Martinique woman of African ancestry carrying basket and wearing her African traditional dress
Martinique is an island in the Lesser Antilles in the eastern Caribbean Sea. It is found directly in the north of St. Lucia, northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica. Though the nationality is European and the official language is French, the deep roots of the Creole culture of Martinique come directly from Africa.
Martinique people showing their traditional African culture
In fact, Martinique which is an aboriginal home to the Arawak Caribs has about 97% of its population composed of people of African descent and it shows the time honored-endurance and resilience of Africans wherever they find themselves. It is a birthplace of the concept of Négritude created by the island’s beloved poet and elder statesman Aimé_Césaire. Blacks (enslaved Africans) were sent to Martinique by the French during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to work in the plantations. The blacks engaged in series of revolts between 1752, 1789-1790 (Thousands rebelled during the French Revolution), 1822 and 1833.
Beautiful Martinican girl with ebony eyes at Bellefontaine, St.-Pierre, MQ by Jendayee
Martinique`s demographics shows total population of 396,941 with 357,246 being Africans and African-white-Indian mixture, 19,847 as Caucausians, whilst 19,847 are of Indian Tamil or East Indian, Chinese.
This Caribbean island with French flair is known variously as "The Isle of Flowers," "The Rum Capital of the World," and in literary world " The Isle of the Famed Poet (Aime Cesaire)" – by any one of its many names Martinique remains one of the most alluring and enchanting destinations in the world.
Martinique is one of the twenty-seven regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the French Republic. As part of France, Martinique is part of the European Union, and its currency is the Euro. Its official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Martiniquais).
Martinique`s cultural website has this to say about the Island "It was named "Top Caribbean Island for Delectable Dining" in 2009 by Caribbean Travel + Life, and "Best Caribbean Destination" (2010) by About.com. The bay of Fort-de-France, the capital city, is among the most beautiful bays of the world. Martinique is an overseas region of France that stirs the passions with distinctive culinary delights, awe-inspiring natural beauty, a rich cultural history, warm smiles and so much more.
Joane - Carnival Princess, Martinique. Courtesy Aalborg Carnival -...
Napoleon's bride, Empress Josephine, was born and raised in Martinique. The Majestic Mt. Pelee volcano and St. Pierre, The Pompeii of the Caribbean are found here. Martinique also offers a dynamic art scene and a wide array of local products. A special place, to be sure, with so much to offer – Martinique c'est magnifique!"
Mardi Graz (Carnival at Martinique)
How Martinique earned its name
Martinique owes its name to Christopher Columbus, who sighted the island in 1493 and finally landed on 15 June 1502. The island was then called "Jouanacaëra-Matinino", which came from a mythical island described by the Tainos of Hispaniola. According to historian Sydney Daney, the island was called "Jouanacaëra" by the Caribs, which would mean "the island of iguanas". After Columbus' initial discovery, the name then evolved into Madinina ("Island of Flowers"), Madiana, and Matinite. When Columbus returned to the island in 1502, he rechristened the island as Martinica. Finally, through the influence of the neighboring island of Dominica (La Dominique), it came to be known as Martinique.
Martinique people celebrating Carnival
Part of the archipelago of the Antilles, Martinique is located in the Caribbean Sea about 450 km (280 mi) northeast of the coast of South America and about 700 km (435 mi) southeast of the Dominican Republic. It is directly north of St. Lucia, northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica.
The total area of Martinique is 1,100 square kilometres (420 sq mi), of which 40 square kilometres (15 sq mi) is water and the rest land. Martinique is the 3rd largest island in The Lesser Antilles after Trinidad and Guadeloupe. It stretches 70 km (43 mi) in length and 30 km (19 mi) in width. The highest point is the volcano of Mont Pelée at 1,397 metres (4,583 ft) above sea level.
The island is volcanic in origin, lying along the subduction fault where the North American Plate slides beneath the Caribbean Plate. Martinique has 8 different centers of volcanic activity. The oldest rocks are andesitic lavas dated to about 24 million years ago, mixed with tholeiitic magma containing iron and magnesium. Mont Pelée, the island's most dramatic feature, formed about 400,000 years ago. Pelée erupted in 1792, 1851 and twice in 1902. The eruption of May 8, 1902 destroyed Saint-Pierre and killed 28,000 people in 2 minutes; that of August 30, 1902 caused nearly 1,100 deaths, mostly in Morne-Red and Ajoupa-Bouillon.
The coast of Martinique is difficult for navigation of ships. The peninsula of Caravelle clearly separates the north Atlantic and south Atlantic coast.
The north of the island is mountainous. It features four ensembles of pitons (volcanoes) and mornes (mountains): the Piton Conil on the extreme North, which dominates the Dominica Channel; Mont Pelée, an active volcano; the Morne Jacob; and the Pitons du Carbet, an ensemble of five extinct volcanoes covered with rainforest and dominating the Bay of Fort de France at 1,196 metres (3,924 ft). Mont Pelée's volcanic ash has created gray and black sand beaches in the north (in particular between Anse Ceron and Anse des Gallets), contrasting markedly from the white sands of Les Salines in the south.
The south is more easily traversed, though it still features some impressive geographic features. Because it is easier to travel and because of the many beaches and food facilities throughout this region, the south receives the bulk of the tourist traffic. The beaches from Pointe de Bout, through Diamant (which features right off the coast of Roche de Diamant), St. Luce, the department of St. Anne and down to Les Salines are popular.
