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Martinique: The last masters of the islands?

Categories: Caribbean, France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Ethnicity & Race, Film, History, Media & Journalism, Migration & Immigration

As the two-week-long-protest in Guadeloupe [1] continues, the other French Overseas Departments of America – French Guiana and Martinique – are thinking about their own contribution to this deep thinking and massive mobilization. In the midst of this brainstorming, the French-encrypted and sometimes trouble-making channel, Canal+ [2] is seasoning up the debate with a sizzling hot documentary about the tight relationships between certain ethnic groups and economic domination on the French island of Martinique. The Martinican blogosphere, naturally, has been buzzing…

One Martinican blogger, blogdemoi explains her interest in watching the documentary after presenting the synopsis [3] [Fr]:

Voilà le synopsis, disponible sur le site de Canal+, concernant ”Les derniers maîtres de la Martinique” (production: TAC Presse):

En Martinique, moins de 1% de la population détient 52% des terres agricoles. Il s’agit des békés, les héritiers des vieilles familles blanches, installées dans l’île avant la Révolution française.

Pour Spécial Investigation, Romain Bolzinger enquête sur une communauté méconnue et discrète qui a traversé les siècles en préservant ses coutumes, ses richesses et ses codes et dresse le portrait d’un département rongé par les inégalités et les rancoeurs post-coloniales.

Here is the synopsis, available on Canal+ website, about “The Last Masters of Martinique” (production: TAC Presse):
In Martinique, less than 1% of the population owns 52% of the farming lands. They are the “békés [4]“[Fr], name given to the families of white people, who have been living and managing the island even before the French Revolution [5].

For Spécial Investigation, Romain Bolzinger investigated a little-known and discreet community who have succeeded in preserving its traditions, wealth and codes through the centuries. He drew the portrait of a department [Martinique] tormented by various inequalities and post-colonial resentment.

blogdemoi draws attention to the pseudo-coincidental time of the broadcast – when the neighboring island of Guadeloupe is still shaken by a mobilization which questions the monopoly of a few families, and as another mobilization is scheduled in Martinique on February 5th 2009:

Le timing est presque parfait vu que les syndicats martiniquais appellent à la grève générale ‘contre la vie chère’ (selon l’expression désormais consacrée) à partir du jeudi 5 février.

The timing is almost perfect [program broadcasted on Jan. 30th in France] as Martinican labor unions have scheduled an all-out strike, to protest ‘against the high cost of living’, starting on Thursday, February 5th.

She expresses her fears concerning the consequences of this broadcast, at a time when economic and ethnic matters tend to get all mixed up:

Ca risque de faire mal.
[…]Il faudra aussi s’attendre à des dérives racistes et xénophobes qui refuseront de s’appeler comme telles bien sûr; tout le monde sait que le racisme et la xénophobie ça ne va que dans un sens, n’est-ce-pas ? J’espère simplement, je croise les doigts, que ce documentaire ne mettra pas le feu aux poudres

We can expect serious consequences.
[…]It is quite likely that some racist and xenophobic acts will follow and they will not be called so, of course; everyone knows that racism and xenophobia go only way, right? My only hope, fingers-crossed, is that this documentary will not set the island on fire.

blogdemoi‘s concerns may be justified: although the program will only be broadcast in the French West Indies on Feb. 6th 2009, it has already triggered many reactions. Indeed, the program was broadcast on Jan. 31st in continental France and has already crossed the Atlantic thanks to the Internet. bondamanjak [6] and montray kréyol [7], both from Martinique, expressed their complete shock over the words uttered by a man from one of the richest and oldest “Béké” families, concerning racial mixing and slavery [Fr]:

Dans les familles métissées, les enfants sont de couleurs différentes, il n’y a pas d’harmonie. Moi, je ne trouve pas ça bien. Nous (ndlr : les Békés), on a voulu préserver la race.

Les historiens ne parlent que des aspects négatifs de l’esclavage et c’est regrettable

In mixed-raced families, children have different skin colors and that's not harmonious. I don't think that's right. We (the Békés) have always striven to preserve our race.
Historians only insist on the negative sides of slavery and that's a shame.

The man in question has since published a letter [8] [Fr], to say that his words and ideas had been twisted by the journalist, but most people from the West Indian diaspora who saw the documentary in France, feel still miserable about it – like this woman [9] for instance [Fr] :

Bref…ça fait mal…quand même parce qu'on passe (le reste de la population non béké) pour des cons bien gentils qui se font entubés depuis 400 ans !!!

well…it hurts…because we (the rest of the population) are seen as stupid fools who have been duped for 400 years!!!

Such bitter feelings are probably one reason why bondamanjak asks the question “DOIT-ON DIFFUSER LES DERNIERS MAITRES DE LA MARTINIQUE AUX ANTILLES?” which means, “Should The Last Masters of Martinique be broadcast in the French West Indies?” The majority of comments on this post say yes, as people seem to think that now is the time for some truths to be officially unveiled.