Overseas Identities

Overseas Identities
A short tour of the unique cultural aspects of the France of Three Oceans

Each destination has its festive costumes (carnival in Guyana and in the French West Indies), its dances (the Beguine in the French West Indies or the Kasé Kô in Guyana, the famous Tamure, pronounced Tamuré in Tahiti), and its history, which includes colonization. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
 
In the Pacific or in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Guyana, it is the story of the autochthonous people: Melanesians in New Caledonia and Amerindian Polynesians of the Amazon. From the Mascareignes (Reunion Island) to the French West Indies, it is the history of slavery.
 
The increase of maritime commerce (stops by vessels of the Indian Company in Reunion) and the great plantations (sugar cane and coffee in Guadeloupe and Martinique) forged the destiny of certain far off islands starting in the mid 17th century.
 
Abolition came with the Treaty of the Blacks in 1848 thanks to the efforts of an Alsatian politician, Victor Schoelcher who liberated generations of Africans.  In the past, thousands of rebels who escaped in the mountains or in the jungle have built the cultural identity of these territories, such as the Creole mixed culture.
 
The French West Indies
 
The reconstruction of the great planatations (in Martinique) or the archeological site of a slave village in anse <?xml:namespace prefix = st2 ns = "urn:schemas:contacts" />Bertrand in Guadeloupe reminds us that slavery arrived in the Antilles in 1685. In the trail of François Dominique Toussaint, known as Toussaint l'Ouverture, from now Haiti, the slaves saw their hope fade during the French Revolution. The brillant and ambitious leader of many was imprisoned under Napolean and died at the Chateau de Joux in France.
 
Today's economy, which influences the everyday life, is based on a specialized agriculture on a large scale: sugar cane, coffee and bananas. Nowadays, we can visit the large domaines that still have a rum distilleries or typical Creole houses on the grounds such as the Habitation Ceron in Fonds Saint Jacques, or Latouche cove in Martinique; and the Habitation Murat (museum) on the island of Marie Galante, called the little cousin of the Guadeloupe.
 
Festive traditions
-The Carnival (kannaval gwada, in Creole) became an institution and offers the opportunity with activities in the streets from February to March, with costumes and masks.
 
Late June is the end of the sugar cane harvest. In Marie Galante, there is an race with oxen, a reminder of times before machines.
 
In October, the festival of the Creole’s Days fills the towns of Guadeloupe. As for the Creole All Saints Day, it is celebrated in joy and pays hommage to the dead. In the Morne à l'eau, and elsewhere, several candles are lighted and people sing in the memory of the elders.
 
The Amerindian civilization
The Arawaks, who came from the South America, were destroyed by the Caribbean Indians. And the Caribbean Indians were annihilated by the Spanish, French and English explorers.  From this pre-Columbian period is the archeological site of the Roche Gravées (220 examples of cave art) and the Amerindian Prehistory Museum in Moule.
 
Some literature
-The Saint John Perse Museum (known as Alexis Leger, 1887-1975) in Pointe-à-Pitre is dedicated to this committed diplomat and poet, who was awarded the Nobel prize of Literature in 1960. And Patrick Chamoiseau won the Goncourt prize in 1992, and through his novels, he has brought a new attention to the Creole Language.
 
Guyana
In 1500, the first French ship landed, just after the crossing of Christopher Columbus in Guyana. But it is only in 1644 that the real European commercial establishment began. In 1902, because of the tragic eruption of the volcano Pelée in Martinique, many people immigrated to this Latin America coast.
 
Today, the visiting the isolated villages or Cayenne, the Guyanese capital - show an unexpected cultural mix. The spirit of celebration is omnipresent, including the traditional carnival. Each community has adopted a special craft:  basket making for the Amerindian (don't miss the couleuvre: this is a strange tube braided with plant fiber which extracts the non-drinkable juice of the manioc), and sculpted wood.
-Museum of the Guyanese cultures is located inside a beautiful Creole house, in Cayenne.
 
The history of a slave labor
Since 1852, more than 2.000 people have been sent to different camps or forts in Guyana, isolated in the jungle or on islands far from Cayenne and Kourou (Devil's Island). There was also a prison for women at Mana! The history of famous convicts (Dreyfus, Papillon, Seznec) permits us to denounce this prison system that didn't close until1946. The Royal Island and its former prison can be visited (boat shuttle from Kourou).
 
