests on black people) to make it meaningful for his readership. In other words, Whitehead's novel displays some features "which were not typically reflected in the slave narratives of the nineteenth century" (Von Rönn 17). If the Slave Narrative genre is still meaningful today, it is because of the various shapes slavery has taken according to Saidiya Hartman who argues that:

If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery-skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment (6).

These are in Hartman's words the new forms of subjugation which refresh the dark memories of the nineteenth century black enslavement, and harboring towards equal rights for all, will help cure the psychological wounds of the past trauma and turn a new page to write the common history. The American country that claims itself democratic and an example in matter of human rights enforcement is contrastively the field of many injustices toward non-whites from the colonization to the recent demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter movement. The black people's plight started when the illegal slavery system was institutionalized as a compromise to the southern states' request to save the Union. Royal, one of the free black characters operating on the Underground Railroad in the novel remarks: "And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes-believes with all its heart-that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are'' (TUR 217). Royal then captures the illegal way used by the nation to dominate and oppress it own people and much more other countries on the international level. As long as African Americans and other minorities are forced on the margins of the American Dream, the Neo-slave Narrative genre will continue growing as a contemporary great literary form of resistance. The genre, then, becomes the cornerstone of the fight against racism, discrimination, and other forms of oppression exercised on the most vulnerable social groups by some people holding power.


This paper has investigated some characteristics of the Neo-slave Narrative literary genre in Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad. The argumentation stems from this question: how relevant is an antebellum Slave Narrative in the twenty first century? At the end, the analysis has revealed that Whitehead's historical novel, though released in 2016 tells the story of Cora, a fugitive slave girl. The Slave Narrative genre, which emerged at the post-Civil War era, did not fade because of its central issue which is the slaves' struggle to survive and make their stories known to their descendants. The genre has evolved with the writers' reference to modern paradigms in their works and it became a Neo-slave Narrative genre, but did not lose its plantation tradition aspect. Fundamentally, this work has argued that, Whitehead's The Underground Railroad departs from the Slave Narrative tradition to address contemporary forms of injustice that prevent African Americans and other minorities to achieve the American Dream. It is quite illusory to ignore that, though the historical slavery is abolished, other forms of enslavement and alienation are well marshaled by the hegemonic white dominant voice to keep the rest under control. The historical slavery in the novel is symbolic to any obstacle (usually man made) that threatens human happiness. The storyline that channels the ghost of slavery from Ajarry to her granddaughter Cora well illustrates the endless inhuman treatments faced by African Americans, and which are currently expressed through the demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter movement and other forms of protest. The novel is relevant in the contemporary context where human rights are being rudely violated under the conspiracy of some heartless decision makers. The paper has also argued that, Whitehead incisively attacks injustice through Ridgeway's brutality on the young and defenseless Cora. The Slave Narrative genre (which deals with the protagonist's endeavor to achieve freedom) finds its relevance in contemporary context because it addresses the same issue of freedom, but under other forms, and with other actors, which not forcibly black people. This is to say that, no one is spared from the social oppression, and even the most vulnerable must stand up like Cora and fight, if they aspire to survival. Moreover, the study has argued that, by reimagining the slaves' hard struggle to freedom in the context of current challenges, Whitehead simply reminds us that slavery still exists, but under various shapes, and Cora's fight must incite optimism in people who have lost faith in the possible attainment of the American Dream.

Works Cited

Bell, Bernard. W. The Afro-American Novel and its Traditions. USA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987.

Carney, Nikita. ''All Lives Matter, but so Does Race: Black Lives Matter and the Evolving Role of Social Media.'' Humanity & Society, Vol. 40. 2, 2016, pp. 180-199.

Farooq, Nihad. M. "A Useful Delusion: Valentine Farm and the Flight for Freedom.'' Utopian Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2019, pp. 87-110.

Frątczak, Martha, "History as Now: Allegorical (Re)visions of the Slave Experience in Caryl Phillips's Crossing the River (1993)." Commonwealth Essays and Studies 40.1. 2017, pp 33-43.

Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

Miller, Ruth. and Peter, J. Katopes. ''Slave Narratives'' in Thomas M. Inge, Maurice Duke and Jackson R. Bryer (eds) Black American Writers. Palgrave Macmillan, London. 1987, pp 21-46.

