Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Bit Of History

Having heard so much from people about slavery and this and that and the other I thought it was about time I looked into the history of Guadeloupe myself. And as I have put all my books in shipping, what better time than to borrow a book on it? Our neighbour lent me "Une petite histoire de Guadeloupe" by Lucien René Abenon and it has been great reading.

I was regretting not having read it earlier in the year but then I decided it was all the more interesting now that I am familiar with the names and places in it. The French are very much into naming their streets and schools etc after particular people and here is no different, so I have been coming across all sorts of folk and saying ah, that's who he was!

Some interesting details from it....

It's amazing how present the English are throughout Guadeloupean history, constantly invading and often victoriously taking over the island, only to swap it back for somewhere else. As the author notes, it says something about the importance of Martinique and Guadeloupe for their prosperous sugar based economy that they were swapped at one point for the mighty Canada!

The English were actually responsible for building Pointe a Pitre (which made me chuckle as my English friend was very scathing of the town at Easter!). It has been rebuilt several times though following earthquakes and hurricanes.

La Place de la Victoire was originally la Place Sartine, but renamed after successfully opposing the attacking English ships. Hmm, I think I prefer the original name....

The folk who made up the island is also interesting in itself. There were actually Protestants among the first colonialists, escaping from anti-protestant sentiment in France. There were some Dutch and even an Irish family, Birmingham, after whom I presume the area near us was named.

After the colonialists came the slaves, but also whites known as engagés who were required to work pretty much as slaves for three years to gain their freedom. Many didn't make it as it was so hard and the climate so different, and the practice died out. After slavery was abolished, in order to find workers for the cane fields, they initially brought Africans called congos over but this was banned as being too similar to slavery. Next came Chinese people who didn't fit in at all so finally they opted for Indians in the 1860s who had a terrible time, being treated not that differently from the way the slaves had been previously.

Slavery was initially abolished in the 1789-1784 Revolution period. The English invaded but were then thrown out by one Victor Hugues and his men who then shot hundreds of colonialists for colluding with the English. The others ran away, mostly to Martinique. He then lost sight of his revolutionary ways and got the slaves back to work before Napoleon properly reinstated slavery. This was the period when one Louis Delgres was holding up the fort we went to in Basse-Terre with his supporters and standing against a return to slavery. When finally they were cornered into the mountains, many of them jumped off together to show their preference for death rather than returning to slavery.

The English abolished slavery in the West Indies in 1833 which put some pressure on the French islands, who meted out heavy punishments on anyone trying to escape the island in a bid for freedom. The abolishment finally went through in 1848 with the Second Republic. Can you imagine the logistics of 87,000 finally being freed and then soon after receiving the right to vote?

I am up to the 1900s and about to find out if Papy's claims that there were U-boats around the island during the war really are true!


APE said...

Just a little note to our friend J from Ilford;l like Pointe a Pitre, i find it charming, not so my friend J from Ilford who thinks it's dreadful and lacking in charm, the truth of the mattr is that it was originally built by Englishmen, although successive natural catastrophes have considerably altered the face of that great town!

the dúnadan said...

THese history posts are very good. On U Boats, I watched a programme the other day which described how they sunk several American ships off the east coast of America and penetrated as far as the bit of sea to the left of Florida, the name of which I can't remember. So in theory anyway, I don't see why they couldn't have got to Gaudalupe!