The northern end of the island catches most of the rainfall and is heavily forested, featuring species such as bamboo, mahogany, rosewood and locust.
The south is drier and dominated by savanna-like brush, including cacti, balsam, logwood and acacia. Anolis lizards and fer-de-lance snakes are native to the island. Mongooses, introduced in the 1800s, prey upon bird eggs and have exterminated or endangered a number of native birds, including the Martinique trembler, white-breasted trembler and white-breasted thrasher.
Martinique woman carrying cocoa. Dave Brosha
The island was occupied first by Arawaks, then by Caribs. The Carib people had migrated from the mainland to the islands about 1200 CE, according to carbon dating of artifacts. They largely displaced, exterminated and assimilated the Taino who were resident on the island in the 1490s.
Martinique was charted by Columbus in 1493, but Spain had little interest in the territory. On 15 September 1635, Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, French governor of the island of St. Kitts, landed in the harbour of St Pierre with 150 French settlers after being driven off St. Kitts by the English. D'Esnambuc claimed Martinique for the French King Louis XIII and the French "Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique" (Company of the American Islands), and established the first European settlement at Fort Saint-Pierre (now St. Pierre). A verdict approving the utilization of African slaves in the French West Indies was done on October 31, 1636.
In 1636, the indigenous Caribs rose against the settlers to drive them off the island in the first of many skirmishes. The French successfully repelled the natives and forced them to retreat to the eastern part of the island, on the Caravella Peninsula in the Capesterre[disambiguation needed]. When the Carib revolted against French rule in 1658, the Governor Charles Houel de Petit-Pré retaliated with war against them. Many were killed; those who survived were taken captive and expelled from the island. Some Carib had fled to Dominica or St. Vincent, where the French agreed to leave them at peace.
Woman from Martinique. Circa 1910
Because there were few Catholic priests in the French Antilles, many of the earliest French settlers were Huguenots who sought greater religious freedom than what they could experience in mainland France. They were quite industrious and became quite prosperous. Although edicts from King Louis XIV's court regularly came to the islands to suppress the Protestant "heretics", these were mostly ignored by island authorities until Louis XIV's Edict of Revocation in 1685.
From September 1686 to early 1688, the French crown used Martinique as a threat and a dumping ground for mainland Huguenots who refused to reconvert to Catholicism. Over 1,000 Huguenots were transported to Martinique during this period, usually under miserable and crowded ship conditions that caused many of them to die en route. Those that survived the trip were distributed to the island planters as Engagés (Indentured servants) under the system of serf peonage that prevailed in the French Antilles at the time.
As many of the planters on Martinique were themselves Huguenot, and who were sharing in the suffering under the harsh strictures of the Revocation, they began plotting to emigrate from Martinique with many of their recently arrived brethren. Many of them were encouraged by their Catholic brethren who looked forward to the departure of the heretics and seizing their property for themselves. By 1688, nearly all of Martinique's French Protestant population had escaped to the British American colonies or Protestant countries back home. The policy decimated the population of Martinique and the rest of the French Antilles and set back their colonization by decades, causing the French king to relax his policies in the islands yet leaving the islands susceptible to British occupation over the next century
Martinique was occupied several times by the British, including once during the Seven Years' War and twice during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain controlled the island almost continuously from 1794-1815, when it was traded back to France at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Martinique has remained a French possession since then. During the Napoleonic wars Africans in Martinique revolted. In the THE LONDON CHRONICLE, December 10, 1789 report of George Barrington's trial at Old Bailey in page 555 also describes a slave revolt in Martinique which includes a letter from the former (?) slaves signed: "All The Negroes." The letter states: "We know that the King has made us free; we expect to be so. If giving us our liberty be opposed, we will spread fire and blood through all the colony. Nothing in it shall be spared but the public buildings, and the religious houses." The insurrection subsided upon the execution of their leader (Marc) and the "discipline" by the wheel of his accomplices.
As a result threatened slave revolts, in 1848 Victor Schoelcher persuaded the French government to end slavery in the French West Indies.
On May 8, 1902, Mont Pelée erupted and completely destroyed St. Pierre, killing 30,000 people. The only survivor in the town, Auguste Cyparis, was saved by the thick walls of his prison cell. Shortly thereafter the capital shifted to Fort-de-France, where it remains today.
In 1946, the French National Assembly voted unanimously to transform the colony into an Overseas Department of France. In 1974 it became simply a Department.
In 2009, the French Caribbean general strikes exposed deep ethnic, racial, and class tensions and disparities within Martinique
In the history of the Atlantic slave trade, the French turned four times as many Africans into slaves as the Americans did, they used them far more brutally, and French slavers not only got a head-start on Americans, they continued the slave trade -- legally -- until 1830, long after the rest of Europe had given it up. And they kept at it clandestinely until after the U.S. Civil War. France officially abolished slavery in its colonies only 14 years before Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and then only under pressure from slave uprisings.
The French New World settlers outstripped the Americans in their greed for slave labor. When the U.S. acquired Louisiana from France, the first governor sent out from Washington reported back that, "No subject seems to be so interesting to the minds of the inhabitants of all parts of the country which I have visited as that of the importation of brute negroes from Africa. This permission would go further with them, and better reconcile them to the government of the United States, than any other privilege that could be extended to this country. ... White labourers, they say, cannot be had in this unhealthy climate."
The French government sought to promote plantation economies in its West Indies colonies. With capital, credit, technology -- and slaves -- borrowed from the Dutch, these islands began to thrive as sugar export centers. The Dutch established the first successful French sugar mill in 1655. By 1670, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Christopher had 300 sugar estates.
