Lest We Forget – La Savane des Esclaves, Martinique
People with great passion can make the impossible happen.
Gilbert Larose is just such a person. We’ve met on several occasions during my many trips to Martinique over the past few years; each time the man, his mission, and his amazing place leaving me ever more spellbound, inspired.
Larose is the one-man force of nature behind La Savane des Esclaves, an open-air museum spread over a hillside in Trois-Ilets that’s as poignant and impressive a statement on the Caribbean’s legacy of slavery as any attraction you’ll find anywhere.
La Savane replicates what was a typical Maroon village in Martinique in the years immediately post-slavery. Though beautifully presented, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture, particularly when you venture inside one of the shacks the former slaves called home…
Thatched roofs, walls a mixture of lattice and plaster, and dusty, beaten-earth floors – these shacks couldn’t have been much different than the living conditions the former slaves endured as property.
Working tirelessly and virtually alone over the course of many years, Larose built everything that you see at La Savane des Esclaves. There’s a sense of duty and honor to his work, his passion for his home island driving Larose to ensure that future generations know its real history, how far Afro-Caribbean people have come over the years here… how far we still have to go.
Short in stature, sinewy strong, and full of unique historical knowledge, Larose leads many of the tours at La Savane des Esclaves, relating tales of the pre-colonial era in the Caribbean, the age of Columbus, the advent of the slave trade, and the abhorrent violence that came with it. In one of the larger structures, murals, sculptures, and other art pieces produced by local artisans add a visual context to the stories, the raw atrocities of slavery coming alive in a manner most powerful.
Outside, in the museum’s lush surrounds, gardens filled with herbs, fruits, and vegetables consistent with those that would’ve been grown by freed slaves living in a similarly-styled village years ago, thrive. Larose and the other guides at La Savane des Esclaves relate medicinal uses for certain plant species, offering scents and tastes along the way.
In the end, you’re left with a real sense for how people lived in these humble villages – the hardships they faced, the ways in which they overcame their condition, and ultimately, how they succeeded. It’s a unique and incredibly moving place made more special by the one amazing man with the passion to make it happen.
La Savane des Esclaves is located in the seaside village of Trois-Ilets, just a quick ferry ride across the Bay of Fort-de-France from Martinique’s capital city, and a few minutes from the beaches, shops, hotels, restaurants, and bars of Pointe-du-Bout.
Guided tours are mainly conducted in French, of course, though English translators have always been on-hand each time I visited. A written version of the tour is also available in several languages, including English, Spanish, and German.
La Savane des Esclaves is open daily from 9am to 5:30pm. Entry fee is €7 for adults (about US$8.60) and €3 (US$3.70)for kids ages 3-12.
For more on this very special place, please visit La Savane des Esclaves on Facebook.