This article examines the practice of autopsies in French-ruled West Africa in the interwar era. It contributes to the discussion of medical knowledge and its employment in the colonies and raises a set of questions regarding the administration’s motives for performing autopsies and the African responses to this practice. In order to answer these questions, I briefly examine the practice of autopsies in France and move to the colonies to look at the problematic ways in which they were performed under colonial conditions. I then delve into local practices of ritual autopsies that also aim to explain death, but in different ways. Finally, I demonstrate what the differences and similarities between practices of colonial and ritual autopsies can teach us about the idea of the Civilising Mission and its perception by African colonial subjects.
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--posted by Mitra Sharafi