Guadeloupe Islands: Black Heritage Preserved in History and Culture

Bar restaurant on the island of Marie Galante

Time after time, whenever we survey Cuisine Noir readers about their travels and what the deciding factors are when it comes to selecting a destination, culture and history always top the list.  Personally speaking, this is true for myself, especially as I continue looking at my own roots and learning about those who came before me as part of my family tree.

Travel to Africa and other countries of the African Diaspora continues to be on the rise.  As black travelers, we not only want to travel to countries that make us feel safe and welcomed but those that speak to who we are as a people.

This year for the first time (and trust me, won’t be my last), I was invited to Guadeloupe, an archipelago of five beautiful islands located in the French Caribbean.  My initial introduction to this French overseas region took place in April 2017 while hosting one of my natural hair Meetups in San Francisco. Beatrice was there studying English before heading off to Quebec.  When she said she was from Guadeloupe, I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly sure where it was but I knew I wanted to go as I love following our blackness around the world.  Funny how the universe works because less than a year later, I was there.

Black History Heritage

In addition to meeting beautiful people and experiencing Afro-French culture, it is Guadeloupe’s black history heritage that will be forever stamped in your mind.  Human life in Guadeloupe dates back to 1493 with colonization of the archipelago starting in 1635.  Slavery of course followed and was first abolished in 1794 and then again in 1848. The UNESCO Slave Route project is a tourist circuit of 14 sites between the islands of Grande-Terre, Basse-Terre and Marie-Galante launched in 1994.

“Our ‘Slave Route’ project, which addresses the history of the slave trade and slavery, represents an intense look at the tragedy of the institution spread over the five islands of Guadeloupe. The cornerstone of the project is the Memorial ACTe Museum, the world’s largest museum dedicated to the memory of the slave trade and those who suffered it,” says Audrey Yacou with the Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board based in New York.

Fort Louis Delgres in Guadeloupe
Pictured: Fort Louis Delgres (Photo: V. Sheree Williams)

My visits to four of the 14 sites included The Fort Louis Delgres, a historical monument built to fight off attacks by Napoleon’s men and named after Louis Delgres, a free man of color born in Guadeloupe who led the resistance to prevent the return of slavery. Spend a few hours walking around the fortress while taking in breathtaking views and absorbing historical moments.  There is even a giant bust of Louis Delgres that commemorates this hero and site.

The Grivelière Habitation is another historic monument from the 17th century and is one of the best preserved agricultural estates in the Lesser Antilles.  It contains a dozen buildings, houses of permanent workers, a roasting shed and five former slave huts. 

The Grivelière Habitation in Guadeloupe
Pictured: The Grivelière Habitation (Photo: V. Sheree Williams)

Murat Habitation, on the island of Marie-Galante, was the largest sugar cane plantation in the Guadeloupe Islands. Today it is the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions. Three centuries of Guadeloupe’s sugar cane history from the colonial era can be discovered there.

With each site telling its own part of history, it was the Monument to Abolition site that I just can’t get out of my mind.  As the oldest commemorative monument for the abolition of slavery built in 1848, read the names of African tribes brought over from West Africa as you walk the very stairs slaves were forced to go up to reach the church where they were then sold.

Take a short drive or walk in the area to discover the prison cell used to hold slaves with tree roots surrounding the structure that date back hundreds and hundreds of years.

Noted by Yacou as the cornerstone of the “Slave Route” project, the Memorial ACTe Museum is located in the city of Pointe-à-Pitre (on the island of Grand-Terre) on a former sugar cane factory facing the Caribbean Sea.  Allow plenty of time (4–5 hours) to leisurely walk through the museum guided by audio that is available in French, English, Spanish and Creole. Permanent and temporary exhibitions take you through historical and cultural aspects of Guadeloupe.

Memorial ACTe in Guadeloupe
Pictured: Memorial ACTe (Photo: V. Sheree Williams)

After experiencing various levels of cultural intensity, step out to enjoy the water views by strolling the promenade. Grab a meal at one of the two restaurants or visit the media library or genealogy research center.

Experience the French Caribbean

With the slogan “Vacay in the Guadeloupe Islands,” that is precisely what they want you to do.  Since Norwegian Air opened a direct route from New York and Fort Lauderdale with scheduled service between October–March, a vacation in Guadeloupe may be closer than you think.

Fly into Pointe-à-Pitre International Airport and let the adventure begin. Getting around is not difficult at all.  Taxis are available to take you to your destination or learn the islands by renting a car and using Waze. If you are looking to leave the driving and planning to someone else, I recommend using Guadeloupe Shuttle. This black-owned company owned by Manoel Dorlipo will make getting around a breeze. Services include transportation to and from the airport as well as around the islands, coordination of island tours and visits to the Slave Route sites including the Memorial ACTe and anyplace else you want to go.

