Guadeloupe is a five-island archipelago located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, off the northwestern coast of South America (in the Leeward Islands, in the Lesser Antilles. The has two principal islands of Grande-Terre on the east and Basse-Terre on the west. The other smaller islands of Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes located about 250 km to the northwest make up Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe's total area covers 1,780 square kilometres.

 The Island has over 75% of its  population of 403,977 (as of Jan. 2012) being people of African descent, including those of mixed African and European ancestry. The African slaves after arriving in Guadeloupe staged  the slave rebellion of Trois Rivières in 1793 which saw many white settlers killed (see Laurent Dubois` "A Colony of Citizens: Revolution & Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804.) In the slave rebellion of 1802, Solitude a famous Mende born woman from Sierra Leone was the heroine who fought heroically to defend her people on the Island even when men were running. A monument has been erected in commemoration of the great warfare exploits of this women in Guadeloupe.

The island was called "Karukera" (The island of beautiful waters) by the Arawak people who settled on there in 300 AD/CE. Christopher Columbus named the island Santa María de Guadalupe in 1493 after the Virgin Mary, venerated in the Spanish town of Guadalupe, in Extremadura.
As an overseas department (département d'outre mer or DOM) of France the population enjoys full French citizenship. Guadeloupe is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; hence, as for all Eurozone countries, its currency is the euro. Its official language is French, although many of its inhabitants also speak Antillean Creole (Créole Guadeloupéen). The territory is administered by a popularly elected general council and regional council. An appointed prefect represents the French government. The islands are also represented by four deputies and two senators in the French Parliament.

Apart from predominant African people in Guadeloupe, the Island also has a significant community of East Indian descent (9%, CIA 2006). These are the descendants of indentured labourers brought to Guadeloupe in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in 1848. There is a small minority of Europeans, primarily of French origin.

There are also estimated to be approximately 45,000 illegal immigrants from Haiti, Dominica and St Lucia who are popularly believed to work for wages much lower than the French minimum.
Guadeloupe mainly produces sugar, bananas, and rum. About 60 per cent of the annual external trade is with France, which also provides over 80 per cent of its tourists and large annual subsidies.

Located as the southernmost of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean Sea, Guadeloupe comprises two main islands: Basse-Terre Island and Grande-Terre (separated from Basse-Terre by a narrow sea channel called Salt River). The adjacent French islands of La Désirade, Les Saintes, and Marie-Galante are under jurisdiction of Guadeloupe.

Western Basse-Terre has a rough volcanic relief while eastern Grande-Terre features rolling hills and flat plains. La Grande Soufrière is the highest mountain peak in the Lesser Antilles - 1467 m.
Further to the north, Saint-Barthélemy and the northern French part of Saint Martin were previously under the jurisdiction of Guadeloupe but on 7 December 2003, both of these areas voted to become an overseas territorial collectivity, a decision which took effect on 22 February 2007

The island of Guadeloupe was first inhabited by indigenous Taino (Arawaks) and Kalinago (Carib) groups who called it ‘Karukera' or the ‘Island of Beautiful Waters'. It was renamed ‘Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura' by Christopher Columbus who landed there on 14 November 1493. After more than a century of indigenous resistance, French colonists were finally able to establish settlements in 1635 which led to the gradual disappearance of the indigenous population.
Guadeloupe was annexed by France in 1674, under control from Martinique. For several centuries afterwards shiploads of Africans were regularly brought in to provide forced labour on the sugar plantations and the territory prospered.

Over the next century, the profitable island was seized several times by the British, who finally captured it in 1759. Britain retained control until it again passed to France in the 1763 Treaty of Paris, under which France agreed to abandon all claims of territory in Canada in return for British recognition of French control of Guadeloupe. During the turmoil of the French Revolution in 1794 Africans in Guadeloupe rebelled against slavery and French plantation owners and succeeded in becoming French citizens.
what poise! the fine print on postcard says "Guadeloupe"
Hairdresser, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe by The Caribbean Photo Archive

This prompted Napoleon to send an occupation force in 1802 to end the uprising and re-institute slavery. 10,000 Guadeloupeans were killed and slavery was not finally abolished on the island until 1848.

In order to fill the labour gap resulting from emancipation, French plantation owners turned to indentured or contract emigrant labourers from India.

The first indentured Indian workers arrived in 1854 and continued coming until 1889. This transplantation brought 42,326 migrants, more than half of whom perished under the prevailing labour conditions however 9,460 managed to return to India.

Those who stayed continued to be tied to the plantation system and agricultural labour well into the 20th century until increasing access to education provided new opportunities.

Guadeloupe became an overseas department of France in 1946. A movement for independence emerged in the 1980s but following a series of bombings in 1984, French authorities outlawed the Caribbean Revolutionary Alliance, the militant organization that was pushing for autonomy.

Acquainting yourself with the basics of Guadeloupe’s history, deeply linked with the history of the whole of the region, is essential if you wish to understand the cultural context of the area you are bound to. “Yesterday was yesterday, today is today”, said a certain politician from the Middle East. This, however, is not relevant to regions such as Guadeloupe, where a sound knowledge of the past gives a helping hand in understanding present day traditions. Contrarily to continental America, the Caribbean islands accommodate a great majority of “renewed” populations, and the arrival of Christopher Columbus was in a way really the beginning of history in these areas. Caribbean society known to us today is extremely young, dating from the end of the 19th, and in certain cases even the beginning of the 20th century, as the beginnings of modern society must be put around fifty years after the abolishment of slavery.

Life of the West Indies
The remnants of the islands’ troubled history and memories of slavery days were not enough to wipe the smile off the inhabitant’s faces. Contradictions and misunderstandings are to watch out for, though, and a decent behaviour is the key to being well accepted and welcomed as a tourist. Guadeloupe possesses every ingredient necessary for a permanent night out – colours, heat and music will warm your soul and fill your holidays with celebration. Take special care to calculate your budget, though, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises: be aware that certain products and services can be 40% more expensive in the West Indies than on the mainland.
Life in the Antilles is unimaginable without music, its joyful rhythms fill the streets, busses and sports grounds at any time of day or night. Ragga and zouk are bound to have you swinging in no time: relax and move your feet to these rhythms that express Antillean soul, sentiments, caprice, tenderness and grace. Locals convey their vitality in these rough yet harmonious movements, and you are sure to feel compelled to try your own body in this fury of self-expression.

The carnival period is busy with activity, firecrackers boom, pink confetti cover the streets like orchid petals and the towns bustle with five days of incessant dancing. This bodily liberty is a source of self-expansion for locals, but can be rather frustrating for those who plan to assist in this joyful scene without actually participating.
Ti-punch is also part of the pleasant rites of Antillean life, usually served in a glass bearing the stamp of the great rum distilleries named after century-old Creole families. And though ti-punch recipes vary from one island to another, glasses are filled and re-filled at the same incredible speed wherever you may venture.

