Recently, Dr. Tamba M’Bayo celebrated the publication of his first book titled, Muslim Interpreters in Colonial Senegal, 1850-1920. In this book, M’bayo drew on French colonial archival sources and oral accounts to cast light on the activities of indigenous Muslim intermediaries who bridged the linguistic and cultural gaps between French colonizers and colonized Africans in Senegal.
Dr. M’Bayo said that to the best of his knowledge, his book is the first book-length study to focus on indigenous interpreters in colonial Africa.
“As such, I am delighted to add my voice to the expanding historical literature on colonial intermediaries, a topic scholars have addressed in various contexts inside and outside Africa,” he said.
This book began as a Dr. M’Bayo’s dissertation at Michigan State University. His Doctoral Advisor, Dr. Dave Robinson, was an expert in Muslim societies in Africa and had done extensive research in Sengal.
“At the time, I could not undertake research in Sierra Leone, my country of origin, because there was a civil war there. And since I had a very good grasp of French, having spent seven years in Togo, a Francophone West African country, before arriving in the US, I chose Senegal as my research base,” Dr. M’Bayo said.
He began his research at the National Archives of Senegal in Dakar, the current capital city, and Saint Louis,the former capitol during colonial area, in 2002. Here he combed through French colonial records going as far back as the early nineteenth century.
In 2004, Dr. M’bayo speant 8 months in Sengal carrying out both archival and field research. This included conducting interviews in both French and, with the help of an interpreter, Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal.
Between the years of 2006 and 2009, he spent at least 2 months each summer conducting more research in Segal. All the archival material and oral interviews collected during this long period of research created the book.
“Being a professional historian, the publication of my book embodies years of inquiry, deep reflection, and original writing aimed at casting light on a wide range of issues such as the complexity of cultural mediation, knowledge production, and power relations between European colonizers and colonized Africans.”
Now that Dr. M’bayo has successfully published his first book, he is looking on to his next research project. While he intends to continue researching colonial and post-colonial Senegal and Francophone West Africa, he is looking to his country of origin for now. His next book project will be a history of epidemics in Sierra Leone.
“My goal is to trace major disease outbreaks in the country all the way back to the early nineteenth century, when Freetown, the capital, became a haven for repatriating black ex-slaves from England, Nova Scotia, and Jamaica,” he said.
This summer, he spent two months Freetown conducting interviews with survivors of the Ebola epidemic that hit three West African countries—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone- between December 2013 and November 2015. In total, he interviewed twenty-eight Ebola surviors in Freetown and Kambia, a town in northern Sierra Leone close to the border with Guinea, where the Ebola epidemic started.
Dr. M’bay plans to present his findings at the next annual meeting of the African Studies Association to be held in Washington DC early in December, as well as an article on Ebola, poverty, and social injustice in Sierra Leone currently under review for publication in an academic journal.
“I will build on these efforts to complete my monograph on epidemics in Sierra Leone,” Dr. M’bayo said.