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(Re-)Producing the Marché Kermel

Between Globalism and Historicism
Liora Bigon et Alain Sinou

Résumés

Le Marché Kermel a été fondé en 1907, dans l’espace modèle situé au cœur de Dakar, la capitale de l’Afrique Occidentale Française. En ce qui concerne sa taille et la technique de sa construction, elle est constituée d’une structure préfabriquée, semblable aux autres structures construites en France, en Europe et dans le monde colonial de la fin du dix neuvième siècle. Mais en ce qui concerne son style, le Marché Kermel constitue un monument unique et remarquable tant à Dakar que dans l’Afrique noire francophone. Richement basé sur des sources primaires et secondaires et sur un travail in situ, nous nous sommes intéressés à tracer les origines stylistiques de ce marché, qui sont inconnues dans la littérature s’y rapportant, et à analyser ses significations, ses paradoxes et ironies dans la situation coloniale. Comme un monument de tradition inventée, le Marché Kermel a acquis un rôle essentiel dans l’imagerie populaire et nationale du Sénégal moderne, postcolonial.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 King, Colonial Urban Development, 1976; Abu-Lughod, Rabat, 1980.
  • 2 King, Colonial Urban Development, 1976; King The Bungalow, 1995; Jacobs, Edge of Empire, 1996; Yeoh (...)
  • 3 For far from being inclusive a list, see (in chronological order): Abu-Lughod, Rabat; Dubow, Racial (...)

1There is no doubt that King’s 1976 work on British India and Abu-Lughod’s 1980 work on French Rabat were amongst the first book-length studies dealing thoroughly with the political, economic, cultural and visual significations of the colonial urban landscape.1 Since then and especially from the 1990s, the academic literature on this subject is getting bourgeoning, with a serial of works that analyse the cultural and socio-political processes that dominated colonial urbanism, planning practices, and architectural form. Indeed, it may seem inappropriate to refer to these works en bloc, but it can be said that most of them are occupied with the British and the French dependencies in the modern colonial period, and they also tend to focus on those former colonies that enjoyed a relatively higher order of colonial preferences. Apart from British India, these included Australian cities, British Singapore and French Indo-China – to give but a few examples.2 Similarly, colonial urban space in French North Africa and in anglophone South Africa have received much more scholarly attention than its counterpart in sub-Saharan, tropical Africa.3

  • 4 For instance (in chronological order): Alain Sinou, Comptoirs et villes colonials, 1993; Goerg, Pou (...)
  • 5 For instance (in chronological order): Culot and Thiveaud (eds.), Architecture Française outre mer, (...)
  • 6 Coquery-Vidrovitch, “The Process of Urbanization in Africa”, 1991, p. 18. See also: Maylam, “Explai (...)
  • 7 The literature on the Four Communes of Senegal is abundant and well researched. In short, during th (...)
  • 8 The federation of French West Africa, or the AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française), was created in 18 (...)
  • 9 For instance: Charpy (ed.), La Fondation de Dakar (1845, 1857, 1869), 1958; Delcourt, Naissance et (...)

2Recent book-length works on colonial urban planning and architecture in French West Africa in general and in Senegal in particular consist on a few monographs and comparative case studies (sometimes with a British colony in this region),4 and also on a few edited collections (which might include colonies of other colonial powers beyond the African continent).5 Thematically and methodologically, these pioneering publications impersonate new bridges over formerly historiographic gapes, and surely invite further systematic research. This body of research is gradually being crystallised aside of an older wave, a bit parochial in its character, of monographs on colonial urban planning in French West Africa. The latter is unprecedented in the contemporary (that is, the 1950s to the 1970s) anglophone research tradition. As noted by Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, it can be argued that the anglophone research tradition of the colonial urban sphere in Africa has dealt with “history-in-the-city”, i.e., the history of social movements and popular struggles around community issues, while its French counterpart has dealt with the “history-of-the-city” itself.6 Quite naturally, colonial Senegal – as the seat of the Quatre communes,7 and Dakar – as the federal capital of French West Africa (hereafter AOF),8 won the lion’s share in this francophone scholastic attention.9

  • 10 Sinou, “Le marché Kermel un objet patrimonial singulier en Afrique noire” – this seven-pages-long c (...)

3The subject of the Marché Kermel – which, aside of the Marché Sandaga, is the oldest colonial market in Dakar and in the AOF territory in general – has been treated in this literature, if at all, only in passing. In fact we are aware of only one short piece that was dedicated so far to the Marché Kermel. The latter has been published by the French historian and urbanist Alain Sinou in 1997 and interpreted the structure from the perspective of valorisation and conservation of historical monuments and heritage.10

4Yet the contribution of this paper does not steam only from the very occupation with this subject itself. Drawing on published material and archival sources from France and Senegal, and fieldwork in situ, we would like to illuminate two opposing features regarding the architecture of the Marché Kermel. On the one hand, the ordinariness of this structure, made of prefabricated iron, against the background of this globally-distributed building technique, especially from the mid-nineteenth century. In matters of structure thus, this market was not fundamentally different from other generic prefabricated buildings erected in metropolitan Europe and in the colonial world. On the other hand, in matters of style, the Marché Kermel constitutes a unique and an outstanding monument in Dakar as well as in francophone West Africa, not similar to any other building.

