The French colony of Ivory Coast, usually referred to as Côte d’Ivoire, was located in western sub-Saharan Africa. It was a protectorate of France from 1843 until 1844 and became a colony in 1893 amid the European scramble for Africa. It was a member of French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, AOF), a federation of eight French colonial territories in Africa that existed from 1895 until 1960. The territories that made up the AOF were Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger. The capital of the federation was Dakar. Ivory Coast achieved independence in 1960 and officially became the officially the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire (République de Côte d’Ivoire).
Portuguese and French merchant-explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries divided the west coast of Africa, very roughly, into five “coasts” reflecting local economies. The coast that the French named the Côte d’Ivoire and the Portuguese named the Costa do Marfim — both, literally, being “Ivory Coast” — lay between what was known as the Guiné de Cabo Verde, so-called “Upper Guinea” at Cap-Vert, and Lower Guinea. There was also a Pepper Coast also known as the “Grain Coast”, a “Gold Coast”, and a “Slave Coast”. Like those, the name “Ivory Coast” reflected the major trade that occurred on that particular stretch of the coast, the export of ivory.
Other names for the coast of ivory included the Côte de Dents, literally “Coast of Teeth”, again reflecting the trade in ivory; the Côte de Quaqua, after the people whom the Dutch named the Quaqua (alternatively Kwa Kwa); the Coast of the Five and Six Stripes, after a type of cotton fabric also traded there; and the Côte du Vent, the Windward Coast, after perennial local off-shore weather conditions. One can find the name Cote de(s) Dents regularly used in older works. It was used in Duckett’s Dictionnaire (1853) and by Nicolas Villault de Bellefond, for examples, although Antoine François Prévost used Côte d’Ivoire. In the 19th century, usage switched to Côte d’Ivoire.
The coastline of the modern state is not quite coterminous with what the 15th- and 16th-century merchants knew as the “Teeth” or “Ivory” coast, which was considered to stretch from Cape Palmas to Cape Three Points and which is thus now divided between the modern states of Ghana and Ivory Coast (with a minute portion of Liberia). It retained the name through French rule and independence in 1960. The name had long since been translated literally into other languages, which the post-independence government considered to be increasingly troublesome whenever its international dealings extended beyond the Francophone sphere. Therefore, in April 1986, the government declared Côte d’Ivoire (or, more fully, République de Côte d’Ivoire) to be its formal name for the purposes of diplomatic protocol, and officially refuses to recognize or accept any translation from French to another language in its international dealings.
The first human presence in Ivory Coast has been difficult to determine because human remains have not been well preserved in the country’s humid climate. However, the presence of newly found weapon and tool fragments (specifically, polished axes cut through shale and remnants of cooking and fishing) has been interpreted as a possible indication of a large human presence during the Upper Paleolithic period (15,000 to 10,000 BC), or at the minimum, the Neolithic period.
The earliest known inhabitants of Ivory Coast have left traces scattered throughout the territory. Historians believe that they were all either displaced or absorbed by the ancestors of the present indigenous inhabitants, who migrated south into the area before the 16th century. Such groups included the Ehotilé (Aboisso), Kotrowou (Fresco), Zéhiri (Grand Lahou), Ega and Diès (Divo).
The first recorded history is found in the chronicles of North African (Berber) traders, who, from early Roman times, conducted a caravan trade across the Sahara in salt, slaves, gold, and other goods. The southern terminals of the trans-Saharan trade routes were located on the edge of the desert, and from there supplemental trade extended as far south as the edge of the rain forest. The more important terminals — Djenné, Gao, and Timbuctu — grew into major commercial centers around which the great Sudanic empires developed.
By controlling the trade routes with their powerful military forces, these empires were able to dominate neighboring states. The Sudanic empires also became centers of Islamic education. Islam had been introduced in the western Sudan (today’s Mali) by Muslim Berber traders from North Africa; it spread rapidly after the conversion of many important rulers. From the 11th century, by which time the rulers of the Sudanic empires had embraced Islam, it spread south into the northern areas of contemporary Ivory Coast.
The Ghana empire, the earliest of the Sudanic empires, flourished in present-day eastern Mauritania from the fourth to the 13th centuries. At the peak of its power in the 11th century, its realms extended from the Atlantic Ocean to Timbuctu. After the decline of Ghana, the Mali Empire grew into a powerful Muslim state, which reached its apogee in the early part of the 14th century. The territory of the Mali Empire in Ivory Coast was limited to the north-west corner around Odienné.
