History of the French Caribbean Woman from Martinique, the "poto mitan"

Every year on March 8th, the whole world celebrates women with the International Women's Day. Martinique was once called "Matinino or Madinina" by the Arawaks, which means "the island of women". They defined it as an island populated exclusively by women warriors. AZ Martinique makes you discover through a file the history of the Martinican woman, from the Arawak woman to the contemporary Creole woman, who became a pillar of the Martinican family.

Women in Martinique during the pre-Columbian period

The Arawak woman

Arawak woman with a bird and arrow bowThe Arawaks are Amerindians from the Amazon who lived in the Caribbean archipelago from the 4th century BC to the 15th century AD. The name "Arawak" does not designate a people strictly speaking but a linguistic family to which are attached many Amerindian populations of Amazonia of which the Kali'na and the Carib. According to the pottery found, they lived mainly from agriculture, in particular the cassava which was the basis of all the Amerindians of the Caribbean, fishing and gathering.

A society of fishermen

In Martinique, they lived near watercourses (sea or river) generally on the Atlantic coast of the island, the entire northeast coast, from the Caravelle peninsula to the mouth of the Capot river which descends from Morne Rouge, that is to say on the foothills of Mount Pelée. From there, they settled on the low heights overlooking the beach. They did not like the calm waters of the Caribbean but appreciated the fertility of the volcanic soil.

This choice of location was due to the fact that the Arawaks were above all, fishermen. They would even be the inventors of the fish farming that they practiced with the help of the tides (low tide: capture and breeding, high tide: removal if necessary). Their villages were so numerous that Martinique was considered the capital of the Arawaks of the Antilles. The Arawaks were also hunters but small animals (agoutis, iguanas, turtles, manatees).

Arawak women in the middle of harvestingWomen generally took care of household chores, pottery and agricultural work. They made terracotta containers which were used daily when they were grossly made. Ceremonial pottery was finely crafted and sometimes decorated. Many vestiges of this period have been found and are currently on display at the Museum of Archeology and Prehistory in Fort de France.

The importance of pottery

Pottery was not just an art, it was also an expression of beliefs. They did it by decorating their pottery. In reality, Arawak pottery was a true religious art. The decorations were made either by incision, or by painting them or even by adding small modeled figurines called adornos. Besides pottery, women took care of the work of the earth which was rudimentary at the time. They were content to clear the woods and practice slash-and-burn cultivation. The tools of the time were far from sophisticated and were only simple sharp wooden sticks called coas which they used to dig the ground.

The food

Arawak woman preparing cassavaRegarding cooking or preparing food, it was also a task for women. The staple food was cassava. The tuber was peeled using stone tools or shells, the roots were then grated on a board bristling with stones or on a flat piece of coral.

The cassava juice was then extracted and from there the flour obtained was sieved and cooked on large circular ceramic trays called platinum. This flour gave a kind of pancake: the cassava. Cassava juice, once fermented, gave an alcohol of 3 to 5° which was called ouicou.

Ouicou was consumed in large quantities during religious ceremonies celebrated by shamans. The Arawaks also harvested fruits, berries, vegetables, wild plants and wood. They had various uses:

  • food,
  • body paint and protection against insect bites for achiote (red natural dye)
  • fire-making (wood, twigs, dry grass)
  • medical care for plants with healing properties.

Cotton work

Arawak woman weaving cottonCotton was also harvested in large quantities by the Arawak women. They made wire out of it using spindles made of terracotta and fitted at the end of a wooden rod. These threads, once braided, were transformed into ropes. Cotton was therefore an essential raw material for the manufacture of fabric, fishing nets, hammocks and ropes.

Habitat and way of life

They lived either in wooden huts called "bohios" by family or in a common way in carbets. The grouped huts formed a village. A village consisted of around 1,000 inhabitants with around 50 family huts. The largest had more than 5,000 inhabitants.

The bohios were built with the help of wooden or reed poles, and covered with thatch. They are arranged in a circle around a central square. These huts were sometimes built on stilts, no doubt to avoid humidity or perhaps to protect themselves from snakes, the trigonocephalus.

The carbet was an oval-shaped communal house where several people lived with their cotton hammocks. It was located in the center of the village and could measure 20 meters long and 8 meters wide. The two types of dwellings required the same materials namely wood, foliage, and reeds. A low door looked like an entrance. The canoes which were used for many inter-island trips, for trade or for fishing were made by men, more or less young.

Organization of the society

The Arawak society was different from the Carib society because it was considered peaceful while the Caribs was a warrior. It was very organized and matriarchal, organized around the mother. Filiation was transmitted by women. As for power, it was not exclusively male because women could gain access to it, but it was primarily male. The chiefs in power were called the caciques and there were women caciques. Power then passed to the elder son of an older sister.

Polygamy was practiced and the first wife had power over all other wives. The religious festivals were very numerous since the Arawaks were animists. According to them, animals have souls. They honored their gods for their fertile power. During religious ceremonies, they danced and brought offerings to their gods. They came into contact with them through the Zemis, which were small idols of different shapes. Each family had its Zemi.

The Arawak populations lived naked. The women wore a cotton thong once married (see photo above), the men sometimes too. It was reported (by Pierre Martyr d'Anghiera) that Christopher Columbus during his second trip to the Caribbean would have met Arawaks in Santo Domingo who would have told him about an island further east, populated exclusively by women and they called Matinino, a name he translates in his diary as isla de las mujeres, “the island of women”.

However, the island was not populated exclusively by women according to his description in his diary.

The Native American Carib woman

The Carib woman shares many points in common with the Arawak woman but the two civilizations were all the same very identifiable by their rites, their tools, the organization of society, their character, etc ...

Physical description and clothing

Carib familyThe Carib woman only wore a camisa, a strip of cotton tied around her back. She also wore a kind of leggings between her ankle and knee. She is adorned with jewelry: necklaces, bracelets made with a kind of enamel, the rassade, blue stone earrings and other various jewelry made of worked conch shell. On holidays, they put on multicolored cotton belts on which are hung bells intended to give rhythm to their dances.

Cohabitation between Arawak and Carib women

The Caribs arrived in the West Indian archipelago around the 10th century, they were fierce warriors, bloodthirsty and cannibals. Human flesh was not food, it was only consumed during human sacrifices by eating his enemy to appropriate his strength. They take possession of the islands of the Greater Antilles then the Lesser Antilles.

When the Caribs arrive, if the men are seen as simple game and are executed, the women are kept alive. They integrated the Carib family structure by becoming wives of Carib men and were treated the same way as the Carib women. So we cannot say that they were inferior to Carib women but their equals. The Arawak women brought back as war trophies were to help Carib women with domestic chores and agricultural work.

Among themselves, they spoke their language but also had to learn some notions from their mistresses. The Carib women then learned the language of the Arawak women so that when Christopher Columbus arrived, the men and women did not speak the same language. They spoke the Arawak language while the men spoke the Carib language.

Daily tasks

Daily work was well segmented between men and women with specific activities for one or another camp. Women had to tackle many daily tasks. So they took care of cooking, pottery, weaving cotton to make clothes, taking care of children and sometimes husbands!

They were also responsible for the cassava harvest. The latter was very difficult and physical. Women sometimes had to travel far from their homes to find cassava and search the ground with rudimentary implements. They then carried it on their backs, sometimes taking rough roads and after cleaning and preparing it, turned it into cassava and then cassava flour or moussache (another name for cassava flour). Thus this essential act of daily Carib life was performed by women.

They also took care of weaving the hammock which they used as a place to sleep. Day and night, they wove, they also maintained their garden, prepared the ouicou (low alcoholic drink (3-5°) made from fermented cassava juice) which was consumed during the evenings of debauchery. They also made cotton boots for each other.

Women were also the ones who took care of the health of the family. They knew the remedies and oils to heal wounds as writes Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre (1610-1687), a Dominican priest and French botanist who visited Martinique: “they have a marvelous knowledge of the simple with which they heal an infinity of ailments."

Restricted rights

Women were completely devoted to their husbands and were not allowed to date without the permission of their husbands who had full control over their actions. The young girls were freer, but they still had to go to the cassava harvest in the mountains. The little boys made small boats and canoes to learn how to do them during adulthood.

Carib womanCarib women also devoted a lot of time to their beauty. They combed their hair three times a day and blushed their hair with achiote (a natural red dye still present and visible in the Martinican markets).

Much more "idle" men

The men themselves got down to activities such as fishing, working the land (clearing), basketwork and net making in particular. In the morning, they were more "idle" devoting their morning to their bath in the streams, warming themselves near a fire where they discussed and played the flute until lunch (meat, fish, crabs seasoned with chilli pepper and cassava cake) prepared by their wives. At lunch, they first served their husbands and did not eat until they were full and finished eating. It was only after lunch that mens would go about their daily chores until sunset.

The men were polygamous and could have up to 5 or 6 wives when they were captains. The others were limited to 2 or 3. The first wife lived in the house and the others were separated in other villages where the husband visited them a few times. A married woman should not offer herself to a man other than her husband. Discovered, she was chastised with her lover.

Father Labat admired this society where the woman was totally devoted to her husband. He wrote in particular:

This custom, quite extraordinary as it seems at first, is not too savage. After a few thoughts, it seemed to me full of common sense and very specific to contain this superb sex within the limits of duty and respect that it owes to men. The Carib are not the only ones who use it this way; I will report ... some examples on which Europeans should regulate themselves to avoid a lot of grief.

When the Caribs saw the arrival of Europeans who wanted to take over their lands, they first tried to resist, but a great battle in 1658 would get the better of them. They are killed or flee to the island of Dominica in the north of Martinique. It is the end of the Carib settlement in Martinique.

Women under colonization and slavery

During colonization and after the end of the Carib Indians, the population was exclusively Black and White. Be careful, however, it was very segmented and hierarchical. The more white blood an individual had (pure blood), the more advantages and freedoms he enjoyed. We went back more than 6 generations to classify the population. So the base was 256.

If a person had 256 white parts (great-grandparents of their great-grandparents) they were White. Below, she was "half-blood" and encouraged to continue her union with the Whites. Then, we find the mamelouc (1 Black great-grandparent), the quarteron (1 Black grandparent), or the mestizo or the Mulatto (1 Black parent), then the capre or the griffe, kid of a Mulatto with a Black and finally the Black.

The settler's wife: the wife of elite society

A slave trade?

At the start of colonization, the population of European origin was almost exclusively male. Women did not arrive in large numbers until after the Carib Indians had been driven from the land. They are essentially orphans and prostitutes who were sent to Martinique in a phenomenon which has been called the “White women trade” by French feminist associations. The goal was to obtain wives for nobles (cadets), sailors, sailors, soldiers, traders, workers, hired (White working 3 years on a plantation) or the needy sent by force to Martinique.

