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"Moors on Coats of Arms and 'Negro Slices'"

Africans on Swiss communal emblems

Last modified: 2023-10-07 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland |
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The Swiss free newspaper 20 Minuten has on its website an article from 2017 (PDF), which reports mainly about depictions of Africans on Swiss communal emblems.

English translation:

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Moors on Coats of Arms and "Negro Slices"

by D. Krähenbühl

In addition to the "Mohrenkopf" (moore's head) in the shops, there are other moor motifs around in Switzerland.
For example on the municipal coat of arms. Is that still up to date?


The "committee against racist sweets" calls on the Dubler company to rename their "Mohrenköpfe" (moores' heads, examples: picture, picture).
The name is "a derogatory term for the head of a dark-skinned person". The neologism is a leftover from the time of colonization and
"clearly a racist term from the start", they say.
The term Mohr also occurs in the Swiss gastronomy industry. There is the "Mohrenkopf" restaurant in Zurich (which is owned by the city of Zurich),
the "Mohren" restaurant in Willisau LU and the "Möhrli" (little moor) restaurant in Bischofszell TG. In Austria there is the Vorarlberg beer
"Mohrenbräu" (moore's brew), whose logo features the silhouette of a stylized black man. Mohren motifs also illustrate some of the coats of arms
of Swiss communes. An overview.

Oberweningen commune (ZH)
Nobody knows why the Oberweningen commune shows a dark-skinned person on its coat of arms. Therefore, in a competition, the pupils of the
primary school were asked to invent stories about the origin of the coat of arms. For Kaspar Zbinden, communal clerk (Gemeindeschreiber) of
Oberweningen, the moor was an old heraldry symbol for the well-travelled and cosmopolitan people. In addition, in contrast to other illustrations,
it is drawn with respect. So he would be pictured elsewhere with bones in his hair, large earrings, or disfigured facial features. He has no qualms.
"Our coat of arms will remain as it is", says Zbinden.

Flumenthal commune (SO)
The coat of arms was only officially adopted by the municipal assembly in 1940. It depicts a black man referred to by art historians as Saint Mauritius.
Mauritius, originally from Egypt, was the leader of a Roman legion and was martyred in what is now Saint-Maurice in Valais in the late 3rd century.
This because he allegedly did not want to fight against Christian fellow believers. So the worship of Mauritius as a patron saint has a long history.

Mandach commune (AG)
Saint Mauritius also appears on the coat of arms of the Mandach commune. He was depicted on the family arms of the Lords of Mandach and was
eventually adopted for the entire commune. What is irritating: The name of the Mandach dessert specialty was derived directly from the coat of arms.
Thus the name of the typical Mandach sweet pastry is Negerschnitte (negro slice). The municipality's website states that "it has not yet found a more
suitable name for it".

Möriken-Wildegg commune (AG)
The head of the dark-skinned man has been handed down since 1592 and originally comes from the popular interpretation of the name Möriken.
It was not until 2002 that the municipality selected the current model from three new versions of the coat of arms.

Cornol commune (JU)
In Cornol, too, no one knows exactly how the black man found his way onto the municipal coat of arms. However, the municipal administration is
convinced that he commemorates the many black people who served the Romans at the time.

Avenches commune (VD)
Here the coat of arms most likely comes from the moors, who were expelled from Spain in the 9th century and then made forays into northern Italy and the Alps.
This left a lasting impression on the population – also on the arms of Avenches.

"Representation as in the days of slavery"

Celeste Ugochukwu, President of the African Diaspora Council, takes issue with the coats of arms and calls for a rethink in the communities.
For example, the exaggerated depictions of blacks in the coats of arms are no longer tenable. These are depicted as they were viewed during the
slavery era – as third-rate members of society. With red lips, big earrings and exaggerated facial features. "Images like these still shape how black people
are perceived today", says Ugochukwu. It also means that the community still holds such views. "Something like that is no longer justifiable today."

Member of [Zurich] cantonal parliament Andrew Katumba (Social-Democratic Party) supports the coat of arms. "Every head on a coat of arms is a symbol
of strength", says the semi-African. The communes would show that they are proud of their heroes. "Very few people are aware that we worship saints who
were black." The [Zurich] patron saints Felix, Regula and Exuperantius were also dark-skinned. "The fact that over time they were depicted as light-skinned
is a falsification of history."

"Negro Slice" is not racist

According to the Federal Commission against Racism (Eidgenšssische Kommission gegen Rassismus, EKR), when it comes to coats of arms with moors or
restaurants with "Moor" in their names, the historical origins are often important. There are also moors with reference to the Three Kings or the Middle Ages.
In this historical context, the use is neutral or positive, the Aargauer Zeitung quotes the EKR. According to the EKR, the term "negro slice" does not constitute
a violation of the racism penal norm. This only applies if a person or a group of people is denied human dignity.
(15 September 2017)

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Martin Karner, 15 August 2023


 
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