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France and its DOM: the Ambivalence of European Identity

  • Ute Fendler

Abstract

While discussing European identity, one is very often inclined to forget the French West Indies, which are geographically far away from France but whose inhabitants are French citizens. The ambivalence of the European identity of the French West Indian can only be understood in the historical context. The main events of West Indian history are genocide of the natives committed by the European discoverers and settlers and, consequently, the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean Islands, which was started in order to ensure the supply of plantation workers. At the end of the nineteenth century, after the abolition of slavery, other waves of migration followed: Indian and Chinese workers were hired to continue the work after the freed African slaves had fled. Although slavery was abolished, the living and working conditions did not change. As a consequence, the French played an ambiguous role: as colonizers, they were committed to bringing European civilization and its ideals and values like liberty, equality, fraternity to other peoples so that they could ‘profit’ from the benefits of European civilization. At the same time, colonization in the Caribbean meant enslavement and oppression of the non-European people and, therefore, negated these European ideals to which the non-European peoples should have adhered.

Keywords

Literary Critic Short Story Literary History Ambiguous Role Caribbean Island 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See, for example, Jacques Fredj, ‘Le Maillon Colonial’, Autrement. Antilles: Espoirs et Déchirements de V’âme créole 41 (1989): pp. 21–6. Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant, Lettres Créoles: Tracées antillaises et continentales de la littérature 1635–1975 (Paris: Hatier, 1991) pp. 104–6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Georges Trésor, ‘Le Syndrome Européen’, Etudes Guadeloupéennes 4 (1991): pp. 82–101.Google Scholar
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    Edouard Glissant, Le Discours Antillais (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1981).Google Scholar
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    Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant, Eloge de la Créolité (Paris: Gallimard, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant, Lettres Créoles (Paris: Hatier, 1991).Google Scholar
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    See Henri Bangou, La Guadeloupe: La nécessaire décolonisation. 1939 à nos jours, tome 3 (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1987).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Roger Toumson, La Transgression des couleurs: Littérature et langage des Antilles. XVIIIe, XIXe, XXe siècles, Tomes 1 et 2 (Paris: Editions Caribéennes, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Patrick Chamoiseau, Chronique des sept misères, Collection folio (Paris: Gallimard, 1986).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ibid., 27: ‘Contrary to her sisters, she could go to school. This was a new world, even outside of reality, where she learned reading and writing in French, this extraordinary language that surprised her parents. Fanotte demanded at once that her daughter should use it when addressing her, it’s a question of respect. Félix Soleil, on the contrary, never seemed to be able to come to terms with it. This language was certainly familiar to him (it was the language of the policemen on horseback), but he had never imagined it coming into his house.’ [All translations are my own.]Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., 133/4: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, as time passes, the number of planes and ships from France is increasing. The “Békés” sold their land to the institution “HLM” or to the clerks interested in villas, and built warehousing for import-export next to the wharf. Soon afterwards, they covered the country with a net of shops, supermarkets and shopping-centres, in comparison with which ours came off badly. The established people being happy to be sacred members of this great country (being French by law), were proud of those shining shop-windows, those never-ending rows of shelves overflowing with beautiful things. We celebrated this law with that kind of passion that orphans usually show when a mother adopts them.’Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Eve Dessarre, Cauchemar Antillais (Paris: François Maspero, 1965).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., see p. 111.Google Scholar
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    Maryse Condé, Pays Mêlé suivi de Nanna-ya, Collection Monde Noir Poche (Paris: Hatier, 1985).Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    See Henri Bangou, La Guadeloupe (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1987) pp. 172–3. Racial riots had been put down by French police. Several dozen persons were injured or killed. In consequence, the French government arrested the leaders of the communist party and of the Independence Movement as being responsible for the confrontations.Google Scholar
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    See Jacques Canneval, ‘La Guadeloupe en première ligne’, Autrement. Antilles 41 (1989): pp. 67–77.Google Scholar
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    Maryse Condé, Traversée de la Mangrove (Paris: Mercure de France, 1989).Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 219: ‘In the dark, some people drew strange letters on the walls which sounded like alarms. Insulting inscriptions, “De Gaulle, murderer”, “Down with colonization” — a new word!’Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 230: ‘When Lucien got stuck on his ideological tangents, Carmélien brought him back to earth with a mocking tone. “Open your eyes, my dear! We are already Europeans! Independence is a Sleeping Beauty that no prince will ever wake up any more”.’Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    See Dessarre, Cauchemar Antillais. See also Georges Trésor, ‘Le syndrome européen,’ Etudes Guadeloupéennes 4 (1991): pp. 82–101.Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    Georges Trésor calls attention to this fact in his article already quoted above and he gives the following explanation: ‘Le PIB par habitant en Guadeloupe représente peut-être moins de la moitié de celui de la Métropole, mais il est, et quelque fois de loin, plus élévé que le PIB par habitant de la plupart des pays voisins de la Caraïbe dont les activités de production ne sont pas forcément moins performantes que les nôtres. ‘C’est connu, ce sont les aides et les transferts publics en tout genre en provenance de la Métropôle et de l’Europe qui rendent supportable le déficit de notre balance commerciale et nous assurent un niveau de vie relativement élevé. C’est là la raison fondamentale de la réussite non pas économique, mais politique d’un système auquel les Guadeloupéens expriment leur attachement, de manière parfois ostentatoire mais également de manière confuse et indirecte’. Trésor, Le syndrome européen,’ Etudes Guadeloupéennes 4 (1991) ibid., p. 86. ‘The gross national product per person in Guadeloupe represents maybe less than half of that of the metropolis, but it is higher — and sometimes considerably higher — than the GNP of most of the neighbouring Caribbean countries whose capacities of production are not necessarily less efficient than ours. It is well known that the financial aids and the transferring of public funds coming from the Metropolis and from Europe make the deficit of our commercial balance supportable and they assure the relatively high standard of living. That is the fundamental reason of the — not economic but political — success of this system to which Guadeloupeans affiliate sometimes in an ostentatious, but also in a confused and indirect, manner.’Google Scholar
  25. 28.
    Max Jeanne, La chasse au Racoon (Paris: Karthala, 1980).Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    Ibid., p. 26: ‘From one day to the next, Bolo had found himself in Algeria as a brute in uniform shooting at “bicots” [North-Africans] and “fellaghas” [partisans] in the name of the people’s right of self-determination. Many of his friends who were in the same situation had preferred to change sides and join the Algerians. Others escaped to certain Eastern countries. Bolo stayed in the French army, because of fear, or just because of indecision or again in order not to cause more pain to his notable father. He stayed to learn what he already knew; that the declaration of the human rights didn’t concern either the Negro nor the Arab.’Google Scholar
  27. 36.
    See, for example, 168. The footnote refers to the following testimony: Le procès des Guadeloupéens. 18 Patriotes devant la Cour de Sûreté de l’Etat français (CO.GA.SO.D., 1969). See also: Félix Rodes, Liberté pour la Guadeloupe. 169 jours de prison (Paris: Editions Témoignages Chrétiens, 1972).Google Scholar
  28. 39.
    Raphaël Confiant, L’Allée des Soupirs (Paris: Grasset, 1994).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ute Fendler

There are no affiliations available

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