5By tracing the stylistic origins of this market in terms of physical form and conceptual ideas, our paper reveals the cultural politics behind the creation of the colonial urban space. This market is situated in the heart of Dakar – the capital city of modern Senegal (from 1960 until today) and the AOF’s capital (from 1902 until 1960) – that is, a model space and regional urban center. Well grounded in the second half of the nineteenth century, Kermel’s architecture reflects a complex negotiation, both symbolically and politically, between French colonial ideology and the physical dimensions of the colonial project in West Africa. Exposing the role of the built-up form in the self-construction of the colonial identity versus the colonised “other”, an intimate connection between modern architecture and its historicist stylistic tendencies will be shown. This connection was achieved through a re-appropriation of vernacular aesthetic traditions by the French colonial regime, but this process of borrowing from the vernacular building traditions, somewhat “orientalised”, was essentially ironic. While in French North Africa the new policy of borrowing from the indigenous visual symbolism was exemplified in the public architecture of the neo-Moorish or arabisance, in West Africa there was a hesitation on the part of the colonial authorities regarding which models were appropriated for borrowing from such a “savage” environment.

  • 11 Hobsbawm, “Introduction”, 1983, pp. 1-2.

6The initial searching stage was thus manifested in a singular monument in West Africa, that is, the Marché Kermel. A different solution, however, for the same architectural-cum-ideological problem was later applied in the nearby Marché Sandaga. But the latter market constitutes a part of another stylistic genre that includes, by comparison to Kermel, a serial of buildings within the AOF region. As we shall see in the following, Kermel’s architectural style can be considered as an “invented tradition” in the Hobsbawmian sense. According to Eric Hobsbawm, this notion designates a deliberate, somewhat artificial, process that refers to old and established traditions as well as to recent and unprecedented ones. This process, during which these traditions undergo formalisation and ritualisation, inevitably recreates and institutionalises them. While continuity with a chosen historical past is being established through these traditions, this very continuity has, in fact, simultaneously been broken.11

7Regarding time span, Kermel was conceived and realised between 1907 and 1910. Yet this paper will dilate on the period of fifty years earlier, when Dakar was established as a colonial city and the technique of prefabrication was brought to its global climax. The late nineteenth century is important to our context as well, as this was the period When neo-regional and historicist tendencies reached their zenith in the French colonial architecture in North Africa – the latter inspired the Marché Kermel. We will provide glimpses, where seemed appropriate, to the period of fifty years after Kermel’s establishment, that is, the post-colonial period. The present-day implications and symbolism of this market, therefore, was not ignored. Indeed, the Marché Kermel still proposes a challenge for the urban historian. Destructed by fire in the early 1990s and reconstructed as an almost exact replica of the previous structure within a few years, no traces of its relevant files and plans, nor the name of the architect, can be found in the national archives of Senegal or those of France.

The Marché Kermel: the global “reproduced” aspect

  • 12 Centre des archives d’outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence (hereafter CAOM), FM SG SEN/XII/12, Plan des align (...)

8The origins of the Marché Kermel date back to 1862, that is, to the very establishment of Dakar as a colonial city immediately after the French occupation of Cap Vert peninsula over which Dakar now extends. The strategic position of Dakar, the westernmost point in West Africa and a port of call on the way to South America or South Africa, was also acknowledged by the French following the Crimean War and the later “scramble” for Africa. Dakar’s contemporary master plan was conceived by Jean Marie Emile Pinet-Laprade, the then head of the local Corps of Engineers. In this orthogonal plan Kermel’s square is clearly noticeable, breaking the iron-grid layout by its polygonal lines. This square was designated to the east of Place Prôtet (today’s Place de l’Indépendance) near the port.12 [Figure 1] In fact Kermel’s square preserved much of its original function as a main urban market until today, together with the Place Prôtet that initially designed as the hub of the colonial city, with major administrative and transporting functions.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Dakar’s 1862 master plan showing Kermel Square [1] and Place Prôtet [2].

  • 13 CAOM, FM SG SEN/XII/13, projet d’un marché à construire sur la place quernel à Dakar, 13 octobre 18 (...)

9In 1865, a large shed on Kermel’s square was designed by the Department of Bridges and Roadways (le service des ponts et chaussées) of the colony of Senegal for the protection of commodities from dust, rain and sun. It was a strictly functional structure made of metal pillars and roofing, with no embellishment, intended, inter alia, to reduce the street-stall phenomenon that was condemned by the colonial administration.13 [Figure 2]

Figure 2

Figure 2

Plan of Kermel’s original shade, 1865.

Courtesy of the ANS.