Between 1680 and 1685, 250 White girls were sent to Martinique by Versailles. At the request of these new inhabitants of Martinique, the ship captains brought in addition to their cargo a group of women, "poor creatures" disposed by persuasion to emigrate to find a husband. Sources differ on whether they were voluntary or forced to expatriate. The only requirement of the settlers was that these women be well. They wanted to work with the confidence that these women were worthy of not stealing the goods they had accumulated so far.

On their arrival on the island, they were, like any merchandise, presented on a platform and were the object of an auction (auction sale). The highest bidder won. They were assigned individually. Very soon after the adjudication, the nuptial blessing took place. From these unions came fruitful lines. Although these "transactions" have long been denied, they did exist!

Some settlers refused this market and preferred to go directly to mainland France to look for a worthy companion from the French nobility. This is the case of Colonel François de Collart who left for France to marry an heiress of the noble family of Sainte-Marthe de Poitou. The Europeans living in Martinique were not all French.

They could also be Flemish, Scottish, Dutch or English. Thus Joséphine de Beauharnais (see below) had origins in Orleans, Normandy, Nantes, Paris and England. At the time, unions between Black men and White women were almost non-existent. Only at the beginning of colonization, we could count a few marriages between Europeans and Mulattoes.

The “White women trade” did not last long because many men preferred the Creoles with whom they had in common being born on the island. They therefore turned to women slaves or freemen of color. Thus, from 1685, the sending of White girls to the French colonies was only carried out towards Saint Domingue. In addition to Black Creole women, White Creole felt that there were enough Creole or European girls and widows locally. The numerical balance between men and women in the White population was not going to be established until the end of the 18th century thanks to local births.

Passive life?

Contrary to the idea conveyed, European White women and Creole White women did not have a passive life. They weren't just progenitors as you might think. These women were stay-at-home mothers, wives, nannies, merchants, teachers, actresses or organizers of shows, bakery owners, annuitants, and sometimes even plantation mistresses. They were not automatically rich either. Some had the most modest living conditions, they had either just arrived from metropolitan France or were not married.

They were forced to work to meet their nutritional needs. Married women were not left. They also worked and sometimes held merchant positions, especially in the towns of Saint Pierre and Fort Royal (former name of Fort-de-France). The merchants locally sold raw materials or even locally manufactured goods (dresses, confectionery, liqueurs). She was in low numbers in the transatlantic trade.

When they arrived in Martinique, the women did not have the guarantee of marrying a colonist living there, or even of being able to return to mainland France because it required to have the return costs for the long transatlantic journey. They therefore had to work to meet their needs. They integrated the house of the landowners by living on the plantation, and worked there either as servants, seamstresses or nannies. Regarding the latter profession, they preferred the Blacks who had "a more regular diet and were less impressionable".

Women could inherit management of their plantation from their husbands when they died. They therefore had to be able to manage the plantation at any time, while having their role of mother to assume. As for their relationship with the slaves, one would have thought that the women would have had a more flexible behavior with the slaves, but it was not. They behaved like their late husbands and tortured men and women alike for inappropriate behavior on the plantation.

There was no sorority (brotherhood of women) either, the female slaves suffered the same punishments as the men. Some, however, wanted the liberation of their slaves and wrote it down in their wills, but the policy of the time was not favorable to this. Young, they went to school where classes were given by Sisters from metropolitan France. From an early age, they were taught all the basics to be future good wives and stay-at-home moms.

The teaching was more religious than theoretical. Prayer held the same place as learning to read and write. Indeed, at the time being a mother was not only educating her child, it was also transmitting religious teachings to him and that was a task incumbent on White Creole women.

Joséphine de Beauharnais: from Creole to Napoleon's wife

Joséphine de BeauharnaisJoséphine de Beauharnais was born on June 23, 1763 in Trois-Ilets in Martinique under the name of Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie. She was the daughter of a rich family of planters, both also born in Martinique. At the age of 16, she was sent to France where she married shortly after Alexandre de Beauharnais, a friend of the family. She gets closer to the French nobility, her family being part of the very old nobility.

Deceived and humiliated by a fickle husband, they separate and Josephus-Rose finds himself alone with her two children in 1794. Her ex-husband is guillotined and she manages to escape and save her children. Now poor and widowed, however, she bounced back quickly. Mondaine, passionate about fashion and toiletries, she delights in the most prominent ladies' salons of the good society of the Directory.

She met Napoleon Bonaparte when she was 32 years old, via Barras, of which she was the mistress... Madly in love with Joséphine whom he named in this way because this first name had never been used by his other lovers, they got married on March 9, 1796. Napoleon left in the army of Italy thanks to the connections of his wife, Joséphine known to be an insatiable sexual and an outstanding seductress cheats on him with a captain of hussars. She then puts herself at the service of her husband who wanted to conquer power, starting with the coup d'etat of Brumaire.

The couple is consecrated during the coronation at Notre-Dame. Civil marriage is reinforced by a religious ceremony the night before the coronation. Unable to give Napoleon, the heir he needed, she must resolve to divorce for reasons of state on December 16, 1809. She retains the title of Empress of the French, inherits the Elysee Palace and the Château de la Malmaison located in Rueil Malmaison. She will end her fulfilling life there as a mother and grandmother, also receiving many visits from European crowned heads.

Napoleon, who had retained all his affection for her, will continue to visit her and even to help her financially following several debts.

She died on May 29, 1814 at the age of 50 from pneumonia.

The slave, servant and companion

The housing system

Sale of slavesIn order to deal with the life of a servant in the plantation, it would already be necessary to explain what the plantation system consisted of. Arriving in the colonies, the European colonists seize the territory. Suffering from undernutrition and not really knowing the local diet, they set out to cultivate food crops that they had seen in the Caribbean, to feed themselves. They set about clearing land by burning land, planting fruits and vegetables (cassava, bananas, pitch, potatoes), building a hut and planting tobacco there.

At the time, tobacco was used as a currency, it was exchanged for manufactured products from Europe, wine, employees and slaves. These farms were to take the name of habitation (french name for plantation). These included land, buildings such as the master's living quarters, slaves' huts or places of production and exploitation when necessary. The habitation was not limited to real estate, it was also the humans, the master, his family, his servants and slaves.

There were two types of employees on the colony:

  • the employee who came from Europe against a contract for a limited period and who at the end of his contract obtained a cession of land and
  • the slave originating in Africa within the framework of the triangular trade, to be a servile labor force on the plantation.

In 1671, the average size of a house was 39 hectares. Gradually, however, the number of European recruits fell while that of slaves exploded. The hired people were only 1% in 1688. This is explained by the fact that few Europeans wanted to work in order to work sometimes under the same conditions as the slaves, nor with them either. The other reason was that the price of the slave who exchanged for tobacco was less expensive than that of an employee if we consider that the employee owed only a few years of service.

This is how slavery was the economic model of the time because it was more profitable over time. Large-scale triangular trade for the French West Indies did not really begin until the 1660s. It was primarily aimed at men, the physical labor force to do the work in the fields. On the transatlantic boats, the women were outnumbered, however their socio-economic importance will not be so low on the plantation.

According to different sources, they would be a ratio of two men to one woman, while other sources said that women constituted 38% of the "cargo" (Herbert S. Klein who analyzed the slave trade in the colonies English, Dutch and Brazilian).

Female slaves were outnumbered on the island throughout the slave period. It was not until 1800 that the balance was established.

The life of slaves on the habitation

Once arrived, the slave was assigned to an habitation where she could occupy either a position inside the large hut as a servant, nurse or midwife, doctoresses or seamstresses this is what we called "négresse de maison”, or outside to take care of the plantation's food crops. They were the "garden negresses."

It should be noted that the women slaves were mainly assigned to work in the gardens where they had to plant and manage the plots of fruits and vegetables intended to feed the habitation or to trade it locally. They only integrated the fields in number when the economy turned to sugar.

Sugar cane work in a plantationFrom an early age, little girls entered the sugar cane fields. In the cane fields, the work was divided into 2 or 3 groups.

Women were in the majority within the groups:

  • In the first group, women were used as a counterweight in the transport of sugar cane which was done by men on dependent animals (bulls, oxen, horses).
  • In the second, they are responsible for weeding (ie cutting the troublesome weeds using a weeder).
  • Finally in the third, it was mainly children who composed it. Equipped with a basket, they had to collect the torn grass and form blocks of weed waste.

In Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 1635-1848 by Bernard Moitt, a scene is described where "

a hundred men and women of different ages are all busy digging ditches on a cane field, the majority of them are naked or covered with shreds. A blazing sun is above their heads. Their limbs fell in the heat, tired by the weight of their tools and the resistance of the clay soil [...]. Sweat was running down their bodies. A cemetery silence reigns. The manager witnesses the scene with a ruthless eye, with a patrol of several armed men who gave tingling shots to all those who have fallen from fatigue ventured to take a rest, men, women, young or old, without distinction.

Regarding the organization of work, the slaves worked 6 days a week because it was forbidden to work on Sundays and on public holidays. The working days were linked to the sunshine. The slaves began to work from sunrise until sunset with a break from noon to 2 p.m. It was possible to start in the morning before sunrise, but only in exceptional cases.

Pregnant slaves and nurses were not to work other than from sunrise to 11 a.m., and from 3 p.m. to half an hour before sunset.

A slave had to have six children in order to benefit from additional days of rest. For their food, the slaves had a small portion of land where they planted fruits and vegetables allowing them and their families to live. They were free to plant whatever they liked but had to ensure that it was kept in good condition. In addition to that, the owner had to provide them with cod, corned beef, flour, pulses or unplanted roots on the plot of land he had granted them.

The living conditions of female domestic workers were infinitely better than those of the plantations. The number of servants varied from one dwelling to another. House slaves were given more benefits than plantation slaves. For example, they had more food, better clothing and accommodation closer to Grand Case. In one house there was a multitude of servants. A personal servant was assigned to each member of the family. Added to this, there was a cook, two women in charge of their mistress's bath, 2 or 3 seamstresses and 2 or 3 in charge of various races, 6 male slaves were executants of the master of the place.

On each habitation, there was a box intended for medical care for slaves and staff in case of medical problem. The corrections were also governed by the Martinique code dating from 1786. In the event of a disproportionate correction, the master had to pay a fine of 2000 francs and in the event of a repeat offense lost the right to own slaves. If the slave succumbed to his injuries, the master risked the death penalty. These sanctions were only theoretical because the master would have had to be denounced by his slaves and then found guilty by a biased court.

Woman wearing a jougThe "marronnages" or escapes of slaves of women were rarer than those of men, but they did exist. The marronnages were harshly punished especially among men who suffered the worst atrocities once caught (amputations before being reintroduced into the fields). Women although punished did not suffer similar corrections.

They were imprisoned in colonial prisons or had to wear a joug (see photo opposite), or worse were executed if the flight had been long. In the Code Noir, which governed slavery in the French Colonies, it was stipulated that the maroons (fugitives) risked having their ears cut off. Women also took part in all the revolts (1678, 1699, 1748, 1752, 1822 and 1833) which demanded the liberation of slaves and better conditions on the plantations.

