When Emmanuel Macron spoke of colonization as a “crime against humanity,” the author of Ségou, Maryse Condé, felt the need to answer him. Here are excerpts of her commentary [from “Bibliobs,” Le Nouvel Observateur (L’Obs) 10 June 2017]:
“I am bombarded by facts, statistics, length of roads, canals, and railways covered. I speak of thousands of men sacrificed in the Congo-Ocean. I am talking about those who, as I write, are digging the port of Abidjan with their bare hands. I speak of millions of men torn from their gods, their land, habits, life, dance, wisdom. I speak of millions of men in whom they have skillfully instilled fear, an inferiority complex, trembling, the act of kneeling, despair, and servility [larbinisme].”
I cannot begin to describe the effervescence that these lines produced in me. I was twenty years old. For my birthday, my good friend Françoise, whose father taught history at the Sorbonne had offered me a small red and gold tome entitled Discours sur le Colonialisme, published by Présence Africaine in 1950. Who was the author? A Martinican poet named Aimé Césaire.
Although born in Guadeloupe, the neighboring island, while I knew Rimbaud, Apollinaire, and Gérard de Nerval, I had never heard of him [Césaire]. It was because my mother had put me to bed reading the tales of Perrault, or led by the hand by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. My father, through a merchant at the docks, ordered from France his boxes of champagne and books from the Nelson Library [Bibliothèque Nelson], which my brother and I devoured. By twelve I knew Victor Hugo. In view of this education, I believed that blacks were growing in the West Indies, as guavas grow on the guava trees and perfumed flowers of ylang-ylang grow on trees of the same name. Native natives. I did not know that they had reached the islands of the Caribbean at the conclusion of a painful dispossession.
Does this mean that my life changed radically? “I am a colonized,” I repeated to myself in rapture, parading my discovered identity. No, France was not my motherland, my country. My people who had suffered so much were victims and I had to do everything in my power to alleviate their pain. Discours sur le Colonialisme became my Bible and, without exaggeration, it was partly because of him that I left for Africa.
I will skim quickly over these twelve turbulent years. I will only mention two events. My sister’s husband was imprisoned for an imaginary plot and died in custody in a prison in Guinea. I myself was imprisoned and expelled from Ghana because I had the misfortune of having a passport from Guinea, the country where Kwame N’Krumah had taken refuge. To try to understand something about what was happening around me, I plunged into reading The Wretched of the Earth [Damnés de la Terre] by Frantz Fanon, who, with his usual lucidity and humor, warned me: “Dreams of possession. All modes of possession: to sit at the colonizer’s table, to sleep in the settler’s bed, with his wife, if possible. The colonized is an envious being.”
[. . .] If I remain convinced that colonization was guilty of many crimes, I am nevertheless persuaded that during the regimes which followed under the suns of independence, to borrow the expression of the Ivory Coast writer—our too soon departed friend Ahmadou Kourouma—there were also many crimes committed. As in the past, the leaders hardly cared about the welfare of their people and left them ignorant, hungry, victims of all suffering. The flood of migrants pressing to the gates of Europe is proof of this.
My little Guadeloupe did not know these instances of independence. In 1946 it changed its baptismal name and now remains a French Overseas Department. Alas! She is not faring well either. Unemployment and violence of all kinds are ravaging [the country]. The places where I walked quietly as a child, the beaches where I bathed, have become the stages for the most terrible crimes.
So what to conclude? But indeed, must we conclude? Let us not conclude. Let us dream, let us imagine. The history of the world is not over. Already, some enlightened minds predict the death of the West. A day will come when the earth will be round and men will remember that they are brothers and will be more tolerant. They will no longer be afraid of each other, due to their religion, the color of their skin, or their modes of speech. That time will come. We must believe.
For original article (in French), see http://bibliobs.nouvelobs.com/idees/20170609.OBS0501/la-colonisation-fut-coupable-de-pas-mal-de-crimes-par-maryse-conde.html