" My father spent his time touring across the Cote d'ivoire. When he arrived in the region, we offered him a gift. My mother was his welcome gift. She was very young, illiterate, and merely to sell his vegetables. All she had was her beauty. Their history lasted 48 hours. We suffered a lot of humiliation, and we continue to suffer ". Marie-Thérèse has a heavy heart when she talks of her family memories. Like many mixed-race children, born to the union of a colon white and a black woman, she spent her childhood in the Home of the métis people of Bingerville, near Abidjan. If every story like no other, it echoes the many other testimonies collected by Caroline Dumay and Thaïs Brouck for France 24 in the documentary that they have produced*. Children often torn out of strength to their mother, and denied by their father. It was during the colonial period in Africa occidentale française (AOF).
The context of colonial conquest
Put all this in the context of the time. Hit by the great economic depression of the 1870s, the european powers are looking for new opportunities and new resources. Then, as the Great Britain, Belgium and Portugal covet the wealth of the african continent, in the midst of the industrial revolution, France also plays elbows to establish its economic domination, political and cultural competition from other european powers. Already present in Senegal, where the first governor will be installed in 1815, she really launched into the colonial adventure with, notably, Louis Faidherbe, which pushes the advantage of France as early as 1854, the year of his appointment as Governor. Conquest in conquest, the France managed to make Ivory Coast its colony march 10, 1893.
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a View of the governor's Palace in Bingerville during the colonial period. © DR
Establishment of a colonial system
In Côte d'ivoire but also in other parts of what we call the colonial empire, which will be split into two main sets, the French west Africa (AOF), with as capital city of Dakar and French equatorial Africa (AEF) with as capital, Brazzaville, France sets up an unequal system where african people are exploited and discriminated against. If slavery was definitively abolished in 1848, France was replaced by forced labor. It will last in the Ivory Coast until 1946, when Félix Houphouët-Boigny will pass a law putting an end to it. Thus, for nearly half a century, the exploitation of the riches of the country (forest, coffee, cotton and cocoa) will be done by this means. To facilitate this trade of the colony to France, the settlers build roads and infrastructure.
View of a street in Bingerville during the period of colonization. © DR
Colonization, a system of domination multiple
beyond the "civilizing mission" put forward, the settlement materializes a domination of economic, political, cultural, and even sexual with many of the coercive acts on the women of the colonies. These acts are born of the many métis children that the colonial administration has made all efforts to separate it from the rest of society being forced to live in shelters like the one of Bingerville, in the former residence of the governors of the French colony. Called " bastards of the Republic ! "these children have become adults and have decided to testify now that they are adults.
It is a trauma that still haunts Philip, the son of a planter white. "It took my mother at the age of 16 years. In 1946, when she became pregnant, he was thrown outside ! In my heart, I wanted to murder him ! In creating the home of the métis, it is we that are sent to the slaughterhouse. These settlers knew what they were doing ! ", he says with rage at the crew of France 24. Has the independence of Côte d'ivoire in 1960, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, first president of Côte d'ivoire (1960-1993), aware of the importance of this question, committed many métis, including Auguste Miremont as a spokesperson for the head of State. He had also resided in the Home of the métis people of Bingerville.
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In pursuit of recognition
the collateral Victims of the French expansion in Africa, these métis have a legal status vague. If they are considered "wards of the nation" by France, it is because they have had to declare themselves orphans when, in reality, they were not. Today, they still remain, in the eyes of the State, without parents clearly identified by the law, in the absence of official documents. Adults, therefore, they may not, nor claim the French nationality, nor any inheritance to the fact of political deadlock and legal well-explained in the story of Caroline Dumay and Thaïs Brouck. That said, attitudes seem to be changing gradually. It is as well that in 2019, after being officially excused from métis people born in its former colonies, Belgium has promised to support them in their quest for identity. We attendd to see the reaction of France on this issue.
* " hidden Children of France's colonial ", the documentary directed by Caroline Dumay and Thaïs Brouck. First broadcast : Saturday 11 July 2020 to 22: 15 on France 24. Visible after in podcast.