French slavery totals in the 17th century were lower than they might have been due to incompetence, bankruptcies, and mismanagement and strict royal rules about buying from, or selling to, other empires. By the 1720s, however, French private traders had broken the monopolies and the slave trade boomed under the French flag.
During the 1730s alone, the French shipped probably more than 100,000 slaves from Africa. The government raised the bounty per slave delivered to 100 livres, and in 1787 upped it again to 160. By the 1760s the average number of slaver ships leaving French ports was 56 a year, which does not sound like a large number, but they were big ships, averaging 364 slaves per boat. The attendant horrors of the Middle Passage, of course, were multiplied in the bigger ships. In 1767 the French overtook the British in sugar production for the first time.
Conditions on sugar plantations were harsh (though French sugar colonies were no better or worse than Spanish, Dutch, or British ones). During the eight-month sugar harvest, slaves sometimes worked continuously almost around the clock. Accidents caused by long hours and primitive machinery were horrible. In the big plantations, the captives lived in barracks; women were few and families nonexistent.
Compared to this, North American cotton plantation slavery featured much less ferocious labor and allowed family units to exist. Which is one reason France required a steady flow of thousands of slaves a year -- to replace the ones the French had worked to death -- while America's slave population grew naturally even after the U.S. slave trade had ended.
Nantes by far was France's leading slave port. Between 1738 and 1745, Nantes alone carried 55,000 slaves to the New World in 180 ships. All told, from 1713 to 1775 nearly 800 different vessels sailed from Nantes in the slave trade. But Bordeaux, Le Havre, and La Rochelle were leaders in the trade, too. Saint-Malo, Harfleur, and Rouen also played a part. French slave ships bore such ironic names as Amitié (La Rochelle) and Liberté (belonging to Isaac Couturier in Bordeaux). The novelist Chateaubriand's father, of Saint-Malo, was active in the slave trade in the 1760s. In 1768, Louis XV expressed his pleasure at the way "les négociants du Port de Bordeaux se livrent avec beaucoup de zèle au commerce de la traite des nègres."
In the late 1660s, the French settled the abandoned western half of the island of Santo Domingo, and by the early 1680s this new colony, which the French called Saint-Domingue, had 2,000 African slaves. By the 1740s, Saint-Domingue had replaced Martinique as the empire's largest sugar producer. Its 117,000 slaves that year represented about half the 250,000 slaved in the French West Indies. Coffee, introduced in 1723, only made the plantations more profitable -- and increased the demand for slaves.
By the late 1780s Saint Domingue planters were recognized as the most efficient and productive sugar producers in the world. The slave population stood at 460,000 people, which was not only the largest of any island but represented close to half of the 1 million slaves then being held in all the Caribbean colonies. The exports of the island represented two-thirds of the total value of all French West Indian exports, and alone were greater than the combined exports from the British and Spanish Antilles. In only one year well over 600 vessels visited the ports of the island to carry its sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cacao to European consumers." [Herbert S. Klein, "The Atlantic Slave Trade," Cambridge, 1999, p.33]
To keep the supply of African captives flowing, the French government had permanent establishments at the Senegal River and Whydah on the Gold Coast. French free traders worked seasonal camps from the Senegal to the Congo and even East Africa, where they became serious competitors to the Portuguese in Mozambique. The slaves they bought there went to the French Indian Ocean island colonies, which also were thriving on sugar exports.
Slavery went deeper than this in French society. In the 17th century, the French navy galleons were manned by slaves, including hundreds of Turks (some of them captured by the Austrians after the Siege of Vienna). In 1679, the Senegal Company provided 227 African slaves for this purpose.
Nor was their slaving activity limited to Africans. As late as 1820s the French were engaged in a slave trade in Sumatra, on the island of Nias (in the news recently as an earthquake site), taking 1,000 slaves a year from there to Ile de Bourbon (modern Réunion).
The rise of the French slave trade meant the number of black Africans living in France grew. A law of 1716 clarified their position by allowing masters from the islands to keep their slaves captive while in France. But a law of 1738 decreed black slaves could not stay in France more than three years, otherwise they would be confiscated by the Crown (and likely put to work on the royal navy's galleys).
The motive for this was the French authorities' eagerness to preserve their nation's racial purity, as illustrated by a royal declaration of 1777 which forbade entry of any black into France because "they marry Europeans, they infect brothels, and colors are mixed." The restrictions rarely were enforced, however, and six years after the 1777 decree a ministerial circulaire complained that blacks continued to be imported. Merchants in Nantes kept so many black men and women in their fine houses that they could give négrillons or négrittes to members of their household as tips, and by the time of the Revolution there were enough nègres in Nantes to form a battalion (which got a dreadful reputation for murder and pillage).
The French Revolution brought such antislavery men to power. English abolitionists like Thomas Clarkson were delighted and encouraged the French liberals to put their words into action. The Declaration of the Rights of Man in August 1789 had stated, "Men are born free and are equal before the law."
So you might think, in the interest of consistency, the French would have ended the slave trade and liberated their chattels at that time. You'd be wrong.
A Société des Amis des Noirs had formed. One of its leaders was Condorcet, who urged France to follow the example of America, which had set an end date to the slave trade and where leaders from all sections looked forward to the day, expected soon, when American slavery would die a natural death. Condorcet held up America as an example to France in this regard because America's leaders knew they would "debase their own pursuit of liberty if they continued to support slavery."
