Martinique: Bitterness after “The Last Masters”

Ever since the February 5th broadcast of The Last Masters of Martinique, a documentary about the Békés, the French West Indies have experienced the equivalent of a sociological tsunami.

Local intellectuals like Raphaël Confiant in Montray Kréyol, politicians and journalists have written open letters to express the shock, sadness and humiliation felt by many non-Béké Martinicans after watching the documentary. One of them, Gilles Dégras in Bondamanjak concludes his statement by insisting on the need for apologies [Fr]:

Aujourd'hui, monsieur Despointes, vous avez l'occasion de désamorcer cette bombe que vous décrivez comme étant plus forte que ‘Hiroshima’. Eh oui cette bombe est mentale, c'est du napalm structurel. […] je vous demande simplement au nom de la caste béké, de présenter au peuple martiniquais et plus particulièrement aux descendants d'esclaves, vos plus plates excuses

Today, Mr. Despointes, you have the opportunity to defuse this bomb that you think is stronger than ‘Hiroshima’. Yes, this bomb is mental, it is structural napalm.[…] I ask you, in the name of the Béké cast, to humbly apologize to the Martinican population and specifically to the slaves’ great-grandchildren.

Interestingly enough, even other members from the Béké community have broken away from Despointes's words, as explained here by bondamanjak.

However, the population of Martinique asks for more than apologies and strikes back on three main issues:

1. Law
Alain Huyghes Despointes, who spoke the controversial words, is proudly introduced here by the Martinican Association for the Promotion of Industry:

Monsieur Alain HUYGHUES DESPOINTES, pionnier de l'industrie à la Martinique a été promu au rang de Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur le par décret du Président de la République le 13 juillet 2005.

Né en 1926 à Fort de France, ce père de 5 enfants, autodidacte, est aujourd'hui à la tête d'un groupe de 8 entreprises aux Antilles Guyane employant près de 550 personnes.

Mr Alain HUYGHUES DESPOINTES, a pionneer in the Martinican Industry was dignified with the Legion of Honor by decree of the President of the French Republic, on July 13rd 2005.

Born in 1926, in Fort-de-France, this self-taught father of 5, is today the CEO of a group of 8 companies in the French Caribbean which employs 550 people.

This honor from the French Republic is a bone of contention for most Martinicans, who consider the decoration totally incompatible with Despointes’ views about ethnicity and slavery. As a matter of fact, in 2001, France recognized slavery as a crime against humanity in a law named after a French Guianese deputy: Taubira Law.

Last week, a Martinican lawyer, supported by the public attorney, decided to sue Mr. Despointes for what is being interpreted as his racist and pro-slavery words – and encouraged the population to do the same. Montray Kréyol and bondamanjak suggest procedures to bring the man into court.

2. Economics
Others have chosen another means of protest, which has become quite popular lately in the French West Indies: economic boycott.
Wmaker, maracudja in lepost and M-J T-P in lepetitlexiquecolonial all call for a general boycott of Mr Despointes’ various industries.

3. Physical presence
Since the abolition of slavery in 1848, the Békés have lived a segregated life in a secluded Martinique lagoon called Cap-Est – also known as “Békéland”. Bondamanjak features a video entitled Welcome to Cap-Est – a parody of the now famous documentary The Last Masters of Martinique set to the tune of Welcome to Jamrock by Damian Marley. The song suggests that Martinicans are fustrated when they see the luxurious mansions, cars and boats in Cap-Est, as they represent the many symbols of Békés’ wealth. The Béké community, meanwhile, appears to be very much aware of and perhaps even concerned about this turn of events – this last post [Fr] by bondamanjak reveals that they have asked for police surveillance in their neighborhood.

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