at'-''th eUnivers r ty Fln-i da
GENDER ISSUES IN FARMING SYSTEMS
RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
Social Organization and the
Outmigration of Rural Diola Women
University of Florida
Table of contents
Introduction ................... ................... 1
Historical changes in the context of production............... 7
Traditional farming practices ......................... 12
Drought as insufficient cause for migration .............. 15
Division of labor by gender .............................. 17
Traditional social organization ......................... 19
Subsistence and incorporation into the cash economy......... 24
Historical migrations ................................ 26
Who is leaving and why ............................ 28
End notes ......................................... .31
Map of Basse Casamance.............................. .32
Figures 1 and 2 .................................... 33
References cited..................................... .34
The food crisis In Africa has gained increasing attention over the past few years.
Given current trends, the outlook for the Sahel region is particularly discouraging. The
situation in Senegal Is comparable to other Sahellan nations; as the most recent World Bank
Development Report indicates, during the decade following 1974 cereal imports to Senegal
increased 73 percent, with food aid in cereals rising 225 percent in the same period. A
serious decline in Senegalese per cspits food production is signaled by the Bank's
assignment of an index of 71 for 1981-83, a precipitous drop from the 1974-75 baseline of
100 (World Bank 1985: 174).
Because both prices and yields of cereals are uncertain, a macro-economic analysis of
Senegal's comparative advantages in agricultural production has suggested that present
domestic import substitution programs "may be preferable to free, undistorted trade"
(Jabara and Thompson 1980: 197). Such programs support the diversified production of
cereals at the expense of groundnuts, the predominant cash crop in Senegal. In 1980-82
rice represented about 70 percent of Senegalese cereal imports (FAO 1983: 109,118), a
fact that emphasizes the primacy of rice as a staple food in Senegal. Given the Importance
of rice to the country, a decrease in national dependence on the uncertain international
market for this product would be beneficial, especially while the nation's ability to pay for
rice imports is so heavily dependent on the equally uncertain income earned from groundnut
exports. While an increased domestic production of rice is therefore desirable, efforts to
accomplish this goal through the subsidization of irrigation and dam projects have been at
best unsuccessful, and disastrous at worst (Adams 1977; Dey 1985: 434).
More than half of the domestic area presently in paddy is located in Senegal's Basse
Casamance province (depsrtement), although most of the rice produced in the province is
consumed locally (de Wilde 1985: 113-114). The irrigated rice production systems
traditionally maintained by the Diola peoples of Basse Casamance supported, in the past, up
to sixty persons per square kilometer, one of the highest rural population densities within
the area now defined by Senegal's present political boundaries (Pelissier 1966).
Before European interventions around the turn of the century, Diola farmers employed
a system of paddy land cultivation that depended on labor-intensive activities such as dike
building and maintanence, field preparation, manuring, and transplanting. Since the 1920s,
however, dryland farming has become increasingly prevalent. During this period, groundnuts
became a significant cash crop for the Diola. The French colonial administration in Senegal
introduced dryland food grains such as maize, sorghum, and millet along with groundnuts:
these crops are now cultivated to such an extent that research priorities at the regional
agricultural station at Djibelor have begun to emphasize these dryland crops to the relative
neglect of rice, the traditional subsistence crop (Sail, Kamuanga, and Posner 1983).
It is the purpose of this paper to investigate what appear to be three anomalous and
unrelated processes currently taking place in Basse Casamance. It will be argued that
these processes can be specifically related to changes in the management of farms in Basse
Casamance since the turn of the present century. For example, one of these changes is the
increasing emphasis upon dryland agriculture. The first question to be considered is why
has the prominence of dryland crops such as groundnuts continued to increase despite the
Senegalese government's policy of encouraging domestic rice production, especially in an
area renowned for its indigenous rice-production capability? Secondly, why has the
outmigration of the Diola peoples from their traditionally productive rice farms continued to
deplete the villages of their population even though several agricultural projects in the area
have been implemented to develop rice production?1 Finally, after the above two questions
have been considered, how can we explain the particular age and gender composition of the
outmlgrating Diola labor force, specifically the prevalence of the seasonal outmigration of
young women from the area? This gender-specific pattern of outmigration is of special
concern for two reasons: women are the traditional managers of rice cultivation among the
Diola, and furthermore, Africa wage migration is usually undertaken by men. If one relates
this pattern of outmigration to the decreased production of rice, the cultivation of which is
traditionally a female pursuit, and the introduction of cash cropping, a male endeavor, an
interesting relationship between farming strategies and the demographic profile of the region
In order to understand present farming systems and management strategies It is
useful to consider the historical process through which these have been adopted, since
changes have occurred over an extended period of time. This paper will elaborate a
historical view of Diola farm production in order to address the issue of changes that have
taken place In the province: these changes include the "pacification" of the Diola, the
introduction of cash crops and taxes, and the more recent outmigration of the Diola from
Basse Casamance. Policies on the national and international level have had important
effects on the physical, socio-cultural, and agricultural environment in which Diola farming
takes place. Evidence of the impact of these policies can be found through an examination
of the system of rice irrigation dikes, which had been used by the Diola to transform the
saline mangrove swamps into productive agricultural land, but which have since been almost
completely abandoned. This is a discouraging sign, because the dikes and their associated
agricultural technology, unique to the African continent, represent a complex adaptation
that was highly successful over a long period of time (Linares 1971). Although the
reservoirs created by these dikes are still commonly used as fishing ponds today, they can
no longer support the intensive subsistence production of rice that was at one time the
hallmark of Diola farms. The cultivation of rice on the fields within the dike systems was
traditionally performed by women. Presently, the number of Diola women who can support
themselves and their families through subsistence rice production on these fields without
supplementing their income by migrating for wage work during the dry season is either very
small or simply non-existant.
