French Guinea (Guinée française) was a French colonial possession in West Africa established in 1891. Since the eighteenth century, Portuguese, British and French traders had established small stations on the coast which was called Rivières du Sud by the French. The Portuguese had trading stations at Rio Pongo and Rio Nunez, mostly for the purchase of enslaved Africans captured inland and brought to the coast. Subsequently a number of English and American traders also settled in the region. In 1891, Rivières du Sud was placed under the colonial lieutenant governor at Dakar, who had authority over the French coastal regions east to Porto-Novo (modern Benin). In 1894, Rivières du Sud, Cote d’Ivoire and Dahomey were separated into ‘independent’ colonies, with Rivières du Sud being renamed the Colony of French Guinea. It became independent from France in 1958 following the rejection of Charles de Gaulle’s Constitution of 1958. At the time French Guinea was the only colony to refuse the new constitution. It became the modern day country of Guinea keeping French as its official language.
What is now Guinea was on the fringes of the major West African empires. The Ghana Empire is believed to be the earliest of these which grew on trade but contracted and ultimately fell due to the hostile influence of the Almoravids. It was in this period that Islam first arrived in the region.
The Sosso kingdom (twelfth to thirteenth centuries) briefly flourished in the void but the Islamic Manding Mali Empire came to prominence when Soundiata Kéïta defeated the Sosso ruler Soumangourou Kanté at the semi-historical Battle of Kirina in 1235. The Mali Empire was ruled by Mansa (Emperors), the most famous being Kankou Moussa, who made a famous hajj to Mecca in 1324. Shortly after his reign the Mali Empire began to decline and was ultimately supplanted by its vassal states in the fifteenth century.
The most successful of these was the Songhai Empire, which expanded its power from about 1460 and eventually surpassed the Mali Empire in both territory and wealth. It continued to prosper until a civil war over succession followed the death of Askia Daoud in 1582. The weakened empire fell to invaders from Morocco at the Battle of Tondibi just three years later. The Moroccans proved unable to rule the kingdom effectively, however, and it split into many small kingdoms.
Samori Toure was the founder of the Wassoulou Empire, an Islamic state in present-day Guinea that resisted French colonial rule in West Africa from 1882 until Ture’s capture in 1898.
After the fall of the major West African empires, various kingdoms existed in what is now Guinea. Fulani Muslims migrated to Futa Jallon in Central Guinea and established an Islamic state from 1735 to 1898 with a written constitution and alternate rulers. The Wassoulou or Wassulu empire was a short-lived (1878–1898) empire, led by Samori Toure in the predominantly Malinké area of what is now upper Guinea and southwestern Mali (Wassoulou). It moved to Ivory Coast before being conquered by the French.
The slave trade came to the coastal region of Guinea with European traders in the sixteenth century. Slavery had always been part of everyday life but the scale increased as slaves were exported to work elsewhere in the triangular trade.
With the establishment of Sierra Leone by British Abolitionists, this area attracted their attention and that of the Christian Missionary Society, which sought to promote Christianity and trading opportunities By 1820, British suppression of the slave trade and Portuguese imperial decline saw these posts abandoned, with British and French traders moving in. The French admiral Bouët-Willaumez made a number of treaties with coastal communities in the area (usually under the threat of force), and ensured Marseilles based trade houses exclusive access to the palm oil trade by the 1840s. Used for making soap, the palm oil trade was with Diola merchants who established markets in the interior, and transported it to the coastal stations.
The French colonial governor of Senegal Louis Faidherbe in the 1850s formalized the colonial structure which was christened Rivières du Sud. In 1854, Guinea ports were placed under control of naval administration and split from new colonial administration in Saint-Louis, Senegal under the name Gorée and Dependencies. Previously, they had fallen under the naval ‘supreme commander in Gabon’ of the Establissements francais de la Cote de l’Or et du Gabon.
