Introduction
a story makes the rounds in a West African town, demonstrat-
ing that the aftere√ects of slavery may be both a dirty rumor and a
secret hidden in plain sight. A taxi picked up a client headed for a
luxurious villa in one of the newer quarters of Bamako, the capital of
Mali. A self-important man, the client wore the local bureaucrat’s
uniform, a kind of three-pocketed West African leisure suit known—
like the men who wear it—as a trois poches. This trois poches was
going to the villa to ask its owner for a favor, probably a loan. On
arriving, the client was surprised to see the taxi driver holding out a
1,000 franc cfa note to him.∞ ‘‘Take it and give it to the proprietor,’’
said the driver, ‘‘He is my woloso, and I have to give him something to
support himself.’’≤
What’s a woloso, and why would a poor man give to a rich one?
The answer to the first question is deceptively simple: A woloso is a
‘‘house-born’’ slave, or a person born of a slave into a master’s house-
hold. In theory, the woloso could never be sold, and his descendants
would remain attached to those of the master. The second question is
more complicated. While the exchange of people as slaves was largely
abolished in Mali early in the twentieth century, memories of slavery
live on, and relationships between the descendants of slaves and the
descendants of masters—such as woloso relationships—remain a deep
current in contemporary Mali. Even Mali’s second president, the sol-
dier Moussa Traore, was commonly if quietly referred to as a slave.≥
Stories like that of the taxi man are both apocryphal and revealing.
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