To understand how these changes have affected Diola society, one must first examine
both national-level factors and those factors that are found at the local level, then consider
how these factors have interacted to impact on the Diola. The following set of factors can
be viewed as having affected the disruption of the traditional Diola economy. On the
national and international level (i. e. state policies, both colonial and national) the
"pacification" of the Diola was of primary importance, along with the institution of a cash
economy through the implemention of taxes; traditional trading links were also disrupted,
promoting the production and sale of groundnuts for the market. On the local level, these
national-level actions have led to the diversion of male labor from the construction and
maintanence of the dikes and the preparation of the irrigated rice fields for planting to the
cultivation of dryland and cash crops. Subsequently, the outmigration of the Diola can be
attributed, ultimately, to the Introduction of a cash economy, the resulting orientation of
Diola farms towards cash and dryland crops, and the trend away from subsistence
The traditional gender division of labor has been undermined through the selection of
men for dryland cash cropping activities, rendering female labor relatively less productive.
Where, under the traditional system, both male and female labor made important
contributions to subsistence production, the diversion of male labor from the paddy land
caused a labor shortage that could not be reversed with available female labor. Thus,
women were left without their tr3f"'"nal means of subsistence, and had few local
income-generating activities available to meet their responsibilities for provisioning children
with rice. Women could not, therefore, purchase rice as men could to fulfill their own
food-provisioning responsibilities. Furthermore, women were without the power to control
the labor of others, while men had access to the labor of their wives, children, and other
men in positions of inferior status. This paper will examine how the outmigration of Diola
women can be best understood as a result of the interaction between these sets of
national- and local-level factors, thereby clarifying the context of Diola agriculture. Thus,
the apparently anomalous situations related to the context of Diola agriculture are shown,
in fact, to be consistent.
In Africa, aspects of the bio-physical environment are often cited as the cause of
agricultural changes in what is essentially a single-cause model. The Sahelian drought of
1968-73 has been used as an explanatory factor; researchers in this case have argued
that its effects led to both the increased emphasis of dryland crops on Diola farms and to
the exodus of the rural labor force of Basse Casamance through outmigration (Sanl,
Kamuanga, and Posner 1983: 50; Schmitz 1983: 88). This environmental approach
sufficiently explains many of the problems facing agriculture in the Basse Casamance,
emphasizing a need for technical solutions to serious problems facing Diola farmers.
Therefore, it is important that we do not diminish the importance of the severe and complex
effects of the drought. For example, the salination and acidification of mangrove swamps as
a result of drying is an extremely difficult technical problem that requires efforts of ten or
more years to reverse by traditional methods (Schmitz 1981; Yieillefon 1977). However,
it must also be recognized that the application of this approach is limited. The mechanism
by which migrants are selected is complex, and can not be reduced to a single cause. In
this paper it is demonstrated that social variables can be used to create an analytical
framework of the relationships among migration, agriculture, and the rural labor supply.
This framework will provide researchers in both the social and agricultural sciences with a
better means to explain the changes that have occurred in traditional Diola agriculture and
their relation to the prevalence of female outmigration from the Basse Casamance.
In contrast to single-cause models, van der Klei has presented a historical thesis to
explain the initiation of Diola migration through a "modes of production" analysis (1986).
While van der Klei's thesis has merit in that it considers the changing economic environ-
ment in which traditional production was itself enmeshed, he does not attempt to analyze
the more recent phenomenon of female outmigration. This is a serious omission, for there
are conspicuous qualitative differences between Basse Casamance and other areas of Africa
that experience high rates of outmigration. In the Basse Casamance, the frequency of
female outmigration is significantly higher than in other areas affected by rapid
outmigration. Because of the qualitative character of migration in the Basse Casamance, it
is important to provide an analysis which can account for both the initiation and the specific
contemporary character of migration in this area. In essence, we must not only explain
why migration became such an important part of rural life in the Basse Casamance, but why
migration from this area has maintained its particular qualitative characteristics, selecting
more strongly for women than in other cases of rural migration in Africa.
Because each of the above perspectives contains certain concepts that have utility for
an analysis of Diola migration, a synthesis of their useful aspects will be employed. The
analysis used in this paper is essentially an extension of the historical framework presented
by van der Klei, elaborated to Incorporate social and gender issues as well as the important
effects of the recent drought in relation to changes in farm management in Basse
Casamance. Rather than replacing previous explanations with an entirely new framework,
the intention here is to provide an analysis that is complementary to these explanations,
extending their application to Incorporate additional aspects of the farm/labor/migration
complex through a wider span of time.
Historical changes in the context of production
Prior to European arrivals early in the sixteenth century, the Mali empire was the
dominant political and economic entity in the area that is presently the state of Senegal, as
it was throughout a significant portion of West Africa. This empire began to disintegrate
into numerous smaller states about 1550, due primarily to Islamic holy wars (jihd )
against its secularism rather than to the still weak influence of European interests at that
time (Curtin 1975: 9). Trade routes established under the influence of the empire
remained long after its demise, well into the nineteenth century (van der Klei 1986: 79).
The Diola maintained trade links with the Malinke, who had closer ethnic and cultural ties to
the Wolof-, Sereer-, and Pulaar-speaking groups in Gambia and to the north (Curtin 1975:
6; van der Klei 1986: 82). The Diola therefore had only indirect links to the indigenous
states of West Africa.
