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Do you know whether you have an ancestor who was a slave trader or a pirate?! Many residents of the Mascarene islands are aware that they have a slave forebear and in societies which depended on servile labour, it is not uncommon to have the blood of both the enslaved and those who profited from slavery coursing through one’s veins. It is said of the Indian Ocean that the first European and north American traders all behaved piratically and that those who came as pirates often ended up as slave traders, drawing upon their familiarity with pirate haunts such as Madagascar to further enrich themselves. On the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, in the late 17th century, around 10% of heads of households were pirates; consequently a large proportion of the population have pirate forebears.


We are delighted to present to our francophone readers this remarkable work of Réunionnese poet Catherine Boudet, in contemplation of her own ancestor who was both a pirate and a slave trader. We are grateful to Ms Boudet for giving us permission to reproduce her poem below.


Jacques, marchand d’esclaves


Aux confins de mon histoire il y a

cette trace damnée qui plonge mes racines dans celles de cette Île

Impudique filiation qui me rejette aux plages initiales

celles du commencement celles de la fondation

Jacques marchand d’esclaves

né trois cent ans avant moi

tu fus entre Madinina et Amérique boucanier à tes heures

Et moi depuis

je n’ai pas pris plus de couleur

Bourbon t’aura-t-elle assagi

tu finiras dans l’administration coloniale et trois cent ans après

nous n’en sommes pas encore sortis

Jacques tu fus parmi les cinq cent premiers à fouler cette terre

et à moi qu’est-ce qu’il reste aujourd’hui pour acte de flibuste

sinon l’écriture contre ratification de nouveaux Codes Noirs

Jacques prisonnier des Anglais en mer des Antilles

je sais ce qui hante et reste dans le sang

Je sais le goût de l’aventure qui pique les narines

Jacques les âmes que tu as vendues me demanderont-elles d’être coupable à ta place

Jacques trois cent ans de soleil n’ont pas noirci ma peau

elles ont métissé l’âme et trois cent ans après

J’embrasse cette histoire contre la mer qui revient

je ne rejette rien j’assume

 (Nos éparses nos sulfureuses, Acoria, Paris-Bertoua, 2010)




Some information about Catherine Boudet:


Born in 1968 at Saint-Denis on Reunion Island and resident in Mauritius, journalist and writer Catherine Boudet has published three poetry books: Resîliences (L’Harmattan, 2007), Le Barattage de la mer de lait (Ndze, 2009) and Nos éparses nos sulfureuses (Acoria, 2010). Her next poetry book, titled Haïkons, petits poems à emporter, influenced by the Japanese haiku style, will be published shortly.


Catherine’s poetry questions insular identities and she has introduced the concept of “déshistoire” to account for the difficulties of tackling the issues of modernity and development in islands where identities are mainly history-orientated.


Her journalism focusses on issues of identity and ethnicity, consociational democracy and nation-building.



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