The two properties we stayed at definitely provided a French Caribbean vibe.  Surrounded by the lushness of the sea, both the Langley Resort Fort Royal (Basse-Terre) and Le Creole Beach Hotel & Spa (Grande-Terre) offer beach time, entertainment, a full bar, swimming pools, water and land activities and more. Other hotels to consider include Hôtel Fleur d’Epée (Grande-Terre), Auberge de La Vieille Tour (Grande-Terre) and La Toubana Hôtel et Spa (Grande-Terre).

Guadeloupe is known for its beaches, outdoor and water activities, historical and cultural traditions, food, coffee, and rum. To really feel that you have experienced as much of Guadeloupe as you possibly can, you either need to stay there for an extended period of time or plan on making multiple trips.  Planning what to do can and will be hard, but we have provided a list of 15 activities so you can start planning away!

  1. The Slave Route – Plenty of time is needed to visit each of the 14 sites. Not sure which ones to visit first? My recommendation is to start with the Memorial ACTe and then go from there.
  2. Island Hop – The islands are 25 – 45 minutes apart from each other. While a bridge connects Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, the others are just a ferry ride away. Catch an early ferry to enjoy an island all day before heading back.
  3. Take a Gwo-Ka Class – A highlight of my trip. Get ready to enjoy the traditional dance of the Guadeloupe Islands, all set to the soundtrack of traditional Guadeloupean music. Gwo-Ka is inscribed on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and combines singing in Guadeloupean Creole with the rhythms played on ka drums and dancing.
  4. Enjoy a Day or Two at the Beach – Guadeloupe has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Grab a book and beach towel and just relax the day away.
  5. Hiking – From beautiful beaches to breathtaking views, if you love the outdoors, be sure to pack your sneakers or hiking shoes. Hike up to Point des Chateaux or Anse-Bertrand for eye-dropping panoramic views. There are about seven other easy trails that are also family-friendly.

    Point des Chateaux in Guadeloupe
    Pictured: View from the top of Point des Chateaux (Photo: V. Sheree Williams)
  6. Get Out on the Course – Golfers will love playing 18-holes spread out between small ponds and coconut trees. The Golf of Saint-Francois course is suitable for both experienced golfers and beginners.
  7. Rum Tasting – There are around nine rum distilleries between the islands of Guadeloupe. During my visit, we went to Bologne Distillery on Basse-Terre and Bellevue Distillery on Marie-Galante. Bologne is an old sugar factory from the 17th century that was once black-owned.  It is the only producers of Black Cane Rum, which has limited production and availability.  Bellevue is located on the largest sugarcane plantation of the island and known for its award-winning rums.
  8. Tree Climbing and Zip Lining – Find adventure in Tapeur, a park located in the heart of the tropical rainforest of Bouillante. The tracks and trails will give you an up-close and personal look at some of Guadeloupe’s treasured wildlife.
  9. Water Activities – If you love the water, there are plenty of surfing, diving, snorkeling and other activities to fuel your water fever.
  10. Visit the Zoo – The Zoo of Guadeloupe offers a green sanctuary to some of Guadeloupe’s native animal species and insects.
  11. Take to the Skies – Explore the archipelago of Guadeloupe in the sky as a passenger or even as the pilot by learning to fly at one the aviation companies such as Suspended Flight Guadeloupe or The Island of the Sky.
  12. Eat Like the Locals – Don’t leave Guadeloupe without trying a bokit, a Guadeloupean delicacy of deep-fried naan-like bread stuffed with meat, vegetables or fish. Another local restaurant favorite is La Jaz A Soup, also black-owned, and specializes in nothing but traditional and authentic soups. You can also download the app Foodiles to get the location and description of restaurants nearby based on where you are staying or hanging out.

    Bokit in Guadeloupe
    Pictured: Bokit with chicken (Photo: V. Sheree Williams)
  13. Learn How to Cook Like a Local – Take a cooking class with chef Ruddy Colmar in the city of Saint Francois after shopping for fresh ingredients.
  14. Celebrate Carnival – What is a Caribbean country without a carnival? If you plan to visit during the months of January, February or March, be sure to get information about Guadeloupe’s carnival which is described as colorful, rhythmic and fun.
  15. Bring a Taste of Guadeloupe Home – Save a little room in your suitcase to bring back spices or hot sauces as well as coffee, chocolate and other reminders of Guadeloupe that won’t let you forget that you need to go back.

For more planning guidance, be sure to visit the Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board site at http://www.guadeloupe-islands.com where you can also download a copy of their mini guide to help you plan your upcoming trip.

 

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.