The Diola were engaged within the indigenous West African trade network involving
slaves, rice, and cattle through their ties with the Malinke. The European market provided
no demand for these.products, so the patterns of indigenous trade persisted long after the
Period when European Influence became firmly established. In addition to this, because the
Diola lived in an environment that was particularly dangerous and difficult for European
troops and traders, they were able to remain essentially isolated from foreign domination
until the early years of the present century. 2
Until just prior to their final "paciflcation" campaign in 1917, French colonial officers
allowed Diola villages to pay taxes in kind ( #a aetur* ). Villages were originally taxed as
a unit, but around 1905 the administration of the Basse Casamance began gradually
instituting the requirement that individuals pay in cash and for themselves (Roche 1976:
311). Taxes were, by and large, imposed by the threat of greater military force than the
Diola could resist. The harsh threats of the French military officers were often
followed-out with brutal military actions against recalcitrant villages. Houses were
regularly burned and granaries purposely destroyed when the villagers evacuated to the
forest to avoid troops coming for tax collection. From the colonial administration's point of
view such coercion was necessary because it was unusual for a village to pay anywhere
near the taxes being asked of it without there being direct threats made against that
particular village (Roche 1976: 187).
The administration, however, simply could not accept the expense of the sheer number
and regularity of these coercive military actions against individual villages. Through the
institution of the Brunot plan of 1917, Diola resistance to the colonial administration of
Basse Casamance was at least quelled to the extent that taxes were paid on a regular
basis, if not in full and on schedule (Roche 1976: 341). In addition, the regularity of direct
conflicts between the Diola and colonial troops was greatly reduced. The Brunot plan itself
incorporated eight directives which, as a whole, effectively established: the institution of a
regular monetary tax on individuals, gangs of forced labor to build roads through the area
(the corvi system); recruitment campaigns for the army, the disarmament of the
population; the appointment of headmen; border controls to close "informal" trade routes to
and arms shipments from what are presently Guinea Bissau and The Gambia; the suppression
of inter-village wars and raids; and finally, the elimination of autonomy for Malinke traders
(van der Klel 1986: 86-90).
The establishment of these objectives served to expedite the economic dependence of
the Diola on the larger society of colonial Senegal and, indirectly, to France. In effect, the
traditional structure of Diola society was itself undermined. Traditional forms of trading
were now impossible, and the institution of a monetary tax forced the Diola to acquire a
cash income, which required re-directing male labor formerly allocated to subsistence
agriculture into cash crop production. Political organizations were also implemented after
the successful "pacification" campaign to effect the economic incorporation of the Diola
through cooperatives, which promoted the cash cropping of groundnuts (the Sociteis de
Prvoys,,#ce ). The implementation of these Societies had a strong precedent in that they
had been successfully used to economically incorporate much of the rest of rural Senegal,
as well as other areas of French West Africa (Robinson 1950; the administration of
agricultural development policy since independence is discussed further, in a political
context, by Barker 1971, Fatton 1985, Foltz 1969, Hestor-Hiederman 1984, O'Brien
1971, and Schumacher 1975).
In addition to these legal initiatives against indigenous trade in Basse Casamance,
there was also a strong economic pressure favoring the Diola's acceptance of the cash
economy. The traditional trade relationship between the Diola and their Malinke neighbors
was based upon an exchange of rice and captive slaves for cattle and other prestige goods.
The Malinke, however, were able to improve their trade position relative to the Diola with
the intervention of the French colonial administration and its imposition of the cash
economy. While the Malinke remained the only source of cattle for the Diola, their own
options for acquiring rice expanded when French merchants brought Indo-Chinese rice to '
the Casamance. The Malinke were also more receptive than the Diola to the cash cropping
of groundnuts being promoted by the colonial administration. The Malinke used the income
from this introduced enterprise to begin purchasing rice from the French in the early
1900s, making it the most important import (in terms of money) to the Casamance in
1906 and eroding the rice market that the Diola traditionally relied upon (van der Klei
1986: 65; Pelissier 1966: 762; Roche 1976: 317).
As van der Klei (1986) observes, this new set of trade relationships threatened the
ability of the Diola to acquire prestige items such as cattle from their former trading
partners. Cattle were a prestige good integral to the performance of rituals that served an
assimilative function in Diola culture. The cohesion of the group was maintained against the
antagonistic forces present within Diola society by means of these rituals. Rice production
was traditionally accomplished through the efforts of small, relatively autonomous labor
groups. Because of this autonomy, the fissioning of labor units from the larger society was
a constant threat to those who controlled the labor of these groups. Therefore, the
redistributive function of Diola rituals served to maintain social cohesion by providing a
motivation to contribute labor towards the accumulation of prestige goods by high-status
While the cohesiveness of Diola culture was being jeopardized by the economic threat
of a deteriorating rice market, the Malinke were taking political advantage of the Diola's
relatively weak political position. Perhaps as a result of their wide experience at trade
between culturally diverse African societies, the Malinke peoples of the Casamance were
able to manipulate their position between the French and the Diola to their own advantage.
Hot only did they exploit the opportunity to benefit economically, but the Malinke also were
able to have themselves appointed as the colonial representatives to the Diola. As tax
collectors for the administration, the Malinke could threaten French military retribution as a
means of maintaining trade on their own terms (Roche 1976: 293). At the same time, the
Islamic Malinke were proselytizing their Diola neighbors, with much success to the north of
the Casamance River. The prestige of the Malinke as traders and as an educated people
(through their Koranic studies) added to the administrative pressure on the Diola to
emulate their practices, which the French believed would instill discipline (see Thomas
1959: 104-107; Roche 1976: 312; and for greater historical detail, Mark 1976). In the
north and east of Basse Casamance many Diola converted to Islam and began to
concentrate more of their efforts in the production of dryland and cash crops than to the
more labor-intensive wet rice system.