Guadeloupe has not yet unveiled all its charms. Chuchotis, madras, rum, rhythms, the West Indies are to be heard, sung and experienced, and not simply visited in order to acquire the obligatory suntan. Leave off relaxation, wander off the beaten track and stop to have a drink and converse with villagers in their picturesque habitations, bound to give you a warm welcome. If you are lost, you are sure to come across someone who will greet you with a smile and direct you on your way. You will also meet joyfully playing children and cows swaying languidly, occasionally glancing at the passing cars and trucks. The memory of these faces will haunt you all your life, adding to the mystery and charm of your vacation on the Antilles. You are bound to appreciate those memorable moments of solitude while gazing into infinity between sun and sea, into the depths of the multicoloured ocean. These islands are a perfect location for wandering around in enchantment, marvelling at the rare and majestic trees that make up these unique forest landscapes that will delight any solitary dreamer. Sentimental types will find themselves in perpetual time travel, lost between past and present, in this permanent undertow of the Antilles’ true rhythm. As a matter of fact, whatever we do here is a joy in itself: the pleasures of idleness, tenacity, meeting, music, of conversing, jumping, tasting, breathing, touching, uniting or separating, the pleasures of living free. Life swings with the rhythms of yesterday, habits are deeply rooted and continentals must be prepared to observe local customs, which is just as natural as it should be when away from home. Guadeloupe is like Social Security: if anybody attempts to clean things up and start controlling or improving the service, he will automatically find himself in the greatest confrontation with the island’s identity. Traditional ways are not to be altered, whether they are good or bad, and those who undertake such ideals soon find themselves in the state of utmost unpopularity. Mentality on this point is similar to those Corsican stories when continentals sent by the Republic were courteously asked not to stay. Whatever the case, we love these islands, and things do evolve at their own rhythm… fortunately!

Culture and way of life : Discover Culture and way of life : Discover Culture and way of life : Discover

Antillean women are sometimes taken for being haughty and aggressive, but in reality are rather original and friendly and all you need is an open mind to be able to get on well with them. They dress in innovative ways, adding their own personal touch to their clothes however classic, which gives them an air of elegance and style.

Though their manners may bear the influence of the island’s tumultuous past, today’s girls and women are of an optimistic mentality, ambitiously striving to achieve a better future. Certain Antillean women have managed to break free from prejudice and machist tradition and have gained considerable recognition for their talent. Some names to remember are: Maryse Condé, Marie-José Alie, Tania Saint-Val, Jocelyne Béroard, Mounia, Simone Schwartz-Bart.

Men in the West Indies go to extremes when it comes to pleasing women, just as their counterparts would on any latitude line. Though younger men may be slightly on the insistent side, they are more relaxed and considerate later on with age, especially after marriage… which does not make them less obliging and helpful. Ladies will definitely not remain with a flat tyre for more than a couple of minutes, which is a behaviour you will definitely savour when arriving from the mainland. Remember, with a bit of humour, everything works out just fine.

Relationships between Metropolitans and Antilleans are not really of a conflicting nature, but are more characteristic for being tolerant than actually affectionate. In “mixed” areas, Antilleans stick together and Metros also form their own colonies, they hardly ever interfere or dialogue with each other. Antilleans do not trust Metros, sometimes even to the extent of despising them, as they are considered invaders on the island. Bekes, the legitimate descendants of colonists are regarded in a similar manner, though interestingly enough tend to be more accepted by Antilleans, even though their ways may be more hostile than those of the Metropolitan population. Metros often find themselves behind a wall when trying to establish a dialogue with locals, which is also the case for the tourists, as they are considered closer to Metropolitans than to Antilleans. Relations are thus usually limited to what is professional and economic, which is a pity, but unfortunately, history can not be re-written.

“In Antillean families, there is one child for each love story”. As a result of divers influence and beliefs, Guadeloupean women often live surrounded by their children of different parentage, each of whom are acknowledged by their own fathers. This is by no means unusual on this island, and it works both ways, it is thus typical to be a father of several children of differing mothers. Families are organised around the knowledge of these facts with mutual respect and very little conflict. As the island is greatly religious, contraception and abortion are not in the mentality of its population, and families grow as life takes its roads. Locals who introduce you to their siblings will no doubt acquaint you with further information about whether or not they come from the same father and mother.

Guadelopean architecture bears the mark of various influences and is deeply rooted in history and society. The beautiful mansions of the colonial period are well maintained and often serve as museums. As a matter of fact the builders of these enormous houses were the very first to use more robust materials for construction than the wooden planks employed by local marine carpenters who had ruled the architectural style of the island for generations.
The traditional house is of square shape, around 5 to 6 m long on each side (or 3 for the smaller ones), and is fitted with several doors shaded by wooden shutters. Its roof is generally made of corrugated iron, slightly tilted to ensure the proper evacuation of water during great downpours. The house is inhabited by its owner, who is often a tenant on the land surrounding his habitation. The majority of these Creole houses are built on a very simple and typical model, sometimes similar to the architecture of working class areas. It is thus interesting to observe the mix in style between these houses and those of the richer population, who often juxtapose traditional and colourful Creole architecture with contemporary trends. Reminders of other eras also stand their ground at certain places, beautiful residences of planters and forts which once protected the English, Dutch or Spanish colonies can be observed at various locations. Don’t miss Fort Delgres in the bay of Basse-Terre, Fort de l’Olive in the territory of Vieux-Bourg, Fort Union, Fort Fleur d’Epee in Ponte-a-Pitre, most of which have been converted to museums. The modern and functional hotels of the coast are usually not an interesting sight to see, and their industrial style is miles away from the beauty of their surroundings.

Fruit and vegetables
Guadeloupe hosts an extraordinary variety of fruit and vegetables, otherwise available only in exotic supermarkets.

In addition to pineapple and bananas (bearing evocative names such as “get dressed young man” , “gimme more” or “God save me some”), lime (basic ingredient of the island’s compulsory punch), passion fruit or maracuja (delicious in sorbets) and guavas and mangoes fill West Indian fruit stalls. Coconuts are also a must, just as typical local vegetables like maniocs, cristophines (a type of local turnip) or sweet potatoes.