But the négriers of Nantes were powerful and influential. The Constituent Assembly took up the topic of the slave trade in March 1790. So far from curtailing slavery or the slave trade, it simply passed a decree, "Whoever works to excite risings against the colonists will be declared an enemy of the people."
Martinican woman in traditional dress, Martinique ©David Sanger
The French Assembly even had the equivalent of the American three-fifths clause, which gave the West Indian colonies 10 deputies in Paris, even though they numbered only a few tens of thousands of free settlers. But the Assembly rejected a few free mulattoes who turned up among the West Indian deputies and refused to seat them.
Shortly afterwards, a delegation from the newly founded and revolutionary Armée Patriotique of Bordeaux reached Paris and told both the Jacobin Club and the Assembly that five million Frenchmen depended on the colonial commerce for their livelihood, and that both the slave trade and West Indian slavery were essential for the prosperity of France. Another committee was then entrusted to make a report on slavery. That body, however, did little more than denounce attempts to cause risings against the colonists. Mirabeau was shouted down when he tried to oppose this. The assembly voted for the committee's proposals for inaction and, until 1793, the French slave trade continued to receive a subsidy in the form of a bonus for every slave landed. Nantes in fact enjoyed its best year ever as a slave city in 1790, sending forty-nine ships to Africa. For the slave merchants in that politically radical city, the word "liberty" seems to have signified the idea that the slave trade should be open to all. [Thomas, p.522]
Mulattos in Saint-Domingue, learning that their hopes for equality in the new system had been quashed in the Assembly, rose in revolt, and turmoil spread through the colonies. This forced the leaders of the Revolution to reopen the issue and condemn slavery -- in principle. It was not enough. Saint-Domingue's slaves then rose in a bloody insurrection. There were 450,000 blacks, most of them slaves, against only 40,000 whites (mulattoes numbered about 50,000).
Finally, in August 1791, the Assembly declared anyone who landed in France to be free, but it was too late to save Saint-Domingue. The British had occupied the colony and re-instated slavery, and by the time they handed it back to France at the Peace of Amiens (1802) the French had gotten over their flirtation with emancipation and were back in the slavery business. Saint-Domingue fell in the only successful slave revolt in history and was reborn as the free nation of Haiti. Meanwhile the shortage of sugar in Paris that resulted from the slave revolt precipitated the riots that brought the Revolution crashing down from its high ideals into authoritarian repression.
The French never recovered Haiti, though they coveted it for a generation, and France's slave trade had been temporarily shut down by the Napoleonic Wars. But after the restoration of the Bourbons the French retained Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana on the South American continent, all major sugar-producing colonies.
If it had not been for British pressure, the slave trade might still be tolerated in France. But the British had taken a strong anti-slavery position. The French press railed at the British for using morality as a cloak for their supposed desire to rule the world. And the French desire to keep the British at bay, and to compete with them in the seas, seems to have had a lot to do with the French decision to turn officially against the slave trade.
But it also is true that an abolitionist movement had taken root among the fashionable in Paris, headed by Madame de Staël and the Marquis de Lafayette. It was built on admiration of the English abolitionists, a rise of Christian morality, and a cult of le bon nègre. They began to circulate petitions and pamphlets. Prominent French writers led the opposition to the change, with racist diatribes against Africans.
When the Duc de Broglie became prime minister, he brought abolitionist sympathies and opinions with him into the government. In 1817 the French government published a decree curtailing the slave trade to French colonies, but the enterprising merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux simply switched their destinations to Cuba.
The entire slave trade finally was declared illegal in France in March 1818. But that merely converted a tolerated trade to a clandestine one. With the local banks and political interests dominated by slave traders and their money and marriage ties, there was little hope of enforcement. French officers expelled from the Navy after the Restoration had taken up the slave trade. Their comrades still in the fleet turned a blind eye to their activities, or were easily bribed to do so. The French filled in the market for slaves in Cuba and Brazil in place of the Spanish, who had foresaken the trade as immoral.
Twice as many ships left French ports on the slave trade in 1819 as had sailed the year before. In 1820, the British Navy's annual report on the fleet's work in interdicting the slave trade noted that the Americans were next to Britain in their "good intentions," "sincerity," and practical work to end the trade. Spain, Holland, and Portugual got bad grades. "But France, it is with deepest regret I mention it, has countenanced and encouraged the slave trade, almost beyond estimation or belief." It was so bad that "France is engrossing nearly the whole of the slave trade," and in the 12 months ending in September 1819 "60,000 Africans have been forced from their country, principally under the colours of France." They were taken mostly to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Cuba. [Paul Johnson, "The Birth of the Modern," p.330]
As late as 1825, slave chains and manacles could be openly purchased in Nantes. On average, French négriers in the 1820s brought in 4,000 slaves per annum. Guadeloupe was the center of this activity, absorbing 38,000 slaves from 1814-1830. Martinique followed with 24,000, and French Guiana with 14,000. "[I]t was an unusual trade in that French merchants from Nantes continued to dominate the trade to the end and were the only Europeans still active in the trade after 1808." [Klein, p.198] As late as 1830, Nantes kept 80 ships engaged in the slave trade.
The French, like the Americans, even after they had ended the slave trade refused to stand for the British Navy -- the only maritime power large enough to police the Atlantic -- boarding and searching their vessels. Under cover of national prde, the merchants of Nantes and Bordeaux continued to ship slaves even after the American government had, like the British, begun to use its authority to curb the trade.