Traditional farming practices
Rice was supplemented in the traditional Diola diet by fish and vegetables. Substantial
quantities of fish and shellfish were caught In the water reservoirs of paddies or in the
natural estuarial and fresh waterways that interlace the landscape of Basse Casamance
(Thomas 1959). Vegetables were grown in kitchen gardens, typically located behind or
alongside each house in order to facilitate their enrichment through the deposition and
Incorporation of household wastes. Each ward of the village would typically maintain a
communal nursery for rice seedlings, which was fertilized prior to planting by corralling the
livestock there for a few weeks. While cattle were Important to the Diola, especially for
ceremonial purposes, they were not able to raise their own herds in the humid environment
of the Basse Casamance. They therefore traded rice, as well as beeswax and captives from
raids, for the acquisition of cattle (Pelissier 1966: 762). The most extensive traditional
subsistence activities, hunting and gathering, were conducted in the forests that dominate
the plateau areas of the region. Rice, the traditional staple food, played the central role in
traditional Diola agriculture. Rice was produced in three sub-systems that together
exploited the full range of environmental conditions found in the province, demanding
varying inputs of labor: the mangrove swamp, slope, and plateau sub-systems are briefly
discussed below, in descending order according to the amount and intensity of labor inputs
required by each (a more detailed account of the technical aspects of the Diola system of
rice production can be found in Pelissier 1966: 716-759; and Thomas 1959: 108-118).
The Diola's most productive and labor-intensive form of rice production was based on
the transformation of the mangrove swamps that are characteristic of the region. Because
the water is brackish in these swamps, their successful cultivation depended on the
creation (through a heavy investment of labor) of dikes to prevent the infiltration of saline
water. These dikes retained fresh water needed to flush the soil of salt, but continued to
serve as a barrier to maintain the separation of the paddies from the saline natural
environment long after the transformation of paddy land from mangrove swamp was
complete. Pelissier (1966) describes the strenuous labor that was required to create and
maintain the dikes, and provides a detailed account of the complex technology that the Diola
developed to control and manage water within the large system of peripheral dikes. The
best rice yields of all the Diola field types were once obtained from these highly productive
swamp paddies. However, production levels in the mangrove paddies fluctuated, as their
productivity depended on good rainfall and intensive labor inputs, especially during the
periods when the rice seedlings were being transplanted into these deeply flooded areas.
A less intensive form of rice production was practiced on the sandy slopes between
plateau areas and the mangrove swamps. With the nearly complete transformation of the
environment into rice paddies, it is difficult to accurately determine where these slopes
ended and the swamps began prior to human intervention. As the slopes rise along the
sides of the plateaux, however, the area of the individual parcels and the height of the dikes
decrease. Weed problems were also more pervasive in these fields, as they were not
continually flooded. Water control was minimal on the slopes, although ridges retained some
water after a rainfall. Slope plots demanded less overall labor than those of the mangrove
swamps, but were not as productive. In addition, peak labor requirements on slope paddies
were not as high, since rice was directly seeded in rows or broadcast into these fields,
rather than being transplanted from nursery plots.
Plateau cultivation techniques were the least intensive form of traditional Diola
agriculture, requiring few labor inputs while providing moderate, variable yields. A
swidden-like system was used to produce upland rice varieties: following a three to five
year fallow, the brush was burned and rice seeded into the ashes. These fields had to be
carefully guarded (usually by young boys) from foraging monkeys as the harvest
approached, as they were located near forested areas (Pelissler 1966: 757). It is into
these extensively managed fields that dryland subsistence and cash crops such as sorghum,
millet, maize, and groundnuts were introduced, to the eventual neglect of the more
intensively-managed mangrove and slope production areas. This change was central to the
disruption of traditional patterns of Diola labor allocation, since men began to increasingly
concentrate on groundnut cultivation and spent less and less effort on the demanding
requirements of the rice fields, which most directly benefitted women.
Drought as insufficient cause for migration
To rely upon the drought as the sole or even as the primary cause of the fundamental
changes observed on Diola farms is to ignore evidence that migratory flows from the area
were strong more than twenty years prior to the severe drought years of the late 1960s
and early 1970s. Rural-urban migration flow from the Basse Casamance has existed since
at least the early 1950s, depleting the province of its population at a relatively high rate.
The notion that drought is not a sufficient cause to explain migration is further
strengthened by Rousseau's data, collected during a period (1887-1927) in which a
drought influenced many Diola men to increase their groundnut production (Rousseau
1931). This large-scale exodus of the rural population has diminished the agricultural labor
force quantitatively (Zacharish and Conde 1981). The concentration here, however, will be
upon those factors that have affected qualitative changes in the rural labor force. These
changes have resulted largely from the selectivity of migration, which depletes the Basse
Casamance disproportionately of its youth and women, and especially of its young women.
The focus of the remainder of this paper is the social organization of the Diola and how
it influences who will migrate from rural communities. From this perspective, migration can
be placed within the context of the historical, political, and economic processes affecting
Diola farmers. The primary assumption here is that the process of generating a
satisfactory explanation of migration from the Basse Casamance will improve our ability to
understand Diola farms in general, and the recent emphasis on dryland and cash crop
The problem of migration is important to any research of labor availability in rural
areas of Africa. This is especially so for applied research related to agricultural
development projects. An important task of such research is to define the parameters of
small farm operations in order to predict, among other variable factors of production,
farmers' ability to meet any additional or rescheduled labor inputs for planned
interventions. Because migration affects the quantitative and qualitative composition of the
rural labor force (frequently rural sex ratios are widely skewed in areas with high rates of
migration; Palmer 1985), it is important to conduct a systematic inquiry into how this
phenomenon operates. Such a focus enables a better understanding from which to formulate
predictions of changing patterns in the rural labor supply.
