Thu. Nov 21st, 2019

The rebellion of the lepers of Franco | Science

The British historian David Brydan was looking for information in the General Archive of the Administration in Alcalá de Henares when he came across a mysterious folder. It was 1946 and contained a dusty document that spoke of Mikomeseng's leprosarium, an unusual place guarded by armed guards in which the Francoist authorities put the 4,000 leprosy patients of Spanish Guinea.

A documentary of NODE of the time reveals images of the place. The lepers appear playing the drum with their fingerless hands. The characteristic narration of the Francoist news programs proclaims: "These are the sick, and to faith they do not seem too depressed!". The cameras show thousands of patients waiting in line to receive their medicines. "Today leprosy is cured. And also rejoice that Spain can present before the commission of the nations the work that is being carried out in its African colony of Guinea! ", Celebrates the narrator.

However, the folder found by David Brydan unearths another version of the events. "It is a judicial investigation carried out after a rebellion in the leprosarium," explains the historian, King's College London. On February 18, 1946, the lepers rose up. "The attitude of the sick, without excepting neither age nor sex, was extremely violent", assured the territorial administrator of Mikomeseng. The report directly accused five men and one woman -J. Nguema, M. Sanga, M. Ndongo, L. Edu, P. Mba and J. Mangue- to be "the promoters in the interior of the leper colony of the general uprising of the other patients".

"Mikomeseng was almost a concentration camp, a place where there was repression and where children were torn from their mothers. And, nevertheless, the Francoist dictatorship used the leprosarium to make propaganda of the regime ", explains Brydan, who in September will publish a book (Franco's Internationalists, Oxford University Press) on this attempt by the Spanish authorities to legitimize themselves internationally through their supposed social work.

Image of a sick child in the Mikomeseng leprosarium.

Image of a sick child in the Mikomeseng leprosarium.

Before the inspectors, the director of the leprosarium, Víctor Martínez Domínguez, minimized the revolt in their domains. "Feeling rejected by society imprints on the character of the leper a special stamp of irritability that is classic in all leprosariums in the world," he argued. But the investigation includes spooky testimonies. Practitioner José Luis Martínez Díaz, a 29-year-old from Madrid, described the rebellion as "an act of simple and slight protest that, with good reason, made some unfortunate patients abandoned and destined to die to those who have only been given so far. hunger, work and melongo ". The melongo is a local palm tree and its rods were used to whip lashes that in the colony had a name: "melongazos".

Martínez Díaz denounced that with the rebels detained, "acts of real barbarism were being committed in which, threatened with guns in hand, they were beaten until they were almost out of breath". The Spanish practitioner claimed to have buried several lepers "dead of hunger and abandonment as a result of not being able to walk for lack of their limbs."

The Galician Benita Sampedro, a specialist in colonial studies at the Hofstra University in New York, he has visited Mikomeseng on several occasions. "I've met ladies who were there as children and remember it as a place of terror," he explains. "Mikomeseng's leprosarium was a kind of walled prison. The authorities went through the villages and took the sick by force. The medication in the 1940s was totally inefficient and very cruel, with punctures on the wounds. And the most dramatic thing is that people with leprosy took away their children, "Sampedro continues.

Patients of the "health mission" of Mikomeseng, in the Guinea Española.rn

Patients of the "health mission" of Mikomeseng, in Spanish Guinea.

The NODE Francoist projected in the Spanish cinemas proclaimed that the patients of Mikomeseng enjoyed "complete freedom", but it was a lie, Sampedro regrets. In an essay published in 2016, the teacher described the leprosarium as "a semi-independent, self-controlled and totalitarian ministado, with its own metal coin" to avoid contagion. His investigations build a story of leprosy patients, with ulcers, stumps and deformed faces, trying to escape in the light of the moon from the thick walls patrolled by the Francoist colonial guard. "There was a lot of feminine resistance. Pregnant women tried to escape because they knew they would take their children, "says Sampedro.

The 1946 report rescued by David Brydan includes a multitude of horror testimonies in Mikomeseng, but ignores them. "None has been proven (of the facts denounced)," the authorities concluded. The last time Sampedro was in the old colonial fortress, in 2013, leprosy was still in operation, with 18 patients in charge of a conceptionist nun from Vigo.

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A symbol of propaganda

A priest arrives at the church of Mikomeseng.rn

A priest arrives at the church of Mikomeseng.

For the Franco dictatorship, Mikomeseng was much more than a leprosarium hidden in the heart of equatorial Africa. "It was used as a legitimization tool of the regime ", underlines Carlos Tabernero, historian of science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. "The NODE It showed in Mikomeseng an independent and independent city, controlled by the army and the church, like Spain itself. It was not coincidence. Everything was pure happiness, "says the professor.

The historian Francisco Javier Martínez, from the University of Évora (Portugal), has also investigated Franco's medical documentaries filmed in the Spanish colony: The patients of Mikomeseng (1946) and Health mission in Guinea (1953), both directed by the filmmaker Manuel Hernández Sanjuán. "The cinematographic team had an astronomical budget. It was a 100% official initiative. And that's why the documentaries faithfully reflected Franco's ideology. "

(tagsToTranslate) rebellion (t) leper (t) franco (t) historian (t) document (t) atrocity (t) commit (t) authority (t) franquista (t) leprosería (t) mikomeseng (t) guinea español

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