Invention of boundaries and identity issues in the story of an anti-colonial war




orality, French West Africa, Bani-Volta War (1915–1916), Bwa revolt/Bobo revolt, anti-colonialism, ethnicization, Facebook


To what extent do verbal arts contribute to the imposition of worldviews, and indeed to the redrawing of boundaries? I chose to address this question through a performance recital to commemorate a historical event, recorded during a festival organized by a cultural association with the aim of defending the Bwa minority in Mali. The event took place in San in December 2001 and was intended to prepare for the centenary of what is commonly known as the “Bwa revolt”, a resistance movement that took place during the First World War. The study of the recital invites one to question the part of identity reconstruction expressed in this commemoration of the revolt. In this article I argue that the vision of the revolt’s history such as it is proposed in this performance has the effect of inventing boundaries, even though it is a call to integrate into a larger whole. It highlights what can be understood as a paradoxical injunction. Indeed, the public is called to ‘be part of’ a country, while claiming as specific to the Bwa of Mali an event that belongs to the history of a whole region not only populated by the Bwa, and that goes far beyond the borders of what Mali is today. In this performance, one thus witnesses an ethnicization that is built on a rewriting of history, an ethnicization that is also remarkable in the comments exchanged on the commemoration of the revolt on social networks. This article is organized into three points. Firstly, the context of this anti-colonial war and the way it is claimed here as part of the construction of Bwa identity are explored from the very first words. Next, it is shown that the ethnicization manifested in this performance has long-standing political and scientific foundations. Finally, this paradoxical injunction addressed to Malian Bwa to be part of the nation while focusing on their own identity is discussed in a context where identity claims are reinforced by the importance taken by social networks on the internet.


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Author Biography

Cécile Leguy, Sorbonne Nouvelle University, Paris, France

Cécile Leguy is professor of linguistic anthropology in the Department of Didactics of French as a Foreign Language (DFLE), Faculty of Literature, Linguistics, and Didactics at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University and a member of the LACITO (CNRS), Paris, France.


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How to Cite

Leguy, C. (2023). Invention of boundaries and identity issues in the story of an anti-colonial war. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 60(3), 5–16.



Research articles