Women were first recognized as being particularly prominent among those leaving rural
rice-producing areas of Basse Casamance during the 1950s (see Figs. 1 and 2). If the
approach adopted for the purposes of this paper is to be successful, it will have to clarify
the reasons why women have so frequently migrated for wage income rather than pursuing
other possible income-generating strategies in the 30 years since then. I contend
explanations of migration that do not incorporate social organizational factors fail to explain
the qualitative, gender-specific character of migration from Diola farms. Female
out-migration from rural areas of Basse Casamance certainly affects the nature and amount
of labor available for small farm production. However, the qualitative differences between
male and female labor have been ignored by previous migration research concerning the
Two migration studies have provided particularly useful information on the Basse
Casamance. De Jonge's village-level research hypothesized income and wealth differences
among households as the independent variable associated with migration (De Jonge et a.
1978). The data collected to test this hypothesis suggest that income and wealth
differences are insufficient to explain the pattern of Diola migration. While Zachariah and
Hair's (1981 ) study was not intended to test hypotheses, but was intended primarily as a
data gathering venture, they do note the need for explaining the apparent anomalies
connected with the migration data from Basse Casamance:
The case of the Casamance was somewhat peculiar and therefore
subject to question. If the survey data are to be believed, the region
should have had a natural increase of about 130,000, a net growth of
about 88,000, a net immigration (sic) of about 70,000, and a net internal
migration of about 16,000 from this region over the period. The social
and economic consequences of such a large-scale turnover of
foreign-born and local-born population would be very considerable and
deserve special study (Zachariah and Hair 1980: 2).
Recent case study research has suggested that social organizational factors are potentially
capable of explaining differences in migration patterns (see, for instance, Hamer 1981).
Division of labor by tender
The Diola maintained a strict division of agricultural labor based on gender, as is
common practice among many West African societies. The traditional gender division of
labor was maintained by means of rituals that emphasized the unity and cohesion of family
groups, redistributing a portion of the goods accumulated by their elders. The gender
division of labor in the traditional agricultural system can be directly attributed to the
degree to which "development" has impacted differentially upon Diola men and women,
effectively reinforcing male roles and de-emphasizing female contributions.
In traditional Diola agriculture, women were responsible for fertilizing, planting,
weeding, and harvesting rice. The care of the rice seedling nurseries and the choice of
varieties for transplanting was part of the female role associated with planting, as was the
tremendously arduous but crucial act of transplanting seedlings into the paddies. Women
were also responsible for growing vegetables and relish crops in kitchen gardens. The major
male responsibility in traditional Diola agriculture was clearing new land, building and
maintaining dikes, and preparing the women's rice fields. Men therefore cultivated the
slopes and plateau land, controlling the produce from these, while the enterprise of growing
rice was managed by women, who controlled its harvest. Men were also responsible for
hunting and gathering in the forests, which were considered sacred and the exclusive
domain of males. Palm wine was harvested exclusively by men, and male children tended
the cattle herds. Both men and women took part in fishing, a nearly universal activity in
Diola society (Pelissier 1966; the present state of the fishing industry in the area is
discussed at length by Chi-Bonnardel 1971).
It was a female responsibility to manage the irrigated rice cultivation; male tasks were
associated more with the forests. As will become apparent in the section concerning
changes in the context of production, a number of factors acted in concert with this pattern
to create a pressure for the Diola men to begin cash cropping groundnuts. Among these
factors was the colonial administration's requirement that the Diola pay harsh poll taxes
(Roche 1976). At the same time the Diola's traditional trading partners, the Malinke, were
beginning to increase their trade with the colonial enterprises (van der Klei 1986). This
pressure was directed mainly at men largely because the areas best suited to the
cultivation of groundnuts, the forested plateaux, were strictly a male domain. Clearing, an
activity necessary to perform before the plateaux could be planted to groundnuts, was also
a traditional male role. Finally, men had begun to gain some experience in harvesting
groundnuts by migrating to Malinke groundnut fields to earn wages during the dry season
(Thomas 1959). This allowed Diola men to gain some knowledge of the techniques used for
groundnut cultivation and, undoubtably, an appreciation of the reduced labor requirements of
this crop in relation to rice,3 in addition to supplying them with the cash they needed to
pay the taxes Instituted by the colonial administration.
Traditional social organization
Pelissier ( 1966) and Curtin (1975) have remarked that traditional Diola society was
politically acephalouss"; that, in other words, It was without political organization beyond
the level of the extended family. While Pelissier provides an excellent view of Diola
agriculture and the social organization through which production was organized, his approach
to social organization is ethnocentric and would benefit from reanalysis with an
anthropological perspective. For Instance, after describing the complex technology of
bringing the mangrove swamps into production, he states: "Despite the enormous labor that
it requires, the conquest of the mangrove has nowhere given birth to a specific form of
social organization" (Pelissier 1966: 726; my translation). From Pelissier's descriptions of
the "provisory organizations" among family groups, readers familiar with the work of the
British social anthropologists will recognize that, contrary to his assertion above, Pelissier
is describing a specific type of social structure, one which is similar to the unilineal descent
groups described by these ethnographers (i. e., Evans-Pritchard 1952, Fortes and
Diola society is a juxtaposition of families, that is to say of human groups
descended from the same ancestor, carrying the same name and endowed with
the same totem. But the family thus defined can be geographically very
dispersed and often maintains only very distended relations, and implies no real
cohesiveness. Sometimes the family forms an entire village; which seems to be
the case in the example of Diemb6ring where all inhabitants have the same
family name, that of Diatta. More commonly, families have emigrated towards
the mangroves or forest and given birth to far-away villages. The family thus
comprised can be called a clan; its unity manifests itself through rules
(although these are becoming less and less rigid) of exogamy, but no longer
translates into any concrete solidarity and only on rare occasions implies a
community of sentiments or interests.