In 1820, a British cruiser chased a French slaver, La Jeune Estele, whose captain, once he saw himself being overtaken, started throwing barrels overboard. In each was a pair of slave girls, age 12 to 14. Public opinion in Britain was shocked, but in France the people blamed the British.
In 1821, an over-zealous U.S. Navy lieutenant named Stockton seized four French-flagged vessels off Africa, convinced that they really were slavers from North America. He manned them with American crews and sailed them to Boston. But the French government was outraged -- at least one of the vessels, La Jeune Eugénie, certainly was French, and it was going for slaves. The French ambassador called on Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and loudly threatened war if satisfaction was not made. President Madison hastily backed down and assured the French that the Americans no longer would search vessels under French or any other foreign flag. Stockton's supicions were reasonable, however. Slave traders of other nations often sailed under the French flag to avoid British searches.
Only in 1830, under Louis-Philippe, was the slave trade made a crime and punishment enforced. A treaty with Britain even allowed British naval searches of French vessels in certain cases. Yet as late as 1848, recently imported slaves from West Africa were found on Martinique and Guadeloupe.
During the 1840s, the government in Paris talked of the eventuality of emancipation, but it always found a reason not to act. One common excuse was that the government was too cash-strapped to pay the slaveowners the compensation they deserved for the loss of their property.
Slavery finally was abolished in Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Réunion by the government that came to power after the 1848 revolution, spurred by slave uprisings in the colonies. A year later legislation passed granting the owners of France's 248,560 slaves compensation from a sum of $120 million francs.
Even the end was not really the end. From 1850 to 1870 some 18,400 Africans were carried to the French West Indies illegally, probably by Cuban slavers.
Martinique people doing traditional carnival dance
Martinique Recreation, Culture and Attractions
The culture of the island of Martinique is the combination of culture of French and Caribbean. The city of Saint-Pierre popularly known as the "Paris of the Lesser Antilles" was ruined by a volcanic eruption of Mount Pelee.
The island of Martinique is well known for its beaches. The beaches on the island are striking and charming for their unique range. White sands, charcoal colored sands on beaches are worth to watch. The sultry flora beside the coast is flourishing and boom. Cap Chevalier and Plage de Salines near Ste. Anne are top rated beaches of the island. One of the past attractions of the island is a massive rock on the coast that was later developed into a fort.
The standard of living is superior when compared to the other Caribbean nations. The island is all time favorite tourist destinations. attractions include Art and history museums, botanical garden, an ancient Hindu temple.
Dubuc Castle, Martinique
St. Louis Roman Catholic Cathedral constructed in 1875 beside the vibrant Bibliotheque Schoelcher with its turquoise tiles and hand carved columns, the imposing Palais de Justice, La Savane a large central park. The cuisine on the island of Martinique is a fusion of African, French, Carib Amerindian and South Asian traditions.
Schoelcher Library on Rue de la Liberte, Martinique. Named after Victor Scholcher, a French abolitionist who helped to bring an end to slavery on the island in 1848, it was dismantled and moved brick-by-brick from France following the Paris Exposition in 1889
Carnival 24/7 in Martinique
Pre-Lenten Carnival in Martinique shares many similarities to better known celebrations in Trinidad and Rio, but in Martinique there’s one big difference: length. Each year as revelers in other Carnival hot spots wind down with the close of Shrove Tuesday, the party in Martinique keeps going, reaching its climax on one of the most solemn days on the Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday. The fitting theme for Martinique’s “bonus” days of revelry – “Rejoice Today, Repent Tomorrow.”
“In Martinique, when we say ‘Don’t stop the Carnival,’ we mean it,” says Muriel Wiltord, director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA. “Martinique is more than 90% Christian, and the people truly appreciate the importance of the season. The bonus days are simply part of our unique heritage, handed down through the generations in the spirit of good fun to keep our party going just a petit bit longer than everyone else.”
The official dates of the 2011 Martinique Carnival are March 5-9, though the celebration actually begins many weeks prior with Carnival parties taking place across the island each weekend beginning in January.
Lundi Gras, or “Fat Monday” in Martinique brings “Mock Weddings,” burlesque parodies played out in the city streets with men dressed as pregnant brides or floozies, and women serving as reluctant bridegrooms. Ceremonies are held well into the night, culminating in elaborate masquerade balls where drag is the preferred costume de nuit.
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), “Red Devils Day,” is all about the kids, with glorious processions featuring hundreds of children dressed in brilliant red costumes, carrying homemade tridents and wearing fright masks made of animal skins and horns. Red cloth jumpsuits are adorned with hundreds of glittering mirrors and small bells that jingle as the kids dance all the way to sundown. The elders carry on the party from there until the wee hours.
Red Devil on fat Tuesday
As Carnival revelers in other parts of the world nurse hangovers with the arrival of Ash Wednesday, the party in Martinique kicks into high gear. The bonus “Day of the She-Devils” (La Fête des Diablesses) marks the climax of the celebration with more than 30,000 “mourners” gathering to mark the end of Carnival and the symbolic death of King Carnival, known as Vaval. The local media reports death notices in honor of Vaval, while festivities take place as his funeral pyre is built. Only two colors are worn – black and white. “She-Devils,” their faces smeared with pale ash or white flour, wear embroidered waist petticoats and blouses, a black skirt and headscarf made with a damask white table napkin. Mismatched black and white socks, shoes and gloves complete the traditional ensemble.
