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Martinique native Gilbert Larose wants people to understand that not all of the green, tropical island’s past was idyllic for all of its residents.
Larose created the Savane des Esclaves, which recounts the history of slavery in Martinique, and also the lifestyles of those who were once slaves, in part through recreations of the type of dwellings those once forced to work long hours without compensation lived in.
Slavery was abolished in Martinique in 1848 but Larose says it it left an impact on those descended from slaves brought from Africa to work on sugarcane plantations.
“Slavery has left us with many scars but it is important to tell the story,” he says.
Those touring open-air Savane des Esclaves can see smallish, thatched-roof-style dwellings modelled after those whose which housed people who had once been enslaved, and plants, some of which have nutritional value, while others are reported to have medicinal qualities.
(Amerindian-style dwellings can also be seen, a reminder that the island was inhabited before the arrival of Europeans and Africans.)
On a more disturbing note, there are wooden carvings of slaves who had been mutilated by their owners as punishments.
Larose says slave-owners would instruct employees who recaptured escaped slaves to return with them alive so other slaves would see them punished in a harsh manner, a warning to those considering fleeing.
The Savane des Esclaves also grows many of the food items that both escaped and freed slaves ate, such as sweet potatoes.
Larose — himself a descendant of slaves — largely singlehandedly built the hillside museum over years, relying on traditional building materials for authenticity.
He reports that the museum has attracted visitors from around the world.
Larose says that today’s Martinique is one where people now live in harmony, but that wasn’t always the case in previous centuries and he’s determined to see that story told.
“This site is not meant to divide people,” he adds of Savane des Esclaves. “It’s meant to reconcile.”
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