Such a family is grouped under the authority of the father, his sons, their
wives, their children, etc., and represents a vigorous social and economic
unity; it is this human group, the living cell of the village, that represents the
true Diola family, which we qualify with the following.
Finally, a third definition of the family, more and more valid in the present,
recovers the elementary unit formed by the father, mother, and their children,
grouped either in a section of a large communal house or in an autonomous
building; we label this reduced nuclear family the household or m6ni ge
(Pelissier 1966: 683; my translation).
Anthropologists have analyzed the characteristic structural features of numerous
African societies by modeling the principles of segmentary organization (Evans-Pritchard
1940). Meyer Fortes' (1953) excellent review of the important contributions to this area
provides a theoretical context in which to place information from individual cases. In these
societies, he argues, family relations are the basis for.political organization: "the lineage is
not only a corporate unit in the legal or jural sense but is also the primary political
association" (Fortes 1953: 26). The main contribution of this approach from the
methodological standpoint, Fortes states, is its use of a political organization perspective
that emphasizes the totality of social relations rather than a perspective that merely
focuses on the kinship relations of a single individual.
For our purposes, an analysis of the social organization of production is used as a
means of understanding the relative prominence of women among the many Diola people
choosing migration as an income-generating strategy. This analysis is expected to enable a
discovery of Diola production patterns and to indicate the structure and functioning of
control over productive resources. Members of rural Diola society without access to, or
control of, essential resources are considered more likely to search for support off-farm,
particularly by migrating to urban areas for wage labor. Consequently, the pattern that
emerges is one in which women are particularly unlikely to have access to or control over
the labor of other productive adults. With the undermining of the system by which women
provided themselves and their families with rice, they became particularly likely to view
migration as one of their few viable income-generating alternatives.
Diola social organization Is best analyzed from the extreme micro level, in other words
by concentrating on its minimal units of production and consumption. While the use of such
groups as the unit of analysis differs from Fortes' kinship organizational method, this view
of Diola social relations is indebted in part to his insight into the political aspects of
non-state social organizations. Such a change in perspective from kinship organization to
the units of production and consumption is justified because the membership of these units
is variable by season and over the course of the domestic cycle (Guyer 1981; Goody 1971;
Meillassoux 1978: 322). A good indication of the membership of these groups at any given
time can be determined by observing who gathers around the multiple hearths present in
Diola houses at mealtime (Schmitz 1981; Linares, 1984). Notwithstanding the apparent
communality of other aspects of Diola social life, the strongly individualist tendencies
within residential groups is indicated by the number of hearths within each residence at
mealtime; often there are as many hearths as adults present in a single house (Pelissier
The autonomy within Diola residential groups is further reflected in the system by
which staple resources are distributed to consumption units within houses. Each adult
manages a separate granary, supplying it from the harvest of those plots for which she or
he has usufruct rights (Thomas 1960b). The rice of the mangrove paddies goes to women,
while the crops from the slopes and plateaux go to men. Responsibilities for providing
children with staple food are divided between husbands and wives. The father is required to
provide rice for his children during the rainy season, with mothers carrying the
responsibility during the dry months (Pelisier 1966: 686; Schmitz 1981).
Diola residences themselves are not of a homogeneous design, as has been graphically
demonstrated elsewhere (Pelissier 1958). A typical residential situation, however, may be
considered to be either a large house (impluvium) with several of these consumption units
within, or a compound consisting of several separate residences inside a shared courtyard.
The nuclear family, to the extent that It can be said to exist, is associated with the
smallest cell within each house, or with each separate building in a courtyard group. The
extended family is represented by the larger multi-celled house or with the courtyard-
centered compound. With regard to larger kin groups, the ward (or quvrtier) is normally
the maximal exogamous unit, and may be composed of one or several clans depending on
their size relative to the rest of the village (Pelissier 1966; van der Klei 1986).
The 'cells' of the extended family are not In fact wholly autonomous. A wider system
of organization exists whereby the labor of especially the youth and the women is directed
to benefit older men. For instance, in a polygynous household, each wife and her children
form a group subservient to the husband and father: he can require their labor on his fields
at crucial periods during the agricultural calendar. For his part, the adult married man may
be required to devote family labor to the fields of men holding positions of superior status
within the extended family. The men holding such positions of authority are traditionally
the oldest initiated males in a given extended-family group.
A married man can use the labor of his wife and children for his farming needs, and
perhaps that of more than one wife as well as those young men in positions of inferior
authority to his within the extended family. A woman, however, can rely only upon her own
labor and that of her children for her subsistence activities. Given a system where labor
represents the primary productive resource and where responsibilities for the provisioning
of children are divided in a roughly equivalent fashion, the differential empowerment
between men and women to engage the labor necessary to provide for their subsistence
responsibilities is great. Women do not have the power nor the resources that men have at
their disposal to mobilize labor to their own benefit.