Drummers on the street
As dusk falls, Vaval’s funeral flames light up the sky. The party, an arousing explosion of pulsating rhythms, exotic dance, mirth and rum, peaks as Vaval is consigned to the fire. Only when the flames die down does a calm settle over the masses. With the burial of Vaval, the crowds chant, “Vaval, pa kité nou,” which translates to “Carnival, don’t leave us.”
Officially, Martinique’s Carnival ends at the close of Ash Wednesday. However, in the island’s inimitable celebratory spirit, Carnival is revived three weeks later with a second bonus day of revelry known as Mi-Carême, or mid-Lent. Vaval remains buried, but cities and towns across Martinique spring to life again with colorful costumes, rum and parades combining again to engender non-stop revelry amid a Carnival-like atmosphere – a mini-Mardi Gras in the land where the party never stops.
To help visitors and residents enjoy Martinique Carnival safely, the capital city of Fort-de-France is closed to vehicle traffic during the celebrations. Shuttle buses are provided from convenient locations in the surrounding suburbs.
Martinique Heritage Trail
Though the nationality is European and the official language is French, the deep roots of the Creole culture of Martinique come directly from Africa. Birthplace of the concept of Négritude created by the island’s beloved poet and elder statesman If you’re lucky enough to be in Martinique around Christmas, and fortunate enough to eat pwa d’angole, angola peas, this ritual meal will guarantee you even more luck for the upcoming year! And if that reminds you of the African American, and Southern U.S., tradition of eating black eye peas on New Years Eve for luck, you’re on the right track!
On Mardi-Gras, the day of the diables rouges, the red devils, Martinique’s Carnival lets you in on more of the island’s roots. Literary giant Aimé Césaire said, upon being surprised in southern Senegal to see red masks with horns and mirrors like those he knew from home, “Of the gods of Africa, our oppressors have made devils”.
These emblematic figures, whose horns symbolize strength and whose mirrors symbolize wisdom, represent the continuation of African masking traditions. But even if you miss these escapes from northern winters holidays, pa ni pwoblèm, no problem. Martinique’s heritage is alive and well in everyday life. Delighting in the local gastronomy is a tasty way to begin your discoveries.
Accras, the golden codfish fritters accompanying the Ti-punch, the rum aperitif that opens the way for these gastronomic delights, recall Martinique’s West African origins. Eaten everyplace from Chad in the center of the continent to Senegal on the Atlantic coast, accras kept their name and form but changed their contents when they crossed the ocean.
Whereas in Africa they’re black eye pea fritters, creative cooks in Martinique may make the spicy treat with whatever their imaginations dictate, from traditional codfish to conch or even carrots! If your college French fails you and you don’t understand what people are saying, it may be that they’re speaking Creole. Creole is one of the languages created in the Americas by Africans. Martinican’s code switch easily between the French of their schooling and the Creole that better expresses intimacy, humor, and often profound philosophy.
Martinique’s folktales also speak of their origins. Compè Lapin, cousin to Br’er Rabbit in the U.S.—who gave the world Bugs Bunny—comes from the stories of West Africa’s trickster hare known in Senegal as Leuk.
African technological expertise in ironworking and woodcarving, put to new uses in the Americas, is evident in Fort-de-France’ decorative forged iron balconies that recall those of New Orleans, and in intricately carved colonial furnitures found all over the island. These skills are also evident in the elegant bijoux creoles, Martinique’s elaborate 18 carats gold jewelry so reminiscent of the gold cultures of West Africa. “It is no use painting the foot of the tree white, the strength of the bark cries out from beneath” Aimé Césaire.
Laghia, Martinique’s martial art form, similar in gesture and rhythm to Brazil’s capoeira de angola, also hails from the African country that names the Brazilian style.
It should come as no surprise that Martinique’s music and dance, even those with European names like Biguine, Creole Waltz and Mazurka, continue to reveal their African roots. And the House of Bélé in St. Marie is an ideal venue for experiencing Martinique’s many drum beats and traditional dances.
If after becoming immersed in the island’s heritage you find it terribly hard to leave, and if upon arriving home you feel irresistibly compelled to return, there is no antidote, and only one treatment: You must return to experience more of Martinique Magnifique!
Dispersed to a thousand corners of the New World, across its islands and continents, we have followed parallel paths for too long. Time has passed, and inscribed our history into our souls. Or perhaps that should be “histories.” For our histories resemble each other, and so we resemble each other in our common memories.
We brought seeds to the New World, which we have planted, cultivated and harvested. We have recognized herbs, trees, flowers, and roots, as well as animals, which had been familiar to us in lands far away. We have patched up our wounds, mended our hearts, and faced the world with a thundering defiance. Here and there, north and south, in a thousand corners of the New World, we have survived.
Today we draw sustenance from our common heritage. You will rediscover that heritage in our landscapes, our towns, our monuments, our cuisine, our literature, our music, our dances, and in our expressions. in rediscovering us, you will rediscover yourselves. Martinique, a multi-faceted island, the “Flower of the Caribbean,” awaits you.
Madeleine de Grandmaison Vice President of the Regional Council
President of the Martinican Tourism Authority The Schoelcher Library
Rebecca Hartkopf Schloss. Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009. vi + 300 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4172-3.