  • 14 For Dakarois examples from the 1930s, see Archives nationales du Sénégal, Dakar (hereafter ANS), 4P (...)

10The name ’Kermel’ (then Quermel) was probably a distortion of ’Kernel’ (quernel) – referring to the thriving regional commerce in grains and spices. Such functional, simple, and modest structures like Kermel’s first version were perfectly conformed with the initial needs of the colonial authorities, both British and French, especially in West Africa – the poor relative of other colonialisms in regions that were considered as more privileged and worthy of investment. The colonial state in West Africa was generally underfunded and understaffed, and was constituted on a shortening budget. Structures of similar character to Kermel’s shade were designated, during the first stages of the military occupation, for the residence of its personnel, that is, for the colonial officers, military man and administrators. After the establishment of the colonial rule, such structures served some basic public needs, which, in certain places like Dakar, included the needs of the indigenous populations. Mosques, caravanserais and covered markets – all are of extreme modesty – could be found amongst these.14

  • 15 Herbert, Pioneers of Prefabrication, 1978, pp. 8-10.
  • 16 Id., p. 30.

11Up to the early nineteenth century, however, prefabrication for colonial needs came in two forms: elementary timber-framed and sheathed huts and shades, similar, perhaps to rudimentary farm buildings at metropolitan Europe; and isolated examples of more ambitious, specially designed fabricated and portable houses. Intended for more wealthy clients, particularly of the private sector, these were composed of timber, sometimes combined with iron components, e.g., lintels, columns, beams, windows, etc.15 Regarding the iron elements, this was only partly a prefabrication, because – like in Kermel’s shade – premade iron elements were merely incorporated into the structures. It was only around the mid-nineteenth century that a new technology of iron construction had been brought to an advanced level of development, pioneered by Britain but to which gradually contributed France and other European nations.16 The total prefabrication of entire iron systems became by then also highly commercialised and globally spread, used, inter alia, for great covered markets and train stations, bridges, churches, shopping centres, and colonial bungalows.

  • 17 Sinou, “Le marché Kermel”, 5.

12The transformation of the shed of Kermel into a semi-monumental market in the 1900s was in perfect conformity with these developments. The new version of Kermel was based on prefabricated iron foundation and its architectural design, winner of a competition closed on 31 October 1907, was in line with the form of the polygonal square. [Figure 3] The work started in April 1908 and was completed by 1910.17 It included a prefabricated gallery encircling the main body of the building and a prefabricated metal skeleton that was casted in France. Kermel evokes qualities similar to the great metal markets which were erected in metropolitan France itself and in other European countries by the late nineteenth century. Amongst the most popular, somewhat random examples, are: the massive glass and iron version of the 1850s Marché des Halles of Paris; the former vegetable market of Covent Garden, London. The legendary Crystal Palace comes of course into mind, though it was monumental and built not as a market, but for the London Great Exhibition of 1851. It is very interesting to note that similarly to these markets’ history – they were destructed, dismantled and sometimes relocated – Kermel’s historical value was acknowledged with its identical reproduction following the 1990s fire.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Postcard showing Marché Kermel in the 1910s, Dakar, Senegal.

Private collection.

  • 18 ANS, 4P 2979, maisons préfabriquées en Cap Vert, 1947-1949.
  • 19 King, The Bungalow, ch. 6.

13And beyond Europe, such developments became highly bourgeonised in the colonial world. In fact they dominated in the contemporary urban scene from San Francisco to Johannesburg and from colonial British Lagos to French Dakar. This dominance was still noticeable even a hundred years later. In the late 1940s, for instance, French manufacturers still provided a catalogue of portable buildings including covered markets very similar to Kermel’s, for metropolitan use and for overseas shipment, and orders from Senegal were accepted.18 As concluded by Anthony King, the “under-developed” regions of the globe in general and the African continent in particular were considered by the industrial nations both as a resource for raw materials and as a potential new market for manufactured goods. Prefabricated structures were therefore introduced into Africa by the late nineteenth century as part of innovative colonial urban forms. But, representing foreign design and technology, they were not only a consequence of the colonial situation. These structures were rather a part of a global political situation and the capitalist world economy.19

14However, the transformation of Kermel into a great covered market was not only a technical, political and economic project. It was also an ideological matter, tightly related to French colonial pretentions and overt rhetoric.

Marché Kermel: the historicist “unique” aspect

  • 20 For more on the AOF and its organisational politics, see: Suret-Canale, French Colonialism in Tropi (...)
  • 21 Conklin, A Mission to Civilize, 1997, pp. 1-3.

15The period of the French military conquest of sub-Saharan Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century was followed by a period of administrative organisation of these territories. This culminated in the creation, in 1895, of the expansive AOF Federation with its centre in the city of Dakar from 1902.20 Yet the building impetus in early twentieth century Dakar was not only related to its prospective role as an imperial city in the French colonial imagery and the accompanied mise en valeur (development) of the colonies. As well exemplified by the historian Alice Conklin, the French colonial project, especially in West Africa, could not be distinguishable from the mission civilisatrice (civilising mission). This notion implied that the AOF’s indigenous populations were too primitive for self-government, though were capable of being socially and morally uplifted, and that the French considered themselves, because of their presumed superior culture, revolutionary past and industrial power, as the best people for this mission.21

  • 22 Id., pp. 38-72. See also: Sinou, Comptoirs et villes coloniales, pp. 273-297.

