Métis children of Rwanda and post

Covered in Young Africa, the journey of mixed-race children torn from their African families during Belgian colonization remains largely unknown. It is one of the subjects of Consoled, novel by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. The Franco-Rwandan author, born in 1979 in Butare, in the south of Rwanda, retraces the life of Consolée, taken from her family at the age of seven in what was then called Ruanda-Urundi. “The uncles said, looking sorry that she didn’t know them, that anyway, they had no choice, that the order had come from the white chiefs and carried by the parent who had been absent until then. None of their bastards were to continue to live on the hills with the natives. »

Consolée becomes Astrida, the old name of Butare, because another resident of the institute for mulatto children in Save, a few kilometers north of her hometown, has the same first name as her. Her destiny then leads her to an adoptive family in Belgium. We find her several decades later in an Ehpad (accommodation establishment for dependent elderly people) in the south-west of France. Struck by Alzheimer’s disease, the old woman remembers in snatches but no one can understand her: she loses her French and speaks in a language unknown to the staff, Kinyarwanda.

I wanted to show the resonances between the past and the present

Consolée thus comes up against internal walls, illness, and external ones, indifference. Ramata, an art therapy trainee, wants to open a window on his past. The 50-year-old of Senegalese origin is recovering from a burnout. She who had climbed all the steps of meritocracy ran into the glass ceiling. ” France “, as she ironically puts it in a nutshell, broke her Republican promise. Through Consolée, it is her own relationship to her memory and the transmission to her daughter, Inès, that she questions.

Beata Umubyeyi Mayoress impressed us with his first novel, All your children scattered. The novelist and the poetess come together to evoke history, not as a frozen material, but as a way of deciphering today’s society. It is about racism, post-colonialism, fights for equality… The social model is also questioned through the business of nursing homes, the discomfort of nursing staff. But consoled is first and foremost a poignant story of women filled with humanity.

Jeune Afrique: When did you discover the Institute for mulatto children in Save, Rwanda?

Beata Umubyeyi Mayoress : I heard about it in the media when the “Métis de Belgique” association, bringing together the former children of the Institut de Save, brought their story to the fore, including a hearing in the Belgian Parliament, in 2017. Save is only a few kilometers from Butare, where I was born and where I grew up. This means that this history has been erased in Rwanda. And in Belgium, these mestizos have been invisible for decades.

Do you think that awareness of the colonial fact is higher in Belgium?

I don’t know if we talk about it more in Belgium or in France. I come back from Brussels where a parliamentary commission on the colonial past worked for a whole year and interviewed more than 3,000 people, researchers, contemporary witnesses, etc. There is perhaps a more pronounced desire to confront the colonial past. The Belgian Prime Minister officially asked for forgiveness in the name of Belgium to the mestizos of the colonies. I can’t imagine such a thing in France anytime soon, because of what is called “non-repentance”.

To read

Belgium-DRC: Brussels examines its conscience

consoledyour novel, does it participate in memory work?

My novel aims to make known to the general public the fate of mestizos in the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa. There have been articles on this subject but through fiction, we reach a wider audience. And I also wanted to show the resonances between the past and the present. We tend to see the colonial fact as something of the past while obscuring the very long-term consequences on people’s lives. I wanted to put it in resonance with the reality of post-colonial immigration by showing that all this did not happen out of nowhere, that a long story binds us through this past.

You address historical memory loss through Alzheimer’s disease. Is “an old man who dies, it’s a library that burns”, to use the phrase attributed to Amadou Hampâté Bâ?

Yes, if we haven’t listened to him. If there has been transmission, the person who dies does not take the library with them and I think they die much more peacefully. Consolée has things to convey, but so does Ramata, who must find a way to talk to her daughter. Elder experiences aren’t just for books or museums. If they are transmitted to us in time, they help us to live and understand the present.

To read

Vincent Duclert: “In Rwanda, France dismissed reality”

I am part of the generation between, on the one hand, people who experienced decolonization and, on the other hand, young people who grew up in France. My generation has this opportunity to bridge the gap, to appease both our elders and our children, to unpin the legacies.

Ramata, a perfect example of Republican integration, burned out before converting professionally into art therapy. Does assimilation lead to a loss of self?

She was made to believe that she could be assimilated, she believed in it, but in the end there was rejection. It may mean that assimilation is not the right one recipe. The idea of ​​integration is more accurate knowing that integration should not be done in one direction, it is not only people who must integrate, it is also society that must integrate them.

Ramata suffers racism through remarks, attitudes. With Claude Mouret, a Quebec psychologist, she notices that Astrida, the only non-white, is ignored. Is the community fight a modality of political action?

Claude comes from Canada where the notion of community is not a dirty word, unlike France. I worked in Canada with different communities. There, it is normal to say that the health problems of one community are not necessarily those of another community. Knowing that community, it can be the community of age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation… My professional experience in the field of the fight against AIDS led me to defend community mobilizations.

To read

Equality, fraternity, racism: France, Republic of paradoxes

If there are specificities of experience, they must be taken into account and not played this little French hypocritical music of universalism, which often refers to the male, white, bourgeois, heterosexual model. I am for universalism, if that means integrating everyone regardless of origin, religion, etc. The community fight can therefore be a mode of action with the idea of ​​achieving equality and not in a sense of communitarian withdrawal.

You also mention the “hierarchy between the wogs” of which Ramata, a black, and her husband Khalil, an Arab, were victims. Their marriage was disavowed by much of their respective families. Is unity in the fight against racism an illusion?

No, because there is a common experience. Life is a story of experiences, not identity cards or innate characteristics. Today, the experience of racism is lived by Blacks, Arabs, Asians with sometimes different modalities, but this oppression is common. There can be solidarity in the face of this oppression.

In your novel, you evoke colonial traces through, in particular, statues. Should we unbolt them ?

When a slaver or a colonialist gives his name to a street or to his statue in the middle of a square, it is glorification. It is not a question of making a clean sweep of the past. These statues have their place in museums or in places where we explain when they were erected, why, and what today’s society has to say about this story. It seems so simple to do, but we are in constant conflict between the past and memories.

To read

Genocide of the Tutsi: a Rwandan report implicates François Mitterrand

You also evoke the tragic history of the Tutsi through the killings of 1959, 1960, 1963. Is history destined to be an eternal restart and do you think that the situation is fundamentally different today from what it was? was during the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda?

The big difference is that the pogroms of the 1950s/60s/70s had been followed by total impunity, which allowed the genocide of 1994. Since then, there has been justice, certainly cobbled together with what the country could do then, but in any case a condemnation and a work of history. The past must be constantly remembered but above all put into perspective with the present, allowing it to be clarified. Otherwise it is useless, we repeat ourselves.

What place for poetry when the facts are so cruel?

Poetry is a way of probing souls. I like this sentence from the Spanish poet Gabriel Celaya: “Poetry is a weapon charged with the future”. It is a breathing that can express suffering. It is the most effective weapon against silence, because it touches the heart.

consoled by Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse, Otherwise, 366 pages, 21 euros

Métis children of Rwanda and post-colonialism – Jeune Afrique