“There are no more statues to tear down”, jokes a Martiniquan in reference to the first unbolting of those of the abolitionist Victor Schœlcher, on May 22, 2020, preludes to other destructions of historical figures by activists who did great noise. Two years after the events, the muscular arrest at the beginning of the month of several of them (including one with handcuffs, an indictment and placement under judicial supervision) undoubtedly served as a warning that this holiday , in Martinique, unfolds calmly across the entire map of the island, celebrating.
“Calm”, so to speak, given the effervescence of demonstrations relayed by countless invitations on social networks which then open to the four corners of the territory: “I came with my children to Cap 110, tells us Saturday evening, at Le Diamant, this mother of a family, facing the monument of the artist Laurent Valère, an impressive tribute to the victims of the sinking of a slave ship on this south coast of Martinique. My parents didn’t tell me about our ancestors who fought for their freedom. I find it important to pay tribute to them. The marchers advance, torches in hand, with drums, alongside queen conch blowers and Danmyé wrestlers… They are ready. The party is on!
Meanwhile, at the Aimé Césaire Cultural Park in Fort-de-France, the hall is full (900 seats) for this annual and unmissable event. The show resonates on the stage of the AImé-Césaire cultural park, with superb choreographies that bring together the talents and faces of the mixed people of Martinique. Indians, Chinese, Whites, Blacks… An African-American troupe is also there.
As reminded this Sunday 22 in the morning in Trénelle, popular district of Fort-de-France, Didier Laguerre (its mayor): it is Aimé Césaire who is at the origin of this date of commemoration of the abolition of slavery. First Mayor’s Day and gradually adopted by all the municipalities to become here the equivalent of a hexagonal July 14th. After the mass, the priest reminds that slavery continues around the world, he says to the faithful: “Asé pléré an nou lité” (stop complaining, take action).
Officials walk to the Place du 22-Mai where the sculpture of Khokho René-Corail was inaugurated in 1971, a tribute to the struggles of the Martinican people, acquired by the city of Fort-de-France. This woman holding a dead child in one hand holds a weapon in the other that signifies that the struggle continues. It is the counterpart wanted by Aimé Césaire at the time, of that of Victor Schœlcher (unbolted), showing the abolitionist deputy holding a little girl by the hand (symbolizing Martinique). That morning is also an opportunity for Serge Letchimy, who has just launched with the other elected officials from the outermost regions the call from Fort-de-France, to prepare the ground for the legislative elections, after recalling that this May 22 symbolized the conquest of freedom by the Martinicans themselves.
Here is a chapter of history unfortunately too little known of our common past: May 21, 1848. Indeed, a slave named Romain refuses to stop playing the drum despite the request of the master of the Duchamp estate, who has him thrown in prison in Saint-Pierre. This repression led the next day to a massive slave uprising which forced Governor Rostoland to decree by municipal decree the immediate abolition of slavery in Martinique on May 23, thus anticipating the arrival of the abolition decree adopted by several days. April 27, 1848 by the French Provisional Government. The north of the island is therefore a major place of memory, and it is in the town of Le Prêcheur, where the memory of Romain is cultivated, that the groups on foot of the 22nd convoy for repairs after a march to the torches started on May 8 end their journey.
What do these events have in common? Refocus the commemoration on the revolt of the Martinicans and on the cultural traditions stemming mainly from slavery, that of the bèlè between drums, songs and dances from Africa, by those who were deported from the continent as dehumanized labor in the service of the plantation system.
Illustration this morning of Sunday, May 22 on the Place de la Savanne: the territorial community of Martinique (CTM) is launching a first celebration. And it is a success. Facing the sea, the extraordinary variety of rhythms of drums and dances are revealed during some two hours of celebration to the sound of “gloryé 22 mé”. Not far away, in a less attractive setting, the roundabout of “Heroic Vietnam”, so named by Césaire to salute the decolonization of Vietnam, resounds the drums coming mainly from Guadeloupe, which invite you to dance and make you forget the smells exhaust pipes…
Finally, return to the city center, where Haiti invites itself to the party. A festival of contemporary performances (Fiap) is held on the same dates and ends on May 22 with contemporary rara (traditional music from Haiti), in response to the island’s xenophobic graffiti (“Haitians outside”), where Marine Le Pen came out on top in the second round of the presidential election. In the country of Césaire, poetry has not said its last word either: the first Balisaille festival, which opens on May 26 in Saint-Esprit, continues to bring people together for the best. And these days, it is the voice of Haitian singer James Germain that has resonated in the schools of an island where transmission, succeeding the silences of history, takes a preponderant part and is experienced as a leaven of unity and a constructive future.