Its slow decline starting at the end of the 14th century followed internal discord and revolts by vassal states, one of which, Songhai, flourished as an empire between the 14th and 16th centuries. Songhai was also weakened by internal discord, which led to factional warfare. This discord spurred most of the migrations of peoples southward toward the forest belt. The dense rain forest, covering the southern half of the country, created barriers to the large-scale political organizations that had arisen in the north. Inhabitants lived in villages or clusters of villages; their contacts with the outside world were filtered through long-distance traders. Villagers subsisted on agriculture and hunting.
Five important states flourished in Ivory Coast during the pre-European era. The Muslim Kong Empire was established by the Joola in the early 18th century in the north-central region inhabited by the Sénoufo, who had fled Islamization under the Mali Empire. Although Kong became a prosperous center of agriculture, trade, and crafts, ethnic diversity and religious discord gradually weakened the kingdom. The city of Kong was destroyed in 1895 by Samori Ture.
The Abron kingdom of Gyaaman was established in the 17th century by an Akan group, the Abron, who had fled the developing Ashanti confederation of Asanteman in what is present-day Ghana. From their settlement south of Bondoukou, the Abron gradually extended their hegemony over the Dyula people in Bondoukou, who were recent émigrés from the market city of Begho. Bondoukou developed into a major center of commerce and Islam. The kingdom’s Quranic scholars attracted students from all parts of West Africa. In the mid-17th century in east-central Ivory Coast, other Akan groups fleeing the Asante established a Baoulé kingdom at Sakasso and two Agni kingdoms, Indénié and Sanwi.
The Baoulé, like the Ashanti, developed a highly centralized political and administrative structure under three successive rulers. It finally split into smaller chiefdoms. Despite the breakup of their kingdom, the Baoulé strongly resisted French subjugation. The descendants of the rulers of the Agni kingdoms tried to retain their separate identity long after Ivory Coast’s independence; as late as 1969, the Sanwi attempted to break away from Ivory Coast and form an independent kingdom. The current king of Sanwi is Nana Amon Ndoufou V (since 2002).
Compared to neighboring Ghana, Ivory Coast though practicing slavery and slave raiding suffered little from the slave trade as such. European slaving and merchant ships preferred other areas along the coast with better harbors to trade with local slave owners. The earliest recorded European voyage to West Africa was made by the Portuguese in 1482. The first West African French settlement, Saint Louis, was founded in the mid-17th century in Senegal, while at about the same time, the Dutch ceded to the French a settlement at Goree Island, off Dakar. A French mission was established in 1637 Assinie near the border with the Gold Coast (now Ghana). The Europeans suppressed the local practice of slavery at this time, and forbade the trade to their merchants.
Assinie’s survival was precarious, however; the French were not firmly established in Ivory Coast until the mid-19th century. In 1843 and 1844, French admiral Bouët-Willaumez signed treaties with the kings of the Grand Bassam and Assinie regions, making their territories a French protectorate. French explorers, missionaries, trading companies, and soldiers gradually extended the area under French control inland from the lagoon region. Pacification was not accomplished until 1915.
Activity along the coast stimulated European interest in the interior, especially along the two great rivers, the Senegal and the Niger. Concerted French exploration of West Africa began in the mid-19th century, but moved slowly, based more on individual initiative than on government policy. In the 1840s, the French concluded a series of treaties with local West African chiefs that enabled the French to build fortified posts along the Gulf of Guinea to serve as permanent trading centers.
The first posts in Ivory Coast included one at Assinie and another at Grand Bassam, which became the colony’s first capital. The treaties provided for French sovereignty within the posts, and for trading privileges in exchange for fees or coutumes paid annually to the local chiefs for the use of the land. The arrangement was not entirely satisfactory to the French, because trade was limited and misunderstandings over treaty obligations often arose. Nevertheless, the French government maintained the treaties, hoping to expand trade.
France also wanted to maintain a presence in the region to stem the increasing influence of the British along the Gulf of Guinea coast. The French built naval bases to keep out non-French traders and began a systematic pacification of the interior to stop raids on their settlements. They accomplished this only after a long war in the 1890s against Mandinka tribesmen, mostly from Gambia. However, raids by the Baoulé and other eastern tribes continued until 1917.
The defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the subsequent annexation by Germany of the French province of Alsace-Lorraine caused the French government to abandon its colonial ambitions and withdraw its military garrisons from its French West African trading posts, leaving them in the care of resident merchants. The trading post at Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast was left in the care of a shipper from Marseille, Arthur Verdier, who in 1878 was named Resident of the Establishment of Ivory Coast.
