Uncommon Attraction: The Kapok Tree That Inspired Aimé Césaire
Martinique, as much as anywhere else in the Caribbean, inspires creative genius. The proof lies in large part in its history, a rich and complex tapestry of class, race and economic struggles played out amidst a vibrant, dreamlike setting of pristine natural beauty that has inspired such legends as Paul Gauguin and Jean Rhys to create seminal works transcending time, tongue and territory.
Equally as inspirational are some of Martinique’s physical characteristics, something I found out first hand when I happened upon this tree yesterday…
To the unknowing passerby, it would appear to be just another amazingly majestic tree among a seemingly unending sea of such natural wonders found all over Martinique. This particular Kapok Tree is extremely special, however, made so by Martinique’s favorite son, Aimé Césaire.
Born in Basse-Pointe, Martinique in 1913, Aimé Césaire grew in his years to become the pre-eminent figure in his home island’s history. He was a poet, a playwright, a politician and a statesman. Most of all, though, he was Martinique – a man who represented in all that he said, wrote and accomplished all that this wonderful island and its people hoped to be.
As revered a figure in the global Civil Rights Movement for people of African descent as anyone, Césaire is credited, among other things, with being a founding father of La Negritude, an artistic and cultural movement initiated in the 1930’s that encouraged black youths to develop and maintain a positive racial identity… a positive sense of self. He may not be as well known in the States as Dr. King or Malcolm X, but Césaire’s impact is as profound as both Civil Rights leaders virtually everywhere else on the planet.
Among the primary inspirations for his greatness: The Kapok Tree pictured above.
The tree sits astride the road that leads down from several tiny villages in northern Martinique like Fonds-Saint-Denis, right above the historic seaside town of Saint-Pierre. Césaire made a habit of trekking to this tree in his time, sitting beneath it for hours to draw inspiration for his works. He spoke about his communal relationship with Martinique’s natural wonders in an interview recorded shortly before his passing in 2008, saying:
When I want to know myself, I read myself in the landscape. That is what is important. Yes. The tree speaks to me. I don’t know if I can talk to the trees, but I know that they speak to me and they interpret me….
The view from this special tree of Saint-Pierre below no doubt also inspired him…
It’s a peaceful, wonderfully serene spot that gives the visitor a tiny window into the mind of a giant man. Venture here, sit for awhile, and you just may be inspired to greatness as well…