Those who could no longer bear their condition as slaves had different means of expressing their anger. They were several times guilty of work slowdowns, work stoppages or even poisoning. For example, a slave named Désirée, accused of having poisoned a man from the plantation, was tried on July 9, 1827 by the Privy Council of Martinique. His guilt could not be proved by the court which returned as probability, the term "maybe". She was deported to Puerto Rico as it was customary at the time to deport slaves to the Spanish colonies from the 1740s. Her master was compensated in return.

Daily life of partner and mother

Code NoirMarriage, when it concerned a Black slave, had to obtain the consent of the master beforehand, according to article 10 of the Code Noir. The Code Noir dating from 1685 was the first version of the text which governed the slave society of the Antilles. It had been drawn up by Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1616-1683). It was promulgated in March 1685 by Louis XIV. The second version was written by Louis XV in March 1724. Consequently, it was the master who gave his agreement for such and such a union and he often refused certain unions.

For some, it was the categorical refusal to any possible marriage on his plantation, especially since the slave trade allowed an easy supply of slaves. One of the main motivations for these refusals was the obsession with profit. When

the owner calculates the loss of the mother's time during pregnancy and while nursing, which estimated in money already exceeds the value of the child; he still calculates the risks of losing it, its food and its maintenance until the age when it can be useful.

Breastfeeding was recommended because it was considered healthier than the artificial. The artificial milk was difficult to store especially because of the heat and neglect. Breastfeeding lasted an average of 6 to 8 months despite the poor diet of these women (cassava flour, cod, little meat and never wine).

Another motivation was that the slave by marriage does not feel the equal of the White man because he is "imitating" him, living like him. Finally, as a slave had to be sold with all his family, he risked losing his wife and children, a future workforce.

Concerning the children, their status at birth was that of their mother (see below under the section on marriage). Therefore, if the mother was a free of color, the child was born free, on the other hand if the father was free and had married a slave, the child was a slave and became the property of his mother's master. Likewise, if the parents, both slaves, belonged to different owners, the children belonged to his mother's master. At the time of marriage between two slaves of different owners, a decree of the colonial council was to establish with which owner the family would meet.

The end of the slave trade will change the situation somewhat because the landowners were no longer supplied with slaves. It was they who had to foresee the future and therefore promote the birth rate for their future workforce. However, they should not in any way force a woman to marry a man against her will (article 11 of the Black Code). On the other hand, they used their strength and their power, to force the women to give birth to the slave of tomorrow. Thus the women became real genitators at the end of the milking. When a woman gave birth, if she lost the child, she and the midwife were flogged and had to wear the joug until the woman became pregnant again.

Those accused or suspected of abortion practices were heavily punished. Midwives who were sometimes accused of infanticide were executed. Infant mortality was very high at the time. Should it be surprising when we know that even pregnant women had only small portions of daily food and had to put up with long working days. The hours of pregnant women or nannies were relaxed later, the owners realizing that the loss of a child was that of a future slave.

To have a wife was to accept to see her suffer abuse from the masters without even being able to intervene. In fact, as soon as the marriage blessing was pronounced, the woman could be subject to all kinds of attacks from the masters. So some Blacks refused to start a family. The masters had all the rights over the wife of their slaves and did not hesitate to take advantage of it to have non-consented sexual relations with the latter. For example, in the work Slavery in the French Antilles (17th-19th century) by Antoine Gisler, a dialogue between Blacks and a priest is told where the latter asks them why he does not found a home. They answer: "my master would take my wife the day after my marriage".

In addition, the corrections made by the master were made on naked bodies entirely in the presence of the entire workshop. The man could therefore see the master undress his wife or daughter and whip her in front of all the other slaves and the staff of the house without being able to react! As for the children, as soon as they knew how to walk, they were also taken into the service of the master or otherwise were the "toys" of the latter's children. These, from an early age were real little despots. They already knew how to be superior to their playmates.

Marriage to a White man as a solution to a better life?

Free women of colorThe free of color are children born from the union of a Black and a White, the freedmen and their descendants. At the time, miscegenation was a problem locally. It was criticized by local authorities and strongly advised against marrying people of different skin color. This very rare type of union was frowned upon by the settlers who spoke of "blood depravity". This prejudice will be reinforced with the classification of the degree of blood (White, Half-Blood, Mamluk, Quarteron, Mulatto, Caper or Claw, Black) in the 18th century.

Black slave woman trying to seduce a White manAt the beginning of slavery in Martinique, few White women were present in Martinique. Also, the settlers to have children had to choose between a Caribbean woman before the Caribbean was driven from the island in 1658 or Black women slaves. Moreover, many Black women saw in these unions with Whites the opportunity to improve their situation because they allowed them to be free and to guarantee a better life to their children who were born from these unions. When the master of the slave was the father of the child of the slave and he recognized his paternity, the child is declared free at birth and the father had to take care of his child until the age of 12 years old.

If another White man was the father and assumed his parentage, he had to compensate the master of the female slave because the latter lost a perpetual slave. When the father was not identified, the child remained a slave and belonged to his mother's master. He was doing 20 years of service and after that he was free. Thus in Martinique in 1680, there were 314 Mulattoes.

By way of comparison on the island of Barbados, 350 Mulattoes were present the same year while there were 8 times more slaves. This phenomenon will be reduced with the "White woman trade" (see above) although girls of color remained preferred to newcomers considered foreign. Ruau Palu, general agent of the Company in 1793, then the Code Noir in 1685 will reverse the trend because if before the Mulatto children were freed now the status of the child will be the same as that of the mother.

Thus a child born to a slave mother will be a slave whether or not of a White father. Only the marriage of his parents gave him his freedom. When we know that at the time, female slaves could suffer the worst sexual abuse, we understand the hard life that children born of these unions could endure because they thus became the slave of their own father and were living proof of the rape suffered, for the woman who had given birth to him. In cases of rape, the responsibility fell on the slave woman.

Life was therefore very different for the Mulatto born of married parents who could aspire to studies then a high post on the dwelling (foreman, prosecutor, treasurer) of his father or to inherit from him while the "bastard" became a slave such as his mother was. For the latter, he owed at least 20 years of service to his father before hoping for emancipation and this was only possible if the latter requested it (freely during his lifetime or in his will). Previously this was more automatic. These laws had the effect of increasing the number of Mulatto slaves on the plantations. In Martinique, the number of Mulatto slaves rose from 30 in 1664 to 314 in 1687.

Women after colonization

The end of slavery will completely change the face of Martinique, which will no longer be an economy based on the exploitation of servile labor but on a colonial-type economy. Waves of immigration follow one another to fill the departures of former Black slaves from the fields. These new migrants condemned to harsh working conditions, extreme poverty and total dependence on their employers.

Beginning of the Creole woman

We define by the term Creole any person resulting from colonial immigration born in Martinique. The White settlers born in the West Indies often attributed the term "Creole" to themselves, a term which over time became more attributed to the post-slavery Black population born on the island. Our vision and description of women were no longer the same. So according to the descriptions we find at the time, the women born in the island no longer had anything to do with those who had arrived there a few centuries or decades ago.

The White Creole woman

Whites born in Martinique were no longer strictly speaking Europeans. They were Creole Whites (from the European lineage of settlers present in Martinique for sometimes several centuries and born on the island). The White Creole woman had a

dark complexion, a great delicacy of features, slender and flexible like a reed, she has graceful movements, a sparkling look, a frank smile. Kindness, gentleness, sensitivity are united in her with an indolence and a carelessness which spread a disturbing charm over her whole person.
The Black Creole woman

In the same way as the White Creole woman, the Black Creole woman was no longer the African woman who had come as a slave to Martinique. She was physically, slender and well proportioned.

His limbs are clear and the facial features are more delicate, the nose less flattened, the lips smaller than in Africans. Her skin no longer has the color as Black as that of her ancestor, it is more satiny, the hair is even more woolly but of a softer wool.
The mixed race or Mulatto woman

Called “colored people”, Mulattoes or mestizos are the “intermediate class” between White and Black.

They offer all the nuances one can imagine between dark brown and light brown washed with yellow. In the same way their hair varies: sometimes it is almost as frizzy as that of the negro, sometimes only slightly curly; more often it is intermediary.

Mixed race people are in conflict with the two layers of the population. At the end of slavery and after the arrival of the recruits, they were the dominant class of the Martinican population with nearly 100,000 mixed race, 50,000 Blacks, 20,000 Whites and 17,000 Indian or Chinese employees.

Indian, Chinese and Kongo “Koulies”

First of all, it is advisable to re-establish the definition of the word "Kouli" because today this term used in Martinique is only related to the hair. Today, a "kouli" in Martinique is a Black with smooth hair such as can be seen by Indian populations or descendants of Indians. At the same time, it designates straight hair. So if you hear this term today know that it has no relation to its initial meaning because indeed a "Kouli" designates a person engaged against a contract of a specific period and a salary, during the various campaigns of immigration that took place at the end of slavery. Consequently, the Indians, Chinese and Kongos who arrived to work in the sugar cane fields as early as the 1850s are all koulis.

The Kongo woman

After slavery, the new freemen refused to resume work in the fields and work for those who were once their executioners. The planters put pressure on the colonial government to force the former slaves to return to the fields, but the latter had no means of pressure to bring them back. They are therefore forced to look to the outside and therefore an immigration of foreign workers.

It is a little logical that they turn to Africa, this continent having provided a significant workforce during the slave trade. However, this will involve recruiting free workers, for a fixed period, against a salary with the guarantee of repatriation at the end of their contract. This recruitment will be done in two phases.

The first from 1854 to 1856, was to be done with young free Africans willingly agreeing to go to work in Martinique, the second from 1857 to 1862, will be done on the redemption of slaves who became free once recruited. Slavery and the slave trade having been abolished, it was forbidden to force employees to do forced labor. According to figures between 9,000 and 10,552 Africans arrived in Martinique. They were called the Kongos because they came mainly from the region of Central Africa (Gabon and the two Kongos).

By statute, they remain "immigrants" and do not have French citizenship such as the descendants of former slaves could have. The repatriation that they had been promised was taxed on their salary and few (two cases recorded) had the opportunity to return to their native country once their contract ended. The salary was not the same according to the employees. The Indians, followed by the Chinese received more money than the Kongos. These African immigrants had their own language, sometimes different languages ​​depending on the ethnic groups from which they came.

They arrived very young in the West Indies. Recruitment was carried out on young people between 10 and 24 years old. They were therefore mainly adolescents, which explains their faster assimilation into Creole culture. Be careful, however, in a "skin whitening" system, the White skin of the Chinese and the straight hair of the Indians were more factors of inclusion than in the Kongos who had black skin and frizzy hair. At first, even the local population, the Black Creoles, despised and mocked them, calling them new slaves at the boot of the Béké (Whites descended from the old masters).

