See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Martinique: The last masters of the islands?

As the two-week-long-protest in Guadeloupe 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+ 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 [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“[Fr], name given to the families of white people, who have been living and managing the island even before the French Revolution.

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 and montray kréyol, 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 [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 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.

  • http://www.caribbeanfreeradio.com/blog Georgia Popplewell

    Thanks for posting this, Fabienne. Somebody sent me the link to the online version of the documentary yesterday, and I wondered what kind of impact it was having in Martinique.

  • Fabienne Flessel

    Hi Georgia,
    The all-out strike which had been planned last week, started yesterday in Martinique.
    I am watching the news now and the mobilization seems massive since 20 000 people are demonstrating in the street and blocking roads and businesses.
    In conclusion to the news, there were comments from politicians and intellectuals, who condemn the man’s words.

  • jean-luc

    je suis metropolitain, ma femmes est martiniquaise mais a grandi et fait ses études en france et nous sommes en martinique depuis 3 ans, j’ai aussi travaillé et cotoyé des békés surtout ces derniers mois, ca fait longtemps que je sais ca et je dirais au béké plus haut de repenser à ce qu’a fait mr Hayotte avec le clhore d’econe qu’il fabrique dans ses usines du brésil et vends en martinique depuis si longtemps (alors que partout ailleurs, connaissant les effets, cela a été interdit) en contaminant une si grande population (principalement antillaise)et en cherchant à tout prix à discréditer l’étude et le scientifique qui a révélé les conséquence pour étouffer cette scandaleuse affaire. Arretez de prendre les gens d’ici pour des animaux! On m’a mis au parfum de comment se passaient les choses sur l’île trés rapidement quand je suis arrivé, leur mafia et arrangement est voulu!! rien ne justifie les prix pratiqués si ce n’est la cupidité de ces gens! pour avoir fait des extra chez de grandes familles, non seulement ces gens ne se mélangent pas, mais excluent de leur petit groupe ceux qui sont tombé amoureux ou marié avec des antillais!pour finir de répondre à l’autre raciste fasciste en haut, mes enfants sont métisses, beaux et l’harmonie et la tolérance face à la différence règnent dans notre famille!!Et lui veut parler des effets positifs de l’esclavage!!! Malheureusement pour l’autre monsieur ca fait bien des siècles que des cons se font entuber non-seulement en martinique mais aussi ailleurs dans le monde par une poignée de personnes qui ont le pouvoir!ca fait mal, mais il vaut mieux ouvrir les yeux et voir la réalité en face!!!!!quand aux amalgames, je suis chrétien et proche des juifs sur le plan spirituel et les métroplitains dans l’ensemble subissent la vie chère comme les autres mais si la situation dégenère (ce que je ne souhaite pas et qui m’effraie) c’est aussi à cause du comportement de certaines personnes de ces communautés sur l’île!

  • Alice B.

    Merci Fabienne!

  • Michel

    Hurrah for the expose on the Beke! There historical actions speak much louder than the foolish man who made the rediculous comments. The Beke are who they are and must suffer the consequences of their history and current actions.

    That said; isn’t the timing of this strike a little peculiar? The world’s economies are ablaze; Barack Obama is calling for sacrifice of ALL Americans to assist in going forward through this economic storm. How is it that the West Indians’ labor leaders are apparently not aware of this economic calamity and advising their constituents accordingly?

    Remember Aesop’s fable, “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg”? There are many examples of foolish leaders who have led their people to ruin: Robert Mugabe, etc.

    Best wishes for a just resolution.

  • frederic

    I found the documentary very interesting.
    As far as I’m concerned one of the major point is the description of the oligopoly which must cease!

  • amur

    Canal+ shame on you!

    No I am not a beke (colonist), but I do know some and what you saw on this documentary was a million miles away from the reality.

    First thing is that I am as shocked as anyone about the comments made by the 82 year old Mr Despointes. Totally inexcusable and from what I hear he is also being very isolated in the Beke community as well.

    The second thing is that it is very true that there is not enough competition, but that is typical of all small islands and it is absolutely ridulous to blame that on the beke when they only represent 20% of GDP (Apparently its more like 10%).

