Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 10, 2015 - France Remembers the Slave Trade, Slavery, and Their Abolition

Last Sunday, May 10, 2015, marked the sixth commemoration ceremony for the slave trade, slavery, and their abolition held by the City of Paris. It took place at place du Général Catroux in the 17th arrondissement. The City of Paris and the French non-profit association, Les Amis du Général Dumas, extended invitations to the general public to attend the event.

The weather was splendid and hundreds gathered at the square for a brief official ceremony, followed by several passionate speeches and musical entertainment.

Invitees at the commemoration ceremony
Place du Général Catroux, 17th arrondissement
© Discover Paris!

A military band took its place on the lawn near the podium.

Military band takes its place on the lawn
© Discover Paris!

The official ceremony was attended by Manuel Valls, Prime Minister of France; Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, French Minister of Education; Myriam El Khomri, Secretary of State of the City of Paris; and Harlem Désir, Secretary of State of European Affairs. They were welcomed by Claude Ribbe, president of Les Amis du Général Dumas, and Brigitte Kuster, Mayor of the 17th arrondissement. All took a place on the podium.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls (center) and dignitaries
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Other notable attendees included Philip Frayne, Minister Counselor of Public Affairs for the U. S. Embassy; Henri Lopes, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo in France; Lisette Malidor, performance artist; and Valérie Pécresse, French politician and current candidate for the presidency of the Regional Council of Ile de France.

Lisette Malidor
© Discover Paris!

Edouard Montoute, a French actor born in Cayenne, French Guiana, read an ascerbic description of the atrocities perpetrated during the French slave trade and the profits gained through its conduct as recounted in Alexandre Dumas père's 1863 novel, Ingénue.

Edouard Montoute reads from Dumas père's Ingénue
Background: Claude Ribbe
© Discover Paris!

Flower arrangements (gerbes) were then placed on the lawn in front of the monument to General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas – a sculpture of iron shackles created by Driss Sans-Arcidet. Deputy Chief of Mission for the U. S. Embassy Uzra Zeya laid an arrangement for the United States alongside those of Prime Minister Valls, the Mayor of Paris, and the Mayor and elected officials of the 17th arrondissement.

Invitees from the public were then invited to place a rose at the base of the sculpture.

Monique places a commemorative rose
© Discover Paris!

All flower arrangements in place
© Discover Paris!

The official ceremony ended with Leïla Bredent, a Guadeloupan singer with a glorious voice, who sang the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise."

Leïla Bredent sings "La Marseillaise"
© Discover Paris!

After the prime minister and some of the other dignitaries of the official ceremony departed, Claude Ribbe spoke forcefully and eloquently about the lack of formal education in the French system about slavery, the slave trade, and the racist and Negrophobic ideology that underpinned these institutions. He spoke of the need for reparations, similar to those accorded to slave traders who complained to the government about their loss of revenue (equivalent to roughly 4 billion euros today) and the ransom of 150 million French francs (equivalent to roughly $21 billion today) imposed on the fledgling nation of Haïti in 1825 in exchange for diplomatic recognition by France.

Ribbe also evoked the controversial subject of a proposal for the creation of a center of education, culture, and remembrance, to be named after Général Dumas, at the Hôtel Gaillard as a means of "taking back 380 years of Negrophobia that has been supported, or at least tolerated, by France." Find his discourse in its entirety (in French) here.

Claude Ribbe addresses the crowd
© Discover Paris!

Following Ribbe's speech, appeals were made by Franco-Cameroonian singer BAMS; the president of SOS Racisme, Ibrahim Sorel Keita; and the president of CRAN (Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires), Louis-Georges Tin, for solidarity, self-determination, and the establishment of a cultural center and museum at the Hôtel Gaillard* that would be focused on black history and culture in the Francophone world.

From left to right: BAMS, Ibrahim Sorel Keita, Louis-Georges Tin
© Discover Paris!

Deputy Chief of Mission Zeya was present for all the festivities.

U. S. Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya
© Discover Paris!

The evening ended with a lively musical interlude by two groups – Miyo and Balkouta – led by Dominique Tauliaut.

Gwoka music rounds out the evening
© Discover Paris!

*Next week, the ETBP blog will further explore the call to have the Hôtel Gaillard, a mansion owned by Banque de France that stands on place du Général Catroux, become the home of an institute dedicated to black history and culture and a museum dedicated to the history of slavery and colonization.


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