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The Hands of the Blacks by Luis Bernardo Honwana

I dont remember now how we got on to the subject, but one


day, Teacher said that the palms of the Blacks hands were much lighter than
the rest of their bodies. This is because only a few centuries ago, they walked
around with them like wild animals, so their palms werent exposed to the sun,
which made the rest of their bodies darker. I thought of this when Father
Christiano told us after catechism that we were absolutely hopeless, and that
even the pygmies were better than us, and he went back to this thing about
their hands being lighter, and said it was like that because they always went
about with their hands folded together, praying in secret. I thought this was so
funny, this thing of the Blacks hands being lighter, that you should just see me
now. I do not let go of anyone, whoever they are, until they tell me why they
think that the palms of the Blacks hands are lighter. Doa Dores, for instance,
told me that God made Blacks hands lighter so they would not dirty the food
they made for their masters, or anything else they were ordered to do that had
to be kept clean.

Seor Antunes, the Coca-Cola man, who only comes to the
village now and again when all the Cokes in the cantinas have been sold, said it
was a lot of baloney. Of course, I do not know if it was really such, but he
assured me, it was. After that I said, All right, it was baloney, and then he
told me what he knew about this thing of the Blacks hands. It was like this:
Long ago, many years ago, God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, St.
Peter, many other saints, all the angels that were in Heaven, and some of the
people who had died and gone to Heaventhey all had a meeting and decided
to create the Blacks. Do you know how? They got hold of some clay and
pressed it into some second-hand molds and baked the clay of creatures,
which they took from the heavenly kilns. Because they were in a hurry and
there was no room next to the fire, they hung them in the chimneys. Smoke,
smoke, smokeand there you have them, black as coals. And now, do you
want to know why their hands stayed white? Well, didnt they have to hold on
while their clay baked?

When he told me this, Seor Antunes and the other men
who were around us were very pleased and they all burst out laughing. That
very same day, Seor Frias told me that everything i had heard from them
there had been just one big pack of lies. Really and truly, what he knew about
the Blacks hands was rightthat God finished men and told them to bathe in
a lake in Heaven. After bathing, the people were nice and white. The Blacks,
well. They were made very early in the morning and at this hour, the water in
the lake was very cold, so they only wet the palms of their hands and the soles
of their feet before dressing and coming to the world.

But i read in a book that happened to mention the story, that
the Blacks have hands lighter like this because they spent their lives bent over,
gathering the white cotton of Virginia and i dont know where else. Of course,
Doa Estefania did not agree when i told her this. According to her, it is only
because their hands became bleached with all that washing.

Well, i do not know what to think about all this but the truth
is that however calloused and cracked they may be, Black hands are always
lighter than the rest of him. And thats that!

My mother is the only one who must be right about this
question of a Blacks hands being lighter than the rest of his body. On the day
that we were talking about it, i was telling her what i already knew about the
question, and she could not stop laughing. When i was talking, she did not tell
me at once what she thought about all this and she only talked when she was
sure that i wouldnt get tired of bothering her about it. And even then, she was
crying and clutching herself around the stomach like someone who had
laughed so much that it was quite unbearable. What she said was more or less
this:

God made Blacks because they had to be. They had to be,
my son. He thought they really had to be. Afterwards, He regretted having
made them because other men laughed at them and took away their homes
and put them to serve as slaves and not much better. But because He couldnt
make them all white, for those who were used to seeing them black would
complain, He made it so that the palms of their hands would be exactly like
the palms of the hands of other men. And do you know why that was? Well,
listen: it was to show that what men do is only the work of men... that what
men do is done by hands that are the samehands of people. How, if they had
any sense, would know that before anything else they are men. He must have
been thinking of this when He made the hands of those men who thank God
they are not black!