Labor groups consisting of several residential units are directed under the control of
the elder chefs de mAinsap, who manage the labor of the women and younger men in their
extended family to acquire surpluses, which they trade for cattle. From a functional point
of view they then 'use' the prestige and wealth of the cattle to finance the ceremonial
redistribution of food, which bolsters the structure of control in the society. The rituals
serve to direct both the ideology and the labor of the youth, maintaining the cohesiveness
of the household "atoms" despite the unequal familio-political power structure. Funerals,
weddings, and initiation ceremonies are occasions to ritually slaughter cattle, sacrifice to
the "fettishes" or dieties, and share with the group for a feast, thereby serving to cement
family coherence by defining its membership, asserting its prestige, redistributing its
goods, and further consolidating male power (van der Klei 1986). Other integrative forces
In the community, such as the autonomous and voluntary work groups that are composed of
age-grades of youth from the same village or ward, also serve to maintain cohesion against
the disintegrative aspects of the 'cellular organization of households within larger, more
powerful extended family units (the organization of these voluntary work groups is
discussed by Pelissier 1966: 699-702; and their integrative function by van der Klel
Subsistence and incorporation into the cash economy
The traditional agricultural system could absorb large increases in labor inputs,
responding with increases in yields that could not be attained if the same amount of labor
were applied to the construction of new paddy lands to increase the area under pro-
duction. 4 The storage of rice was therefore a means of banking on prosperous years to
assure the ability to trade in less fortunate years (Colson 1979). A permanently cropped,
intensive agriculture allowed sedentary Diola societies to absorb substantial increases in
their populations without resorting to the acquisition of large areas of new land by force or
otherwise. They were able to permanently cultivate their intensively-managed rice paddies
for thousands of years (Linares 1981 ). Trade relationships with the neighboring Malinke
allowed the Diola to acquire prestige items, such as cattle and loincloths, which they were
unable to produce themselves (van der Klel 1986).
As Pelissier observes, their technological culture was developed to a high level of
perfection prior to colonial and other outside interventions, but Diola political organization
was unable to effectively protect this system from encroachment, at least in the long run
(Pelissier 1966: 674). The degree of ferocity and sheer tenacity exhibited by the Diola in
defense of their rights to land and other resources is some indication of the extremely high
value of these factors of production as the material means of cultural and family survival.
However, despite such resistance, the Diola have not been unaffected by the influence of
the state and the cash economy it forcefully introduced. They have been forced to undergo
many of the changes they so fiercely resisted from the beginning of the colonial presence in
Resistance to capitalization is a proclivity exhibited by subsistence-oriented farmers
throughout the world. Such resistance is unlikely to be alleviated through a naive focus on
the technical aspects of production. Risk-aversive strategies (Wharton 1968, 1969) are
so common to subsistence producers that they are often considered intrinsic to this form of
production (Sahlins 1972). The maintenance of control over the primary factors of
production is a fundamental means of assuring one's continued ability to provide for family
subsistence through farm enterprises. To rely on fluctuating world markets for the family's
survival is, from the subsistence producer's point of view, a fundamentally vulnerable
position (several of the early social science theorists recognized the nature of this
problem, i. e. Marx 1967, Durkheim 1947, and Weber 1947; but Hyden 1983 has
emphasized its importance in contemporary Africa). Once this vulnerability is accepted as
a production risk, however, the interests of those adopting this 'capitalist' strategy may
diverge sharply from the subsistence producers (Cancian 1966) who may be their
neighbors, friends, or other family members. This divergence of interests has fragmented
the linkages between members of Diola society that were essential to its traditional
While men and women had previously worked together in rice production, during the
early twentieth century only men were changing their productive strategies to include the
cultivation of cash crops. As we have seen, this was due to several factors that influenced
Diola men directly, but which affected women mostly in that the rice paddies produced lower
rice yields without the labor input traditionally supplied by the men. However, little
attention has been given to the historical development of the productive strategies of Diola
women. By focusing our attention on their roles in the process of agricultural change, we
can see from the evidence that women were also revising their productive strategies. For
instance, in 1910 it was reported that Diola women exclusively comprised the workforce on
the docks of Zinguinchor, loading and unloading ships for 1.5F per day (Roche 1976: 316).
Forty years later, Thomas noted the severely disintegrative effects of villages being left
devoid of their youthful female population, blaming this phenomenon on the attraction of the
towns and urban centers for wage migration (Thomas 1960a).
In this context, we cannot effectively view labor as an undifferentiated mass, to be
measured adequately in quantitative terms alone. The importance of social status and roles
in traditionally agricultural societies requires that we also conceive of labor as having
qualitative dimensions. These dimensions can be addressed through investigation of
traditional Diola social organization, with an emphasis on inquiry into the structure of age
and gender relationships.
Thomas cites three types of rural migration in which the Diola traditionally
participated: the first for fishing or oyster-gathering, during which a family group would
have been gone for several weeks; a second for the harvest of palm wine, which is a male
activity undertaken for several days at a time over an extended harvest season; and the
third for rice cultivation, taking place during the wet season (the two former activities
entailed migration only during the dry season). He divides migration for the harvest of rice
Into three further categories: for day labor In which youths travel to neighboring villages
as individuals, for periods of up to three weeks as larger work groups, and a special case in
which the whole village of Karabane migrates for a five month period (Thomas 1959:
495-498). However, Thomas never indicates how these traditional forms of migration were
Influenced by changes through time, to eventually cause the kind of asymmetrical patterns
that he noted elsewhere in his work, where women predominated in wage migration from the
rural areas of Basse Casamance to the urban centers elsewhere in Senegal.
Van der Klei's (1986) historical research also indicates that the earliest migration for
wage labor among the Diola was also of the rural-rural type. His reconstruction of the
historical context of the earliest Diola wage migrations provides the basis for an analysis of
the initial causes of migration. The analysis centers on the interaction of what he labels
'internal' and 'external' factors. These internal factors are mostly the "internal
contradictions" he attributes to the situation in which young people's labor (and. the goods
through their efforts) are controlled by the elders. The Diola were famous for their large
stores of rice in granaries that have been said to hold up to a ten year's supply (Pelissier
1966: 704). These obvious surpluses indicated familial prestige, but were also used to
trade for the goods that were central to Diola funerals, marriages, and initiations. Van der
Klei ( 1986) attributes the initiation of wage labor migration to the "pacification" of the
Diola, which destroyed their traditional trade relations with the Malinke and severed the
market for rice, which they traditionally 'exported' in exchange for cattle.