This spiky crustacean with its long antennae is the king of Guadeloupe, even though if it were up to him, he would probable trade this title with anyone willing to take it…The crayfish is the bait the tourist is sure to get hooked on due to its quality and more than reasonable price - compared to Metropolitan wallets that is. Breeders compete in offering exceptional quality, and consequently the crayfish is on every menu, served with sauces of various taste and colour. Not so long ago, however, this charming reddish animal was considered “poor man’s bread”, and was eaten by fishermen only when fish were scarce and hard to find! It came to be considered the pearl of West Indian cuisine as its popularity grew to a craze in Metropolitan France. Local restaurants today offer incredible promotions on whole crayfish, and the offers sometimes even reach “all you can eat” levels. Not to miss!

Local specialties
Accra : cod fritters with shrimps.
Bélélé : tripes garnished with bread balls (Specialty of Marie-Galante.
Blaff : fish or seafood boiled in a spicy broth.
Boudin : black or white pudding, often extremely well-prepared, even in more modest establishments. In certain restaurants, this specialty is prepared of “lambi” a special type of sea snail, quite rare and delicious.
Calalou : green soup made from prawns and herbs, vegetables with crab or pork.
Chélou : dish prepared of beef variety meet, mutton and rice.
Chiquetaille de morue : shredded and grilled cod, served with vinaigrette sauce.
Christophine : vegetables served in salad or au gratin.
Colombos : dish prepared from all kinds of meat, though most typically lamb, chicken or goat.
Dombré : a Guadeloupe specialty. Flour balls cooked with dry vegetables.
Féroce : a mixture of avocado, cod, manioc flour and peppers.
Macadam : a Martinique specialty: a cod broth mixed with cooked rice.
Matoutou : crab fricassee.
Pâté en pot : thick soup of mutton variety and vegetables.
Poulet boucané : smoked chicken prepared on a closed barbecue equipped with a chimney. The meat is placed on the top of the device, and is cooked slowly in smoke.
Souskai : marinade of salt, garlic and lime.
Ti-nain morue : a typical Creole dish of dry cod and banana, a breakfast specialty for certain locals. It’s extremely invigorating, and will definitely fill you with energy for the day.
Touffé : braised meat.

Antilleans are exceptional dancers, displaying a certain “gene” that Metros will confirm not to be in possession of. The mysterious energy of the ever-present music pumps through their veins and gives way to a great variety of rhythms: bel-air, biguine, calenda, mazurka, waltz…and of course zouk and colle-serre. As anybody living on the island will tell you, there is no occasion that is not a party occasion in the West Indies. And let’s face it: it is by far easier for ladies to experience the “secret” of Antillean rhythms than it is for men… sirs, take a deep breath and let your ladies go.

Death and its surrounding myths are of considerable importance, given the quantity of religious traditions and beliefs. The cult of death is way more emphasised here than on the mainland, you will even come across shops selling specialised mourning outfits and equipment.

Feasts and celebrations
Antilleans delve in any form of social life. The institution of the family is the basis of West Indian society and celebrations are a great occasion for animated reunions. Christmas and the New Year are characterised by enormous meals spent in the company of family and friends, where dishes are usually based on pork. The rest of the year hosts a significant number of improvised celebrations and cultural events, which are sure to delight tourists just as they are a source of energy for locals. Don’t resist and participate in these vibrant parties under the tropical sun.

The carnival
By all means the greatest event of the year, it begins on the Sunday after Epiphany and terminates on Ash Wednesday. Days and nights are filled with frenzy and joy, and colourful costumes of romantic or modern, sexy or naïve style fill the specialised stores. The soaring imagination of the participants is displayed by these glistening disguises and atmosphere is simply everywhere. The carnival is the time of year when we shed all frustration, and forget even whether we are Black or White, Beke or mulatto. Hiding behind our masks we can take it easy and enjoy being together with everyone without actually getting more deeply involved with them. The Carnival King is called Vaval, a manifestation of evil, who is to be burned at the end of the celebration.

All Saints and the culture of death
Cemeteries and tombs are revived and cleaned to a shine one week before All Saints, only to be covered with the greatest number of candles imaginable of the eve of the celebration. Locals feast with their ancestors, bring them food and rum, to be consumed on spot. The beautiful and haunting sight of a million candles naturally attracts tourists and their cameras, though it is polite to ask permission before taking pictures, and flashes are not recommended. Death is celebrated with the help of professional storytellers, connoisseurs of ancient tales and traditions, exorcists of pagan and Christian duality. The deceased and his family and neighbours reside inside the house, and friends gather outside to accompany his soul to eternal peace. The storyteller recites fables and tales of rabbits, cattle, pigs and elephants, and the “gro ka” (or gwo ka) sings ancient songs and beats on his tambour. Life is retold in the form of a joyful tale, excessive gests and interminable laughter.

Touch of the French Caribbean Culture

Speaking about gwo ka is speaking about the soul of Guadeloupe, its personality, its originality. It is both a musical expression, which was born in the suffering of slavery, which was prohibited, repressed, “marooned”, but which also resisted to accompany its people in its destiny, like its language, creole. Gwo ka is also a “reason of being, walking, talking, dancing” and also convey a sense of spirituality.

Gwoka is a music born in Guadeloupe during the dark period of slavery. Created from African rythem, it has geniously developed seven fondamental rythms.
- Toumblak
- Graj
- Mendé
- Woulé
- Granjanbèl or Pajambèl
- Kaladja
- Léwòz


The instruments

Gwo ka is played ideally with at least 3 “Ka”: 2 “boula” and 1 “makè” both having more or less the same size. A “Ka” can be described as being made of:
- 1 baril called “bouko” in créole language
- 1 goat skin (po a kabrit) male for the “boula” et female for the “makè”.
- 2 “sèk” to maintain the ropes
- 2 “klé” to squeeze all
- the rope called zoban.

The calabash, called “chacha”(emptied, dried then filled with grains) often accompany the “Ka”, more than the “tibwa”.

Rythms and dances of gwoka

Gwoka takes its origin essentially from African dances (Congo dance, snake dance) and evolved giving predominance to soloist or couple dances, as was the “Kalenda”.

Gwoka is the union of music dance and spirit, a trilogy of sounds: two low-pitch and one high-pitch:
- The two boula as the base of the seven musical environment of gwoka
- The “Makè”, unique is placed at the centre to follow, feel, discuss, whisper and mark any of the dancer’s gesture, matching the rhythm and energy of the dancers, becoming their shadow, and establishing a real dialogue between the sound and the gestures.


The rhythms of Gwoka were further elaborated over the years. It is made of 7 basic rhythms, which correspond to 7 ways of singing and dancing, such as:
- The Tumblak: (most famous), which is the dance of love, fertility and joy, and suggestive postures. It become “Tumblak chiré” when the rhythm is accelerated.
- The Graj: dance initially associated to work, evoking the different phases of the making of the manioc flour. It is similar to the Tumblack, but slower and more accentuated. It is used by woman dancers as a seductive dance. Unlike the Tumblack, the “repriz” is marked three times.
- The Mendé: this is the rhythm and dance associated to the carnival. It symbolize the collective evasion, incite to the walking pace of demonstration/defile.

