The Lost History of the Kotoko: Translating Jean-Paul Lebeuf's Etudes Kotoko




Todd, Grace

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The French archaeologist and anthropologist Jean-Paul Lebeuf was a primary source for descriptions of the Kotoko people located in central-western Africa in the early 20th century. Throughout his time spent with the Kotoko people, Lebeuf published multiple articles in anthropological journals not only concerning the culture, traditions, and rituals of the Kotoko people but also descriptions of various Kotoko artifacts which were excavated during his field work. In 1976, Lebeuf’s articles were compiled and published into the corpus known as Etudes Kotoko, wherein Lebeuf’s findings of both the history and the modern cultural aspects of the Kotoko are recorded. However, Etudes Kotoko has remained untranslated into the modern era. In 2020, I began translating two pieces from Lebeuf’s Etudes Kotoko, one article describing rituals surrounding birth and infancy, “On Birth in General and on the Birth of Twins in Particular Among the Kotoko Peoples” and the other, “Several Sacred Stones of the Kotoko”, detailing kingship rituals and the related sacred objects unearthed during Lebeuf’s excavations. The translations of these two documents from French into English are crucial to understanding the Kotoko people, a marginalized group often overlooked in African history. The English translation not only gives insight through the lens of Lebeuf’s experiences into the Kotoko people, but also provides a contextual history which refers to the Sao, an incredibly influential yet under-documented ancient African civilization which has not been given much attention in contemporary African studies. I begin by examining the contextual research which I was able to provide through my studies, as well as a description of the translation process. I conclude with my translations titled “Several Sacred Stones of the Kotoko” and “On Birth in General and on the Birth of Twins in Particular Among the Kotoko Peoples.”



Kotoko, Sao, Cameroon, Lebeuf, Lebeuf, JP, translation, French, Français, Traduction, French translation, Honors College


Todd, G. (2022). The lost history of the Kotoko: Translating Jean-Paul Lebeuf's Etudes Kotoko (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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