16Aside of the economic aims of the exploitation of raw materials and manual labour of the indigenous populations, the overt rhetoric of the mission civilisatrice – i.e., “civilising” the “natives” through mental, social and material engineering – was dominant in the then language of the French policy makers. The colonial urban areas, especially in Senegal, were now perceived by the colonial authorities as the very embodiment of a “modern” and “civilised” place, and thus their African residents should turn into “évolués” and virtually become integrated into the French values. Yet, as shown by Conklin, the physical mise en valeur of West Africa was oriented towards the material gains of the metrople almost exclusively, and the mission civilisatrice ideology was far from serving the needs of the African community as promised. Colonial urban space was perceived as essentially European, ameliorations there were targeted at the expatriate population only, and if the African residents enjoyed them it was often indirectly and randomly.22

  • 23 Sinou, Comptoirs et villes coloniales, 94, 95, 321.
  • 24 CAOM, FM SG, SEN XII, 110 : Note sur la salubrité de Dakar et sur les moyens préconisés pour l’amél (...)

17There was, however, much more that ought to be learnt by such an “uncivilised” population. Architecture, which for a long time was considered by the colonial administrators as an especially-effective ideological conveyer, could also be recruited to play a role in the colonising mission. Eminently visual, architecture could be seen by all, and could provide both an answer and a reason for the imperial project, which was under constant metropolitan surveillance and leftist critique. In other words, the visual architectural “splendor” would seem to legitimatise the colonising efforts, as did the metamorphosis of Ndakaru (i.e., the pre-colonial village of straw huts) into a city made of permanent edifices justify the presence of the colonialist. In fact, the construction of a “real city” was sought to offset the disastrous image of the colonial city, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The latter gained the popular image of a place dominated by an essentially masculine white population, subjected to all kinds of tropical temptations, in a land of fevers and barbarity, surrounded by thatched round-huts.23 In addition, the building of Dakar as an imperial capital was meant to impress other nations in a period when France and Britain were competing on world conquest. Aware of the British colonial empire, Dakar was sometimes conceived as the “black Indies”, or as the façade (or the “mirror”) of the French colonial Empire in the Atlantic.24

  • 25 In fact, most of the colonial urban development of Dakar, from its very establishment in the late 1 (...)
  • 26 See, for instance: Çelik, Urban Forms; Wright, The Politics of Design.
  • 27 Alan Sinou, “La Sénégal,” 1993, pp. 31-62.

18All these issues were evident in contemporary Dakar. Serving as a chief maritime port, a focal point of terrestrial transportation and a regional capital, early 1900s Dakar was mainly composed of relatively modest buildings “with no charm”. Its commercial buildings were built too quickly by the expatriate merchants, and its simple administrative and military structures were too similar to one another, their spatial position was predetermined by sanitary considerations.25 Against this background the question of an appropriate architectural style stood at the centre of discussion, that is, which models should serve an inspiration for the building of monuments in the colonies? At first, the coloniser’s traditional preference for neo-Classicism was clearly apparent in Dakar, together with the reproduction of the official metropolitan architecture. Among the Dakarois examples in the early twentieth century – it was the same period when the Marché Kermel was erected – are the Town Hall, the Governor-General’s Residence and the House of Commerce. This colonial neo-Classicism, was also characteristic to other parts of the (French) colonial world, such as North Africa and Indo-China. It is sometimes referred to as “the conqueror style” in post-colonial critique, implying on the imposition of colonial order and prestige, usually on the very expense of the indigenous infrastructure.26 Alongside the formalistic, somewhat megalomaniac, aspect of Antiquity, hygienic considerations were also incorporated in tropical areas, such as outer galleries encircling the main body of these edifices, intended for ventilation.27

  • 28 For the historicist neo-regionalism as part of the modernism in contemporary France and North Afric (...)

19Several colonialists, however, criticised the exportation of almost “identical” metropolitan models into the overseas territories and wished to produce a unique colonial architecture. Certain stylistic features in vernacular architecture were considered by some colonial urbanists as worthy of promoting as a source of inspiration. The incorporation of vernacular decorative elements in colonial architecture was first developed by the French in North Africa. In the colonial mind, the latter area demonstrated a certain degree of civilisation, and its occupation was accompanied by a considerable anthropological and scientific interest – though somewhat orientalised – regarding the cultural aspects of the indigenous groups. The architectural outcome, referred to as “neo-Moorish” or arabisance style, was an invented colonial tradition. [Figure 4] It suggested a decorative synthesis between two esthetic traditions: that of the indigenous, now colonised, societies, and that of the metropolitan modernism, which already included historicist tendencies.28

Figure 4

Figure 4

Postcard showing neo-Moorish colonial architecture in Algiers (the reconstructed Palais du Gouverneur, 1913).

Private collection.

  • 29 Prussin, “The Image of African Architecture in France,” 1985, pp. 209-235.
  • 30 E. Weithas, “Rapport général sur l’urbanisme en Afrique tropicale,” In J. Royer, ed., L’Urbanisme a (...)
  • 31 Le Directeur des affaires économiques du gouvernement général, “L’Urbanisme en Afrique équatoriale (...)

20But in sub-Saharan Africa the historicist (or neo-regional) question remained open for a while, as administrators seemed to struggle to find, amongst the vernacular mud (also called adobe or banco) and straw structures, appropriate models of inspiration. The round straw huts, of a relatively small size and height, were perceived as identical one to each other, of temporary nature and of unsophisticated technique. These features were interpreted as signs testify of the primitive character of the African populations.29 The seemingly lack of monumentality in the pre-colonial architecture of Senegal was a source of disappointment for the administrators when set against the glorious mosques and temples of North Africa (and Indo-China). The latter edifices testified to the might of the conquered empires, and made the colonial regime in comparison appear all the more grand and heroic from a metropolitan viewpoint. Colonel Weithas, for instance, spoke at the 1931 Congress on colonial urbanism held in France, of the “non-existence of a high architecture amongst the natives of sub-Saharan Africa.”30 It was also stated at the same Congress that “monuments for preservation do not exist… the old native towns do not present any interest… local architecture is non-existent.”31 Having failed in finding appropriate appealing models in the region, the administrators turned to their previous North African experience, and imported the neo-Moorish style for colonial public building in sub-Saharan Africa. The presence of the Islamic religion on both sides of the Sahara served as a reasonable basis for this seemingly stylistic solution.

21The Marché Kermel reflects this North African neo-regional stylistic tendency, and by this it represents a unique edifice in Dakar, not similar to any other existing structure. Alongside its prefabricated foundation, it includes a gallery encircling the main body of the building and imported decorative friezes. In fact the first impression of the structure are three great portals, each of which gives entrance to the market, endowing it with “exotic” and oriental look that seemingly designed more for a European eye and less for Senegalese. The three portals are not visible together and therefore do not give the market a massive or “heavy” character. They are designed in the form of a horseshoe arch, which evokes an immediate association to the Arab-Muslim world. This association is reinforced by the alternation of the then white (today yellow) and red brick colours in the portals’ walls. While the horseshoe-arch shape and the brick-colour play are elements prevalent in medieval religious architecture in North Africa, Kermel’s arches are not a part of any sacred architecture, but rather a part of a French colonial style subjected to the esthetic vocabulary of the then fashionable Art déco. [Figure 5]

Figure 5

Figure 5

One of Kermel’s three entrance portals.

Photo by the authors.

  • 32 ANS, 4P 1499, Construction du Marché de Sandaga, correspondance, 1924-1926. See also Shaw, Irony an (...)

22The Marché Kermel represents a short period of stylistic hesitation on the part of the French colonial authorities through their attempt to assign North Africa vernacular esthetics to sub-Saharan Africa on the basis of the spread of the Islamic religion in both areas. Yet the Marché Kermel is unprecedented, as it constitutes the only neo-Moorish building in Dakar. It was Dakar’s main market until the 1920s, then its prominence was replaced by that of the nearby Sandaga market upon the establishment of its new structure in August 1934.32 Sandaga’s rectangular square, for instance, which was also designed in 1862 by Pinet-Laprade, was placed to the west of the Place Prôtet, on the main caravan route to the hinterland.

  • 33 For more about Sandaga’s style, called neo-Sudanese, see: Shaw, Irony and Illusion; Prussin, “The I (...)

23The Marché Sandaga, however, exemplifies a seemingly closer stylistic solution to the same ideological and political problem, and an invented tradition of its own. Though by comparison to Kermel, Sandaga does not represent a singular edifice but rather constitutes a part of a serial of colonial public buildings in the AOF region, which drew their inspiration from the mud vernacular architecture of the Sahel and the Sudan. Some colonial administrators were fascinated by the mid-nineteenth century “discovery” of the medieval mosques of the Niger delta in the Western Sudan and the mud houses of the rich merchants of the old indigenous cities of Djenné, Bamako, and Tombouctou. Though it took about fifty years until these forms were echoed in the architecture of the AOF, but finally local models were found, ones worthy of imitation. Geographically closer than North Africa and contained within the AOF’s territories, these models were gradually conceived as more legitimate by the French colonial administrators for the West African scene, and their heyday is assigned to the interwar period.33

The Marché Kermel: a glimpse on (post-)colonial symbolism

24The interest of the colonial state in market architecture is implied in the central place that was reserved for Kermel in terms of physical location, building technique and stylistic imagery. In contrast to other official or public buildings that were mostly designated for Europeans and were generally confined to the reserved expatriate quarters, Kermel was meant to be used by the entire urban population. It was erected near the colony’s main poles of communication, that is, the maritime port and central train station. Its usage and frequenting, aside of the Marché Sandaga, might partially explain the popularity of such places and their post-colonial heritage value as historic monuments. Its main economic function is still very strong in African countries, where urban markets are important to all the inhabitants, and occupy an especially central location. Kermel’s commercial function and location indeed contribute to its popularity in the city, though by post-colonial times Sandaga’s supremacy gradually grew on Kermel’s expense, and the latter subsequently serves as a foodstuff and artifact market mostly for the Senegalese bourgeoisie, foreign residents and tourists.