Mitchell, Angelyn. The Freedom to Remember: Narrative, Slavery and Gender in Contemporary Black Women's Fiction. London: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Ranger, J. Discovering the Underground Railroad Accessed: 04/04/2022.

Rushdy, Ashraf. H. Neo-slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary Form. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.

Smith, Valerie. ''Neo-slave Narratives'' in Audrey Fisch (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the African American Slave Narrative. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 168 - 185.

Spaulding, Timothy. A. Re-forming the Past: History, the Fantastic, and the Postmodern Slave Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.

Szczechowski, Michael. '21, on The Underground Railroad. From Accessed 30/03/2022.

The Declaration of Independence 1776: Accessed: 04/04/2022.

Von Rönn, Stephanie. The Re-creation of History: Narrative Constructions in the African- American Neo-slave Narrative. Saarbrücken: Verlag, 2008.

Walker, Eldra. D. Modern Representations of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. A Thesis in Historic Preservation Presented to the Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Historic Preservation, 2007.

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

How to cite this article:

MLA: Awesso, Kpatcha Essobozou. "A Neo-slave Narrative Reading of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (2016)". Uirtus 2.1. (April 2022): 265-280.

§ University of Kara, Togo / [email protected]

[1] Colson Whitehead. The Underground Railroad(New York: Doubleday, 2016), 9 Subsequent quotations from this edition will be marked (TUR) followed by the page number.

Abstract (A Neo-slave Narrative Reading of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (2016))

Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (2016) is a
narrative that carries the reader to the historical context of the abolitionist
movement of the nineteenth century United States of America. More than
two (2) centuries after, Whitehead re-imagines this episode of African
American history in a skillful readership that deserves critical attention.
Why does Whitehead retell the history of the abolitionist movement
known as the Underground Railroad in fiction? Why does he choose a
twelve year girl, Cora as the central character? Is the theme of slavery still
relevant in today's social discourses? These are some questions that call on
a literary analysis of this masterpiece. The paper relies on the Neo-slave
Narrative approach to analyze the rationale behind this historical novel.
Keywords: Neo-slave narrative, the Underground Railroad, Abolition,
Slavery, Neo-Slave Narrative Approach.

Abstract (Le corps des agents de maintien de l'ordre au Togo :création, réorganisations, rôles (1884-1946))

The objective of this article is to show how the emergence and
the formation of this socio-professional category accentuated the colonial
domination in Togo from 1884 to 1946. Indeed, it appears that to mark
their presence and to keep in obedience the colonized populations of
which one could fear an uprising, the colonial powers created a security
force on the spot that could allow them to dominate and exercise their
authority over the African populations. In Togo, the situation was not
different either. Although initially their role was almost limited to the
internal and external protection of the colony, law enforcement and
security agents eventually established themselves as an indispensable
Keywords: dark force, war, troops, authority, security

Full Text                     

Abstract (Les musulmans et le pouvoir politique en Côte d’Ivoire : entre collaboration et instrumentalisation (1990-2011))

The multi-party system in 1990 was marked by lively socio-
political rivalries in Côte d’Ivoire, with the important role of Muslim

guides. Thus, it is established the personal commitment of certain imams
in the creation and implementation of the Rally of Republicans (RDR).
These guides present themselves as symbols of an emerging civil society
through religious discourse. Generally, they become mediators at a time
when the multi-party system causes crises. This article shows their role in
easing social tensions. However, for personal interests, they are also
Keywords: muslims, power, politics, Côte d’Ivoire, collaboration,

Abstract (Diastratic variation in Kabiyè, the Gur language of Togo)

Palakyém Mouzou§

Résumé : Linguistic homogeneity is a rare phenomenon among speakers of a single language. The societal use of a language such as Kabiye gives way to linguistic heterogeneity characterized by dynamic lexical variation among certain categories of speakers. What factors underlie such lexical variation? Taken as part of the wider phenomena of language contact, but described from a lexicological angle, this article takes as its substrate the diversity of neological and stylistic processes in all the categories observed. It considers diastratic variation as one aspect of lexical variation and the very basis of linguistic dynamics. Several variables, both internal and external to languages and speakers, are involved in this variation. The data underlying the present study were collected in the prefecture of Kozah from various socio-professional categories of the population.