There is therefore a need to analyze the historical situation In terms of both male and
female productive strategies. Although neither Thomas nor van der Klei address the issue
of migration in terms of a phenomenon that selects men and women in qualitatively different
ways, both researchers have reported detailed information on the history of Diola
migrations. The Importance of this gender composition of the migration flows from the
Basee Casamance seems well-established by demographic reports on the gender
composition of the migrant Diole work force (see Figs. 1 and 2).
Who is leaving and why
Pelissier points out the autonomy of each adult's granary, along with the fact that Diola
women were free to divorce their husbands at any time between harvest and planting, as
indicative of women's freedom in Diola society (Pelissier 1966: 687). Schmitz ( 1983),
however, argues that Diola women were in a subordinate status relative to men. This is
clear from the structure of benefits and obligations that we have outlined: the division of
staple provisioning responsibility is unequal in a polygynous situation where women provide
for their children for half the year on the rice they grow together, while men may command
the labor of both other men and their wives and daughters for their own cash-earning
enterprises; men also control exclusive rights to the inheritance of land ( Pelissier 1966:
693; Thomas 1960b). Women have no control overland distribution, which is controled by
elder men. The mangrove rice paddies from which their rice was produced were most
susceptable to the effects of the drought (Schmitz 1981: 97). Men's increased attention
to the plateaux fields caused a decline in the productivity of the rice fields, which needed
heavy labor inputs in order to provide adequate levels of production. Women were unable to
replace.the labor of clearing, preparing fields, and maintaining dikes that was traditionally
supplied by men with their own labor. Therefore, women needed access to cash to uphold
their own provisioning responsibilities. Women could not leave home, since they had
responsibilities with child care, vegetable gardens, fishing, and other activities, so they
began sending their daughters at 10-15 years of age to regional towns as housekeepers,
the most readily available form of wage labor in the area. This skill made women
increasingly mobile, and increased their chances for employment in other urban areas. This
pattern has been noted by virtually all writers on the area since Thomas (1959), with the
prevalence of communal residence groups of young Diola women in certain areas of Dakar
noted as early as the 1955 demographic survey of the capital city (Etudes et Coordination
Statistiques et M6canographiques 1958; Service de la Statistique et de la M6canographie
Social organizational factors and the differential access to agricultural land on the basis
of gender are rarely related to larger societal processes such as colonialism, the institution
of cash economies, and migration. Viewed from a political organizational perspective that
analyzes the function of relations within and between minimal production and consumption
units, we can better understand why young women have migrated from the Basse
Casamance in disproportionate numbers. With the added insights gained from a view which
emphasizes the gender division of labor and the differential in men's and women's access to
and control of resources, we are able to better understand the differences in the incidence
of male and female outmigration. This differential was influenced by the negative effects on
the status and welfare of women as men increased their role in dryland agriculture and cash.
cropping activities, leaving women to maintain a deteriorating system of rice production
that was insufficient to provide for household subsistence. This situation was reinforced
historically by the introduction of Islam and by the colonial administration's favoritism
towards 'mandinguized' (Malinke-like) groups.
SThe utility of a historical approach that incorporates social organizational factors and
focuses on gender relations in a changing social, political, economic, and agricultural
environment has been demonstrated. The effects of adopting this approach as a means of
directing applied social research related to agriculture is therefore beneficial, in that it
provides a framework for understanding the context of agricultural enterprises through
time. It is only when we examine the historical changes in the context of Diola agriculture
that we can begin to view the apparent anomalies related to the demography of Basse
Casamance as consistent within this context.
1 Zachariah and Hair (1980) report an impressively large turn over of population, with
people from Guinea Bissau apparently 'replacing' the Diola: Reports of the generally poor
results achieved by agricultural projects in the area can be found in de Jonge (1978) and
in Dey (1985). Adams (1977) provides a useful context in which to view the approach of
large-scale rice development projects in Senegal, although this work is concerned with
those projects in the Senegal River valley, to the extreme northeast of the country.
2 Foreign troops were unable to survive long with the stress of the environment in
Basse Casamance.. The first French outpost in the region at Seju, for instance, had 22
successive commanders in the 16 year period from 1863 to 1854. At Karabane a
replacement rate for officers was about two per year until the introduction and general use
of quinine was instituted just prior to 1900. As a result of the regular use of quinine and
other medical technologies there was an 80 percent decrease in the death rate of France
troops from the early to late 1880s (Roche 1976: 81, 180; Curtin 1975: 129).
3 Rice cultivation techniques require a great deal more labor than do those practices
related to groundnut production (Loquay 1981: 98).
4 Geertz (1963: 34-37) describes how, in Java, a similar vet rice cultivation
technology was continuously intensified under extreme population pressure over on
extended period of time, without greatly expanding the area under production.
Temporary Diola residents counted in the
1955 Dakar census
15-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60+
Soure: Etudo t Coordination Statistiquis t Mloangraphiques. 1958.
Roeensement dnmoaraphiMue de Dakar (195). RsuMlts Dt6fnttfs: lor
Fasoloule. Paris: Haut Commissariat de la Republique n Afrique Ocoidentale
Figure 2: Percentage representation of peoples from the Cnsemence
having arrived in Dakar between 1955 and 1960
0-9 years 6.1 72
10-19 years 6.9 28.9
20-29 years 19.2 18.9
30-39 years 4.4 3.4
40+ yeO-s 1.7 3.3
all ages 38.3 61.7
d'per 1009 62 -
Source: Service de le etatistique et de la micanographie. 1962.
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