Martinique: An island of two faces

My negritude is not a rock, its deafness hurled against the clamor of the day,
My negritude is not a film of dead water on the dead eye of the earth,
It plunges into the red flesh of the earth,
It plunges into the burning flesh of the sky,
It pierces the opaque prostration by its upright patience
– Aime Cesaire

I have read many articles and literary works on Martinique and its history through the visionary framework from the likes of Patrick Chamoiseau, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, and Joseph Zobel. Coming to this island which is so rich and deeply connected in history, I have been challenged to connect the idealism of Negritude and Caribbean identity of Martinicans with the reality of Martinique through the lens of an outsider looking in. I have been able to enjoy this island and experience in part some of the history and culture for a couple of days and there has already been so much to discuss. The discourse that I have gone in deep length with my Lehigh peers and Martinicans range from political stability, economic sustainability, and cultural identity. What I think stands out to me the most is the central theme to the island, is the balance of the Caribbean identity and French identity the island holds. Unlike most islands in this region, being in Martinique is as French as being in Paris. If Frenchmen don’t want to work on a Sunday in Metropolitan France, then Martinicans are sure not to work either. “Cela est France!” (This is France!)

Living in a local household and being hosted by a very friendly host mother helps to make the dynamic of being here more personal. The intimacy of sharing thoughts and learning from a local’s perspective of their province’s progress speaks more volumes than any book. So far, my most favorite moments of this trip are the little things. Having a home cooked meal by someone who now plays the artificial role of “mother”; or walking to school and observe others commute to work or attend classes.

Cape Coast Castle, Ghana (above) Cap 110 Memorial, Martinique (below)

Cape Coast Castle, Ghana (above)
Cap 110 Memorial, Martinique (below)

I found the trip to Sainte-Anne to be a wonderful small get away from the metropolis of Fort-de-France. Along the way there, visiting the Cap 110 Slave Memorial just outside the small shore town of Anse Cafard was one of the most emotional highs I have felt in awhile. From an Africana Studies undergraduate, connecting the results of the slave trade from Africa to the Americas speaks volumes. I have walked the slave castle of Cape Coast; I have been in the dark cells; I have walked through the door of no return and feeling the loss of life and belonging. Then coming to this memorial to see the end of that irrevocable trip,  to see the gloomy faces of my ancestral brothers who died in vain creates an indescribable feeling. Learning that the French National government only recently acknowledged its inhumane participation in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (over 600 years), fuels my curiosity to find answers why there is this such excessively deep connection between Martinique and Metropolitan France.

I am slowly building an appreciation for the local culture here. In the same breath, I feel as though I am more invested in learning about the variables that affect finding resolutions to local issues. Meeting with a museum tour guide at the Martinique Regional Museum of History and getting her views of the development of the island as a free land, turned to a colony, territory, and then department and region of France. Hearing the personal opinion of an independentalist gave me a grasp that no French possession was deaf to the cries of reform of their francophone peers in other parts of the world. Haitian war for independence, Sekou Toure and Guinea, and the Algerian Civil War after WWII all set themselves as precedent for other nations that black people are competent to govern themselves and are entitled to their sovereignty.

Lastly, the Creole dance workshop I participated in gave me two instances of thought: the evolution of the African culture that I learned family exposure and academic study was so carefully preserved through deliberate oral transmission down generations despite various variables (e.g. the slave trade). The other instance is how integral the presence of the dance is ingrained in Martinican culture and how it is a symbol of the mesh of different sources that create their society. This small island is very unique in its circumstance of identity which contributes to the volume of perspectives of which one can attempt to begin to understand its history.

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