After telling me all this, my mother kissed my hands. As i ran
off to the yard to play ball, i thought that i had never seen a person cry so
much as my mother did then.
The moral lesson of the hands of the black can be understood and taken in different
ways. Taking care of ones self, having respect and appreciation, being honest and
helpful, and living to help others and build upon one's self are the moral lessons of the
hands of the black.
THE HANDS OF THE BLACKS
LUIS BERNARDO HONWANA
1969
EXCERPT
I don't remember now how we got onto the subject, but one day Teacher said that
the palms of the black's hands were much lighter than the rest of their bodies
because only a few centuries ago they walked around on all fours, like wild
animals, so their palms weren't exposed to the sun, which made the rest of their
bodies darker and darker. I thought of this when Father Christiano told us after
catechism that we were absolutely hopeless, and that even the blacks were better
than us, and he went back to this thing about their hands being lighter, and said it
was like that because they always went about with their hands folded together,
praying in secret. I thought this was so funny, this thing of the black's hands being
lighter, that you should just see me now I don't let go of anyone, whoever they
are, until they tell me why they think that the palms of the black's hands are
lighter. Dona Dores, for instance, told me that God made their hands lighter like
that so they wouldn't dirty food they made for their masters, or anything else they
were ordered to do that had to be kept quite clean.
The Hands of the Black takes place in the village of a young boy. The author is
from Maputo, so we can assume the setting is similar to the Republic of
Mozambique.
Luis Bernardo Honwana served on the Executive Board of UNESCO from 1987
to 1991. In 1995 he was appointed director of the office in South Africa. He is
also an acclaimed author. Luis Bernardo Honwana was born in 1942.

"The Hands of the Blacks" is a short story by Luis Bernardo Honwana. The story
follows the narrator as he asks different people to explain the reason why the
hands of black people are lighter than the rest of their bodies. First he speaks to
his teacher, who tell him that their hands are lighter because humans once
crawled on the ground like four legged animals, leaving their palms unexposed to
the light. Next, the narrator speaks to three religious men, Father Christiano
Seor Antunes, and Seor Frias, who provide him with different religious
explanations. The narrator then says that he once read a book that explained the
phenomenon as the outcome of slaves picking cotton in Virginia. Finally, the
narrator speaks with his mother, who tells him that God created black people
without lighter hands, but once he saw how they were mistreated by white people,
he lightened their palms. The mother says that he did this to show that while
black people looked different, their work for God was just as important and
valuable. His mother cries and leaves him to reflect on her words.
The Young Boy & Her Mother
Lus Bernardo Honwana, (born November 1942, Loureno
Marques, Mozambique), journalist and one of Africas outstanding short-story
writers, who has been praised for poetic insight in his portrayal of village life in
Mozambique.
Honwana grew up in Moamba, a suburb of the capital city Loureno Marques
(now Maputo). He held jobs as a government cartographer and as reporter and
then editor of two newspapers in Beira (Mozambiques second largest city) while
working toward his secondary degree. After completing high school he devoted
himself to literary activities. In Ns Matmos a Co Tinhosa (1964; We Killed
Mangy-Dog & Other Stories), he is never didactic, but beneath the deceptively
simple surface of his narrative is an implied criticism of a society that has adopted
the wrong values. His stories exhibit deep understanding of human experiences
and needs. His writing was interrupted by imprisonment (196467) for his
political activities. Upon his release he moved to Portugal for three years and
spent some time in Switzerland, Algeria, and Tanzania before returning home to
work with the transitional government. By 1984 he was chief of staff to the
president of Mozambique and had completed a novel. He also made
several documentary films.
Lus Bernado Honwana (born 1942) is a Mozambican author.
Biography[edit]
Lus Bernardo Honwana was born Lus Augusto Bernardo Manuel in
Loureno Marques (present-day Maputo), Mozambique. His parents, Ral
Bernardo Manuel (Honwana) and Naly Jeremias Nhaca, belonged to
the Ronga people from Moamba, a town about 55 km northwest of Maputo.
In 1964 he became a militant with FRELIMO, a front that had the objective
to liberate Mozambique from Portuguese colonial rule. Due to his political
activities he was arrested by the colonial authorities and was incarcerated for
three years.
He studied law in Portugal and worked for some time as a journalist. He was
appointed director of President's office under Samora Machel. Later in 1981,
he became Secretary of State for culture. He served on the Executive Board
of UNESCO from 1987 to 1991 and was chairman of UNESCO's
Intergovernmental Committee for the World Decade for Culture and
Development. In 1995, he was appointed director of the newly opened
UNESCO office in South Africa. Since he retired from the organization in
2002, he has been active in research in the arts, history and ethno-
linguistics.
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Works[edit]
Honwana is the author of a single book, Ns Matmos o Co-
Tinhoso (1964), translated into English as We Killed Mangy Dog and Other
Stories, and the tale "Hands of the Blacks". This work has proved enormously
influential and a case can be made for it being the touchstone of
contemporary Mozambican narrative. We Killed Mangy Dog is a collection
of short stories set in the (Portuguese) colonial era at the turn of the sixties
and is reflective of the harsh life black Mozambicans lived under the Salazar
regime. Several of the stories are told from the point of view of children or
alienated adolescents and most feature the rich mix of races, religions and
ethnicities that would later preoccupy Mozambique's most internationally
celebrated writer, Mia Couto.