By Rob Lemkin:
Eye witness testimony: one of 800 women abducted by Voulet in 1899 and interviewed in 1970. It took 2 years to track down and rescue the recording
Voulet’s mission held around 800 women captive at any one time in its progress across Niger. These women became slaves allocated to French officers and African auxiliaries for sexual and domestic services. Voulet himself is reported to have spent the last night of his life with his regular Tuareg ‘companion’ Fatima who had been captured en route.
In our first research trip to Niger in 2015, we met Boube Gado, the retired director of the national research archive IRSH (Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines) in the capital, Niamey. He shared with us the text of an interview he had transcribed in 1970 with a 97-year-old woman who had been kidnapped by Voulet and his men in April 1899.
This extraordinary text gives a painfully vivid account of the violence of Voulet’s column. It also includes a remarkable close-up portrait of Voulet himself, seen through the eyes of a young African woman.
Naturally, we were keen to hear the tape itself. Boube promised he would look for the original cassette. Sadly, a few months later, in September 2015, Boube died. Staff at IRSH continued to hunt for the tape. After more than a year of searching through a trove of dusty, unmarked boxes, they found a copy.
The tape is 50 years old and the sound is distorted. Hausa translators were unable to decipher every word. Luckily Boube Gado’s 1970 transcription came to the rescue.
By combining the tape with the text, we were able to recover every word of the 97-year-old woman’s precious and unique testimony. Sadly, for now she remains nameless.
This is the tape Femi listens to in the provincial IRSH archive in African Apocalypse.