Decades on, ‘hidden children’ forced into orphanages of colonial France remain traumatised



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During the French colonisation of West Africa, several thousand children born of relations between French colonialists and African women were abandoned by their father and taken from their mother. Owing to a decision by the Governor General of French West Africa, these mixed-race children were separated from the rest of society and placed in orphanages. Through a series of exclusive testimonies on what was long a taboo subject, FRANCE 24 retraces the forgotten history of these hidden children of France, deprived of their parentage and demanding recognition.

It all started in 1903, when Governor Ernest Roume, head of French West Africa, decided to create dedicated orphanages for children born to French fathers and “indigenous” mothers, youngsters sometimes known as the “bastards of the republic”. In what was then the colony of Ivory Coast, the “Mixed-race Home” was set up in the majestic former Governor’s Palace in Bingerville.

One of the first residents was André Manket, now 90. He has tears in his eyes when recounting his kidnapping. “They came to look for me in my fishing village of Anono and took me by force. I was seven years old. My auntie was crying,” the old man told us. He remembers arriving in Bingerville surrounded by two colonial guards. They said, “Guerard, the name of your father, is finished. From now on, you will take the name of your mother.”

André was also given a number: the 39th. This meant that before him there were 38 boys and girls, whose only thing in common was the colour of their skin: mixed-race.

Trauma

As for Maurice Berthet, he still does not understand. He is not French, but he owns land in France that he inherited from his father. “My father never abandoned me! But he didn’t know what to do. He cut wood and lived in the forest,” he explained.

They may be over 80, but the trauma is still very much alive. “We were everyone’s laughing stock. Our mothers were treated like prostitutes,” recalled Monique Yace.

“We were treated like bastards,” added Philippe Meyer. “They knew what they were doing. They had legalised a system: have children, then send them to the home.”

All of these “hidden children” today see themselves as “victims of colonisation”.

Ivorians now want France to be inspired by Belgium, which in April 2019 officially apologised to mixed-race children born in its former colonies. Auguste Miremont, a former communications minister to longtime Ivorian president Félix Houphouët-Boigny and who also grew up in the Mixed-race Home, believes “it’s now time to calmly put this debate on the table”.

>> Watch our special edition: African advancement and the consequences of colonialism



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