The main reason for immigration from Africa was that planters viewed Africans as better workers on plantations. They feared, however, that they would become part of the local population who had wage demands and ally with the local population, thus increasing social tensions. The mortality was high because two years later, there were only 7,000 Kongos in Martinique out of the 10,000 who arrived on the island. An epidemic of yellow fever had struck the Martinican population causing many victims.

Kongos women working in a sugar cane plantationLittle is known about Kongo women and their role in the plantation and their families. What we know is that they were the favorites of Creole planters and Europeans:

Doesn't the African seem to be the man that nature has fashioned for working the land under the sun? from the tropic? By giving birth to him in hot regions, she made him insensitive to the heat of our climates... Africa alone could provide women in sufficient number and working on equal terms with men, unlike Indian women. of delicate complexion and cramped forms. It was important that the women come, because more docile, they could easily bow to the demands of a new position.

They were scattered all over the island even though there were more of them in the south of Martinique.

Kongo women and men have integrated the sugar cane plantations. They worked 12 hours a day with two breaks.

The Indian woman

As with African immigration, the Indians came to Martinique as an employee to fill the labor shortage following the abolition of slavery. It was in 1853 that it would have started and would have taken place in two stages. A first stage until 1870 with Indians from the region of the South of Madras, it was Tamils. Then they came from Calcutta and northwest India. Thus between 1853 and 1885 year of the end of Indian immigration 25,509 men and women arrived in the island.

They were generally engaged on five-year contracts, for a salary (12.50 francs per month for men and 10 francs for women) with the promise of repatriation to their country of origin at the end of their contract. After long journeys of almost two months, they arrived in the plantations where the living conditions were very harsh. In addition to exhausting working days, they lived in deplorable hygienic conditions: the old huts left free by the slaves of 9 square meters and without light.

In addition, the food they had as a daily portion was low. It consisted of a few roots and starches, salted fish, but no meat, oil and other condiments, let alone milk. Some employers forced their employees to work day and night by paying them late. They were also victims of ill-treatment by the planters. In addition, their repatriation at the end of their contract was far from systematic. The planters used their power of conviction to force the hired people to sign for a new contract.

Indian woman in MartiniqueIndian women were employed as servants in the houses of the planters.

The Chinese woman

The Chinese arrive in Martinique just after slavery. Unlike the Indians and the Kongos, they would have worked little or nothing in the sugar cane plantations. They quickly turned to commerce and opened several stores in Fort-de-France. Initially, they had come for work in the fields on eight-year contracts, but very quickly, not supporting the intensity of the work and the tropical heat, they preferred to desert and turn to commerce. The first wave of arrival took place between 1858 and 1860. Only three ships (the Fulton in September 1859, Admiral Baudin in September 1859 and the Galilée in July 3, 1860), were assigned to transport Chinese to Martinique.

At the time 10,000 Chinese had been promised to planters in need of labor. It will not be. In total, only 978 Chinese have arrived in Martinique with a very small number of women.

They came from Shanghai for the first two "convoys" and Canton for the last. Only one of these immigrants will benefit from repatriation at the end of the contract. During the voyage on the Galilée in 1860, a doctor and schoolmaster named Yung-Ting, undertakes "in return for the advantages which one has promised to make him obtain in Martinique" to treat the sick emigrants during the journey. Thanks to him, the new Chinese arrivals will be exempted from working in the cane fields, for the most part, and will naturally turn to towns and commerce.

At the time the very high mortality which struck the island made many victims in their ranks. In addition, their small number compared to the local population, their openness to mixed marriages meant that their contribution to Creole culture was much less important than the Indians, whose number was nearly 12 times greater!

The woman of the 20th century: from 1900 to the end of World War II

1900 is the century of transition of Martinique which will pass from a colonial economy based on the export of fruits from cane to sugar (sugar, rum) to a tertiarisation of employment. Martinican society had remained plutocratic. The Békés, descendants of White settlers, are at the top of the hierarchy. They have vast land estates (52% of the total area of ​​the island) where cane cultivation is practiced with the aim of making sugar and / or rum intended for export.

Blacks and Indians are confined to agricultural worker positions. Few enter higher education allowing them to aspire to better. Mulattoes, former “colored men” are the new bourgeois of this aristocracy, they dream of being doctors or school teachers. At the same time, the process of assimilation led by the French state so that Martinique passes from a "colonial immigrant" society to a fully French society, is launched.

Women at work from the beginning of the 20th century to 1946

Washerwoman going to wash the sailors' clothes in the riverThe situation of women changes after slavery to the extent that they are no longer mainly domestic workers whose main tasks were the maintenance of houses and the education of children. They are charcoal carriers, moorers, milk or fruit and vegetable merchants, seamstresses, laundry workers, or teachers...

The charcoal carriers (charbonnière locally)

Charcoal carrier woman in MartiniqueWomen's work adapts to the Martinican economy based on the export of manufactured products from sugar cane (sugar, rum). Also, women are called upon to integrate the production chain of the harvest (mooring machines, see below) but also in the port of Fort-de-France where they will be labor forces in the transport of goods to the metropolis. We therefore find them as dockworkers or coal miners or laundry workers (women responsible for washing the laundry of the cargo staff in the river and ironing it) or even employed in shopping for food destined to be consumed during transport.

Charcoal carrier women in MartiniqueThe charbonnières or charcoal carriers were women who carried on their heads in immense wicker baskets, charcoal in particular for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique in charge of transporting products between the metropolis and Martinique. The baskets or baskets could contain 25 to 50 kg of charcoal. Indeed, the coal carried by these women was essential to the operation of the boats because it was the combustion tool that allowed the steamboats to function. These boats existed from 1890 to 1930.

The charcoal carrier therefore worked on the ports of Fort de France and Saint Pierre to load and embark the coal on these boats. In 1925, there were more than 500 in the port of Fort-de-France. They sometimes worked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a salary of 25 cents a manna. Mothers, sometimes only income from the household, their salary allowed them to take care of their children.

From 1935, the boats are now supplied with fuel oil. These women will then become dockers or even work in the transport of bananas. Martinican women will play a strong trade union role. The charcoal carriers were the first to unionize in what was called the “Corporation des Charbonniers et des Charbonnières de Saint-Pierre”. The latter becomes an active union with a branch in Terres Sainville, a neighborhood in Fort-de-France.

The Martinican woman, "mooring" in sugar cane plantations

In 1900, Martinique was a French colony completely dependent on the metropolis with which it traded. Against its sugar and rum, the island bought all kinds of food products (flour, rice, pasta, etc.). However, the new competition from beet sugar, since 1884, the island was going through various sugar crises which strongly impacted the purchasing power of the sugar cane workers. In February 1900, the workers who demanded a salary increase came up against a repression which left 10 dead and 12 wounded who fell under live ammunition by the gendarmes. Two years later, Martinique was hit even harder by the eruption of Mount Pelée on May 8, 1902. After a revival of Martinique sugar activity, the island, which had become dependent on this monoculture, diversified with the introduction of bananas and pineapples and later because of food shortages linked to the First World War.

Sugar cane harvestingThey join the sugar cane plantations where they go to work with their husbands. They were “moorers”, those women whose job it was to tie canes cut into bundles. They accompanied their husbands whose main task was to cut cane. The salary is no longer based on working time but the daily quantity of sugar cane cut, tied, then transported by cabrouettiers (a cabrouette is cart pulled by bulls). Thus the whole chain of work was linked and the slightest defection meant that all those engaged were the losers. The agricultural worker combined motherhood and her work in the fields.

Thus the women sometimes took their babies on the back and with the help of a strong piece of cloth well fixed, they went barefoot to work in the fields. If necessary, they would breastfeed the child in the fields and then resume their work. The working day was long (almost 55 hours per week on average).

The arrival of the Section française de l'Internationale ouvrière (SFIO was a left-wing party defender of the workers' cause) of Léon Blum in 1936 in power as Prime Minister is a bearer of hope. He established the work week at 40 working hours, but the Békés, landowners, categorically refused that this be applied to agricultural workers. Even the children took part in the work in the fields, sometimes working as many hours as the adults.

In 1935, out of 25,000 agricultural workers employed in the sugar or rum economy, 8,000 were women and 3,000 children in conditions that can easily be described as overexploitation of work according to the definition of the French anthropologist, Claude Meillassoux (1925-2005), in his book Femmes, greniers et capitaux. He declares: “There is overexploitation when the remuneration of labor is below the cost of reproducing labor power." In the aftermath of World War II in 1946, women made up 43% of agricultural workers in Martinique.

The education of women, a stake in the secularization of schools

At the same time as the abolition was pronounced on April 27, 1848, a decree of the provisional government made primary school compulsory and free in the colony. Education in Martinique was segregated by sex with schools for girls or boys and a teacher of the same sex as the schoolchildren it was called upon to educate. In 1824, the first nuns of Saint-Joseph de Cluny landed in Martinique to take charge of the education of young girls on the island.

The teaching was different. In addition to a common core including reading and writing the French language, the little girl learned to be a future good wife and mother of a family. In addition, access to studies was more or less easy depending on the status of the young girl. Thus a young Béké girl could more easily access school because it was said at the time that girls of color were predestined for a position of servant later. This education gap would of course play an important role because it condemned young girls of color to pauperization in the future.

The secularization of the school is an idea defended by the Mulattoes, the deputy Marius Hurard in the lead, who saw themselves as teachers of a secular school. Let us quote for example the Mulatto writer from Martinique Virgile Salavina who depicts the congregational teaching totally closed to the slightest critical spirit seeking to "suffocate under the extinguisher of their casuistry, the reason of the student to lead the latter to believe in miracles the most absurd of the Gospel” or Gesner Rafina who declares:

As long as women are educated by nuns who advocate stupidity such as continence, she will remain a slave to the commandments of the Church.

(Les Colonies, October 1882). Also, the anticlerical movement in the West Indies uses all possible data to demonstrate the "misdeeds" for young girls of religious education.

Taking up the figures on the poor results of young girls in the Elementary Brevet, the Martiniquais newspaper "La Petite France" (April 1886) admits that it cannot

resist [...] the pleasure of noting that out of 37 congregational teachers, only the new superior of the Sisters of Saint Joseph has obtained the elementary certificate.

The main stake of this secularization of the public school was of course assimilation to the French nation because the school was the tool which from an early age taught children the republican values ​​and the love of the fatherland.

The idea widely defended by Marius Hurard was that the secularization of public schools would make it possible to fight against the fact that children are trained only to become perfect Christians and not good Republicans. He will obtain the secularization of all public schools in Martinique.

The other problem he mentioned is that in post-slavery Martinique, the fact that the teaching staff either members of the clergy from metropolitan France and therefore White revived the spirit of slavery. Without refusing the attachment to France, he wanted the education of children to be done by local teachers trained on Martinique soil. Thus in April 1882, he opened in Fort-de-France and Saint-Pierre a normal school "for young people who would like to devote themselves to a career in teaching".

