Guadeloupe – Slaves Steps

Marches des esclaves de Petit-Canal

It is in Petit-Canal that we can tread a place of slave transactions that sends shivers down your spine. Follow the signs for “Marches des esclaves” (Slaves steps) in Petit-Canal.

The current fishing port, updated, quiet and peaceful, is far from being in the image of the beginning of the 19th century. A few sites mark the striking, sad, uncomfortable and barbaric history of this place of inhuman transactions to the people who came from afar to help with the agriculture of the region.

The site has few explanations on the spot, but you get an idea without words of this place and it is far from trivial. Thousands of men, women and children have been torn from their African land for an excruciating journey to places unknown and where they would be overexploited. Tied by their feet, by their wrists and even sometimes by their neck, they were sold to the highest bidder to cultivate the lands of rich agricultural exploiters. If stones could talk, we would be completely overwhelmed with sorrow.

The ten (10) sites of history or memory are close to each other to never forget this terrible and moving past.

1. The Port

It’s hard to say if the port was bigger, but over the years it has certainly hoped to be erased from the map as a reference to the event of its terrible role as a landing place for newcomers who had arrived to serve.

2. The plaza

It was on the esplanade that the sale of slaves to local producers took place. They classified them, chained them, and bought them for the exploitation of agricultural land.

3. The Slave Steps

It is not clear when the steps were built.  Were they used by slaves to gain access to the esplanade? Or is it a memorial? Some argue that it was the slaves who built the stone stairs. Difficult to have a confirmation of the 54 steps, but one thing is certain, it is the testimony of the passage of men from Africa by this place towards a life of forced work in execrable conditions.

On the steps, plaques recall the names of African ethnic groups who came, against their will, to Guadeloupe lands. We can see: Congos, Yorubas, Ibos, Ouolofs, Peuls, Bamilekes.

4. Saint-Philippe and Saint-Jacques Church

At the very top of the steps, facing the port of Petit-Canal, is the church of Saint-Philippe and Saint-Jacques. It is not the original one, because this place of worship was destroyed by the earthquake of 1843, rebuilt in 1856, then damaged in 1928. Ali Tur, an architect, was commissioned to rebuild many administrative and religious establishments on the island including this one. Note the presbytery next door.

5. Liberté -1848

Still at the top of the steps, facing the church and with its back to the port, is a simple white monument with the inscription “Liberté -1848” (liberté is French for freedom), the year of the end of slavery. It would be the oldest monument in Guadeloupe and would have been produced in the very year of the abolition. The monument is also named: The Trunk of Souls.

6. Bust of Louis Delgrès

Everywhere on the island, you will find places in memory of Louis Delgrès. Here, we find a bust. Louis Delgrès fought body and soul against the re-establishment of slavery. In 1802, cornered by the forces of order, he preferred to commit suicide with 300 men rather than surrender. He was then 35 years old. The fort near Basse-Terre bears his name.

7. Slave Prison

Near the harbor and the base of the slave steps is an old prison (Vieille prison). It was used to detain rebellious slaves that no one wanted.

Built in the 19th century, the walls have been taken over by a cursed fig tree that continues to take root in its soil.

8. Eternal Flame Monument

In 1994, to commemorate the 150 years of the end of slavery, a monument dedicated to the unknown slave was inaugurated. The monument is believed to include whips handed over by each of the 40 masters of dwellings in the area, a symbol of ending slavery.

9. Espace Mémoriel – list of the last people who were liberated in Petit-Canal in 1848.

10. Slave Marches Gallery

Passionate about his region, the subject of slavery, come and meet the artist on site. He will present his works accompanied by historical elements.

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