  • 34 As noted by Coquery-Vidrovitch, “Émeutes urbaines, grèves générales et décolonisation en Afrique Fr (...)
  • 35 Betts, “The Establishment of the Medina in Dakar”, 1971, pp. 143-152. See also, about the related s (...)

25Moreover, Kermel plays a key role in today’s both popular and stately symbolism. It is the site of one of the earliest anti-colonial events of urban resistance that were ever documented in French West Africa, when, in 1914, an economic boycott against the expatriate residents was proclaimed by the market’s African vendors (then mostly Lébou and Wolof).34 Their refusal to sell foodstuffs to Europeans or to their domestic servants came in reaction to the colonial government’s decision to oblige the Dakarois to build permanent housing within the city center. In reaction to the outbreak of a bubonic plague epidemic in that year, the proprietors of “sub standard” dwellings were designated for displacement to another quarter, albeit with limited success.35 In postcolonial times Kermel, as a central place of economic exchange in the city, became a symbol of the global economy and the marginalisation of West Africa and its currency, the CFA, within it. Such bitter popular emotions were crystallised, for instance, in the 1995 film Le Franc of the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, which represents abstract economic concepts via everyday human dramas. The film’s hero, a penniless musician living in a shanty town, marches through a Dakar of both dilapidated houses and prestigious buildings, after his winning the national lottery. Using the lottery for survival, the global economy appears as a game of chance for the developing countries – a basis for a whimsical commentary on the French government’s fifty percent devaluation of the CFA in 1994. One of the scenes dwells, at length, on the ruined, burnt out Kermel just after the aforementioned 1994 conflagration, with the hero standing at the center of this concentric space, a symbol for the almost impossible situation and indeed an outstanding visual testimony of Kermel’s ruinous state. [Figure 6]

Figure 6

Figure 6

Kermel’s ruins following the 1994 fire, Le Franc.

Courtesy of California Newsreel, all rights reserved.

26As to stately symbolism, the unique esthetic and urban functions of Kermel explain its value in terms of historical heritage much more than its relative age – a bit more than a hundred years. Upon its destruction, the entire Senegalese press was deploring the event without ignoring the colonial character of the structure – a “heritage” that could be challenged in some other formerly colonised places, especially where the colonial experiences was much more rigid such as in Belgian Congo, Southern Rhodesia or Algeria. Kermel’s subsequent reconstruction resulted in an almost complete replica of the previous structure, what also testifies to the distance felt by some of the present-day Senegalese agencies who deal with the somewhat techno-political process of the preservation of historical monuments of the colonial period. This period and its physical souvenirs are not necessarily synonymous in their eyes with cultural and economic oppression. [Figure 4] Moreover, during the next decade, it is worth noting that Kermel’s architectural sample model was the only one exhibited in the office of the Bureau d’architecture et des monuments historiques (BAMH) in Dakar. The designation of this market as an historical monument by the State of Senegal confirms its place in the historical memory of the nation in general, and in the history of its capital city in particular.

Conclusion

27The interest of the colonial administration in market architecture and planning is evident in the original urban location that was reserved for Kermel, which was designated already in Dakar’s first master plan in mid-nineteenth century. It is also a central place of economic exchange in the contemporary city, close to the maritime port and the central train station. The market’s structural elements and basic iron skeleton conformed with the then prefabrication tradition of great covered markets (and other structures) in metropolitan Europe and overseas. It also constituted an integral part of the colonial project, inseparable from the emerging global capitalist economy. Kermel also expresses the architectural pretensions of the colonial state in West Africa in terms of ideology. Esthetically, Kermel is a product of hardly known architectural style in sub-Saharan Africa, as it is apparently the only neo-Moorish colonial building in the AOF in general and in Dakar in particular. Its architecture constitutes a material evidence for the colonial quest after a formalistic language appropriate for the model space of the AOF’s capital city. Motivated by ideological considerations, the very form of Kermel can be conceived as an exemplary case of a French colonial invented tradition – a hesitated tradition, limited in scope and time, and a quite paradoxical one.

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Culot, M. and Thiveaud, J. M. (eds.)
1992    Architecture Française outre-mer, Pierre Mardaga, Liège.

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1978    Paysages Dakarois de l’époque coloniale, ENDA, Dakar.

