New Africans in the Post-Slavery French West Indies, 1857–89: What Encounters?

Thursday, January 7, 2010: 3:20 PM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Céline Flory , École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
Following the abolition of slavery in 1848, the French government reorganized its colonial workforce. By establishing a policy of recruitment of immigrant workers under contract of commitment, France turned again towards Africa. Between 1857 and 1862, more than 16,000 Africans were recruited in the area of Gabon and Loango-Congo by “repurchase”. Indeed, private ship-owners bought slaves “to free them” against a labour contract over the next ten years in one of the three American French colonies: Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guiana. Actually, at the end of the established period, only one of them would be indeed repatriated as stipulated in their contracts. Death, fleeing to news horizons or setting up a new domestic and social life diverted them from going back to Africa. This paper aims at analyzing the “encounter” between these Africans and the population of these colonies, consisting in its large majority of African descendants and former slaves. I try to understand how this “specific” group of newcomers (by their origin and by their experience of captivity, slavery and deportation) was considered and received by the population of the colonies. In order to understand the circulation of West Central African cultures in the Atlantic world in the mid-nineteenth century, the paper will examine the social and cultural impacts of the presence of these Africans in these post-slavery societies.