In 1886, to support its claims of effective occupation, France again assumed direct control of its West African coastal trading posts and embarked on an accelerated program of exploration in the interior. In 1887, Lieutenant Louis Gustave Binger began a two-year journey that traversed parts of Ivory Coast’s interior. By the end of the journey, he had concluded four treaties establishing French protectorates in Ivory Coast. Also in 1887, Verdier’s agent, Marcel Treich-Laplène, negotiated five additional agreements that extended French influence from the headwaters of the Niger River Basin through Ivory Coast.
By the end of the 1880s, France had established what came through for control over the coastal regions of Ivory Coast, and in 1889 Britain recognized French sovereignty in the area. That same year, France named Trench-Laplène titular governor of the territory. In 1893, Ivory Coast was made a French colony, and then Captain Binger was appointed governor. Agreements with Liberia in 1892 and with Britain in 1893 determined the eastern and western boundaries of the colony, but the northern boundary was not fixed until 1947 because of efforts by the French government to attach parts of Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso) and French Sudan (present-day Mali) to Ivory Coast for economic and administrative reasons.
France’s main goal was to stimulate the production of exports. Coffee, cocoa, and palm oil crops were soon planted along the coast. Ivory Coast stood out as the only West African country with a sizable population of settlers; elsewhere in West and Central Africa, the French and British were largely bureaucrats. As a result, French citizens owned one-third of the cocoa, coffee, and banana plantations and adopted the local forced-labor system.
Throughout the early years of French rule, French military contingents were sent inland to establish new posts. Some of the native population and former slave-owning class resisted French civilization and settlement. Among those offering greatest resistance was Samori Ture, who in the 1880s and 1890s was conquering his neighbors, re-establishing slavery and founding the Wassoulou Empire, which extended over large parts of present-day Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast. Samori Ture’s large, well-equipped army, which could manufacture and repair its own firearms, attracted some support throughout the region from chiefs who sought to play the two sides off against each other. The French responded to Samori Ture’s expansion and conquest with military pressure. French campaigns against Samori Ture, which were met with greater resistance than usual in tribal warfare, intensified in the mid-1890s until he was captured in 1898 and his empire dissolved.
France’s imposition of a head tax in 1900 to support the colony in a public works program provoked unexpected protests. Many Ivoirians viewed the tax as a violation of the terms of the protectorate treaties because they imagined that France was demanding the equivalent of a coutume from the local kings, rather than the reverse. Many of the population, especially in the interior, considered the tax a humiliating symbol of submission. In 1905, the French officially abolished slavery in most of French West Africa.
From 1904 to 1958, Ivory Coast was a constituent unit of the Federation of French West Africa. It was a colony and an overseas territory under the Third Republic. In World War I, France organized regiments from Ivory Coast to fight in France, and colony resources were rationed from 1917-1919. Some 150,000 men from Ivory Coast died in World War I. Until the period following World War II, governmental affairs in French West Africa were administered from Paris. France’s policy in West Africa was reflected mainly in its philosophy of “association”, meaning that all Africans in Ivory Coast were officially French “subjects”, but without rights to representation in Africa or France.
French colonial policy incorporated concepts of assimilation and association. Based on an assumption of the superiority of French culture over all others, in practice the assimilation policy meant the extension of French language, institutions, laws, and customs to the colonies. The policy of association also affirmed the superiority of the French in the colonies, but it entailed different institutions and systems of laws for the colonizer and the colonized. Under this policy, the Africans in Ivory Coast were allowed to preserve their own customs insofar as they were compatible with French interests, such as the recent abolition of the slave trade.
An indigenous elite trained in French administrative practice formed an intermediary group between the French and the Africans. Assimilation was practiced in Ivory Coast to the extent that after 1930, a small number of Westernized Ivoirians were granted the right to apply for French citizenship. Most Ivoirians, however, were classified as French subjects and were governed under the principle of association. As subjects of France, natives outside the above-mentioned civilized elite had no political rights until they entered it. They were drafted for work in mines, on plantations, as porters, and on public projects as part of their tax responsibility. They were expected to serve in the military and were subject to the indigénat, a separate system of law.
In World War II, the Vichy regime remained in control until 1942, when British troops invaded without much resistance. Winston Churchill gave power back to members of General Charles de Gaulle’s provisional government. By 1943, the Allies had returned French West Africa to the French. The Brazzaville Conference of 1944, the first Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic in 1946, and France’s gratitude for African loyalty during World War II, led to far-reaching governmental reforms in 1946. French citizenship was granted to all African “subjects”, the right to organize politically was recognized, and various forms of forced labor were abolished.