Delcourt, J.
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Dubow, S. (et al. eds.)
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Echenberg, M.
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Annexe

Centre des archives d’outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence, France (CAOM):
FM SG, SEN/XII/12, Plan des alignements de la ville de Dakar, 1863 (1862).
FM SG, SEN XII, 110 : Note sur la salubrité de Dakar et sur les moyens préconisés pour l’améliorer, 1900.
FM Guernut, 57, lettre du 8 avril 1931.

Archives nationales du Sénégal, Dakar, Sénégal (ANS):
4P 1537, construction d’un marché couvert à Médina.
4P 519, résidence de Médina ; construction d’un caravansérail à Médina.
4P 1514, mosquée de Dakar.
4P 2979, maisons préfabriqués en Cap Vert, 1947-1949.

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Notes

1 King, Colonial Urban Development, 1976; Abu-Lughod, Rabat, 1980.

2 King, Colonial Urban Development, 1976; King The Bungalow, 1995; Jacobs, Edge of Empire, 1996; Yeoh, Contesting Space, 1996; Hosagrahar, Indigenous Modernities, 2005.

3 For far from being inclusive a list, see (in chronological order): Abu-Lughod, Rabat; Dubow, Racial Segregation, 1989; Rabinow, French Modern, 1989; Prochaska, Making Algeria French, 1990; Wright, The Politics of Design, 1991; AlSayyad (ed.), Forms of Dominance, 1992; Dubow (et al. eds.), Segregation and Apartheid, 1995; Çelik,

Urban Forms, 1997; Nasr and Volait (eds.), Urbanism: Imported or Exported? 2003; Mbembe and Nuttal (eds.), Johannesburg, 2008.

4 For instance (in chronological order): Alain Sinou, Comptoirs et villes colonials, 1993; Goerg, Pouvoir colonial, 1997; Fourchard, De la ville colonial, 2001; Shaw, Irony and Illusion, 2006; Bigon, A History of Urban Planning, 2009.

5 For instance (in chronological order): Culot and Thiveaud (eds.), Architecture Française outre mer, 1992; Soulillou (ed.), Rives colonials, 1993; Coquery-Vidrovitch and Goerg (eds.), La ville européenne outre mers, 1996; Institut national du patrimoine, Architecture coloniale et patrimoine, 2005; Salm and Falola (eds.), African Urban Spaces, 2005.

6 Coquery-Vidrovitch, “The Process of Urbanization in Africa”, 1991, p. 18. See also: Maylam, “Explaining the Apartheid City”, 1995, p. 20.

7 The literature on the Four Communes of Senegal is abundant and well researched. In short, during the colonial period, Dakar, Gorée, Rufisque and Saint-Louis were known as such. Each commune was controlled by a council, which was elected by all its adult males, and a mayor, who was the president of the council. All the indigenous inhabitants, called originaires, were considered French citizens and legally enjoyed the same civil and political rights as Frenchmen. The distinction between residents of the communes and rural inhabitants acquired its greatest political importance before and during World War I. Sujets, living in the rest of Senegal, were subject to forced labour and military service from which the citizens of the communes were exempt.

8 The federation of French West Africa, or the AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française), was created in 1895, alongside the federation of French Equatorial Africa (AEF), to facilitate the centralist decision-making process in Paris. The AOF’s overall territory amounted to 4,633,985 square kilometers, and included eight colonies: Senegal, French Sudan (today’s Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Dahomey (Benin), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Niger and Mauritania. In 1902 Dakar was designated as the AOF’s capital, instead of its former capital of Saint-Louis.

9 For instance: Charpy (ed.), La Fondation de Dakar (1845, 1857, 1869), 1958; Delcourt, Naissance et croissance de Dakar, 1960; Seck, Dakar, 1960; Seck, Dakar, Métropole Ouest Africaine, 1970; David, Paysages Dakarois, 1978.

10 Sinou, “Le marché Kermel un objet patrimonial singulier en Afrique noire” – this seven-pages-long contribution is the most prominent within a brochure titled Le marché Kermel, published in Italy by Edizioni Percaso.

11 Hobsbawm, “Introduction”, 1983, pp. 1-2.

12 Centre des archives d’outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence (hereafter CAOM), FM SG SEN/XII/12, Plan des alignements de la ville de Dakar, 1863 (1862). See also Charpy, La Fondation de Dakar, 1958, pp. 291-295.

13 CAOM, FM SG SEN/XII/13, projet d’un marché à construire sur la place quernel à Dakar, 13 octobre 1865.

14 For Dakarois examples from the 1930s, see Archives nationales du Sénégal, Dakar (hereafter ANS), 4P 1537, construction d’un marché couvert à Médina ; 4P 519, résidence de Médina ; construction d’un caravansérail à Médina ; 4P 1514, mosquée de Dakar.

