Thursday, December 27, 2012

Discovering Stories Through Others

Since I'm on vacation and have some downtime, I decide to start reading some of the books I ordered. The ones I got so far are "Black Shack Alley", "Texaco" and "The Diligent". I decided to start with Texaco seeing as how it's a historical fiction book which I thought would be nice to start out with. Texaco is a very interesting book because of the way it is written. So far I've been having a hard time adjust to this type of writing (I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Russian, so a complete different reading style, format and language). There is very little dialogue between characters and is kind of like reading the narration of a story through the narrator's point of view. Marie-Sophie Laborieux is the protagonist but has yet to appear, the story is being set up for her; I'm guessing seeing as how it's talking about her father Esternome and what we went through before her birth. I'm only a little over 100 pages into the book and I find it enjoyable, a bit hard to read, but enjoyable. Especially since the book provides some sort of narrative to the lives Eglantine and her daughter Julienne Malvina would have had while living in Martinique.

Currently in the book Esternome is living in Saint-Pierre and the slaves have just been freed receiving word from France. What I found most interesting, was a little section regarding the Acte d'individualité:

"My Esternome began to live with a heart heavy for his Ninon. It's not as if he saw clear through these times, but it seemed to him that the Sweetie (and lots like her) mistook life for a bowl of mashed arrowroot. In the early days of the confirmation of freedom he danced with her, drank-this and sang-that. They danced even more when the town council opened fat registers to compile a census of the land slaves and give them civil status. After a century in line, my Esternome and his Ninon parked for two seconds before a three-eyed secretary. With one ink stroke, this personage ejected them out of the savanna life for an official existence under the patronymics of Ninon Cléopâtre and Esternome Laborieux (because the exasperated secretary with the quill had found him laborious in his thinking of a name)." (Chamoiseau, 109)

Here we see how they received last names after waiting in line in their town council. We see that Esternome received the last name Laborieux (related to labor in English) because of the difficult time the register had in finding a name. So it made me think, what made the register Eglantine, Julienne Malvina and Pauline appeared before, give them the last name "Lautin"? We see that with one stroke of the quill they gained civil status and were brought out of the "savanna life".

Hopefully I will learn more about the lives of slaves in Martinique around this time and the difficulties they faced post-abolition. I hope I get used to the style and that I'm able to finish the book quickly seeing as how I have a few others to read (I just ordered another one about women and slavery in the French Antilles!!). I'm excited to finish this book and learn more about my Martinican roots!

Texaco by: Patrick Chamoiseau

As I continue throughout the book I'll add in more pieces of the story which I found interesting, or even relevant to my ancestors. This piece which I'll add next, talks about the introduction of other peoples to Martinique after the emancipation of the slaves:

"Ninon saw them get off the boat year after year. She described them to my Esternome. He'd nod his head with its pipe (he had begun to smoke like most blacks in the silence of the hills). She saw Portuguese arrive from the Madeira Islands. They took small steps under the sun. Of the people gathered in their path, they only looked at the long shadows. Their skin knew the sun. Their bodies disappeared under a pile of dark cloth, tied in all directions like scarecrows. She saw coolies with black skin, and those from Calcutta, of a lighter cocoa-red. They wore a blue line that went down to their nose. These would weep at a birth and explode with joy in the cold hours of a death. Wrapped from top to bottom, they lived gathered up like a clump of pigeons and ate strange things. She saw the congos arrive. Calm, disciplined, they nevertheless looked like blooming maroons. She saw the hour when the chinese arrived under their pointy hats, inscrutable as cliffs and cleverer than their torturers." (Chamoiseau, 139)

In this passage we see the introduction of the Portuguese from the Madeira islands, Indians from Culcutta, the Congos, and the Chinese. I know for sure that the Indians and Chinese were used for labor in Martinique as well as other Caribbean countries but I wonder if the Portuguese and Congos really came over as well to work.

David was able to confirm that yes, the Portuguese from Madeira and the Congo did come over to Martinique.

Here is a paper discussing the Madeiran Portuguese migration to the Caribbean. A French article discussing Congo immigration to Martinique, also here is a French preview for a film about the Congo in Martinique. These links were all provided by David. 

Similarly in Puerto Rico other cultures were introduced during the Cedula de Gracias period in 1815. Many came over from Europe in search of land and new opportunities which were being provided by Spain. Many Corsicans, Italians, French and others joined the Puerto Ricans on their island, in the long run contributing various things to our culture.


I just finished reading Texaco! I'm so happy to have stuck with the book and I really enjoyed the adventure it took me on! It was hard to get used to at first, but after understanding the rhythm of the book I was able to read about 100 pages or so a day until I finished. Texaco definitely shines a light for me to the everyday life of the Martinican people and the struggles between classes. It was nice also seeing similarities between the stories in the book as well as what I know of my ancestors in Puerto Rico. For example, seeing that in Martinique people also drink Mabi was interesting to note. Also, how Texaco and other Quarters were constantly under attack from the government because of their illegitimate state reminded me of a story my grandmother told me. Similarly in Puerto Rico, people built houses in areas that belonged to no one and settled there. The government would send people to knock the houses down if no one was there, and so one day when these people came over, someone ran over to a neighbor's house (who was out at the time) and hung up laundry to make it seem like someone was in the house which spared the home from being destroyed.

I would definitely recommend the book to anyone wanting to read or learn more about Martinique! I wish my French was better because I would love to have read the book in its original French but seeing as how it was hard to follow, I'll just settle with having read it in English for now! I think I'll definitely have to reread it, since parts in the beginning were a bit confusing but now having the whole picture in my head should make it easier to follow.

Hopefully my other books won't be as hard to follow as this one! But I'm definitely going to miss the character Marie-Sophie and the power she give herself to be independent in a world predominately owned by the Béké.   

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