Keywords: diastratic variation, lexical creation, kabiyè. 

Abstract: Linguistic homogeneity is a rare phenomenon that can be observed among speakers of a single language. The societal practice of a language such as Kabiye leaves room for linguistic heterogeneity characterized by a rather dynamic lexical variation between certain categories of speakers. So, what are the factors underlying such lexical variation? Taken as a whole of language contact phenomena but described from a lexicological perspective, this article takes as its substrate the diversity of neological and stylistic processes in all the categories observed. It considers diastratic variation as one aspect of lexical variation and the very basis of linguistic dynamics. Several variables both internal and external to languages and speakers are involved in this variation. The data underlying the present study were collected in the prefecture of Kozah from the different socio-professional categories of the population.

Keywords: Diastratic Variation, Lexical Creation, Kabiyè. 


In linguistic practice, it's easy to see how lexies vary within the same language, both diachronically and synchronically. As Jean Dubois (504) points out, linguistic variation is the "phenomenon whereby, in everyday use, a given language is never identical to what it was at another time, in another place or in another social group". It reflects the linguistic cosmopolitanism of a society, and the concrete manifestation of the eminently social nature of language. In lexicology and sociolinguistics, there are generally five types of variation linked to time, place, social dimension and situation: diachronic variation, diatopic variation, diaphasic variation, diametrical variation and diastratic variation. It is precisely this last type that interests us in a series of studies that we intend to carry out in order to account for the linguistic dynamism and vitality enjoyed by the Kabiyè language, a Gur language from the eastern branch of the Gurunsi languages, spoken in Togo and Benin. Kabiye is spoken by a population of 1,423,964 speakers, or 22.9% of the resident population, according to figures from the latest General Census of Population and Housing (2010), published in 2015. Several works have been carried out on Kabiyè, but none of these have so far touched on the various phenomena of linguistic variation in general, and even less on diastratic variation in particular. The aim of the present study is to identify and describe the different language variations according to the social classes of children, young people and the elderly. The main questions to be addressed in this study are as follows: How does diastatic variation manifest itself in Kabyè? What are the structures of diastratic variation in Kabyè? We postulate that diastratic variation manifests itself through various factors: age, gender, social class. It is then observed across various strata, namely: the child stratum, the youth stratum and the elderly stratum. This study takes both a lexicological and sociolinguistic perspective, and will address three main points. The first will present the theoretical framework and methodology used in this work. The second will examine the factors of diastratic variation as an integral part of social and demographic variation. Finally, the third section will analyze the structures of the various lexies used by different age groups, in order to highlight the bases of differentiation.

1. Theoretical and methodological frameworks

In the following lines, we outline the theoretical orientations of this study and the methodology that enabled us to gather the data submitted for analysis.

1.1 Theoretical framework 

Linguistic variation is central to the study of language use. Indeed, it is impossible to study the linguistic forms used in natural texts, for example, without being confronted with the problems of linguistic variability. As François Gadet (7) puts it, "there is no language that its speakers do not use in a variety of forms". He adds that linguists "grasp this differentiation by speaking of varieties to designate different ways of speaking, of variation for diversified phenomena in synchronicity, and of change for dynamics in diachronicity". Variability is inherent in human language: a single speaker uses several linguistic forms on different occasions, and different speakers of the same language express the same meanings using different forms. Much of this variation is highly systematic, with speakers of the same language choosing pronunciation, word choice and grammar according to a number of non-linguistic factors. These factors include the speaker's purpose in communicating, the relationship between him and his interlocutor, the conditions of production and the various social affiliations that affect him.

The present study of diastratic variation in Kabiye draws on the theory of panlectal variation developed in the context of sociolinguistics. This theory is mainly based on the work of Robert Chaudenson, successively extended and enriched by Meyerhoff and Nagy, on the one hand, and Gudrun Ledegen and Isabelle Leglise, on the other. This theory considers language contact as one of the explanatory factors for the variations observed in a language. According to Gudrun Ledegen and Isabelle Leglise (6), work within the framework of this theory "focuses on the nature and respective importance of the extrasystemic, intrasystemic and intersystemic factors that determine the variations observed".