If the teaching of young boys will be lay more quickly, that of young girls will be provided for longer by the Sisters because it is delicate. Indeed, this required that more teachers be trained and the social standards of the time did not allow it.

However, in 1884, there will no longer be any public schools in Martinique where the nuns of Saint-Joseph de Cluny still teach. They will be replaced by lay teachers. Another innovative change, the womens teachers were also going to integrate boys' schools whereas previously they could only teach little girls. They will also be in charge of the small classes, equivalent to the level of the current nursery school.

The law of October 30, 1886 of the General Council on the secularization of teaching staff under 5 years would confirm the situation although the change was already effective when it was promulgated. In 1901, there were only 3 schools and two boarding schools managed by the 22 nuns of Saint-Joseph de Cluny still present on the island.

Creole: a distinguished woman always in the shadow of her husband

An elegant and well-groomed woman

Martinique woman at the beginning of the 20th centuryThe Black Creole woman wanted to be someone distinguished and refined by her clothing, in particular where the Creole woman is adorned with a costume and showy jewelry. She most often wore a tight dress of a special cut, and a kerchief thrown on the shoulders and crossed on the chest emphasizes the flexible waist and the curves of the body. But it is especially in the hairstyle that the Creole women put the most coquetry.

The girls also had a particular outfit, a silk scarf stretched over the forehead and raised behind the head, but at 18, she "takes the lead", that is to say that she exchanges this scarf for the madras, a large handkerchief in cotton, with large checks, to which the special workers add with the brush, lines and bands of yellow color. The madras was then arranged on the head according to the physiognomy. “These are the points which affect the most varied forms: sometimes they are drawn up in proud and provocative crest, sometimes apart like the wings of bird ready to envelop you, sometimes turned towards the ground like modest violets. It is quite an art to properly adjust the madras.

Creole women's headdress in MartiniqueThe headdress with the madras existed since slavery. Free women of color who did not have the right to wear hats took a scarf which she tied so as to have a headdress. Only White women were allowed to wear a hat, a symbol of coquetry and decorum at the time. This headdress had significance on the status of the woman who wore it. Initially, it referred to the level of wealth and the circumstances of life. Later she became a message to men.

Indeed, the number of knots and the way to tie it indicated the amorous availability of the woman who wore it:

  • a point means "heart to take",
  • two points, "already taken, but luck can smile on the daring",
  • three points, "married woman, heart definitively bound by marriage",
  • four points "heart likely to welcome more lovers",
  • the modern, fan-shaped headdress,
  • the ceremonial headdress.

Mulatto womanThe outfits worn by Creole women date back to the 17th century. At the time, it was forbidden for slave and free women of color to wear the same outfits as White women. However, these women wanting to show their beauty and their taste for coquetry took care to create clothes that would fit them in their best light. This is how the traditional Martinique outfits were born.

Rich in color, each dress had its own meaning. Thus, the Grand'Robe, designed in a colored or shiny fabric, was worn over a petticoat and matched with a cape of the same shade. The Douillette is an everyday dress, tight at the waist in flowery cotton, also worn over a petticoat.

The Titanium is worn by the courtesans of Martinique, it consists of a white lace shirt, largely indented and revealing the shoulders. Its name, used since 1900, came from the name of the ball given on Sundays between 4 and 6 p.m. attended by these young women.

The calendered Madras Cotonnade could be in velvet or satin for holidays.

The Ti'Collet in plain or gingham fabric is worn by young girls, often decorated with a parasol. The Martinican women of the time were very attentive to their outfit, their outward appearance whether they are married or not.

It is quite an art to have a presence, to be flirtatious. Their dress broke with those they wore while being servants in the houses of the masters and represented to them a status of free woman and completely breaking with slavery. They took great care to sew their outfits themselves or had them made by seamstresses. These dresses were worn on feast days, to go to mass, to the ball or just daily.

The shadow of her husband

The woman at the turn of the century is a woman completely devoted to her husband and her children. Once married, she must maintain the house, carry out all the domestic tasks, be the one who sees to the well-being of her husband and his development.

Once the children have arrived in the family, she provides them with all the necessary care (breastfeeding, hygienic care) until they are weaned and able to go to school. The arrival of the children coincided with the increase in domestic chores for the mother. Because in addition to her husband, they had to take care of their children, help them in their school education, accompany them to school.

In addition, at that time, families were large (5 to 6 children per woman). Contraception was almost non-existent.

During meals, the largest pieces of meat were reserved for the father who was served first, it was important that the one who brings the money to the family is in good health. Then the mother served the boys of the family then her daughters and herself. When boys were born into a family, a party was organized while the birth of a girl was a source of disappointment.

Note that the Martinican families being very pious, the women ensured the religious education of their children and made for them outfits based on madras to go to mass every Sunday. They also provided religious education service, catechism which took place every Thursday (day without school). Martinican women lived in the total shadow of their husbands where they were called for example "Man Gaston" (Man means Madame in Martinican Creole) to constantly link them to the man who "owned" them. The term "possessed" was not exaggerated although it was the mores of the time.

Men had complete control over their wives' actions. Any decision concerning the wife had to be made and signed by her husband. She was therefore extremely dependent on her husband who if he did not earn a good living required his wife to work in order to provide additional income for the functioning of the household.

This is how we find the woman who accompanies her husband in the work of the fields as a moorer (see above) or in the ports in the work of loading and unloading of goods as dockers or coal miners (cf. see above). It is in this context that the notion of “poto mitan” woman was born (see below). Many women at the time had children and were not married.

At the head of a single-parent family, the latter had to combine the education of her children with an often poorly paid job, barely sufficient to meet the basic needs of her family. In this case, the children dropped out earlier in the course to help their mother. These women were frowned upon by the population, who saw them as the lovers of a fickle married man.

The difference between a family where both parents are present and married and single-parent families was strong whether it was in the education of the children, their schooling or the standard of living of this one.

The First World War: the involvement of Martinican women

Martinique women during the First World WarDuring the First and Second World Wars, the men (8,788 men or more) who went to war, women of all ages mobilized to help and participate in the national effort. They felt as concerned as men for this conflict which took place in Metropolitan France, more than 8,000 km from the island and were the first to propose solidarity actions in favor of the victims of the war.

Thus on August 22, 1914, a few days after the announcement of the war, the Union des femmes Martiniquaises (Martinican feminist movement) a committee of assistance to the wounded was created. It brings together prominent women from the colony. The goal of this movement was to promote the engagement of all with the war wounded. Thus, the women will undertake demonstrations of support and collection of donations (clothing, rum, confectionery, money) to the soldiers who have gone to defend the nation and their families.

It is with pleasure that I learn of the generous gesture of the ladies of my dear Martinique, consisting in sending clothes and rum to France to the soldiers who are on the front, mainly to those who give their life and their youth to the Mother land.

For example, Mademoiselle Didier organizes a charity concert at the municipal theater intended to collect funds (3,100 francs of receipts) to help the blind of the war.

The young girls of the Pensionnat Colonial make two boxes of woolen books that they send, one to the Œuvre du Tricot du Soldat at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris and the other to the Prefect of Loiret, the region where they were located. the largest number of refugees. The girls from the municipal school handed over sachets which they had made with socks and treats.

Some women had demonstrated their involvement and solidarity by becoming war godmothers. The war godmothers were women or young girls who maintained correspondence with soldiers retained on the front in order to support them morally, psychologically or emotionally. These were usually soldiers who had lost their families or had lost contact with them. They didn't just send mail, they also sent packages, gifts or photographs. In the case of Martinique, they were the point of connection between the poilus without family and the colony. Correspondence was frequent. They had no husband, no children, no brother in the war and had some means. Several appeals were launched in the newspapers for the recruitment of these war godmothers.

Others offer outright to go to the war fronts to help as a nurse.

Life and challenges of today's woman: from the post World War II period to the present day

In barely 70 years, the position of women has changed considerably, the woman passing from "woman of" to equal to man. Thus the women of Martinique, under the impetus of the various laws passed at the National Assembly in Paris, in favor of the emancipation of women were going to pass from simple wives to women totally free of their choice of life (professional, number of children, rights over children, divorce, choice of spouse, etc ...)

Pillar of her family and emancipated

Women's Emancipation Laws

The post-WWII era marked a turning point in the history of French women. Many international and national feminist movements are calling for more freedoms for women and equal status between men and women. They were going to be heard with several laws passed in this direction.

Summary of emancipation laws voted in the post-war period:

Woman placing a ballot in the ballot box at an election

  • End of civil incapacity in 1938 (the Napoleon code imposed on women the right of obedience to their husbands, women can now have an identity card and a passport),
  • Authorization to carry on a business without the authorization of her husband in 1942,
  • Right to vote in 1944,
  • Contraception authorized in 1967,
  • Parental authority shared between father and mother in 1970,
  • Equal pay for men and women in 1972,
  • Use of Voluntary Pregnancy Interruption in 1975,
  • Ban on dismissal of pregnant women in 1980,
  • Authorization for the woman to give her last name to her child in addition to the name of the father in 1985,
  • Law for same-sex marriage in 2013.

Be careful, however, these laws, although passed, did not have immediate effect in Martinique. Martinique remains a very Christian land and attached to the precepts of the Catholic, Evangelical or Adventist churches. Moreover, even today a significant fringe of the population remains firmly opposed to abortion or homosexual marriage.

Poto Mitan of the family

A word to know when you live in Martinique or study the Martinican woman are undoubtedly the words "poto mitan". The poto mitan designates the role of pillar in the family. From the end of slavery, the woman is considered as the one who has the most important role within her family. Indeed, slavery had left its mark on the role of each individual in the family.

Thus, that of the man was to work to provide for the "daily bread" (biblical notion of the Our Father frequently used) of his family while the woman was in charge of the preparation of the menus, the maintenance of the house, the education of children, emotional contribution to her children and her husband. Be careful, however, the notion of poto mitan should not be confused with that of a housewife. A working woman can also be the poto mitan of her family.

The notion of poto mitan refers only to her role at home, whether she is a housewife or an employee. Even today in Martinique, many women remain confined to the role of housewife when the role of the man is to be the main source of household income. The “housewife” is not always a choice made by this one, because 24.71% of the women of the population are unemployed and looking for a job full time or part time. In addition, in Martinique, in 2014, one in two Martinican families was a single-parent family with at least one child under 25 in the household. Most often it is the mother who is the head of the family.

Thus, in single-parent families, the woman has no other choice to combine her role of mother and employee. The large number of single-parent families is largely due to divorces, separations or the death of one of the two spouses. The absent parent, generally the father, if he is still alive nevertheless participates in the education of his children either financially (payment of alimony), or even emotionally (time granted to his child). Finally, another West Indian exception (compared to the Metropolis), the family structure is not limited to parents alone. Uncles, aunts and grandparents participate in the education of the children and sometimes take care of them to allow their mothers to have a professional occupation.

