Remembering Aline Sittoe Diatta

March ….African Women’s Month


By Sainey Faye

Question: who was Aline Sittoe Diatta?

She and Ndatte Yalla Mboge are the only women in Senegal with statues, to honor their heroic deeds. Ndatte Yalla Mboge was the “linguere” of Waallo.The only women in Senegambia to be honored in Senegambia for their heroism, and role in their anti-colonial struggle and resistance.

May 8th, 1943 – On this date Aline Sittoe Diatta (Jatta) was arrested by the French colonial forces. Aline Sittoe Diatta was born in 1910, whilst others say 1920; but she was not born inside or out of royalty in the African society of Kabrousse; which was once a kingdom of the Jolas.The society of Kabrousse is strategically located on the Atlantic coast south of Cape Skirring in Casamance. The history of Casamance is very similar to its present day cousins of Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau. As a matter of fact the same colonial forces that divided these territories were the same ones that later colonized them as micro states. Casamance, and today Guinea Bissau were all part of the Kabbu empire.

CASAMANCE — A brief overview :- Its resistance to colonial penetration and rule started as early as 1857 and 1860 according some historians of Senegambia, but resistance to foreign rule started as early as the 15th and 16th centuries. The territory changed hands during these times between the Portuguese, French and the British; depending who had the upper hand. However, the 1800’s onwards the French began to build settlements along its river ports, and started building forts, and business centers around Diembering, Sedhiou, Ziguinchor etc.

These incursions into their territory climaxed in 1857 and 1860 as we know of the famous rebellion of the Jolas, in the attack on Carabane which was a historic incident where the French military fortified, and was attacked and burnt to ashes. The French military commander, Emile Pinet Laprade, a contempory of General Loius Faidherbe who fought the Senegalese for control of their territory, and later became French administrator of French West Africa, was the one sent to do the dirty job of annexing the territory. He was a brutal and heartless military colonialist expansionist, and torturer.

Any student of the recent colonial history in French West Africa should know these two famous French colonialist adventurers. Briefly, in 18th February, 1859 Emile Pinet Lapradore was given orders by France to enforce a decree making Casamance a French colony. This went on until 1888, three years after the Berlin Conference which officially partitioned Africa into colonies and micro states. The French then signed a deal with Britain and Portugal, for the division and also annexation of Casamance, Guinea Bissau, and the Gambia with clear boundaries marked. Fulladu was part of the kingdom of Alpha and Musa Molloh; the last warrior king to take on both French, and English colonialist who tried to usurp his land. Their anti-colonial struggle to take back and/or annex their territory was one that Britain and France to deal with it great difficulty.

A year later in 1889 as the colonial records indicate, France and Britain signed a treaty which created a boundary between Gambia and Casamance. France immediately set up post at Ziguinchor as its commercial capital in 1892. Then eight years later in 1904, made it capital of Casamance. Here again, it had problems with administering the territory because of the ways the resistance movements which operated against her rule and arbitrary policies.

Let’s bear in mind that, this was also a time when the Marabout/Soninke wars were brewing in the Senegambia and Kabbu region. Casamance was not a territory or nation of one ethnicity, but of numerous ethnicities just like its cousins. Unable to enforce their wishes and policies on the widely dispersed population, they divided it up into 3 administrative regions. This tactic of “Divide and Rule’ had worked for colonialist before elsewhere in their other colonies, most notably Senegal and elsewhere in Africa, Asia and the West Indies. This time it was tried in Casamance, but not without bitter resistance.

In 1912, it divided the territory up into Upper, Middle, and Lower. Lower Casamance and Upper Casamance consisted of Fulladu or Fouladou, and the Kolda areas, which is mostly Fulas or Fulbeh. The Middle Casamance consisted of Sedhiou or Segou, which are mostly Balantas, and Mandingos. And Lower Casamance consisted of Jolas or Diolas and Bainunkas; and Manjakos/Manjaks.

The problems would once again surface, because during the latter half of the 19th century, Fuladu especially, was a state extending from Gambia all the way to Casamance, and established its capital at Ndorna. In the 1870’s, fighting between Alfa Molo (King Of Fulladu) and Foday Kaba had intensified, and the French could not help but watch because of the nature in which both operated in and out of Casamance. The Kabbu/Kansaala wars were reminders of these territories and how they changed hands between various groups, at very critical times in the region. Our griots remind us of the “Nyanchos” and “Koringolu” era.

