When dead bodies talk: Colonial and ritual autopsies in French-ruled Africa (1918-1945)

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Abstract

This article examines the practice of autopsies in French-ruled West Africa in the interwar era. It contributes to the discussion of medical knowledge and its employment in the colonies and raises a set of questions regarding the administration's motives for performing autopsies and the African responses to this practice. In order to answer these questions, I briefly examine the practice of autopsies in France and move to the colonies to look at the problematic ways in which they were performed under colonial conditions. I then delve into local practices of ritual autopsies that also aim to explain death, but in different ways. Finally, I demonstrate what the differences and similarities between practices of colonial and ritual autopsies can teach us about the idea of the Civilising Mission and its perception by African colonial subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)962-983
Number of pages22
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Volume34
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021

Keywords

  • Autopsies
  • Colonialism
  • French West Africa
  • Legal medicine
  • Unnatural death

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