Westernization of Martinican women

The post-war period will significantly mark a turning point in the daily life of the Martinique woman (cultural, dress style, icons, etc ...) First, a real policy of assimilation to the French nation is put in place at the level of the State from an early age. The young Martinican is given civic education courses where patriotism (learning the French motto "liberty, equality, fraternity", the Marseillaise, respect for the tricolor, etc ...) is constantly discussed.

On the other hand, the arrival of mass media (radio, television, print newspapers) will further encourage Martinicans to subscribe to what constitutes the norm of French culture. The French widely used (administration, media) and taught to children is favored while the Creole which was spoken in the plantations is devalued and portrayed more as the language of the "uneducated". It must be said that Martinique was in the midst of a transition between the housing economy and the service sector. The difference grows between the family where the children spoke French "children of a good family" and those who spoke Creole.

The language spoken by the children was proof of the standard of living of the whole family and the educational level of the children. Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf, Dalida, Sylvie Vartan, Joe Dassin fascinate Martinique women for whom until then, French music was unknown. From the dominant French culture between 1945 and the 80s, the phenomenon of globalization with the United States in pole position, will rob it of this place of choice. Thus, female icons cease to be French to become American.

The transition will be slow however because Martinique will appropriate both the French culture and that of the United States which put on the front of the stage Black American stars, descendants of slaves like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklyn, Diana Ross or Gloria Gaynor. Families are tearing apart these two cultural concepts because on the one hand, Martinique is French and on the other, America has a spatial and historical proximity to Martinique despite this "defect" of the language barrier. The appearance of local groups like Malavoi, La Perfecta or even stronger, Kassav will be the transition between the two.

Young Martinicans are embarking on music by fully appropriating the Martinican melting-pot culture of various origins, embellished with Caribbean, American, French, European and African sounds. In addition, the Creole language is no longer perceived as the language of the “uneducated” but as a language of appropriation of its own culture and history. Today, Martinique is a cultural plural, the icons are at the same time American, French, Caribbean and of course local.

In her clothing habits, the Martinican women will gradually abandon the clothes that they sewed themselves, to buy in stores importing clothes directly from the metropolis. The madras definitively leaves the daily Martinican clothing to be replaced by dresses, skirts, blouses, and others worn by the Europeans.

Like culture, globalization will be right in the dressing room of Martinique women who will become westernized with the tailor to go to work. Be careful, however, the climate does not allow Martinican women to be passionate about the catwalks of fashion shows presenting the autumn-winter collection. Only summer outfits from Western countries arrive at the port of Fort-de-France.

The traditional costume proudly worn at the start of the 20th century is now seen only as a tool for promoting tourism. Also do not be shocked to see it only when you arrive at the airport as part of tourist promotions in July-August or on the cruise dock. He is always present at the carnival of Fort-de-France dressed by senior women and Reines-Mères.

Many battles remain to be fought

Even today in 2015, the situation of Martinican women is not equal to that of men. If in 70 years, many advances have helped the emancipation of women, the fact remains that the situation of women is still at many levels lower than that of men.

Some figures on women in the Martinican population and the working population

Martinique age pyramidIn 2019, Martinique had 166,515 men, compared to 196,969 women. They thus represent 54.2% of the Martinican population (2019 figures, INSEE) this is largely due to the increase in life expectancy and the fact that women live longer than men.

The distribution of men and women is relatively fair within age groups ranging from 0 to 24 years old, but from the age of 25, the proportion of women is clearly higher than that of men, in particular between 30 and 54 years old, and from 75 years old. They are also in the majority in the working population (53% are women against 47% men, 2019 figures from INSEE).

The fertility rate of women fell from 5.47 children per woman after World War II (1952, start of the study of the population of French departments with statistics stored in computers) to 1.94 ( Insee 2019 figures) child nowadays. The Martinican average is therefore almost similar to the national average (1.88 children per woman in 2019). The decline in the number of children per woman can be explained by more effective contraception than 70 years ago, the work of women and the fact that women are increasingly pursuing higher education, thus reducing the age of first pregnancy (29.2 years in 2006 (INSEE figures) compared to 26.7 years in 1946).

If in the post-war period, the pregnancy (ies) marked the end of women's professional activity, today there is no real impact on this criterion. The family policy implemented at the national level (laws prohibiting the dismissal of a pregnant woman in 1980, maternity leave in 1970, family social benefits, "third child policy": sharp increase in social benefits after the third child) has promoted the employment of women who continued to have a job after their pregnancy(s).

The life expectancy of women is higher than that of men 84.7 years (85.6 national average) against 78.6 years (79.7 national average). It should be noted that the Martinican population is aging because many retirees from Martinique return from metropolitan France or metropolitan retirees (heliotropism) while a large proportion of young people leave the island for the metropolis (BUMIDOM 1963 to 1981 then 2000s to today) or other destinations (Canada, United States, Europe excluding France) faced with the lack of employment due to the economic specificities of the island and / or the absence of certain student streams locally. Thus, if 36% of Martinican women were under 15 in 1974, they are only 19% of the total in 2007 (INSEE figures) when the number of women over 65 over the same period tripled!

This expatriation of young people is not temporary because few return to Martinique once their diploma has been obtained. This phenomenon means that the population of Martinique has been declining from year to year, losing nearly 4,000 inhabitants each year since 2010 (census figures).

Inequality in higher education and wages

University studies women MartiniqueAlthough more present on the benches of universities and graduated from higher education, women remain confined to less prestigious positions with regard to their educational level. 66% of Martinican women aged 25 to 34 (2012 INSEE figures) hold a baccalaureate or a higher education diploma (note 1 in 10 women in 1974) compared to 55% of men who opt for the more frequently for professional fields, figures similar to the national average.

After the Baccalaureate (high school diploma), women generally opt for more general studies (human sciences, literature, foreign languages, economics, law) than for technical fields (except hotels, restaurants, tourism, communication, early childhood, nursing) or science (mathematics, biological and physical sciences). Sectors reminiscent of "men's trades" (automotive, mechanics, refrigeration and air conditioning, etc.) are not very popular.

Despite this gap between the proportion of graduates and graduates, the highest family incomes remain those of men. They occupy the most senior positions within companies (managers, company directors, senior executives, company directors). For the same job, Martinican women receive 2,400 euros in annual salary less than men. For executives, the difference is 9,000 euros per year compared to their male colleagues. Worse, they represent 56% of the unemployed population against 44% for men (unemployment figures January 2015).

Economic and political under-representation

With a tertiary sector dominating the local economy (74% of female employment), women still remain confined to the lowest positions in the hierarchy (administrative employees, cashiers, saleswomen) or positions recalling their role as mothers or of women (restaurants, hotels, education, medical staff (infirmary, nursing assistants, midwives)). Less than a third of companies in Martinique are headed by women (30% national average but low compared to other world economic powers) and they still have to face many clichés. A man is made to lead, to be a leader, while a woman is made to help, assist and bring affection.

Aurélie Nella, Mayor of DucosIn the political sphere, the gap is even greater. Josette Manin was President of the General Council (see below) before the establishment of the Single Collectivity, but since then no woman has held such a prestigious position locally. Out of 34 municipalities in Martinique, only three municipalities are headed by a woman, Jenny Dulys in Morne-Rouge (see below) and Marie-Thérèse Casimirius in Basse-Pointe and Aurélie Nella in Ducos (photo opposite), women occupy municipal councilor positions and are even in the majority (51% of regional councilors), the law obliging parity on all list ballots.

Regarding national mandates, things have changed a lot recently! Two Martinican women are now MP, Josette Manin (see below), former President of the General Council of Martinique and Manuéla Kéclard-Mondésir. Catherine Conconne, for her part, is the first female Senator of Martinique! The recent years have marked real progress for women in politics, a trend which is not observed at the national level. Indeed, the national averages are not transcendent when we look at the other world economic powers.

Some women who have marked the history of Martinique

Activist life in the service of the feminist fight or the French Resistance

Jane Lero (1916-1971): Activist, Founder of the Union des femmes de la Martinique (Union of Women of Martinique)

Jane Lero, Founder of l'Union des Femmes de la MartiniqueJane Apolinaire Léro was born on February 8, 1916, during the First World War, into a family of small traders from Lamentin, a town of Martinique. The fifth of a family of 8 children, she joined the Pensionnat Colonial (Colonial Boarding School) for young girls in Fort de France in 1926 at the age of 10, where she was gifted in science.

Twelve years later, she won the honorary prize in mathematics and science. She saw as an injustice that strikes the woman the fact that her two brothers were able to go to university and not her.

Then 26 years old, on June 11, 1944, Jane Léro was at the head of a group of women of communist sensitivity, calling for the creation of the Union des Femmes de la Martinique. The Union des femmes de la Martinique is an activist and feminist association which defends the cause of women locally. We find it in actions to support women facing the difficulties they face on a daily basis (domestic violence, difficulties encountered in the professional environment, precariousness) but also to highlight the situation of Martinican women, less well off than men. She was the president of the Union des Femmes de la Martinique until she left for mainland France in 1949, to continue her studies as a social worker. She created the Ermitage and Terres-Sainville (neighborhood of Fort de France) committees.

She tragically died on July 17, 1961. A fighter, tireless fighter, determined, passionate, Jane Léro would follow through on her convictions.

Manon Tardon (1913-1989): figure of the French interior Resistance and France libre

Manon Tardon, Figure of the Resistance and Free FranceYvonne Renée Manon Tardon was born on August 17, 1913 in Fort-de-France, into a family of 5 children (three boys and two girls) where she was the 3rd. His parents are Asthon Tardon (1882-1944) and Berthe Marie Waddy (1887-1961) and were landowners of over 700 hectares. His father was Mayor of the Prêcheur (town in Martinique) and general councilor. His brother Raphaël Tardon was a great poet and writer. Beautiful and intelligent, Manon Tardon was adored by her father. Instead of attending public school, she has a home tutor, something that was reserved for the aristocracy at the time. Later, she returned to Fort-de-France where she was enrolled in the colonial boarding school. Gifted, she passed her baccalaureate at the age of 15!

She left for Paris where she enrolled at the Sorbonne (Prestigious and first university in France) and became a friend of the future President of the Republic, Georges Pompidou. She obtained a degree in history and geography and two higher certificates (Modern and Contemporary History and another in History of the Middle Ages). During her studies she met her future husband Jack Sainte-Luce Banchelin, son of the censor at the old Schœlcher high school. He is a lawyer at the Paris bar and will be a parachute commander during the war. From their marriage will be born a daughter, who died in infancy, and later a son, Pierre, born in 1942. While France is at war, she enlists in the army and follows the École des cadres du Général Delattre de Tassigny.

She is a Women's Weapons Specialist in the Army, first at the rank of midshipman, then officer and lieutenant. She participated in the various resistance networks of France Libre (resistance movement against the German occupation), she took refuge in Châteaudun in Eure-et-Loir, where she was at the time of the landing of the Anglo-American armies in Normandy in 1944, on August 19, 1944 she welcomed the troops of General Bradley en route to Paris which followed those of General Leclerc of the 2nd Armored Division for the liberation of Paris.

In the army, she sympathizes with another Creole Martinican, Simone Beuzelin. This is how she lived in the great period of Resistance in her activity. She will campaign in Alsace and Vercors and will receive the Croix de Guerre with vermeil palm for her action carried out during the war. On May 8, 1945, she was part of the delegation headed by General de Lattre de Tassigny, to receive the act of surrender from Nazi Germany. She was present there in her capacity as a 1st category specialist staff officer, she was certainly one of the only women present during this historic event.

In 1945, she returned to Martinique on leave for 6 months, to settle urgent family matters. Then, she was demobilized on the spot on June 23, 1946. After being demobilized in 1946, back in Martinique, no doubt to stay in the movement, Manon learned to fly. She then fought for fifteen years a long and incessant battle to recover the family domain of Anse Couleuvre au Prêcheur, the hereditary heritage, which was occupied by a tough tenant.

She won her case and was able to definitively regain possession of all her family assets. She died suddenly on December 23, 1989 at the age of 76 in Fort de France following a fall on the stairs of her ancestral home. She will have the honor of official funerals with a military delegation and her coffin adorned with the French flag, a symbol of her commitment to the Republic. Her dearest wish will be fulfilled, to die on her native island and her reclaimed domain that she cherished more than anything.

George Arnauld (Born in 1953): Activist, Former President of the Union of Women of Martinique

George Arnault, Former President of the Union des Femmes de la MartiniqueGeorge Arnauld was born in 1953 on the Habitation de canne à sucre, l'Espérance au François, which belonged to the Hayot family (a commercial group with plantations, shopping centers, department stores, car dealerships, etc.) and will remain there. until he was 15, his father being the manager of the Habitation. She grew up among the planters, cane cutters and moorers who lived in the "Negro huts" (name used for the huts where the slaves used to live during slavery). Her mother ran a shop on the plantation and took care of the notebooks. It was the place where the workers came to buy food.

She judges that her childhood will have been happy but also hard when she saw the low salaries of the planters and cane cutters received from the hands of her father, the manager, who was armed with a cutlass and a gun for the occasion, the suffering mooring women who were subject to the “droit de cuissage on the part of the commanders” (Droit de cuissage is the literally meaning the right over her thigh. This custom from the European Middle Ages (5th century) and beyond allowed a feudal lord to deflower the bride of his serf on her wedding night. Today this means that a boss has recourse to sexual favors by threatening a generally female employee to lose her job or by offering her better working conditions (bonus, promotion or other). She is touched by the harsh living conditions, suffering and misery that hit the staff and takes their social situation to heart.

She attends and witnesses several major strikes and social movements linked to the conditions of the sugar cane workers, in particular the 1963 crisis when she was only 10 years old. His father systematically refused any social movement in his home, even if it meant using his weapons. In addition, he had several mistresses on the plantation from which several children were born.

She also does not support the "haughty and arrogant" characters of the Békés and will even consider herself "racist" until she joins the Fourth International and the Internationalist Movement while she was a student. In 1990, she joined the Union des Femmes Martiniquaises during a mission she had at the National Education as Chargée de mission for the education of young girls.

Solicited by Solange Fitte-Duval, then President of the Union des Femmes Martiniquaises, she sees this as an opportunity to bring her feminist conviction to an association that structured these ideas at the political level. She became President of the Union of Women of Martinique in 1997 during a congress. She remained at the head of the association until 2009 when Rita Bonheur succeeded her. During her tenure, she participated in numerous movements to denounce the weak role or even the total absence of women in the highest hierarchical positions and in the largest political bodies, pay inequalities between men and women, the fate of battered women and / or killed by their companion.

Although more President, today, she still leads this fight as well to restore the history of Martinican women who have integrated feminist and social struggles in Martinique as for current women still victims of injustice or inequality in the face of employment.

She is also Director of the Information and Orientation Center, member and activist of the Groupe Révolution Socialiste (Socialist Revolution Group). She is married to Gilbert Pago, historian and writer from Martinique.

Speaking of feminist activism in Martinique, we could also have mentioned Solange Fitte-Duval, member of the Communist Party and President of the Union of Women of Martinique from 1975 to 1993, Maïotte Dauphite founder of the Paul Gauguin Museum, Yvette Ebion, President of the Women's Union from 1993 to 1997, Geneviève Marie-Angélique or Renée de Montaigne.

Martinique writers and politicians

Paulette Nardal (1896-1985): politician and feminist activist

Paulette Nardal, Activist, inspirer of the Negritude movementPaulette Nardal, was born in Saint-Pierre (Martinique) in 1896 into a bourgeois family. She is the daughter of Paul Nardal, one of the first Black engineers on the island and the eldest in a family of 8 daughters. She was 6 years old when Mount Pelée erupted. She became a teacher before deciding to go to Paris to continue her studies at the age of 24.

She arrived in Paris in 1920 and enrolled at the Sorbonne University to study English. She thus becomes the first Black woman to study in this French institution. She took advantage of her move to Paris to take an interest in the cultural life of the capital. She goes to the theater, attends concerts, visits exhibitions and museums. She frequents the Bal Nègre, a famous old West Indian dancing cabaret and Paris jazz club dating from 1800, one of the rare places where she finds her cultural references.

She receives various young people from the West Indies or from the Black diaspora at her home in Clamart to help them and put them in contact. Among them, we can cite the young Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, René Maran, Jean Price Mars, Claude Mc Kay or Langston Hughes.

She held a literary salon there where she began to defend the idea of ​​women's emancipation and the concept of “Négritude”, an Afro-French literary movement. With the Haitian writer Léo Sajous, she founded the Revue du Monde Noir which will only appear for 6 issues due to lack of funds.

In 1937, she visited her friend Léopold Sedhar Sengor in Senegal. She entered politics, Paulette Nardal being parliamentary assistant to Martinique Deputee Joseph Lagrosillière, and Senegal Deputee Galandou Diouf. It engages against the invasion of Mussolini in Ethiopia.

In 1939, she narrowly escaped drowning thanks to a lifeboat, the boat that brought her back from Martinique having been hit by a German submarine off England. However, it will have significant consequences including serious disabilities. However, she will continue to campaign in particular for the right of women to vote. Her infirmity deprived her of a post at the United Nations in New York and she returned to Martinique definitively in 1945.

She created the Women's Rally and encouraged women to vote in April 1945 and to get involved in politics.

Passionate about music, she writes a history of the musical tradition of the Martinican countryside (bèlè, béliya, bouwo, ladjia). Paulette Nardal died on February 16, 1985, at the age of 89.

She is the aunt of Christiane Eda-Pierre, is a world famous lyric artist.

Jenny Dulys-Petit: The only female mayor in Martinique

Jenny Dulys-Petit, Current Mayor of Morne-RougeJenny Dulys was born in 1953. Passionate about the choir, she joined the choir of Notre Dame de la Délivrance at the age of 12. In 1974, she was appointed choir director. She was also president of the Auberge de Jeunesse (Youth Hostel), first of all the overseas departments at the time and secretary of the rural family house, first of Martinique. Since 1992, she has been the Director of Notre Dame de la Délivrance primary school in Morne-Rouge.

She was elected on the list led by Pierre Petit as 7th Deputy Mayor of Morne-Rouge in 1983. When he was re-elected six years later, he appointed her First Deputy. She was also elected as Regional Councilor in 1992 and General Councilor in 1993. She is also a member of "Osons doser" (local political party) and the Union for the Presidential Majority.

On March 9, 2008, Jenny Dulys was supported by Pierre Petit, the former mayor who decided to pass the torch to the municipal elections to his first assistant. She was elected Mayor of Morne-Rouge in the first round with 1,760 votes or 62.54% of the votes cast. She was re-elected in 2014 and 2020. She is currently one of the only 3 women mayors of Martinique out of 34 municipalities!

On Saturday January 10, 2009, Jenny Dulys married the former Mayor of Morne-Rouge, Pierre Petit aged 79. She was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (French medal) in August 2013. According to her, her life can be summed up in her Christian, social, associative and political commitment.

Josette Manin: First woman Deputy of Martinique for the National Assembly

Josette Manin, Former President of the General CouncilJosette Manin was born in 1950 in Lamentin. She is a Martinican politician woman. She is a retired bank executive. She is a member of “Bâtir le pays Martinique”, a left-wing Martinique party founded in 1998 by Pierre Samot, mayor of Lamentin.

In 1983, she joined the Martinican Communist Party and became a communist activist with Georges Gratiant, a great figure in Martinican political life. It was the same year that Josette Manin really began her political career during the municipal elections of 1983. Indeed, she was elected for the first time, municipal councilor on the list of the mayor, Georges Gratiant.

In 1995, it appeared on the list "Lamentin Horizon 2001 - development, solidarity, justice" of the outgoing mayor, Pierre Samot. Josette Manin had been re-elected municipal councilor. In the 2001 municipal elections, she was again re-elected municipal councilor and this time became deputy mayor. During the municipal elections of March 2008, Josette Manin appears in an eligible position on the list entitled "Le Lamentin passionément" of the outgoing mayor, Pierre Samot. She was elected 2nd deputy mayor of Lamentin at the end of the ballot.

In the cantonal elections of 2001, she was elected for the first time general councilor of the canton of Lamentin-3-Est. She was re-elected during the 2008 cantonal elections.

In 1998, Josette Manin left the Martinican Communist Party and joined Pierre Samot's Bâtir le pays Martinique, following the split with the Martinican Communist Party. Josette Manin was chosen in March 2011 to be the candidate for the presidency of the opposition group entitled "Ensemble, pour une Martinique nouvelle", made up of elected representatives of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais, of Bâtir le pays Martinique, the Mouvement Populaire Franciscain, the Fédération Socialiste de la Martinique, of Mouvement « Vivre à Schoelcher » and of Osons oser.

She was elected on March 31, 2011, in the 3rd round, President of the General Council of Martinique by 23 votes against 22 to Alfred Sinosa, candidate from the group of outgoing President Claude Lise. She is the second woman to chair a general council in the French West Indies, one of the five presidents in France in 2011 and finally the eleventh in history. She is also a member of the Communauté d'agglomération du Centre de la Martinique (CACEM) meaning community council of the Agglomeration Community of Central Martinique.

She was the last President of the Council since Martinique was endowed with a Unique Collectivity (merger of the General and Regional Council) in December 2015. Josette Manin is now a Member of the National Assembly for Martinique. In 2017, she became the first woman elected as a member of French parliament for Martinique. She served in the National Assembly until 2022.