The phenomena of interest to the researcher within the framework of this theory are summarized as follows in the table below:

Changes that are essentially intrasystemic, in which interference would at best only have a reinforcing role (e.g. going to the doctor, washing one's hands).Changes in which the intrasystemic and intersystemic converge, with interference leading to restructurings of the same type as those that could be carried out by the intrasystemic route alone (e.g. going to the doctor, washing one's hands).
Changes occurring in areas of potential variability in French and constituting specific variants directly derived from the non-French model by intersystemic transfer (e.g. retourner back, chercher pour...).Changes appearing in the diasystem but outside the F0 and arising from an individual adaptation of a bilingual's dual competence, to compensate for a "failure" in the dominated language (e.g. leaving on a trip).

1.2 Methodological framework

Data collection took place entirely in Kara, in the commune of Kozah. We began with semi-direct observation, in which we attended informal discussions between people of different ages at home and in other places (tchakpalodrome, public fountains and local markets). We intervened from time to time to introduce certain subjects, so as to better perceive the variation between the different classes.

In addition to the data already collected, we felt it would be useful to draw up a questionnaire containing 70 words in French. The choice of words was made to reflect the variation between children, young people and the elderly. We passed the questions to the informants, and they returned them to us in Kabiye. These data, entirely recorded by a dictaphone, were then transcribed and analyzed. 

2. Factors in diastratic variation in kabiyè

Diastratic language variation is social and demographic variation, i.e. linguistic variation linked to social groups and life in society. It explains the differences in usage between different social strata, thus integrating socio-lects. Indeed, at the same time and in the same region, speakers with different demographic and social characteristics have different ways of speaking. The study of this variation accounts, for example, for the differences between the language of young and old, between the language of rural and urban groups, for linguistic differences between professional groups or, finally, for differences according to speakers' levels of education. Diastatic variation manifests itself through several factors: gender, age and social class.

2.1. The age

Age is the factor most likely to affect linguistic variation. It is considered the factor that best demonstrates whether there is a change within a community for the same speech. Studies have shown that adults use standard and traditional variants, while young people favor non-standard forms. Terry Nadasdi et al. demonstrate an association between the self-talk variant of speakers under 30 and the auto-talk variant of "middle-aged" speakers (92). Age is the main factor in the disappearance of the traditional variant. We also note that the linguistic behavior of some speaker groups depends on their age categories. 

In Kabiye, the following differences can be observed:

 ChildrenYoung peopleMature age
2(the) eatmam-mamtɔkɩyɛtɔ́ɔ́náɣ
3faecal matterpuuúpɩ́ndʋawayɩ́
6penbikbiktɔlíɩm cɩ́kaɣ

As this table shows, the notion of a chair is expressed in different ways, but the language used by young people and children is similar, whereas that used by middle-aged people is totally different. Similarly, the lexies used by young and mature speakers to express the idea of eating are close, whereas those used by children are totally different. The third lexicon (fecal matter), on the other hand, is very different. There are cases of borrowings rendered differently, even though the children's and young people's lexies are close, whereas the middle-aged use a different lexie altogether. In example 5, all age categories use borrowings, the only difference being that children and young people use a borrowing of French origin, while the third category uses a borrowing of English origin. Example 6, also a loan, is rendered by a totally different lexeme. The children and young people use the same lexicon, which is none other than a brand of pen widely used in French-speaking Africa, and more specifically in Togo. Older people use a lexeme that has been created within the language itself. In all cases, there is lexical variation between the three age categories. The only exception is in example 4, where all categories have the same lexis. In part 3, we'll come back to the lexies specific to these different age categories, not to explain them, but to give the structure of the lexies used.

2.2. Gender

In their everyday practices, men and women also speak differently, because they don't always have the same linguistic representations. Some of these representations may be perceived positively by men, but not by women. Depending on these representations, which are socioculturally embedded, the use of lexia will vary from one gender to another. Anne Violin-Wigent (12) has already concluded that "the tendency of women over 40 to retain more regional vocabulary than men of the same age is reversed for women under 40, who show a stronger tendency to abandon regional vocabulary than men of the same age". This situation, while indicative of gender variation, is not identical in Kabiye society, where women's linguistic behavior is generally more conservative or closer to the norm than that of men. This is all the more remarkable when it comes to expressing themselves on subjects related to sexuality or parts of the human body.

By way of illustration, to say ''sexual intercourse'', ''sex'', ''derrières de la femme'', ''faire la cour'' women will use the lexies, kʋzʋʋ (7a),taŋnʋ́ ( 8c), pʋyʋ (9a), ɖánʋʋ (10a) where men will rather say yalaɣ (7b), ladɩyɛ/kodíye (8b),tɔbɩŋ ( 9b),ɖaʋ́tʋʋ (10b) ...

Younger women seem to reject older vocabulary and increasingly prefer to pronounce the same lexies as men of the same age. So we'll hear lexies like akpadɩyʋ́( 11), hilúu (12) or mɩlʋ́ʋ (13) to mean ''old person, gluttony or stealing.

2.3. Social classes

Social classes contribute most to linguistic variation, each with its own terminology and expressions. Whether blacksmiths, weavers, carpenters, priests, dressmakers, healers, merchants... or farmers, the various socio-professional groups contribute enormously to lexical enrichment and, by the same token, to linguistic variation. Even within the same socio-professional group, there is no such thing as linguistic homogeneity between different lectors. By lect, we mean a specific language reserved for specialists in a single field or sub-field. It is therefore a subset of a sociolect. A doctor, for example, would use a first lect to converse with his medical colleagues, a second to converse with his assistants and, finally, a third lect to converse with his patients.

A blacksmith, for example, will distinguish hakuu (14 ) from agooza hakuu (14a) and hakuukɩwasʋʋ (14b), whereas the ordinary citizen will simply say hakuu. Similarly, a dressmaker, to designate habit, coat, bra, garment sleeve and boubou, will use tóko (15), niŋkaɣ tóko (15a),hɩlatoko (15b), tokohamʋ́ʋ (15c) and tóko waa (15d) whereas the lambda citizen will simply say tóko (15). One of the most illustrative examples of lexical variation comes from the field of traditional medicine. Ninety-two percent of the people we interviewed used the lexicon kɔ́yɛ (16) to refer to the product, whereas one of the healers we interviewed clearly told us that the lexicon kɔ́yɛ is very vague and ultimately refers to nothing in his case. Here are the different occurrences with their meanings. 

(16a) Heu taa kɔ́yɛ: species of pink-flowered herbaceous plant with hairy stems and leaves used to make an infusion for infants.

(16b) Kelá kɔ́yɛ: leguminous and medicinal plant species for tooth care

(16c) Kɔ́yɛ kɩ́ɖaɣlɩyɛ: clove

(16d) Kɔ́yɛ kɩmɩzɩyɛ́ : sprayed product

(16th) Kɔ́yɛ kpooloo: species of spice similar to "kɔyɛ kɩ́daɣlɩyɛ" but larger.

(16f) Tɛtɛ wondu kɔ́yɛ: insecticide

(16g) Ɛlɛyɛ kɔ́yɛ: species of medicinal plant used in the treatment of vertigo and epilepsy.

(16h) Limiye kɔyɛ: antiphlebitis product

(16i) Ladɩhoka kɔyɛ : product against hernia 

It's undeniable, then, that not all speakers use the same lexies, and therefore can't master them all; the use and technicality of lexies will inevitably depend on the needs one feels.

3. Structuring of variation by age group

The aim of this third point is to analyze the structures of the various lexies used according to the different age classes. The Kabiye people frequently distinguish three levels of age classes for living people: children, young people and the elderly/mature. We'll expand the examples, then analyze them according to the processes that gave rise to them.

3.1. Children's classroom

Depending on their age and the level of development of their phonatory apparatus, children have a particular way of expressing themselves. This is by no means equivalent to language difficulties. Rather, it has to do with linguistic incompetence, which is normal for their age. It's an innate act of the language faculty, which can be seen as a universal grammar, i.e. a set of principles that guide the child in learning the language. Since this faculty is unique to the human being, the child can make a grammar of his language. According to Noam Chomsky, the reason why children don't produce certain sentences at any stage of their learning is that the constructions involved are excluded from the outset by the principles of universal grammar. In other words, there are sentences that are logically possible, but which are not observed in the productions of children learning their language. This justifies the level of children's mastery of the language.

