Salim Shadid via flickr

The legacy of slavery is represented in many varying forms at attractions throughout the Caribbean. In some islands, remembrances and memorials are slight and understated, almost as if to suggest that it’s best to just move on. In more culturally rich islands like Martinique, however, it’s quite the opposite. Poignant, provocative and powerfully moving, the collection of slave memorials here testify to the evils of slavery with a quiet dignity born of personal heartfelt artistic expression.

Among the most moving of these attractions is the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial. Completed in 1998 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in the French West Indies, the memorial is comprised of 20 statues, each eight feet tall. As you can see in the photo above, these are large, hulking figures bearing stoic, brooding expressions. Shoulders hunched and heads bowed, the figures stare out to the sea from what is an otherwise pleasant and breezy grassy field.

The memorial evokes an unmistakable sense of loss and mourning in line with the infamous story that inspired its creation.

The importation of new slaves to the Caribbean had been made illegal in 1815, but that didn’t stop the illicit trade from continuing many years later. Traders simply opted to port their ships at night to avoid getting caught. As you might imagine, this dangerous practice often had tragic results…

On the night of April 7, 1830, a ship carrying a cargo of Africans sank in the rocky waters off the coast of Le Diamant. More than 40 would-be slaves, shackled together in the ship’s hull, drowned.

The tragedy is artfully memorialized by Martinican sculptor Laurent Valére. The statues, composed of cast concrete and sand, are arranged in a triangle in reference to the triangular trade. They’re also standing at an angle of 110º directly in line with the Gulf of Guinea.

Visiting Anse Cafard is an extremely moving experience. Art installations in most museums and public places are generally cordoned off in some way, keeping you at a distance from the works. Not here. There are no gates, no velvet ropes, no guards; nothing stands between you and the statues.

Walk right up to them. Touch them. Sit among them staring out to sea as they do while listening to the pounding surf below. Even if you don’t have the slightest appreciation for art or history, it’s impossible not to feel the raw emotion and appreciate this truly special place.

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