Cultural life

Léona Gabriel

Leona Gabriel, singer, composer of traditional music from MartiniqueLéona Gabriel was born in 1891 in Rivière-Pilote in Martinique. Daughter of a wealthy family, Léona is lulled by the songs of the workers of her father's plantation, a White Creole, which they used to give themselves courage in the work.

When she was 10, she lost her father, who died accidentally while fishing. Her mother died of grief and illness some time later.

At the age of 14, the young Léona embarked for Guyana with her aunt and her brothers and sisters, where she would spend all her childhood. As a young woman, she held a post of secretary in Panama, before returning to Martinique. Back on her island, she seduces the Martinican public with her voice and her charm. She sings her Martinique, that of Saint-Pierre which is reborn from its ashes after the volcanic eruption of 1902.

Léona also composed new biguines and mazurkas, which would become great classics of the traditional Martinican repertoire: "vini wè kouli-a", "maladie d'amour", a song taken up by her nephew Henri Salvador a few years later.

Léona Gabriel left for Paris around 1920. There she met her future husband, Dany Derff, a talented Russian musician who arranged the melodies she composed, and who took charge of her career. Léona Gabriel frequents the Parisian artistic milieu, and rubs shoulders with Edith Piaf, Henri Liméry, etc. Separated a few years later, she became closer to West Indian musicians, and became the official singer of the Stellio orchestra, with whom she traveled through France. She remarried in 1935 with Mr. Soïme, a military doctor, whom she followed on a mission to Senegal for 2 years. The war forces her to mark a truce in her singing career. In 1948, Léona returned to Martinique.

Very much in demand, she gives numerous recitals in Martinique and Guadeloupe, hosts the radio program "Ça c'est la Martinique" (This is Martinique) alongside great musicians such as the trombonist Archange St-Hilaire or Hurard Coppet. In 1966, under the same title, she published a collection of Creole songs which brought together the main works of Martinican folklore from before 1902, when Saint-Pierre was destroyed. Léona Gabriel has recorded numerous records alongside great musicians of her time: Stellio, Hurard Coppet, Archange St-Hilaire, etc.

She died in 1971, leaving Creole songs that had become great classics.

Marijosé Alie: media woman

 femmes de médiasMarijosé Alie was born in 1951 in Paris to an architect father and a musician mother. She spent her childhood at Le Diamant in the south of Martinique with her grandmother first, then with her mother, a piano teacher. From the age of six, she developed a passion for this instrument. She also enjoys reading and writing. Hence her vocation for journalism, which she considers, at the age of 16, to be the most complete expression of democracy. As soon as she obtained her baccalaureate, she crossed the Atlantic to continue her studies in Paris. Marijosé Alie enrolled in a journalism school.

At the same time, this reading lover is studying literature and sociology at the Sorbonne. At the same time as her studies, she joined a group that played in the subway the same year. A group with which, sometimes drawing inspiration from real events, she writes and composes many songs. Marijosé Alie graduated from the Paris School of Journalism in 1974.

After graduating, she plans to start a weekly newspaper covering Caribbean news. But as soon as she returned to Martinique, television called on her. It then joined the Office de Radiodiffusion et Télévision Française (O.R.T.F) (French Broadcasting and Television Office).

She first started on radio before presenting the regional television news a few months later. In 1977, she was transferred to Burgundy. She will stay there for three years. It was during her stay in Burgundy that she composed the song "Caressé mwen" which will be recorded in 1983 by the group Malavoi. It will experience real popular success nationally and internationally. She successively held prestigious positions in Martinique and Paris, notably becoming the first female Regional Director in Martinique or by directing two films on Aimé Césaire.

Anxious to promote artists from overseas France and ethno and socio-cultural diversity, Marijosé Alie, in 2005 conceived and launched the “Dom Tom Folies”, for artists from the 9 overseas departments and territories and “France Ô Folies” for minorities living in the suburbs. She has also presented "Studio M" then "A Nous Deux" since the start of September 2011.

Since Radio France Outremer (devenu la 1ère) joined the Groupe France Télévision, Marijosé Alie has been Deputy Director of Programs in charge of Diversity for all the channels of the France Télévision group. Marijosé Alie-Monthieux is a Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mérite (French Medal).

Jocelyne Béroard: ambassador of Creole culture

 Chanteuse du groupe KassavJocelyne Béroard was born on September 12, 1954 in Fort de France. After obtaining her bac D at the age of 17, she moved to the metropolis where she continued her studies in Caen (pharmacy) then joined the Beaux-Arts in Paris. Thanks to her brother, she joined the West Indian music scene in Paris.

In 1980, having become a professional chorister, Jocelyne Béroard left for Jamaica for a few weeks where she recorded several tunes with Lee "Scratch" Perry and Thirld World. She also records in France with the disco group Gibson Brothers.

1980 is definitely a pivotal year for her, it is indeed this year that she takes her first steps with Kassav' by participating in the choirs of the second album of the group. She recorded the song "Soley" on this album. She continued her career as a chorister where she worked for Bernard Lavilliers, Manu Dibango, Zachary Richard or Herbert Leonard.

Jocelyne Béroard definitively integrates Kassav 'in 1983. From then on, Jocelyne Béroard takes more and more importance in Kassav' where she ends up becoming the main singer of the group.

In 1986, his album “Siwo” and the single “Kolé séré” sung in duet with Jean-Claude Naimro were double gold records. She becomes the first Caribbean singer in history to obtain a gold record in France. In 1988, Philippe Lavil invited him for a duet cover of the hitKolé séré” by Kassav '.

In 1991, a second album was released entitled "Milan" with titles such as "Jilo Mayé" or "Milan". This album met with mixed success, dissuading the singer from making a new solo album for more than ten years.

In 1997, she recorded the song "Lonbraj An Pyé Mango" with Chris Combette. This song will be rewarded as vacation hit in the Caribbean. In 1999, she was awarded the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. In March 2001, she was one of the many performers of the title “Que serais-je demain ” as a member of the female collective “Les Voix de l'espoir” created by Princess Erika.

In 2003, she recorded the album "Madousinay" with her friends from Kassav. Along with the song, we could see it in the film "Nèg Maron" with in particular the Guadeloupe singer Admiral T.

On May 16, 2009, she participated in the “30 years of Kassav” concert, the biggest zouk concert ever organized in mainland France in front of more than 65,000 people. On May 22, 2011, she triumphed at the Olympia (prestigious concert hall in Paris) in solo a few days after the release of her double album “Yen Ki Lanmou”.

In 2012, she participated in the film "Le Gang des Antillais". A year later, the group Kassav released their 15th album, “Sonjé”, notably with a tribute to Patrick Saint-Éloi, one of the members of the group who died a few years earlier. We could also have presented Jenny Alpha, former dean of French actors or the producer Euzhan Palcy, Gertrude Seinin singer of traditional Martinican music, Princess Lover, current zouk singer, Danielle René-Corail among others.


Throughout this study on the history of women in Martinique from the Arawaks to the current Creoles, the term “poto mitan” finds its full justification in the central role played by women. From harvesting to cooking cassava, the main nourishing culture among the Arawaks and the Caribbean, through the harvesting of gardens during colonization and slavery, the religious teaching of the little Whites, their work on the cane plantations of the Koulies to the Creole women of the 20th century, women are present at the crucial moment of the society to which they belonged.

We have seen the social (education of children, support for her husband, participation in social struggles), economic (women at work), cultural (transmission of values, school and Christian education) importance of women.

And what about the suffering experienced by these women, the polygamy of the Arawaks and the Caribbean (although these were the practices of the time), the Black slaves beaten on bodies completely undressed in the eyes of the whole workshop (the staff), the rapes, humiliations and pregnancies resulting from these abuses, the fear of seeing their child (ren) enslaved, the auctions of White women presented naked on a platform, the backs bent of the moorer or charcoal carriers and the current mother who often fights in families where she is the only parent present at home?

Only one century, the 20th, will see a giant leap in the status of women. Women can now control their contraception, vote and be elected, have a salary equivalent to that of men, make decisions without requiring the consent of their husbands and name their child(ren). However, these great advances cannot hide the fact that the current situation of women remains far below that of men, although they are more qualified.

Even today, they are politically under-represented, only three women, Jenny Dulys-Petit, Aurélie Nella and Marie-Thérese Casimirus respectively occupy the first function at the Town hall of Morne-Rouge, Ducos and Basse-Pointe in 34 municipalities. In the corporate world, they are invisible, confined to secondary positions and even less well paid than their male counterparts.

There was no question of finishing this file without saluting and honoring all these women who have been part of the greatest struggles so that Martinique is what it is today and those who continue these struggles. Their preponderant role in workers' struggles, social struggles, the French Resistance, support for troops during the Two World Wars or their contribution, their contribution and the defense of Creole and Martinican culture and heritage is too often overlooked.

Feminist associations such as the Union des Femmes de la Martinique do not intend to relax the fight for the 21st century to be one of real equality between women and men.


Histoire de la Martinique : Tome 1 - Des Arawaks à 1848, Armand Nicolas, éditions l'Harmattan,
L'esclavage aux Antilles françaises (XVIIe-XIXe siècle), Antoine Gisler Dans les îles du vent,
la Martinique, XVIIè-XIXè siècle, Liliane Chauleau
Origines de la Martinique: Le colonel François de Collart et la Martinique, Isidore Guët
Les colonies françaises, petite encyclopédie coloniale, Volume 1 Histoire économique de la Guadeloupe et de la Martinique: du XVIIe siècle à nos jours, Alain Ph Blérald
Martiniquaises d’hier et d’aujourd’hui : une place grandissante dans la société, Études de l'INSEE
La population de la France: évolutions démographiques depuis 1946, Christophe Bergouignan
La Martinique napoléonienne 1802-1809 - Entre ségrégation, esclavage et intégration, Lionel Trani La Liberté est ou n'est pas.., Gérard Théobald
La France et ses esclaves, Frédéric Regent
Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 1635-1848, Bernard Moitt
Les femmes au travail à la Martinique (XVII-XX ème siècles), Cécile Celma
Laïcité: enjeux et pratiques : premier Colloque Montaigne, sous la direction de Singaravelou
L'anticléricalisme dans la Caraïbe francophone. Un "article importé" ? 1870-1911, Philippe Delisle
Mon chef est une femme
France-Antilles of December 3rd, 2014
Union des Femmes de Martinique
La femme française
La Population française des départements français d'outre-mer
Vie quotidienne des Arawaks La civilisation Arawak
Population selon la catégorie socioprofessionnelle et le sexe au 1er janvier 2011
Direction Interrégionale Antilles-Guyane>Martiniquaises d’hier et d’aujourd’hui : une place grandissante dans la société Études de l'INSEE
Le nombre de demandeurs d'emploi est en recul

*Attention! Some of the images used in this study, the story of the Martinican woman, are not paintings from Martinique but from neighboring Caribbean islands. They are nevertheless appropriate for the context described in the study.