Let's take a look at a few examples from the data collected during the observation, which will serve as a basis for analysis:

(17) pópó / pimpim ῞motocylette῞

(18) lↄyiyɛ / vúm vúm ῝voiture ῝

(19) ninεtɩ ῞lunettes ῞

(20) yídee ῝argent῝

(21) cuucuú ῞chiot῞

(22) yeyee ῝fleur῝

(23) kokoyikoo ῞poule῞

(24) kɔyɛ ῝product῞

(25) peyaɣ́ ῞tabouret῝

(26) sʋyʋm ῞boisson῝ 

(27) puú ῝matières fécales῝

Our corpus shows that children construct language grammar through imitation, onomatopoeia, vowel changes and consonant changes. Onomatopoeia, an interjection uttered to simulate a particular noise associated with a being, animal or object, is quite common among children. Examples (17), (18), (21) and (23) illustrate this. To designate motorcycle, car, puppy and hen, the children we met prefer to imitate the noise of the machines or the barking of the dog and the crowing of the hen.

Phonetically, there are vowel and consonant changes. For example, the first syllable of ninεtɩ, borrowed from the French ''lunette'', undergoes a vowel variation. The child prefers to use unrounded vowels instead of going back and forth between rounded and unrounded. He therefore pronounces the front, unrounded vowel of first aperture [i], which is of the same nature as [ε] of different aperture, instead of the front, rounded vowel of first aperture. Similarly, several consonants have undergone changes in relation to the language norm. We note this mainly in initial position, where the deaf labiovelar consonant [kp] of kpokpo and kpélaɣ is replaced by the deaf bilabial [p] in examples (17) and (25); [l] of lynεtɩ and lidee is replaced by the labiodental nasal [n] in example (19) and the semivowel [y] in example (20) respectively. No morphological variation is observed in examples (22), (24) and (26), but there is tonal variation.

3.2. Youth class 

Kabiye youths' language practices are comparable to those of many other youth groups in other cultures. They use a jargon-filled vocabulary, generally borrowed, to express modern notions. Their utterances are littered with so many devices that they are rarely understood by other classes when discussion takes place among them. The lexies, which can be described as authentic, are reserved for exchanges with parents and other members of the community, to whom they owe total respect. Let's take a look at some examples:

(27) tↄkɩyɛ ῝manger῞

(28) lambᾶndυ ῞sexe masculin῝

(29) fɛtʋ́ʋ ῞avoir des rapports sexuels῝

(30) tόmo ῝motocyclette῞

(31) týva ῝voiture῞

(32) daák ῝lunette῞

(33) cãtána ῝argent῞

(34) dɔɔg ῝chien῞

(35) hέrύυ ῝fleur῞

(36) tɔbʋʋ́ ῝copine῞

(37) gꭇãŋma ῝grand maman῞

(38) ŋma ῞maman῝

An examination of the lexicons used by the youth class reveals a number of neological and stylistic devices. Let's take a look at journal, including verlan, borrowing and synecdoche. Verlan is a slang procedure that consists in inverting the syllables of certain lexies or locutions. In the corpus submitted to our analysis, verlan is observed in examples (30) and (31) where young people use tόmo and tyva in place of ''moto'' and ''voiture''. We therefore note two processes: first a borrowing and then verlan.

Borrowing is, according to Christian Loubier, "the process by which users of a language adopt wholly, or partially, a linguistic unit or feature (phonological, lexical, semantic, syntactic, etc.) from another language" (21). It is observed in examples (32), (34) and (37) where the lexies daák, dɔɔg and gꭇãŋma are borrowed respectively from English ''dark'' and ''dog'' on the one hand and French ''grand maman'' on the other. Of course, the English lexicon dark is equivalent to black, not glasses. But in their usage, this lexicon means "glasses", originally part of "dark glasses" and now used for all types of eyewear, including medical lenses. Diachronically, ŋma in examples (37) and (38) is used by children to designate "mom". It is therefore an infantile syllabic contraction in the language acquisition process that has come to be used by young and even mature people.

