Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A Silenced History from Belgian Congo: A Mixed Race History
You haven’t heard much from me lately. I was writing a book and it’s finally finished and published. The book I wrote together with Kathleen Ghequière traces back a history of Africa and Europe that has been ignored for too much time. Some of you know about the mixed race children of Australia thanks to movies such as ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ or even Baz Luhrmann’s latest ‘Australia’. But concerning Africa this history is unknown.
It seems as if the European colonizer didn’t have intimate relationships with the African colonized. But many children were born out of relations between white Europeans and black Africans during colonization. These children undermined the racial colonial order with their existence. These children have been hidden and their stories silenced. At least for the Belgian Congo this story is now unveiled and in this book the mixed race children of Belgium and Congo express their history freely.
Through the testimony of two dozens of mixed race Belgians born in Congo we have tried to tell a story which is mostly unknown to the Belgian and Flemish public. Kathleen Ghequière interviewed them. They were all people born during colonization from one black and one white parent. Some of them grew up in their families but most of them weren’t recognized by their fathers and were taken away from their mothers at a very young age. The colonial authority separated these children from their mothers to raise them in schools only for ‘mulatto children’. At independence the colonial authorities decided to deport the younger once (between 2 and 16 years old) to Belgium to be adopted in Belgian families. The circumstances are still unknown, which children were send over and why is still a mystery. Even the exact number of children deported is hard to tell.
Kathleen Ghequière found many of them living in Belgium who were prepared to tell their side of the story. I edited these interviews, translated those done in French and tried to make of more than a thousand pages of testimony an accessible and readable book. It became a book of 250 pages full of beautiful pictures from the colonial past out of their personal archives. Filip Claus took recent pictures of the witnesses and I added with some academic assistance some social historical explanation and maps.
I am very happy with the result and hope that the book will be translated in French soon. It was mostly important to publish the book in the Flemish part of Belgium because the Flemish don’t know anything about the mixed race children of their country. In French neutral terms such as ‘metissage’ and ‘metis’ define these people in a positive way. But Dutch lacks this kind of vocabulary, mostly because the Dutch speaking people lack any knowledge about this part of their history. The Dutch language lacks emotionally and politically neutral terms for mixed race people (generally the Dutch and Flemish use English or French to express these terms for which they don’t have their own words). Journalists in progressive newspapers in Belgium refer to Barack Obama as a ‘mulat’, a word perceived by many Dutch speaking blacks as offending. We decided to take a provocative and colonial title with a more explaining subtitle in which we introduce a new word in the Dutch language: metis.
De Bastaards van onze kolonie. Verzwegen verhalen van Belgische metissen (The Bastards of our colony. Hidden stories of Belgian metis) is published by Roularta and available at all good book stores in Belgium. You can also order it online
Wednesday 16th of June is the official release at Vooruit (culture center) in Ghent, Belgium. The entrance is free