Until 1958, governors appointed in Paris administered the colony of Ivory Coast, using a system of direct, centralized administration that left little room for Ivoirian participation in policy making. Whereas British colonial administration adopted divide-and-rule policies elsewhere, applying ideas of assimilation only to the educated elite, the French were interested in ensuring that the small but influential elite was sufficiently satisfied with the status quo to refrain from any anti-French sentiment. Although strongly opposed to the practices of association, educated Ivoirians believed that they would achieve equality with their French peers through assimilation rather than through complete independence from France. After the assimilation doctrine was implemented entirely through the postwar reforms, though, Ivoirian leaders realized that even assimilation implied the superiority of the French over the Ivoirians. Some of them thought that discrimination and political inequality would end only with independence; others thought the problem of the division between the tribal culture and modernity would continue.
Ivory Coast achieved independence on August 7, 1960, led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny — the son of a Baoulé chief — who ruled the country until 1993. At the time of Ivory Coast’s independence, the country was easily French West Africa’s most prosperous, contributing over 40% of the region’s total exports. When Houphouët-Boigny became the first president, his government gave farmers good prices for their products to further stimulate production. This was further boosted by a significant immigration of workers from surrounding countries. Coffee production increased significantly, catapulting Ivory Coast into third place in world output (behind Brazil and Colombia). By 1979, the country was the world’s leading producer of cocoa.
The French established trading posts during several time periods, but the first post office, at San Pédro, dates from 1847, with Grand Bassam, Jacqueville, and Assinie getting offices in 1890. The first use of postage stamps was at Assinie from 1862, where the French Colonies general issues were available. The cancellation was an ASI in a lozenge of dots.
The colony received its own stamps in November 1892, just a few months prior to formal establishment. As typical for French colonies of the time, these were of the Navigation and Commerce design, with 13 values ranging from 1 centime to 1 franc and four denominations reissued with color changes in 1900 (Scott #1-17). Several were surcharged in 1904 (Scott #18-20) and again in 1912 (Scott #37-41).
Ivory Coast participated in the West Africa commemorative stamp of 1906 (Scott #21-36), and in 1913 an issue of stamps depicting a river scene started a long series that continued in use until the mid-1930s (Scott #42-77). In the meantime, post offices multiplied, with 38 in existence throughout the territory by 1915. When Upper Volta was dissolved in 1933, several of its provinces were added to Côte d’Ivoire, and 16 types of its stamps were overprinted Côte d’Ivoire (Scott #96-111).
Stamps of French West Africa superseded Ivoirean stamps from 1944 to 1959. On October 1, 1959, the first issue of the new republic went on sale. The three values depicted an elephant, and were inscribed République de Côte d’Ivoire (Scott #167-169).
Scott #112 was the lowest denomination in a set of 41 pictorial stamps using four designs issued between 1936 and 1944 (Scott #112-151). The 1-centime carmine rose stamp, perforated 13, depicts a Baoulé woman. The Baoulé are traditionally farmers who live in the center of Ivory Coast, in a triangle shaped region (the Baoule “V”) between the rivers Bandama and N’Zi. This area broadly encompasses the regions around the cities of Bouaké and Yamoussoukro. The Baoulé have come to play a relatively important role in the recent history of Côte d’Ivoire : the State’s first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, was a Baoulé ; additionally, since the Ivorian cocoa boom of the 1960-70s, the Baoulé have also become one of the most widespread ethnicity throughout the country, especially in the Southern forests where they are amongst the most numerous planters of cocoa, rubber, and coffee and sometimes seem to outnumber the local native ethnic groups.
Legend goes that in the 17th century the Baoulé left present day Ghana and traveled west into present day Côte d’Ivoire under the lead of the Queen Pokou. According to oral tradition, the Baoulé were forced to leave Ghana when the Ashanti rose to power. While they were fleeing for their lives they came to the Komoe river which they were unable to cross. With their enemies chasing them they began to throw their most prized possessions into the river. It came to the Queen’s attention that their most valuable possession was her son. The Queen realized that she had to sacrifice her son to the river and threw him in. Upon doing so hippopotami rose from the river and allowed them to cross, saving their lives. After crossing, the Queen was so upset about losing her son that all she could say was “baouli,” meaning “the child is dead.” From that point on they were known as the Baoulé.