15 Herbert, Pioneers of Prefabrication, 1978, pp. 8-10.

16 Id., p. 30.

17 Sinou, “Le marché Kermel”, 5.

18 ANS, 4P 2979, maisons préfabriquées en Cap Vert, 1947-1949.

19 King, The Bungalow, ch. 6.

20 For more on the AOF and its organisational politics, see: Suret-Canale, French Colonialism in Tropical Africa, 1971. See also above note n° 8.

21 Conklin, A Mission to Civilize, 1997, pp. 1-3.

22 Id., pp. 38-72. See also: Sinou, Comptoirs et villes coloniales, pp. 273-297.

23 Sinou, Comptoirs et villes coloniales, 94, 95, 321.

24 CAOM, FM SG, SEN XII, 110 : Note sur la salubrité de Dakar et sur les moyens préconisés pour l’améliorer, 1900. British contemporary sources concerning colonial urban Lagos, by comparison, compare its appearance to Dakar in quite a Franco-phobic manner.

25 In fact, most of the colonial urban development of Dakar, from its very establishment in the late 1850s, was governed by the sanitary discourse. In archival records, too many to list here, its urban project was classified as “sanitation” or even “purification” (assainissement). For the question of the embellishment, that became critical by the early 1930s, see CAOM, FM Guernut, 57, lettre du 8 avril 1931.

26 See, for instance: Çelik, Urban Forms; Wright, The Politics of Design.

27 Alan Sinou, “La Sénégal,” 1993, pp. 31-62.

28 For the historicist neo-regionalism as part of the modernism in contemporary France and North Africa, see Béguin, Arabisances, 1983; Wright, The Politics of Design.

29 Prussin, “The Image of African Architecture in France,” 1985, pp. 209-235.

30 E. Weithas, “Rapport général sur l’urbanisme en Afrique tropicale,” In J. Royer, ed., L’Urbanisme aux colonies et dans les pays tropicaux, vol. 1, 1932, p. 114.

31 Le Directeur des affaires économiques du gouvernement général, “L’Urbanisme en Afrique équatoriale française,” In J. Royer, L’Urbanisme aux colonies, p. 158.

32 ANS, 4P 1499, Construction du Marché de Sandaga, correspondance, 1924-1926. See also Shaw, Irony and Illusion, p. 104.

33 For more about Sandaga’s style, called neo-Sudanese, see: Shaw, Irony and Illusion; Prussin, “The Image of African Architecture”; Patricia Morton, Hybrid Modernities, 2000. It should be noted that there are not more than a dozen examples for this style within the AOF, and that its heyday was very short, a decade, maybe two.

34 As noted by Coquery-Vidrovitch, “Émeutes urbaines, grèves générales et décolonisation en Afrique Française,” In R. Ageron, ed., Les chemins de la décolonisation, 1986, pp. 493-504.

35 Betts, “The Establishment of the Medina in Dakar”, 1971, pp. 143-152. See also, about the related sanitary politics, Echenberg, Black Death, White Medicine, 2002, pp. 51-137.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende Dakar’s 1862 master plan showing Kermel Square [1] and Place Prôtet [2].
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Figure 2
Légende Plan of Kermel’s original shade, 1865.
Crédits Courtesy of the ANS.
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Postcard showing Marché Kermel in the 1910s, Dakar, Senegal.
Crédits Private collection.
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 4
Légende Postcard showing neo-Moorish colonial architecture in Algiers (the reconstructed Palais du Gouverneur, 1913).
Crédits Private collection.
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 52k
Titre Figure 5
Légende One of Kermel’s three entrance portals.
Crédits Photo by the authors.
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Figure 6
Légende Kermel’s ruins following the 1994 fire, Le Franc.
Crédits Courtesy of California Newsreel, all rights reserved.
URL http://bcrfj.revues.org/docannexe/image/7069/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 70k
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Référence électronique

Liora Bigon et Alain Sinou, « (Re-)Producing the Marché Kermel », Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem [En ligne], 24 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 juin 2013, Consulté le 24 mars 2017. URL : http://bcrfj.revues.org/7069

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Auteurs

Liora Bigon

Liora Bigon is an urban historian and a researcher in colonial planning, architecture and cultural history in sub-Saharan Africa. She has contributed to numerous books and journals (Journal of Historical Geography, Planning Perspectives, Urban History) on the subject of indigenous and British and French colonial planning cultures in Africa. She currently teaches art, architectural, Islamic and colonial histories of Africa at the Holon Institute of Technology, Israel.

Alain Sinou

Alain Sinou is a full professor at the Université Paris 8 (France). He began his career as a researcher at the IRD (Institut de recherche pour le développement) and studied West African urbanisation. Publications include: Les villes d’Afrique noire entre 1650 et 1960 (et. al., Paris: La Documentation française, 1989); Porto-Novo ville d’Afrique noire (Paris: ORSTOM/ Parenthèses, 1989); Comptoirs et villes colonials du Sénégal, Saint-Louis, Gorée, Dakar (Paris: Karthala, 1993); Ouidah, une ville africaine singulière (Paris: Karthala, 1995).

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Droits d’auteur

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