    But let me tell you just a few flaws in this documentary.

    1. The wonderful mansion at the start of the documentary is actually the holiday home (not his main home!) of a Mr Parfait who isn’t a beke, but of mixed colour.

    2. The reporter also makes out that all of the beke in the Cap Est have these wonderful homes with swimming pools and tennis courts. But there aren’t any homes in Le Cap Est with a tennis court. This image was actually that of the Le Cap Est Lagoon hotel. Check out Google Earth if you don’t believe me.

    3. Mr Parfait is then pressurised by the journalist to criticise the so called economic dominance of the beke when Mr Parfait one of the richest men in Martinique with largest shopping centre and a Hypermarket. Canal+ don’t mention this though of course.

    4. The journalist says that M.Hayot has 2 out of 3 Carrefours in Martinique. Hang on, why did he not say that M. Hayot owns 2 out of the 6 hypermarkets in Martinique? Because it sounds better of course! The other 4 aren’t owned by any of the Beke families.

    5. The journalist makes out that Martinique is expensive because of the Beke’s so called monopoly over the distribution. Hang on, is Guadeloupe (which has less import duties), or even La Reunion in the Indian Ocean any cheaper? I certainly haven’t seen any difference.

    6. Bananas, Bananas, Bananas – the Beke only have 50% of banana plantations. First of all that was what they have been doing for generations and when they go to the EU to help protect Martinique’s banana exportation, they are also helping the other 50% of banana plantation owners. When it’s 50/50 why do they not criticise the other 50%. Do you really think that the other 50% don’t suffer from strikes or didn’t use that pesticide.

    This documentary was clearly prepared to encite hatredness against the beke community and Canal+ choose the best 50minutes of the 50 hours of footage to present this.

    For example M. Hayot was walking out of the Fort-de-France stadium and they show an image of les Antillais all behind a cage. Everybody goes through exits like that in the stade Dillon, but Canal+ choose that image to try to illustrate a so called “modern day slavery”.

    They could have prepared this documentary to attack any race or community and portray it in any way they wish.

    The documentary was ready in October. Why did they wait until a strike (which started in Guadeloupe) over the cost of living to present this documentary?

    In my opinion (and only mine), I think that this was requested by the French government, because they’ve had enough of Martinique and Guadeloupe and what better way of giving the inpendance movement a big boost.

    I think that France no longer needs or wants Martinique or Guadeloupe. They’ve moved a milatary base out and like they make clear on the documentary – with 20% unemployment and 30% on minimum income benefit, these islands are a major financial burden.

    If the population doesn’t push for independance, France will do it for them.

  • jean-luc

    amur, you don’t know what you’re talking about, most of the things you’re claming are false! you don’t live in martinique & you don’t go every day to supermarket, you’re just a lobbying master who want to be different, you made me furious cause you don’t know things like we do! if you’re on the island at the time i’m writting, let’s take an appointment, & i’ll show you you’re so wrong. at least i’m sure lobbying like you is well paid, you have sell tour soul to these people! they got so many blood on their hands & i’m talking about noawadays!!
    if you’re a man, accept this invitation! you know i don’t care anymore i will leave soon to go back to france!

  • amur

    I do live in Martinique actually! But not for much longer if this continues.

    Throughout this island and Guadeloupe people are being stopped from going to work. I have no problem with the right to strike, but what about the right to work?

    Tell me which bits of what I wrote before aren’t true?

    I fully agree that the cost of living is expensive and that something needs to be done about it. But this reportage was so one sided and designed to encite hatredness, which I cannot stand.

    If you are not happy with the Beke, why not simply boycott Beke businesses or products? There is a choice. Everyone should be allowed to make their own choices.

    There are always two sides to every story. But you need to understand the two sides of the story to be able to have a balanced opinion.

    I was as shocked as everyone when I watched the documentary, but then when I researched the other side of the story, I was even more shocked that a channal like Canal+ could have prepared this in this way.

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online » Martinique: Bitterness after “The Last Masters”

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site