Purpose of Memory
To commemorate the victims of trafficking and slavery on the Caribbean Islands, and contribute to build a universal memory on trafficking and slavery.
Date of creation / identification / declaration
The Memorial ACTe is part of UNESCO's Slave Route Project.
The Mémorial ACTe—Caribbean Center of Expressions and Memory of Trafficking and Slavery—is situated on the shore of Guadeloupe, precisely on the Darboussier site, which used to be the largest sugar factory in the Antilles during slavery.
The memorial is an impressive 240-meter long building, enclosed in the aluminum roots of a fig tree that typically grows over the walls of abandoned buildings. At the entrance central yard, there is a metal monument of a huge tree, symbolizing the roots of the Guadeloupians. The museum inside the building tells the history of slavery in the Antilles and America since the beginning of the 17th century, though works of art, pieces of heritage, videos, audiovisuals and interactive tables where visitors can witness the atrocities of slavery and trafficking.
At the beginning of the 17th century, France conquered the archipelago of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Antilles. During the first years, the Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique (Company of the American Islands) took over the administration of the island and distributed lands among French colonists for them to develop sugarcane, tobacco and cacao plantations. By the mid-1600s, thousands of people were taken there to do slave labor. Sugarcane became the major crop in the archipelago and the population started to increase in number as plantations thrived.
From 1759 to 1763, amidst the Seven Year War, Great Britain occupied Guadeloupe and took 15,000 people there to do slave labor at the plantations. In 1763, the French regained the control of the archipelago, which became strategic due to its location and sugarcane production growth. Colonists made huge profits out of the plantation economy, based on slavery, servitude and exploitation. As sugarcane production increased, more slaves would be taken to the island from the Dutch and French colonies of the Caribbean and Africa. In 1790, Guadeloupe was inhabited by 90,000 slaves, accounting for 85% of the total population of the island.
Within the framework of the French Revolution of 1789, the news about the approval of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen unleashed revolts in the Antilles which were suppressed by the local government. Against this backdrop, the French republican authorities maintained slavery in French colonies. On April 20, 1793, a rebellion broke out in Guadeloupe, when thousands of slaves from several plantations used the weapons they had received from Monarchic planters to fight against Republicans, and killed 23 colonists. The rebels were incarcerated and the Republican authorities reinforced the surveillance at the plantations.
In early 1794, the British invaded Guadeloupe again, and in 1802, the troops of General Richepance, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte, disembarked on the island, regained control of the territory, and maintained the slavery system. Slavery was abolished for good from Guadeloupe in 1848, when the French Second Republic passed a decree abolishing slavery across all French territories and colonies.
Since 1946, Guadeloupe has been part of the French overseas departments. The island is ruled by two councils—a general council and a regional council—whose authorities are elected by the Guadeloupians.
Since the 1960s, several nationalist organizations arose in the French Antilles, particularly, in Guadeloupe, which reinterpreted the history of the island and reclaimed the memory of slavery. In 1981, after the Socialist Party won the presidential elections in France, the government started to reflect the memory of slavery in official history. The Slavery Abolition Commemoration Act was approved in 1983. Then, in 2001 the French Senate designated slavery as crime against humanity.
In Guadeloupe, the International Committee of Black Peoples claimed for the construction of a site to commemorate the resistance against oppression and slaves’ fight for freedom. On October 26, 2004, Victorin Lurel, President of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe, pledged to build the memorial to contribute to the preservation of the collective memory of slavery, and to encourage research on slave trafficking and trade.
In 2005, a Scientific Committee was created, led by Martinique Historian Jacques Adélaide-Merlande, to carry out the construction of a site to preserve the memory of slavery. An international contest was organized in early 2010, won by four architects from the area who built the site, inspired by the roots of the “Cursed Fig Tree,” a native tree of the Antilles which destroys abandoned buildings but then preserves and protects their ruins. Among other things, the Scientific Committee that participated in the development of the project proposed to build a museum combining contemporary expressions of art with pieces of heritage, while offering multiple activities, expressions and approaches to tell the cruel reality of slavery, and contributing to preserve the memory to strengthen fairness among societies.
The construction of the huge black-granite building started in March 2013, and involved architects, stage designers, historians, and artists. The building was covered with pieces of black granite as a tribute to the millions of slavery victims, and is connected to a large garden that was conceived as a place for mediation, while symbolizing the “slave garden,” which was the only space of freedom they were allowed on Sundays. The memorial was inaugurated on May 10, 2010, with the attendance of the presidents of France, Haiti, Benin, Senegal and Mali.
The museum’s permanent exhibitions showcase the history of slavery from an international perspective, telling the major historical milestones of trafficking and slavery in the Antilles and around the globe, from the 17th century to date. The exhibition area occupies a surface of 1,700 m2, including six rooms that give an account of the several stages of slavery from images, projections, art expressions, pieces of heritage, and contemporary art works.
The temporary exhibitions are arranged on a 700 m2 room, including several art shows and activities related to trafficking and slavery. Contemporary artworks occupy a central spot in the museum, and inspire visitors to reflect on the several forms of racism.
The building includes a theater hall, a research center, a collection of public and private archives, and a documentation center open to the public.