Les Enfants de la colonie: Les métis de l’Empire français entre sujétion et citoyenneté [Book Review]

Les Enfants de la colonie: Les métis de l’Empire français entre sujétion et citoyenneté [Book Review]

H-France Review (Society for French Historical Studies)
Volume 8, Number 162 (November 2008)
pages 654-657

Marie-Paule Ha
The University of Hong Kong

Emmanuelle Saada, Les Enfants de la colonie: Les métis de l’Empire français entre sujétion et citoyenneté. Paris: Editions de la Découverte, 2007. 335 pp. Notes and bibliography. 24€. ISBN 978-2-7071-3982-5.

While the question of métissage has in the last two decades generated a significant volume of scholarly works from a diverse range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, Emmanuelle Saada’s monograph, which grew out of her 2001 doctoral dissertation at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, is quite unique in that it provides the first systematic and in-depth investigation of the judicial aspects of what was referred to as “la question métisse.”[1] Drawing on a wide array of materials ranging from archival and juridical sources to works from legal studies, history, anthropology and sociology, the author reconstructs the highly complex and tortuous trajectory that transformed the legal status of the empire’s métis from that of native subjects to being French citizens during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Given the book’s focus, the term “métis” in Les Enfants de la colonie is used to refer not to mixed-race children in general, but to the métis non reconnus, that is, those born out of wedlock that had not been legally recognized by their European fathers and were abandoned by them. As a result, this group of métis was given by default the status of native subjects. It was the plight of this particular category of illegitimate and racially mixed progeny of European men that became the object of the interventions of administrators, philanthropists and legal professionals in the colonies.

The starting point of Saada’s investigation of “the métis problem” is the 8 November 1928 decree which made it possible for the métis non reconnus born in Indochina to be granted French citizenship if one of their parents, legally unknown, could be presumed to be of “French race.” According to the decree, this presumption could be established “par tous les moyens,” which include “le nom que porte l’enfant, le fait qu’il a reçu une formation, une éducation et une culture françaises, sa situation dans la société” (p.13). The momentous interest of this legal text was twofold. On the one hand, it constituted the first occurrence of the word “race” in French legislation. On the other hand, the term was deployed not for an exclusive purpose, but rather to justify the integration of certain subjects of the empire in French citizenry…

Read the entire review here.

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