Reviewed by Bernard Moitt (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Published on H-Caribbean (August, 2010)
Commissioned by Audra Abbe Diptee
The Meaning of Liberty in Martinique: The Final Days of Slavery
At the outset of Sweet Liberty: The Final Days of Slavery in Martinique Rebecca Schloss states definitively that her book, “ a history of Martinique from French reacquisition of the island in 1802 to the abolition of slavery in 1848, chronicles the complicated social relationships on the island during those years and argues the ways race, slavery, class, and gender intersected in Martinique shaped what it meant to be French in the early nineteenth century, not just in Martinique and the Caribbean but in continental France as well” (p. 3). This is an ambitious and wide sweep of major regions of the French Atlantic world, even if it does not include French West Africa, which would have been worthy of mention, if only peripherally. Nonetheless, Schloss sets herself a task that represents nothing short of a major undertaking because she sets out to examine social relations in a slave society without using race as a primary unit of analysis to chart change--a course of action usually associated with French scholars who seek to avoid confronting disturbing issues of race head-on, which, by all appearances, is not Schloss’s intention. What should not be lost sight of is that although slavery is the major element that underpins the work, race is but one factor in analyzing change. What the author shows is that whiteness was not tantamount to being French; every group in society (not just whites, however powerful they may have been), had a hand in carving and creating the end product--French. As she explains, “What it meant to be French between 1802 and 1848 resulted in part from the persistence of race-based slavery in places like Martinique and also the presence of Creoles as well as enslaved and free people of African descent in metropolitan France” (p. 4). In essence, Schloss contends that race was not static or necessarily a limiting factor in the period under study. During this period, individuals and groups were able to transcend racial boundaries, especially in the latter stages of slavery when racial markers waned and did not have the same significance as in earlier times. These changes did not come about overnight; they resulted from prolonged interactions, even clashes, between various ethno-cultural groups in the French Atlantic. Indeed, Schloss indicates that her book deals with how people in this region “defined, challenged, and policed the legal, social, political, and cultural meanings of labels like “Creole,” “French,” or “gens de couleur.” It was, she argues, the confrontations over the meaning of these labels, both in metropolitan France and the French Antillean colonies in particular, that resulted in shifting configurations of what it meant to “black, white or mixed-race, rich or poor, male or female, French or not” (p. 3). And Martinique--a French colony since 1635 which was subjugated to British occupation from 1809 to 1815, when the French regained hegemony, provided Schloss with “a good opportunity to examine the complex interplay between rhetoric and lived experience during the last fifty years of slavery in the French Empire” (p. 3).
Following a succinct introduction, the author begins with the early Napoleonic period going from 1802 to 1815--a means that enables her to present a view of Martinican society before British occupation. Here she highlights Martinique’s racially stratified and fluid population of about 110,000 people, the vast majority of them enslaved Africans, whom Schloss refers to as “enslaved workers.” The divisions among the island’s white population--composed mainly of French colonial administrators and locally-born whites or Creoles, many of them planters--and the interplay and tensions between the array of local and metropolitan whites ever mindful of the example set by the enslaved in Saint-Domingue who showed that slavery could successfully overthrown, were palpable. Add to this the fear of racial mixing both in France and the colonies where the presence of enslaved and free Africans of different hues was felt, and where laws and restrictions were enacted to combat this fear on both sides of the Atlantic, and the complexity of the social relations Schloss aims to illuminate is driven home. In 1802, for example, French authorities instituted a law that prohibited people of African descent, including the gens de couleur (free coloreds) from entering France, but Schloss shows that it was not effective. On a whole, Schloss is effective in presenting the social dynamics that governed Martinican society, but her concentration on white elites, mostly Creoles, here and throughout the book, is problematic in that change is viewed largely through the lens of a white slave-owning minority.
The power and influence that white elite Creoles wielded in Martinique during the period of British occupation--an era that has unfortunately been ignored by scholars--is amply and effectively demonstrated in Schloss’s book. Indeed, she shows how they used their status advantageously to buttress the occupiers who needed their support in governing the colony. Both groups had much to gain, for, in return, the British helped the elites to maintain what Schloss refers to as “the myth of appropriate white behavior Creoles had so carefully crafted” (p. 48). There are racial undertones that the author could have explored here because in a society of predominantly white slaveowners and black enslaved people “white behavior” could only have been constructed in racial terms. The emphasis Schloss puts on the struggle that white Creoles waged to maintain and defend “white dominance” and the established “racial hierarchy” in Martinique would appear to warrant such exploration. And one needs to question whether “racial supremacy” is not a more appropriate term than “racial dominance” for what Schloss describes. In any case, Schloss uses this section of the work to highlight the life and careers of rich white elites such as Pierre Dieudonne Dessalles, whose family plantation business in Martinique began in the mid-eighteenth century. Others, like Jean Baptiste Marie de Fonrose, who came to Martinique in 1801, became entangled in an 1811 plot hatched by enslaved and free mixed-race individuals aimed at setting fires and eliminating whites, starting in the town of Saint-Pierre. Interestingly, Fonrose was one of five Creoles allegedly involved in the plot. Bringing to light the lives of elite whites who had an impact on the colony in this manner, and slave plots that have received little attention by scholars, are among the gems that Schloss’s book offers. Likewise, illuminating the condition of the petits blancs (poor whites) for whom the British instituted charity bureaus in order to maintain social cohesion while offering concessions to the gens de couleur by way of civil rights, adds to the substance of the work.
In subsequent chapters, Schloss focuses on the reintegration of Martinique into the French Empire as the colony sought to regain stability, and the Creoles, their economic prowess; shifts in colonial policy and implementation of laws that had an impact on the social structure of society; the struggle for human rights and liberty by the gens de couleur and enslaved Africans; and the alliances and shifts in relations between racial groups in the last decades of slavery. Using the first decade of the Restoration (1815-31) and the July Monarchy (1830-48) as major chronological markers, Schloss amplifies the ways in which slavery, race, class, and gender intersected in Martinique, often in surprising and unexpected ways.