By 1859, Faidherbe’s campaigns of conquest on the riverine coast south of Gorée saw the region annexed to the colonial administration, under the arrondissement of Gorée. The Rivières du Sud now referred to the entire region from Sine-Salmon to the border of British Sierra Leone.
In 1865 the fort at Boké was built in the Rio Nunez area, expanding from the main French-controlled town of Conakry. Shortly after this, Bayol was taken as a ‘protectorate’ as well. The Rio Pongo area, nominally held by Germany, was traded to France for their ‘rights’ to Porto-Seguro and Petit Popo on the Togolese coast. The British formally recognized French control of the area, and the administrative division collecting these possessions was created under the name Rivières du Sud in 1882.
In 1891, Rivières du Sud was placed under the colonial lieutenant governor at Dakar, who had authority over the French coastal regions east to Porto-Novo (modern Benin). Governor General Gallieni, having faced fierce resistance to French expansion on the upper Senegal and Niger basin from the Toucouleur Empire, Samori, and then Mahmadu Lamine’s forces, turned the colonial gaze to the Rivières du Sud in the late 1880s, marking a new phase in French expansion.
Between 1889 and 1894, Rivières du Sud, Côte d’Ivoire and Dahomey were each successively separated into ‘independent’ colonies, with Rivières du Sud being renamed the ‘Colony of French Guinea’. In 1895 these colonies came under the authority of the governor general of French West Africa, and in 1904, this was formalized into the Afrique Occidentale Française. French Guinea, along with Senegal, Dahomey, Cote-d’Ivoire and Upper Senegal and Niger each were ruled by a lieutenant governor, under the Governor General in Dakar.
The Rivières du Sud colony never extended far from the coast, as the French were unable to conquer the people of the Futa Jallon highlands, running from the south of modern Senegal though the interior of modern Guinea. The Imamate of Futa Jallon was located mainly in present-day Guinea as well as parts of Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. A powerful force, it stymied French expansion until 1896 when the French colonial troops defeated the last Almami, Bokar Biro Barry, dismantled the state and integrated it into their colony of French Guinea.
French domination was assured by the defeat in 1898 of the armies of Samori Touré, Mansa (or Emperor) of the Ouassoulou state and leader of Malinké descent, which gave France control of what today is Guinea and adjacent areas.
After the Fall of France in June 1940 and the two battles of Dakar against the Free French Forces in July and September 1940, authorities in West Africa declared allegiance to the Vichy regime, as did the colony of French Gabon in AEF. While the latter fell to Free France already after the Battle of Gabon in November 1940, West Africa remained under Vichy control until the Allied landings in North Africa (operation Torch) in November 1942.
In 1958 the French Fourth Republic collapsed due to political instability and its failures in dealing with its colonies, especially Indochina and Algeria. The founding of a Fifth Republic was supported by the French people, while French President Charles de Gaulle made it clear on August 8, 1958, that France’s colonies were to be given a stark choice between more autonomy in a new French Community and immediate independence in the referendum to be held on September 28, 1958.
The other French colonies chose the former but Guinea — under the leadership of Ahmed Sékou Touré whose Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG) had won 56 of 60 seats in 1957 territorial elections — voted overwhelmingly for independence. The French withdrew quickly, and on October 2, 1958, Guinea proclaimed itself a sovereign and independent republic, with Sékou Touré as president.
The area of French Guinea initially used the French Colonies general issue stamps starting in 1881, which can be recognized by postmarks. Stamps of Senegal were used from 1887 to 1892 before the colonial standard issue in November 1892. In 1915, there were 35 post offices in the colony. French Guinea used the stamps of French West Africa from 1944 to 1959. The first stamps of the independent Republic of Guinea were released on January 5, 1959.
Scott #131 comes from a long set of 33 definitives issued by French Guinea between 1938 and 1940. The six lowest denominations used this same design portraying a Guinean village, this particular stamp is the 5 centimes rose carmine and is perforated in a gauge of 13.