MĂ©tis/Mulâtre, Mulato, Mulatto, Negro, Moreno, Mundele Kaki, Black,… The Wanderings and Meanderings of Identities

Posted in Africa, Autobiography, Books, Chapter, Media Archive on 2011-10-10 18:06Z by Steven

MĂ©tis/Mulâtre, Mulato, Mulatto, Negro, Moreno, Mundele Kaki, Black,… The Wanderings and Meanderings of Identities

Chapter in: Problematizing Blackness: Self Ethnographies by Black Immigrants to the United States
Routledge
2003-09-30
240 pages

Edited by

Jean Muteba Rahier, Associate Professor of Anthropology and African & African Diaspora Studies
Florida International University

Percey C. Hintzen, Professor of African American Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Chapter 6
pages 85-112

Jean Muteba Rahier, Associate Professor of Anthropology and African & African Diaspora Studies
Florida International University

I have no race except that which is forced upon me. I have no country except that to which I’m obliged to belong. I have no traditions. I’m free. I have only the future.

Richard Wright

I was born in 1959, in what was then the Belgian Congo, of a Congolese colonized mother and a Belgian colonial father. I grew up in Belgium.

Belgian Explorations: My Father’s Congo

The Congo Free State (C.F.S.) was created as a private property of the Belgian King Leopold II in 1884–85 at the Berlin Conference and lasted until 1908. It was succeeded by the Belgian Congo, which lasted from 1908 until 1960, when the country gained its independence (see Vangroenweghe 1986; Ndaywel è Nziem 1998; Hochschild 1998). During the short history of colonial rule, the organization and implementation of the colonial enterprise were conducted almost exclusively by males. There was a contingent development of the institution of the ménagères, wherein African women and the male colonizers developed relationships of sexual intimacy. These relations occurred between female “housekeepers” (the ménagères) and the male colonizers whom they were serving. These relationships developed within the context of the absence of European women—an absence legitimized by their supposed biological unsuitability for the African tropical climate (Habig 1944, 10–11; Stoler 2002). The practice of sexual relations between the male colonizers and the colonized African women was universal and widespread, particularly outside the most important urban centers of Leopoldville, Elisabethville, and Stanleyville. Once in the Congo, many agents of the state and many employees of private colonial companies looked for the companionship of African women, who provided them with housekeeping, affection, and sexual favors. Usually, Belgian men kept their ménagères with them until the end of their tour of duty.

State employees and agents of private companies were contractually employed for a three-year term. They would normally leave at the end of the term, usually spending six months’ vacation in Belgium, after which they had the option of returning to the colony for another three-year tour of service. This could continue indefinitely.Upon their return to the colony, it was customary for them either to retain the same ménagères in their “employ” or to choose another from among the “available African women.” Sometimes, the ménagères would become pregnant. If she did, she was typically sent back to her village with a small “financial indemnity” and material compensation. Usually, the colonial agent would then choose a new, young African woman to replace her in his house and in his bed.

The number of children born out of the widespread practice of sexual intimacy forced the colonial administration and the Belgian Parliament to debate what they termed the problème des métis, “the mulatto problem.” The issue was the treatment of the mulatto offspring of these unions: whether they should endure the same status as the rest of the Congolese population or whether they should be considered an intermediate group above the latter but beneath the Europeans. Attempts at resolving the dilemma produced a series of contradictory policies, resulting in considerable ambiguity. This ambiguity came to characterize the lives of the growing population of métis throughout the entire colonial period (Jeurissen 1999; Stoler 2002). Usually, the status of the métis depended upon the degree of recognition and acknowledgment of parenthood by their fathers. Those who were not recognized were often abandoned by their mothers because of the ostracism that they faced when returning to their native villages. The abandoned children usually ended up living in Catholic and Protestant missionary boarding schools, which were created for this purpose.

Read the entire chapter here

Tags: , , , , , ,