They would side with Musa Molo against Foday Kaba Dumbuya, who went on a rampage on several occasions inside Casamance against non-muslims and the colonialist forces trying to establish christiandom and colonialism. Until 1901, Musa Molo ruled from Casamance which he regarded as one territory. In 1903, the French charged him of a crime that he had to answer to in St. Louis; he refused to go and went back to his base in the Gambia (Fulladu). The French later became mad at him for destroying structures and telegraph lines they had installed, in his anger. In 1876 and 1877, and 1882 Foday Kaba attacked villages and Sedhiou a safe haven for the French administration, before turning back and attacking Foni, Kabada, and Kiang.

These activities in and out of Casamance, showed how little and late French colonialism had total control of the territory of Casamance. The history of Casamance is too large and complex for this short overview, but it highlights some old issues. Musa Molloh Baldeh also resisted continuously, but was arrested and exiled to Sierra Leone, but he came back to the Gambia unlike many exiled leaders who never came back from exile. He had children in Sierra Leone, and was later replaced by his son Seyfo (chief) Cherno Baldeh of Fulladu and Sami, and Jimarra.

Back to Aline Sittoe Diatta. She was one of the leaders of a tax resistance, and local resistance anti-colonialist movement during the second world war. While Jola resistance had never really ended since the region was annexed to French West Africa in 1914, in 1942 the French government began seizing as much as half the areas rice harvest for their war effort.Along with that they seized cattle, sheep, goats, and livestock too. She advocated the total boycott of paying any form of taxes levied, and stoppage of groundnuts production, except for home consumption, and only rice production and cultivation.

Casamance had always been a haven for rice cultivation and introducing a cash crop like groundnuts was not economical to its people, she died championing the rights of her people to produce what they wanted…. “eat what you produce, and produce what you eat.” This made a lot of economic sense to the masses, and they joined her movement.The governments that followed did not pay heed to what she was alerting them to, which is avoid being hooked to the capitalist cash crop economy of groundnut/peanut cultivation. Back then, one couldn’t do much with it, except to export it to Europe; who refine and resell back to the colonies.

On the other hand, with rice cultivation, along with Coucous, Findo/fonio/findi etc. one can feed the family without relying on imported food that one can grow in abundance. History today, has proven her right; FAO studies that came in the 60’s showed and recommended rice production and development for the Senegal/Casamance region, rather than groundnut/peanut.

The introduction of a monoculture of growing peanuts was not economical to the Casamance/Senegambian population but was profitable as a cash crop for Britain, France, and Portugal in the world market; that’s one of the main reasons they became export earners. Most of the people in these regions of West Africa eat grains as staple foods, and non groundnuts. They also come handy in times of famine and drought. She was way ahead of her people!!!

Aline saw this problem, as one that would and could make her people shift from growing grains like sorghum, millet, maize, fonio(findo) etc. for consumption rather than for profit, agricultural economist had proved her right, for after political Independence; an FAO (U.N.) study showed the territory more suitable for rice than peanuts, especially given the rivers, lakes, and estuaries. She fought for her people until she died in capture.

After her arrest on May 8, 1943 her husband was also arrested and jailed for several years before being released. She was however not released, but put in prison in Gambia, then Senegal, and finally sent to Timbucktu, Mali, where she died.Her name was a household name through out Casamance and the region. She created a mass movement which was overwhelmingly embraced, and supported by the women en masse.

She was said to possess some good qualities as a healer amongst many things, and a resistant revolutionary fighter for independence.Today, in few towns her statue is on display, and a new ferry that replaced the ‘Joola’ which sank off the Gambian sea coast, has been named after her. The Senegalese government along with the Casamance nationalist movements and civic organizations have also recognized some of her significant contributions to the African emancipation struggle against bondage and also oppression. She was truly a queen, priestess, and heroine of the African Liberation Struggle.

Aline Sittoe Jatta, would not have been captured if she had continued to work underground with her resistant, heroic, revolutionary sisters. It was because of the scortch earth policy of raiding homes,house, and ‘kabilos’ of ordinary folks; and their arrests and/or arbitrary execution; which forced her to come and face her enemies; and save innocent lives.She was jailed in Senegal/Casamance, Gambia, and finally Mali, but even these could not break her faith or make her relent.

She had a great network with the people, so much so that she was always ahead of the enemy, eluding capture, and agitating, educating, mobilizing, and organizing a true revolutionary liberation movement for her people. What a true heroine!


One Comment

  1. Pingback: KAIRO NEWS – Remembering Aline Sittoe Diatta - Gambia News 24

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *