Caribbean islanders face slaving past on the web

10th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 10, 2007 (AFP) - More than 150 years after France abolished slavery, a website on the French Caribbean island of Martinique has given voice to its slave descendants in a bid to keep the memory of their ancestors alive.

PARIS, May 10, 2007 (AFP) - More than 150 years after France abolished slavery, a website on the French Caribbean island of Martinique has given voice to its slave descendants in a bid to keep the memory of their ancestors alive.

Franco-Ivorian journalist Serge Bile, who set up the website "Slaves' Voices", has criss-crossed the island filming interviews with its elders, to record the tales handed down to them over the years.

Since the site's launch in mid-April he has recorded testimony from more than 30 people -- in their 90s and older -- whose memories provide one of the last living links to the days of slavery.

Ninety-one-year-old Yvonne Gaspard, whose great-grandparents were slaves, recounts that her grandmother "used to weep to see her parents beaten by the slavers. They were treated like cattle."

Leopold Zami, 94, tells how his great-grandmother was brought from Africa by slavers: "She travelled tied down in gulleys with no air. Upon arrival they were treated brutally, she was often beaten. They had no freedom."

"She didn't speak French -- it was hard to get the stories out of her, but she never hid the fact that she suffered," he said.

Others hand down stories about the abolition of slavery in French-controlled colonies in 1848, which finally allowed their forebears to speak freely in front of the "beke," or white plantation-owners.

"My great-grandmother told my mother that everyone was singing, dancing, jumping around!" recalls Jenny Poyonne, 95. Eugene Nestoret, 105, energetically sings a song of abolition: "Freedom, freedom, plant your flag here, that slavery may never come back!"

France on Thursday holds an official day of remembrance for the victims of slavery and France's abolition of the trade, an event created last year by President Jacques Chirac, who in 2001 passed a law officially recognising the slavetrade as a crime against humanity.

"Slavery is not a distant tragedy, it's one that still affects hundreds of thousands of people today: children, young girls, whole families," Chirac said on Wednesday.

"More than ever we have to fight against this horror," said the French leader, who will be joined for Thursday's memorial ceremony in Paris by his successor, president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy.

Slavery and colonisation are highly sensitive issues in France among descendants of immigrants from France's former African colonies and the black population of its overseas Caribbean territories.

The issue was brought to the fore by the suburban riots of late 2005, which cast a spotlight on the problems of discrimination faced by many in France's black and Arab population.

Early the following year, Chirac was forced to revoke part of a law that highlighted the "positive role" of French colonialism, after it sparked a national uproar.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French new

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