Synecdoche is a stylistic device that consists in designating the whole by a part. In examples (28), (29) and (36), the lexies lambᾶndυ ''foreskin'',fɛtʋ́ʋ ''the gesture of going back and forth'' and tɔbʋʋ́ ''behind a woman'' are just parts of a whole.

All these slang-colored lexies confirm that language practices are not only dynamic, but also continuously changing.

3.3. The elderly class

Mature people often use authentic words in their various utterances, except in situations where they are imitating their children or young people with the aim of reprimanding or correcting them. They are the guardians of traditional speech and rarely favor lexical variations. This class allows us to perceive the various linguistic changes brought about by the other classes in society. In Kabiye society, the elderly are not subject to the influence of the school. The examples, some of which already have synonyms in the children's and young people's classes, allow us to assess this.

(39) tɔɔ́wʋ ῞manger῝

(40) hɩ́nɛ ῞male sex῝

(41) awayɩ ῞matières fécales῝

(42) kpόkpό ῞motocyclette῝

(43) lɔɔrɩ́yɛ ῞voiture῝

(44) ɛsɛ́ñɩnɩŋ ῞lunette῝

(45) kόbo ῞argent῝

(46) haɣ́ ῞chien῝

(47) hέtυ ῞fleur῝

(48) ɖooyú ῞poule῝

(49) ɛjam ῝handicapé῞

(50) ekpéni mʋlʋ́m ῞il/she died.e῞

(51) ɛvɛ́yɩ́ ῝il/she died῞

(52) pɩsaυ tↄláa ῞le pagne est tombé῝

(53) ɛwɩláyɩ́ níyé ῞il/she reprimanded῝

Overall, the above examples confirm that older people retain the authentic vocabulary or lexicon of the language. Considering the data, we can make the following synonymic binomials, putting the most traditional lexies first: (39) tɔɔ́wʋ /(27) tↄkɩyɛ for ῞le manger῞; (40) hɩ́nɛ /(28) lambᾶndυ for ῞sexe masculin῞; (41) awayɩ /(27) puú for ῞matières fécales῞ ; (44) ɛsɛ́ñɩnɩŋ /(32) daák for ῞lunettes῞; (45) kόbo /(33) cãtána for ῞silver῞; (46) haɣ́ /(21) cuucuú for ῞chien῞ and finally (47) hέtυ /(22) yeyee for ῞fleur῝.

Mature speakers also use connotative expressions that are linked not only to language levels, but also to linguistic taboos, as demonstrated by Leonard Bloomfield (1933, p. 155). According to Jean Dubois et al. (2012, p.111), connotation designates "a set of secondary meanings brought about by the use of a particular linguistic material and which are added to the conceptual or cognitive, fundamental or stable meaning, the object of the linguistic community's consensus, which constitutes the denotation". For example, the lexicon (41) awayɩ "fecal matter" literally means "outside". In traditional homes, toilets are not housed in the house. To satisfy this natural need, family members therefore go "outside" to free themselves before returning. The same applies to the lexies (50) ekpéni mʋlʋ́m and (51) ɛvɛ́yɩ́ whose denoted meanings are literally and respectively "he/she brought the flour" and "he/she is no more" to mean "he/she has passed away". 

The other lexies, notably (42), (43) and (45), are onomatopoeia and borrowings from English and Hausa respectively.


Diastratic variation as a phenomenon of language contact is clearly visible in the language practices of Togolese populations, particularly in the Kabiyè community. It is unquestionably a phenomenon that highlights linguistic changes according to the social milieu to which a speaker belongs (social class, professional group, gender, age, etc.). It depends on three general factors: intralinguistic, interlinguistic and extralinguistic. The intersection of these factors has enabled us, within the framework of this study, to take into account age, gender and social class, which are quite evident in the Kabiyè society whose language is described.

Examination of the data revealed a real variation between different age categories, genders and socio-professional sectors. What emerges is that the use of various neological and stylistic devices enriches the language's vocabulary and diversifies its usage. These include onomatopoeia, borrowing, synecdoche, transfer of meaning and connotation.

This highly enriching and interesting exercise invites us to delve into other types of variation as well, to better describe the different contours of linguistic variation.

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How to cite this article:

MLA: Mouzou, Palakyém. "Diastratic variation in Kabiyè, a Gur language of Togo". Uirtus 1.2 (December 2021): 233-247.

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