The space conquest as a new cultural axe
The future of Guyana is linked to the Space Center of Kourou, one the most important site of rocket launches in the world. The European Space Agency is set along 50km of the coastline and offers free visits for 8 years and older to the Space Museum. You can even watch a launch from the Carapa observation site.
 
 
The Reunion
It is the East India Company trading post (from 1642) and corsair landmarks which gave life to this volcanic mountain that rises out of the Indian Ocean. And it is the the sugar cane plantations that made its image. From the Saint-Denis neighborhoods to the isolated villages like Hell Bourg (in the heart of Salazie Cirque) the architecture is typically Creole.
Some museums present the history of the Reunion:
-Stella Mutatina (in Piton Saint Leu), an ancient sugar refinery, that tells the history of  the agricultural production which made the fortune of the colonial families and the labor of slaves.
-The Panon Debassayns estate (in Saint Gilles les Hauts), evokes the fate of a dynasty and the offenses of slavery: the republic captain Sarda Garriga announced the end of the slavery system, and liberated the two-third of the population.
-The vanilla House (in Saint Andre) and the Vanilla cooperative explain the secrets of the world famous orchid, a spice which has been precious for a long time and an essential product of La Reunion. Vanilla is the result of a delicate fertilization and a meticulous harvest.
-Dipavani, the celebration of the lights (at Saint André, in November) shows the presence of a Tamoul and Indian Community that came from India and Sri Lanka.
-The Maison du volcan (Cafres plaine, on the mountainside of the Piton de la Fournaise) offers a modern presentation off the history of the volcanism in Reunion Island. It was inspired by Maurice Kraft, a famous vulcanologist.
 
New Caledonia
The tourist information website of the Northern Province.
The tourist information website of the southern province -- Nouméa.
Before James Cook arrived in 1774, there were about 300 Kanak clans on the island. Then, he re-named the big island to pay homage to Scotland. It soon went into French hands and is still an important maritime port.
 
The ancient Civilization
The Melanesian people met with a major decline. Innumerous signs (cave engravings, with symbolic and geometrical forms) are found near Poya and reveals a very old Melanesian presence. More recently, huge ore deposits have been discovered (nickel). Nowadays, Kanaks are very aware of their culture, and their sailors and fishermen heritage.
-Museum of the maritime history, at Nouméa
-Cultural center Jean-Marie Tjibaou, at Nouméa
This cultural centre with its spectacular architecture by Renzo Piano offers a strong repesentation of the Kanak civilization. This is a must-visit place that relates the past and the future of Caledonia.
 
 
French Polynesia
The Tamure (pronounced Tamuré) is the famous dance of the Tahitian women (called Vahiné) with a Pahu (small drum) rhythm and a Ukulele. Braided dresses made with plant fibers and floral crowns add to this joyful celebration of the Tamure.
There are many types of dances: war dance and all the emotions of life have a dance as well. This is a sacred ritual. Tahiti was discovered in 1767 and from the sacred rituals come several legends about sacred gods.
 
The art of the tattoo: a Polynesian creation
Ta Tatau: This is an ancestral technique that consists of scraping the skin with a point of a bamboo soaked with natural ink. Maybe you don’t know it but, the Polynesian term Ta Tatau is the origin of the word tattoo! Pacific people believe that this art is more than esthetic: tattoo has its own language; it determines the social status of each person. Nowadays, tattoos express a personality and a pride, a belonging to a clan or an island: the Marquises or Bora Bora, etc. The tikis -- symbols, geometric forms or drawings of animals - cover sometimes an important part of the body and the face. It inspires several tourists to do the same thing (but a more discreet tattoo) before going home!
 
Festive meetings
The Heiva festival is held in July in Papeete. The celebrations encompass the costumes and traditional dances and very popular sports activities like the Va’a race in a Polynesian dugout canoe: the Tiurai.
 
 
Few museums
The Tahiti and its Islands museum, the Pearl Museum (still an important trade in the Societe's archipelago), the Shell Museum and the Paul Gauguin Museum help in Papeete help understand the Polynesian identity.
 
 
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon: a strong character of the North Atlantic
 This island used to be a port of call for bold fishermen from Normandy, Brittany, or the Basque Country. Nowadays, this is an islander community with a strong character, because of the harsh living conditions.
The Maison Grise and the Heritage museum are some friendly places where you can understand the austere everyday life of the Miquelonais.
 

Things to see