The cases she highlights in this regard constitute some of the most interesting parts of the book. The case of Tholosan, a free mixed-race Martinican who was deported from his homeland during the early years of the French Revolution of 1789, and his white wife, both of whom returned to the island in 1815 at a time when mixed-race people outnumbered whites, is an example. A staunch supporter of racial segregation, Governor Pierre-René -Marie Vaugiraud viewed the union as a degradation of a white woman, a danger to society and ‘“subversive to the colonial system’” (p. 73). “For Vaugiraud,” as Schloss concludes, “Tholosan’s wife fell well short of the model of white womanhood and her behavior threatened to banish her from the ranks of whites into that of the gens de couleur”--a demotion (p. 74).
Actual banishment of white women from the colonies for transgressions of elite norms of behavior (primarily interracial sex) occurred, as Schloss discovered through official court records which indicate that white women from the best families ‘“threw themselves entirely into the middle of the slave quarters and could only be made to leave by force’” (p. 102). Women were not the only transgressors, even thought they were dealt with more harshly than men. In April, 1828, the Tribunal of First Instance in the town of Fort-Royal sentenced the Creole male, Saint Maur Desfontaines, to lifelong deportation for abusing and threatening to kill his widowed mother--a plantation owner--because she refused to facilitate his interracial relationship with the mixed-race woman, Virginie.
Attempts to maintain el ite white norms and the prevailing racial hierarchy resulted in Creoles reigning in their own for other transgressions besides sexual contravention, while continuing their oppression of the enslaved. The court cases Schloss provides as proof are well chosen. In one such case, a white Martinican and his two sons appeared before the Fort Royal Tribunal accused of beating a white man with a whip--the most common instrument of discipline and torture used on blacks during slavery. Not surprisingly, the “tribunal’s Creole members sent a message about how whites should behave, banishing the oldest son, accused of the murder, for ten years and sentencing the youngest son and father each to three months in prison for their actions” (p. 117).
As in former times, the courts were more lenient with whites accused of abusing, even murdering blacks, which they did with impunity throughout slavery. In 1828 when Dame Dubuc de Rivery came before the Fort Royal Tribunal accused of excessively punishing several of her 150 slaves and contributing to the death of her enslaved male domestic, Rémy, she was found not guilty, despite strong evidence to the contrary. However, the court ordered that the enslaved people she owned be sold, imposed court fines on her, and banished her from both continental and colonial French territory for twenty years. Schloss does not give Dubuc de Rivery’s age, but if she were young enough, she could certainly return to the colonies to resume slave ownership, although in this case timing would not have been on her side. What needs to be investigated as well is the extent to which judgments were carried out, and this aspect of slave society in the French Antilles remains fertile ground for future research.
It goes without saying that enslaved people were not nearly as fortunate when accused of similar crimes, for when Théresine, an enslaved domestic of the Creole woman Dame St. Yves came before the Royal Court in 1828 accused of theft and premeditated murder of her owner, she was convicted on both counts and subjected to a gruesome punishment, all too familiar to the enslaved--“amputation of her right hand for the theft, and then strangulation and hanging for the murder of Dame St. Yves” (p. 118).
Throughout Sweet Liberty, Schloss provides evidence of resistance of gens de couleur and the enslaved against white oppression. In addition to the slave uprising of 1811 mentioned above, she cites cases of free gens de couleur who defied French authorities, engaged in armed resistance, fought for political rights, and challenged deportation imposed on them by Creoles, in some cases for assisting blacks. Also, the slave revolt of October,1822 in which enslaved blacks sought to massacre gens de couleur and whites on plantations in Saint-Pierre and surrounding regions, and the Grand Anse Affair in which significant numbers of gens de couleur and enslaved people staged an armed rebellion in Martinique, are used to illuminate the struggle for equality that free coloreds waged, and the battle in which enslaved people engaged “to mitigate the brutality of the plantation system,” according to Schloss (p. 153). However, details of the brutal murder of a white plantation manager, Lapeyronnie, by Lucien, an enslaved Martinican, in 1844 hint at the pent-up rage of African bondmen and -women, to which Schloss pays little attention.
In the last chapter of Sweet Liberty, which focuses on the end of slavery in the French Atlantic, Schloss shows how economic downturn in the colonial sugar economy, the enactment of antislavery legislation by French authorities, and antislavery forces in France finally brought down slavery, and with it, the Creoles, who nevertheless remained a force to be reckoned with. Much of the chapter centers on the planter Pierre Dessalles, whose journal reveals that he engaged in interracial sex and fathered at least one mixed-race son--Saturnin--whom he never acknowledged. Once at the pinnacle of Creoledom, Dessalles was reduced to virtual poverty, isolation, and despair as slavery ended.
Drawing upon an array of solid sources, many previously untapped, Schloss’s well-researched and clearly written book is a work of intellectual merit and an important contribution to the historiography of French Atlantic studies. Even so, the complicated relations revolving around slavery, race, class, and gender she set out to untangle remain complicated to the end. Indeed, what each group actually contributed to what it meant to be French could have been better articulated. Also, the power dynamics that governed these relationships throughout the period of study ought to have been explored. For a black person, enslaved or free, what did it mean to be French? Who determined what input they had in relations with others? How did they see themselves as racial beings? These are some of the questions that Schloss or others might one day address.