- The Woulé: the only rhythm on 3 times. It is a kind of airy valse, also called “balloon” (Balon), and was in the past danced with a foulard. This is also associated to work.
- The “Granjanbel” or “Padjanbel: originally associated to the work in the plantation, it has become the dance for the warriors.
- The Kaladja: Slow rhythm; express pain, reflection, sorrow. It can also been danced as a “couple dance”.
- The Léwòz: the more complex and difficult rhythm to play. It is a dance for incantation, and originated the rebellion in of the XVIIIth century. There are two type of Léwoz, one of them is the “Léwòz indestwas”. .

Generally, in gwoka you could find two types of dance: dance for entertainment such as (such as Tumblak, Tumblak chiré, Léwoz, Mendé, Woulé, Granjanble, Kaladja) martial dances (Mayolé, Sové-vayan, Chatoux, Koévalin, Bènaden). Each is accompanied by gwoka ensemble and call-and-response singing.

There are other rythms in gwoka than the traditional seven basic and martial ones. They include: Sobo, the 6/8, the Takout, the Grap a Konngo, and the “Command” Lewoz (Léwòz au commandement ) where a leader would command the dancers as done for the quadrille.

The rhythm Léwòz should not be confused with the Swaré- Léwòz, where people join in a space (generally a circle) of expression mixing fascination, improvisation. The Swaré- Léwòz is formed of:
- a vocal space dedicated to the choral (chantè and repondè), story tellers,
- a space dedicated to the sound with the musicians called tambouyè
- a space for the body, for the dancer (dansè)
- a space defining the relationship and energy
- a convivial space where spicy meals, rum give you the strength to pursue the party (la ronde) until the sunrise.

Furthermore, gwoka is also embedded in funeral wakes with two contrasting traditions. Outside the house, men perform bouladjèl (mouth drum), a call-and-response, competitive percussive vocalization. Song leaders shift frequently as singers challenge one another. Inside, women sing kantikamò (French cantiques à la mort), also in call-and-response form. The men arrive on their own and support the mourners; the women are invited, and their songs dedicated to the dead and the spiritual world.


She was about eight years old when her mother faded out of her life forever. We know very little about the years that passed before this orphan would defiantly call herself: Solitude. . . .

                                          Solitude, the Guadeloupean heroine

November 20, 1802: Basse-Terre, capital of Guadeloupe, French West Indies. The island had just suffered one of the most formidable black uprisings the New World had ever known. A few months earlier, three hundred rebels led by the Mulatto Louis Delgres, leader of the Armies of the Republic, had blown themselves up in small mountain fortress, thus ending the slave rebellion of Guadeloupe. Many women and children stood with them in that final sacrifice. They had stayed true to their slogan: “Freedom or death.”
Most of them were torn apart by the blast. The others died strung up on Constantin Hill, in the heights of Basse-Terre, and their bodies exposed to wind and rain “for all eternity,” in accordance with the ill justice dealt at the time.
But one of the greatest heroines of the revolution was temporarily pardoned. Given that the child in her womb was the property of her slave owner, her execution was rescheduled to the day after the birth.
She gave birth on November 28, 1802, and on the morning of the following day, the doors of the jail opened on an old woman no one recognized, not even those who had known her a few months earlier in the glory of her youth. Her skin furrowed to the bone, her hair whitened and shining in the sun, she stepped forward peacefully between two rows of spectators, while maternity’s milk slowly stained her night shirt: yet she was only thirty years old.
It seems that she was the fruit of a forced union that took place on a slave ship, between a French sailor and African woman being taken to the Americas. This forced conception, brief and violent, on some ship rolling in the middle of the ocean, is in many ways a perfect picture of the fate of Solitude, the mulatto girl.
No one knew when the strange name came to be hers, when it settled on her face like an emblematic mask. No slave sale certificate made note of it. It only appeared toward the very end, upon the writ condeming her to death.
She was about eight years old when her mother faded out of her life forever. We know very little about the years that passed before this orphan would defiantly call herself: Solitude. . . .
Under slavery, the mixing of the races often produced human beings of “imprecise” ancestry, beings torn between Africa and Europe and finding no succor on this earth. Very often, those of mixed race came to choose the side of the masters because the latter offered a few breadcrumbs and some dignity. Often, pulled apart by difficult options, they allied themselves with madness and death. But some, more numerous than is often mentioned, returned to the black part of their being, and advanced to the first ranks in the struggle for freedom. Such was the case in Guadeloupe. Such was the case among the main actors of the 1802 tragedy, which included such mulattoes as Delgres, Ignace, Massoteau; and such was the case for Solitude.
According to an old Brazilian proverb, the mulatto hangs the portrait of his father in the living room and that of his black mother in the kitchen.
Much is left to the imagination as to what led this child of rape, this “little yellow girl,” as mixed children used to be called, to take the side of her old African mother.
The Maroons’ settlement at La Goyave was made up exclusively of Bossales, who were also called saltwater blacks. They had come directly from Africa, unlike the island-born sweet water blacks. Solitude lived a few radiant months there. Her body, marked by long years of hardship, came back to life. She shivered in the wind to the African chants of her companions. She pierced the sun, they say, with the grace of a cane arrow. Then, on February 3, 1798, the troops of General Desfourneaux captured the La Goyave settlement and exterminated its leaders. The young woman became the leader of the survivors, taking her first steps into legend. Her small band made a noise over all of Guadeloupe. So she wandered, hunted by French troops and black militias, until Consul Napolean Bonaparte came to power. Napolean had his mind set on officially re-establishing slavery. A large fleet dropped anchor on May 5, 1802, in the waters off of Pointe-a-Pitre, in order to enforce that decree.
In 1793, a slave rebellion started, which made the upper classes turn to the British and ask them to occupy the island. In an effort to take advantage of the chaos ensuing from the French Revolution, Britain attempted to seize Guadeloupe in 1794 and held it from April 21 to June 2. The French retook the island under the command of Victor Hugues, who succeeded in freeing the slaves. They revolted and turned on the slave-owners who controlled the sugar plantations, but when American interests were threatened, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a force to suppress the rebels and reinstitute slavery. On May 20, 1802, slavery and the slave trade were reimposed there.

