Legerdemain

by Kayombo Chingonyi


Legerdemain

and, at last, you have come upon

the jewel in the crown of our collection

here at the Royal Museum for Central Africa:

a magnifying glass used by one

of the King’s functionaries

who, by Royal decree, remained

unsung among the sons of Europe

until recently. Note the engraving

on the ivory handle that tells us

this glass was used in the Kasai.

Since the official report was redacted

some of you might be unaware

of this particular brand of magic:

the ‘trick was to use a magnifying

glass to light a cigar, “after which

the white man explained his intimate

relation to the sun, and declared

that if he were to request [the sun]

to burn up his black brother’s

village it would be done”’*

and so it was the land changed hands

as a cigar, given light, becomes a stub

and its smoke that stays with you

is the smoke from a burning village.

 

 

* George Washington Williams as quoted in King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild