July 2, 2012

0265 FRANCE (Guadeloupe) - Des robes créole in Guadeloupe

"In this island was such thickness of forest that it was wonderful, and such a variety of trees, unknown to anyone, that it was terrible, some with fruit, some with flowers, so that everything was green", wrote in 1493 the physician Diego Álvarez Chanca (who accompanied Columbus on the second expedition) about the island that they called Santa María la Galante (today Marie-Galante), in honor of his most important caravel. "There were wild fruits of different sorts, which some not very wise men tried, and, on merely tasting them, touching them with their tongues, their faces swelled and they had such great burning and pain that they seemed to rage (or to have hydrophobia). They were cured with cold things."

Because they didn't found inhabitants on this island, they went on to another, which they (re)named Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura (today Guadeloupe), after the image of the Virgin Mary from the Spanish monastery of Villuercas, in Guadeloupe. They drew near a mountain upon it which "seemed to be trying to reach the sky," upon which was a beautiful waterfall, so white with foam that at a distance some of the sailors thought it was not water, but white rocks. The Admiral sent a caravel to coast along and find a harbor. The spaniards discovered some houses, but the inhabitants fled. There was much cotton, "spun and to be spun," and other goods, and he took a little of everything, including a few human bones, which they made to conclude that inhabitants practiced cannibalism. In fact, in the week spent there they found that the assumption was correct.

In 1635 the French took possession of the island, and annexed it to the kingdom of France in 1674. Over the next century, it was seized several times by the British, reached even, for a short period of time, to Swedish hands. French control of Guadeloupe was definitively acknowledged in the Treaty of Vienna in 1815. In 1946 the colony became an overseas department of France, and in 1974 it became an administrative center. Its deputies sit in the French National Assembly in Paris. In 2012 Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy will send their own deputies to the FNA.

Guadeloupe belongs to a group of islands known as the Leeward Islands which are part of the Lesser Antilles island chain. Besides Guadeloupe island, the smaller islands of Marie-Galante, La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes are included in Guadeloupe. A little strange is the fact that, as part of France, Guadeloupe is part of the European Union, but not also of the Schengen Area. Anyway, its currency is the euro.

The first independence movements on the island had their origins in Antillean student organizations in France and the decolonization movement after WWII. The Groupe d'Organisation Nationale de la Guadeloupe was formed in the mid-1960s, and in the early 1970s was founded the independentist party (the Union pour la Libération de la Guadeloupe), but the marginal support nationalists enjoyed in the 1980s has eroded with decentralization.

Guadeloupe is now home to people of varied national backgrounds, mainly of African or mixed descent, but also French, Indians, Lebanese, Syrians, Chinese, Carib Amerindians and others. Over the centuries of living together, they have developed a local culture, influenced by the regions from where they originally come from. One of the many aspects that developed from this combination is a local style of dress, that is shown in the picture.

The base is a dress probably inspired by the Church, but with the evolution of design and cultural influences, the length of the skirt has been shortened since it was first worn. Emancipated slave women wore le costume de l’affranchie, usually comprised of the clothing handed down to them by the owner’s wives. In this way they reached to a work dress known as la travailleuse and la rob di chan’m (a dressing gown), often decorated with lace or embroidery, to which were added petticoats. Later, a kerchief called a mouchoir (literally - handkerchief), knotted and decorated with jewelry, was also added to the dress.

Gradually, the islanders realized that the headdress was a necessity to work under the Guadeloupean sun, so were developed many styles of headdress for women, which have equally colorful names and meanings: 'bat', 'firefighter', 'zamboist', 'liberalist', 'Lewoz' and even 'Guadeloupean woman'. The decorative la trembleuse (the pins) are used to hold the patterns of the headdresses in place. Jewelry is also an important part to any outfit and necklaces and bracelets have their own names, like the 'cabbage necklace', the 'pineapple bracelet', the 'thick syrup' or the 'colonial helmet'.

About the stamp
The postcard hasn't stamps, but an ATM label, "Republique Francaise - La poste". Regarding the postmark, I couldn't find anything. I found on the Internet postmarks on which is written "Guadeloupe", so I don't quite understand why on this is written "France". Neither the searching of code 24535A didn't lead to any result. If anyone can shed some light on this matter, I ask him to do it.

Guadeloupe - Wikipedia
Guadeloupe - Everyculture.com
The life of Christopher Columbus - Etext.lib.virginia.edu
Traditional dress of Guadeloupe - Gowealthy.com

Sender: Jessica (direct swap)
Sent from Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe), on 19.06.2012
Photo: M. Renaudeau


  1. Hi, Danut. This nice postcard was indeed sent from GUADELOUPE, an overseas region of France. The number 24535A stands for mail center of Basse-Terre with post code 97100.

  2. J`adore dans les tous les moments de ma vie.