Almost all at once, black Guadeloupe was on fire. Solitude was at that point expecting the child of a Congo, an African who did not know two words of Creole but who brought her all the tenderness of the world. The joy from her belly reached her eyes and gave her the soft skin of a pretty filly dancing in the sun. At the sounds of the cannons, however, she pushed herself and her belly into the heart of the battles at Dole, Trou-aux-chiens, Fond-Bananier, and Capesterre. From victory to victory, and then from setback to setback, she pushed herself and her womb all the way up into the mountains before the final defeat. It is on that mountain, on the terrace of the Danglemont Plantation, that the Commandant Delgres decided that he and the last of the insurgents would blow themselves up by lighting a barrel of gunpowder with his pipe as the French troops charged in. The group of revolutionary soldiers killed themselves on the slopes of the Matouba volcano when it became obvious that the invading troops would take control of the island. The occupation force killed approximately 10,000 Guadeloupeans in the process of re-taking the island from the rebels.
Among the entangled bodies, Solitude, the Mulatresse, was picked up and carried to the Basse-Terre prison, which she left, with a halo of white hair, on November 29, 1802, after giving birth. Solitude was hanged by her enslavers, who would not murder her until she after she was delivered of a little child destined to be slave material for another slave master.
After her death, a shroud of silence fell over the fate of Solitude. Up until the 1960s, no street, no alley in Guadeloupe had yet been named for her. Her name had not even been given to any ship, as had her companion, Commander Delgres; this ship now comes and goes twice a week between Pointe-a-Pitre and the island of Saint-Barthelemy, ferrying cattle.
Today, the souls of these other heroes may be at rest. Their names are on the lips of everyone and their stories are known by small children. Ignace, Massoteau, and Delgres have attained eternal life as the stuff of folklore.
Guadeloupean girl

As for Solitude, not only does her name now grace squares and avenues in Guadeloupe but she has also become a poem, a song, a library, and a museum room. She has even transformed herself into a very beautiful tune, played on country drums straight from Africa, whose sound she heard when she was still alive, when her companions, the maroons of La Goyave, played. . . .
General Dessalines honored the black heroes of Guadeloupe with the following lines from a letter he wrote. These lines testify to the solidarity and interaction between the revolutions in Haiti and Guadeloupe, a fact documented by Henri Bangou in his Histoire de la Guadeloupe:
Guadeloupean rasta man playing drum

“Wrecked and devastated Guadeloupe; its ruins are still smokng with the blood of children, women, and old men, felled by the sword; Pelage himself a victim of their tricks, after having cowardly betrayed his country and his brothers, the brave, immortal Delgresse was spirited away into the air along with the debris of his fort rather than accept the chains. Magnanimous warrior, your noble death, far from astonishing our courage, will merely tease the thirst in us to avenge or follow you.”
Slave uprisings occurred throughout the islands, though many would-be revolt leaders were caught before rebellions could begin. The dates below list some of the larger rebellions that were staged from 1735 to 1835. But on islands that had held slaves since the earliest days of colonization, such as Barbados, a majority of slave revolts usually occurred before these dates.

Full Historiography of  Guadeloupe
1635 : After successful settlement on the island of St Christophe (St Kitts), the French American Islands Company delegates Charles Lienard and Jean Duplessis, Lord of Ossonville to colonise one or any of the region’s yet uninhabited islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique or Dominica. Due to Martinique’s inhospitable nature, the duo resolves to settle in Guadeloupe.
1648 : : Following the bankruptcy of the French American Islands Company, the islands are offered for sale. Guadeloupe and its archipelago are purchased by Charles Houel and his brother-in-law.
1664 : : Jean-Baptiste Colbert founds the French West India Company, and the French government takes control of all French colonies in North America.
1674 : Another bankruptcy leads to the break-up of the French West India Company, the islands, however, remain an integral part of France.
1685 : Colbert’s Black Code on slavery.
1691-1816 : Respective periods of English colonisation.
1720 : Gabriel de Clieu, governor of Martinique introduces coffee to the islands.
1787 : Guadeloupe sets up a colonial assembly in self-protection from the Revolution.
1789 : Guadeloupe sends five deputies to the National Constituent Assembly.
1793 : : Jean Baptiste Raymond Lacrosse, deputy of the Legislative Assembly arrives to Guadeloupe bearing the French flag.
1794 : Convention on the abolishment of slavery. Guadeloupe is briefly occupied by the English, until Jean Baptiste Victor Hugues finally conquers the island, introducing it to the guillotine.
1802 : Napoleon restores slavery.
1815 : Prohibition of African slave trade, though not to be respected until 1831.
1843 : The island is devastated by an earthquake, Pointe-a-Pitre is ravaged by a fire resulting in 3,000 casualties. Reconstruction of the island brings about the beginning of Guadeloupe’s industrial era: the founding of the first two sugar factories (of a total number of eleven in 1863).
1848 : Abolishment of slavery (commemorated on the 27 May). Louisy Mathieu wins the elections and represents Guadeloupe as an ex-slave (2nd Republic).
1851 : Creation of the Colonial Bank (Bank of Guadeloupe, Bank of the French West Indies, BDAF)
1852-1870 : The Second Empire: liberty is restricted in numerous ways.
1854 : Beginnings of Indian immigration.
1863 : Establishment of a new financial institution: the Colonial Land Bank.
1871 : The Third Republic: Colonies are represented in the National Assembly, the House of Representatives and the Senate. A new wave of French social reforms is put in place in Guadeloupe (secularism and free education).

1883 : Founding of Lycee Carnot in Pointe-a-Pitre.
1884 : Law concerning local administration.
1897 : Pointe-a-Pitre is partially destroyed by an earthquake.
1898 : Hégésippe Jean Légitimus, one of the founding fathers of the French Socialist Party, becomes president of the General Council.
1899 : Hurricane
1900 : First wireless telegraph in Gosier.
1903 : Hurricane
1913 : First World War: first draftees leave for the mainland. Guadeloupe engages in massive rum export during the war, until up to 1922.
1922 : Banana plays a more and more important role in local economy.
1925 : Hurricane
1928 : An inexorable hurricane devastates the island, killing hundreds, wounding thousands, destroying essential crops. Basse-Terre is seriously touched and Pointe-a-Pitre is entirely under water, requiring total reconstruction.
1936 : Adolphe Felix Sylvestre Eboue becomes the first governor of colour.
1940 : Governor of the Vichy government, Constant Louis Sylvain Sorin arrives on the island, to stay until July 1943.
1946 : Guadeloupe receives the status of department of France.
1961 : lCreation of the BUMIDOM (Immigration service for French overseas departments), an institution to regulate emigration from overseas territories towards Metropolitan France.
1961-1965 : Independence movements.
1976 : Eruption of Mt Soufriere.
1979 : Hurricane David.
1983 : Establishment of the Regional Council.
1989 : Hurricane Hugo.
1994 : As independence movements prove short-lived, power is taken over by Guadeloupe’s Iron Lady, Lucette Michaux-Chevry (Regional Council) and the left-wing socialist party led by Dominique Larifla (General Council).
1995 : Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn.
1996 : Legislative elections: Guadeloupe remains firmly right-wing under the leadership of Lucette Michaux-Chevry (RPR). The mayor and deputy of Bouillante, M. Chaulet is also president of the tourist office. M. Moutoussamy, mayor of Saint-Francois and M. Henri Bangou, mayor of Pointe-a-Pitre are also deputies of the assembly.

1998 : Celebration to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolishment of slavery.
May 1998 : Lucette Michaux-Chevry is re-elected president of the Guadeloupe region.
1999 : Declaration of Basse-Terre, signed by presidents of the respective regional councils: Lucette Michaux-Chevry, Alfred Marie-Jeanne (Martinique) and Antoine Karam (Guyana) with the objective to acquaint the public with the negative assessment in the three departments. Europe and the United States engage in commercial battle over the banana of Martinique.
2000 : Law of Orientation on the overseas territories.
2002 : Crisis in Guadeloupe’s economy: tourism bears the impact of September 11, and banana production is at an all-time low.
2003 : The region desires more responsibility and less assistance, so the government proposes the Law of Programme for the Overseas. In April 2003, the Regional Council announces the establishment of a relief fund to enable local economies to attract foreign investment.
December 2003 : Referendum concerning the islands’ institutional future: 72,98% of Guadeloupe’s population votes “no” to the proposal.
2004 : To a general surprise, the socialist Victorin Lurel is elected new president of the region.
2005 : Referendum on the European Constitution: Guadeloupe votes “yes” by 58,6%, though the participation rate is no higher than 30%. The European Commission grants a total of 110 million euros in aid of the West Indian banana. Francois Baroin becomes the new minister of the overseas departments, replacing Brigitte Girardin in this function.

The Caribbean region was first to lay eyes on the “men from over the sea”. Inhabitants of the islands practiced purely oral traditions, writing was unknown to them. Their lifestyle and fragile social structures received a great blow and completely fell apart soon after their first contacts with the technologically more advanced Old World. Amerindian populations of the Greater Antilles began a rapid decline in as little as ten years after 1492, to disappear completely before the end of the century. New illnesses (flu, smallpox), battles, punishment expeditions, deportation, assimilation and slavery had a devastating effect on these cultures. Inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles managed to resist foreign influence for a longer period of time. They held their ground until well into the 19th century, but they too vanished forever from the islands’ history due to aggressive colonisation.

The beginning of this period witnessed the arrival of hunter-gatherer peoples in the region. With hunting as their principal activity, they lived in a relatively mobile society, due to their reliance upon the ability of a given natural environment to provide sufficient resources in order to sustain their population. Utensils were carved out of stone, bone and shells, and used for divers purposes. The significant number of archaeological sites excavated on the islands of Haiti, the Dominical Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico lead to the conclusion that Meso-Indians had moved upwards into the Lesser Antilles, and respectively the Greater Antilles. One the most ancient sites of the French West Indies is the Norman Estate, dating from the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 2nd millennium, situated in Saint Maarten.

Around the 5th century B.C., a new culture arrived to the area from the region of the Orinoco River. These people, known as Saladoids (with reference to the site of Saladero in today’s Venezuela, though also referred to today as “Arawak Indians”) mastered the fine art of ceramic and engaged in agriculture, navigation and fishing. They rapidly moved from the Lesser Antilles towards southern parts of the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic) introducing the region to manioc, sweet potato and chillies. Excavations of their former dwelling places have shown that they led a preferably nomadic lifestyle, though mostly remained in coastal regions.

Links between Saladoid and the hunter-gatherer Meso-Indian cultures are yet unknown to our days, though it is presumed that the latter culture had simply been assimilated by the more developed Arawaks. There remains a slight possibility that a certain, non-assimilated group of Meso-Indians had found their way to Cuba, where they were met by Christopher Colombus and were afterwards referred to as Ciboneys. In any case, no evidence has been found of a conquest or barbarous expansion from the part of any of the two peoples. They were exceptional agriculturists, though also familiar with fishing and other sea-related activities. Their culture evolved continually, population numbers increased, and they maintained permanent contact with their continental counterparts.

The 7th century A.D. displayed significant changes in the conception of potteries and certain customs, such as the choice of dwelling places. Advancement of tribes towards the north was disrupted and hitherto permanent links with the mainland became scarce. These radical alterations, however, were in no way accounted for by material evidence such as destruction, natural disaster, or extinction of culture. The tribes had most probably fallen under the influence of a new people, yet again from the south, referred to as Huecoids. Judging from descriptions given by the first colonists and chroniclers of the 16th and 17th centuries, this new group of immigrants –the famous “Caribbeans” or “Kallinagos” - was of a more boorish nature, which may answer for the slight regression in artistic activities such as pottery.

These iron warriors had come from an unspecified region of the same Orinoco River, proceeding northward on the same paved Trinidad roads, slowly but surely eliminating the Saladoid culture on their way to progress. Their cannibalistic manners assisted them in their quest in all likelihood, though interestingly enough they spared the Arawaks’ women, which in a way explains the linguistic divergences noted by certain chroniclers. The arrival of the Spanish would prevent them from moving all the way up north into the Greater Antilles.

The population of the Caribbean region experienced substantial growth as a result of different immigration waves and cultures in constant movement. Insularity, though, was soon to follow on a number of smaller islands. Despite persistent cultural exchange, certain islands began to show traces of detachment from other cultures, especially in the case of more isolated areas such as Friar’s Bay on Saint Maarten.

The 12th century saw the emergence of the Taino culture in the Greater Antilles, which began a slow progress towards the Lesser Antilles, and eventually gained Guadeloupe.

On the 12 October, 1492, following his 35-day voyage out to sea, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), celebrated cartographer and seaman, appointed admiral on the 17 April, 1492 by Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand Aragon arrived to the islands of the present day Bahamas (to San Salvador, or Guanahani as called by locals) with his three ships (the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria) and 90 men. He believed to have found the new maritime passage connecting Europe to China, India and Japan…and consequently to spices and above all, gold. He was thus more than surprised to meet « fellows as naked as the day they were born » instead of the welcoming Asians he had expected. He subsequently made his way to Cuba and Haiti, and was welcomed by the locals of these islands which he baptised “Hispaniola” (Spanish island). Although inhabitants of the Greater Antilles were not all of the same character, they were collectively called « Tainos » by the Spaniards, so-named after the phonetic transcription of a word the Indians had used to greet the newcomers.

These first contacts between the indigenous population of the Greater Antilles and the Spanish were of a rather warm and cordial nature, and Europeans would not meet any resistance until their later ventures into the Lesser Antilles, where they encountered the Kalligano population, of a much wilder character than the peaceful Tainos. These Caribbeans were unwilling to accept the new arrivals, and their rioting resulted in the disastrous fate well known to us from the pages of history books. Marie-Galante was discovered and baptised the 3rd November, 1493, Guadeloupe the following day, and Saint Maarten eight days later, all three in the course of Columbus’ second voyage. The names of the islands as known today all originate from the conquests of these few days, and this is when the island of Karukera (or Caloucaera, island of beautiful waters) received the name “Guadeloupe” in baptism, tribute to the royal monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe (in the autonomous territory of Extremadura, in the province of Caceres), the place where Christopher Columbus was granted the official document commissioning him to an expedition to India. The statue of the Virgin Mary erected on the island would later become symbol of the Spanish promotion of Christianity in the newly discovered West.

A new continent was thus discovered and it appeared plentiful to 16th-century Europe. Columbus himself died in 1506, leaving the new territories in the hands of greedier colonists. Commerce was the main priority, and smaller regions such as Guadeloupe or Martinique did not raise interest in the Spaniards, who were busy discovering and baptising the Greater Antilles and parts of the mainland. Hispaniola became the first Spanish colony, a base linking rapidly acquired new territories to the continent. Other islands of the Greater Antilles were to follow, and eventually, Cuba.

The Lesser Antilles remained thus forgotten until other colonial powers arrived on the Caribbean scene. France, England and the United Provinces (the Netherlands) tried their best at converting the indigenous population to slavery, but soon opted for the solution they already practiced elsewhere when locals revealed to be a more difficult nut to crack. African slave trade had begun.

The top position in Caribbean society was that of the planter, owner of an agricultural surface that he exploited by intermediary of a commander or a manager who had earned his trust, and a certain number of slaves or paid workers (taken on for 36 months). Planters generally lived in a residence, from where they managed their affairs. Their slaves were “African Negroes” and “Creole Negroes”, the latter born on the island and generally served as a domestic slave. Slaves on the run were referred to as “Cimaroons”, and colonists who were in a position other than a planter were called petit-blanc (little whites), a pejorative expression to emphasise their inferior status. They were often paid workers, or disposed of a small piece of land and a few slaves. As their only advantage was the colour of their skin, they were particularly careful not to mix with the local population, in order to increase their chances of becoming a planter one day. They have all but disappeared to our day, but the term lingers on as a nickname for a certain category of half-cast people, with a skin colour between mulatto and white, though of a more whitish shade. The abolishment of slavery (1848) brought about a shortage in the available workforce, and a small number of Whites began to engage as paid workers on plantations. They were to be referred to as “beke goyave”, colonists with feeble means. Planters, on their part, were more and more associated with nobility, which was not as much a fact as it may appear logical. As a matter of fact, the actual aristocracy of the Ancien Regime was not attracted by the prospects of fast money the colonies had to offer until quite later on, and entry into their strictly closed circles required more than just wealth. There were two possible paths to take if one required noble titles. Firstly, one could be raised to peerage by patriotic deeds or as a result of charges a certain function required. More typical, though, was the second option: ennoblement by a family’s means proper, which were most often money or territory. These self-made aristocrats usually took on the place-names of their birth villages as noble titles. Colonisation and related production were later encouraged by offering aristocratic titles as privileges to those interested, who could claim their newly acquired status as soon as they had met certain economic conditions.
Despite the emergence of a new local aristocracy, the complex social hierarchy of French nobility never reached Guadeloupe and planters, thus, did not have to observe the rules of the mainland’s complicated subordinate relations. Descendents of colonists began to be referred to as “creoles”, an expression inherited from the Spanish (criollo), which is widely used to our days to denote anything from being born on the islands to an adjective simply used to describe all that is local. The term “beke” was slower to emerge, but is also in use well to our days. The islands’ own social structure was slow to emerge after the arrival of the first colonists. Members of the free classes, such as planters, left behind a multitude of legitimate or illegitimate children, often of coloured mothers, who were referred to as half-castes. Different nuances of skin colour were denoted by separate names, the most well-known of which were the mulattoes (a mix of black and white, metis), the chabins (also a mix of black and white, but with evident specificities of one colour, for example a white skin and light hair but African features), the quarterons or griffes (mix of black and mulatto), and the capries (a mix with only slight features of another colour). Half-caste people were regarded as a sort of intermediary caste between black and white, usually exempt from slave labour but never considered upper-class. A census conducted at the time of the French Revolution officially introduced the term “red person” in the registration of citizens, designating former slave and half caste people. The 19th century brought about the arrival of Indians and a small number of Chinese and Japanese, who were to settle in the lowest layer of society. Island vocabulary was further enriched at this time by words such as Indian Malabar, coolie, chape-coole or bata-zindien (pejorative terms for a mix between black and Indian).


At the height of its fame, the slave trade began to be regarded with considerable criticism within the intellectual circles of the century. The Ancien Regime was severely criticised during the age of Enlightenment, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) himself denounced the Code Noir (Black Code). To soothe the rebellious atmosphere, Louis XIV’s government passed a number of significant decisions to law, among them the prohibition of maltreatment. The Revolution broke out in 1789 in the midst of this troubled atmosphere, and France was suddenly plunged into total disorder and anarchy. Revolutionary ideas and the death of the king meant war again for France, this time against the whole institution of monarchy. The West Indies showed little willingness to comply with the ideas of the mainland’s Revolution, and the colonial assembly denounced its feats, among them the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).


Napoleon’s first act was to put an end to the Revolution’s frantic advance, to regain order and re-establish the economy. His clever decision was that colonies were not part of France, and could thus continue their activities within the system of slavery.


After the Hundred Days, Restoration hit France for good (1815-1830) with the return of Louis XVII to the throne (1815-1824). During his short reign (of a Hundred Days), Napoleon had eventually decided to put an end to slave trade in March 1815, a decision rejected by Louis XVII on arrival to the throne.


Europe was boiling with industrial activity, world economy advanced headstrong in the field of technology, and anti-slavery began to gain considerable ground, especially in Anglo-Saxon territories. England abolished slavery for good in 1833, and gave back its freedom to a population living in the vicinity of Guadeloupe.

Into this context arrived a man, Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893), to denounce all incertitude by his exceptional perseverance. He was to be remembered by local population for his undeniable pioneering role in the abolishment of slavery. He had been involved in the cause since the 1830s, and had never since abandoned to preach the only true answer to the issue: total abolishment of any slavery. The February Revolution if 1848 and the arrival of the 2nd Republic provided him with favourable circumstances in his quest. A temporary government was put together after the flight of Louis-Philippe, of which Schoelcher became Vice Secretary of State of the Navy (5March 1848). On the 27th April, 1848 the emancipation act was finally signed and the historic phrase: “No French territory should have the right to hold slaves any longer…” was carved into French law.

More than 80,000 people found themselves in a difficult situation: once a slave, suddenly free, they had to decide on their own future. Though liberty came suddenly enough, social equality was slow to follow, and would not be brought about until well into the 20th century.

An alternative solution for the sudden lack of workforce had been sought after even before the abolishment, as increasing industrialisation asked for a growing number of workers in good physical condition, capable of tolerating the tropical heat. On the model of England, France chose to look into the possibility of “importing” manpower from its Indian territories. Though often represented as a sort of “second level slavery”, Indian immigrants were actually attracted to the Antilles in the context of an economic immigration, with promises of a better life. Illegal immigration and abuse of the new arrivals soon turned the project into a nightmare for those concerned, and the initial project of a democratic immigration was soon forgotten. Guadeloupe was not the only destination, the process involved numerous other islands of the Caribbean region and the Indian Ocean, as well as the American mainland. The first boat of immigrants, the Aurelie, touched land in Guadeloupe in 1854 carrying 300 passengers on board. Planters were ordered to pay a tax after each foreign worker they employed. By the year 1880, 24,000 people of Indian origin were living and working in the archipelago, in extremely bad conditions, and on the very bottom of the social scale. Their heritage is still present to our days, and can easily be observed in communes such as Saint-Francois, though people of Indian origin are more or less integrated into Guadeloupe’s society to our days.

After the end of the war, De Gaulle visited the West Indies to pay his respect to the islands. France’s disastrous economic situation was partially reflected on Guadeloupe: money was scarce and prices soared after the war. The National Assembly received two proposals of law, one of which was projected by the Communist group, and debates began on the fate of the overseas colonies. The law of the 19 March 1946, promoted by the Ministry of French Overseas declared Guadeloupe a department of France, and Saint Maarten and Saint Barthelemy integral parts of Guadeloupe.

Becoming a department marked a second great achievement in the island’s history, the first being obviously the abolishment of slavery. In the 1950s, the agricultural sector remained the most important economic activity, employing almost half of the island’s active population. Though the new status displayed great legislative importance, its social results could not be felt until way into the 1950s, when the Caribbean region and the Commonwealth began to experience large migratory movements. As the French West Indies were strongly concerned, the state reacted fast and created BUMIDOM, an Immigration service for French overseas departments in 1961. Migration to Metropolitan France was thus regulated: moving to the mainland was possible only for studying or working purposes. The population changes concerned above all Ile de France and Paris.

Guadeloupe suffered two ravaging hurricanes with an interval of ten years, David and Hugo. Hugo, a reminder of the 1928 mortal cyclone, resulted in 12 casualties, and thousands of people rendered homeless, crops devastated by the strong winds. An era of reconstruction was to follow, severely criticised by certain political circles. Decentralisation took shape in 1982 with the law of Gaston Deferre. A second local administrative office, the regional council was established in 1983, comprising of 41 members. The instalment of the council instituted the system of monodepartmental regions in the area, unique in France. A lawyer, Lucette Michaux-Chevry, born on the 5th March 1929 was elected first president of the new community (today’s president is Victorin Lurel, PS), to be appointed Secretary of State for Francophonie three years later by the government of Jacques Chirac. Decentralisation in the overseas departments was followed by a series of laws in favour of political, social and economic development. One of the most important of these laws was the LOOM (Law of Orientation on Overseas Territories), which came into force after the famous Declaration of Basse-Terre (December 1999), signed by presidents of the respective regional councils: Lucette Michaux-Chevry, Alfred Marie-Jeanne (Martinique) and Antoine Karam (Guyana) with the objective to acquaint the public with the negative assessment in the three departments. This manifesto broke a great number of taboos, ridiculing the terms “generalised help” and “social drift” and the necessity of local initiative was rendered evident.


Before proceeding to examine its evolution, we must first take some time to understand the context into which independence arrived in the West Indies. Relations between Guadeloupe and Metropolitan France were a great political issue in the circles of the former slave population, and the interpretation of these relations differed greatly from one political group to another. As a matter of fact, differences of opinion were so huge, that people did not come to terms with each other even within the same interest parties. Ideas drew closer together with the event of departmentalisation. The “Negritude” movement, launched by Aime Cesaire, Leon-Gontran Damas and Leopold Sedar Senghor is a perfect example of the mentality of these times. Negritude proudly, simply and openly claimed one sole issue: identity, which brought about a fundamental debate concerning the exact meaning of the concept of “one people”. In other words, the need for a common base approached certain visions and opinions, without successfully defining their mutual limits. It was at this point that those in favour of total independence began to be segregated from the masses, and started out on their way to radicalism. Let us not forget the historical era concerned: decolonisation had not begun, and Algeria was still an integral part of France, a colonial power with little taste for the development of radical ideas. The first overt sovereignty movement would not come into existence until 1963, under the name of GONG (National Organisation group of Guadeloupe), which would later become the UPLG (People’s union for the liberation of Guadeloupe) in 1978 and respectively the Guadeloupean Movement, merging with the KLNG (Kombat of national liberation of Guadeloupe). The island’s Communist Party also adopted a sovereignty movement in 1964, but the first actual independentist deeds would not spring into action until twenty years later. In August 1980, the Armed Liberation Group (GLA) presented France with an ultimatum until the 31 December. Three bombs exploded in Pointe-a-Pitre one month later, followed by another one in Raizet, killing an army official. Luc Reinette was arrested and charged with the kidnapping of a journalist of the FR3. Three further blasts shook all three overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana) awake in 1983. Radio RCI was fully destroyed by a bomb attack in November of the same year, another explosion wounded 23 people at Basse-Terre’s police headquarters. The year 1984 brought along the attack on the Meridien Hotel in Saint-Francois, as well as several other blasts. And as for today? Political groups have multiplied and sovereignty movements have undergone significant segmentation. Metropolitan France and other countries now host growing West Indian communities. France today does not advocate departmentalisation, and the Hexagon is evolving into a multicultural, pluri-ethnic society. Guadeloupe’s “distinctive characteristics and features” are seen in a more and more positive light, and the European Union’s economic and social advantages are also a crucial element in the view of overseas territories. Guadeloupe’s changing mentality is reflected in the referendum of December 2003: the island hitherto known for its segregationist movements suddenly voted no by 72.98%. The region’s reactionary history appears to be a phase of the past, and an increasing number of Guadeloupeans are beginning to comment on these episodes like Corsicans do. Independentists may make a lot of noise, but they definitely do not represent the opinion of the entire population today.


  1. Just wondering if you are aware that the world famous "Les Twins" of Paris ,France are of Guadalupean decent. It is said that they were "born to dance".


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