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Martinique via The Civilized Explorer

The Civilized Explorer

The Fictional Morne-Paysan

In the late 1950s and early 1960, Michael M. Horowitz, Ph.D., spent a few years on the island of Martinique doing an ethnological study of a village that he called Morne-Paysan. The interesting thing to ethnographers and anthropologists was that the native population of most of the Caribbean islands had all been killed, so there were no aboriginal people to study. Dr. Horowitz, however, became convinced that the current populations deserved study.

The original inhabitants of Martinique were the Arawak (also called Igneri) Indians. The Arawak were preliterate and left only a few archaeological remains after they were wiped out by the Carib Indians, a fierce people who killed all males and kept all females. The Caribs in turn were wiped out by European colonialists. The while colonials imported slaves from Africa, and after slavery was abolished, indentured servants from India and workers generally referred to as Syrians but who were from any of the Semitic African countries and who were Muslims.

According to Dr. Horowitz there is no Arawak influence detectable on Martinique, but the Caribs left their mark on the colonials and the slaves, including some Carib family names.

Dr. Horowitz did his field work in a village he called Morne-Payson, which he helpfully locates on a map for us, saying the village is three kilometers from the larger town he calls Covin. He published the results of his work in a monograph called Morne-Payson Peasant Village in Martinique; the monograph is copyright 1967, and it was used as a text in several colleges. Dr. Horowitz received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1959, and appears to be Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Binghamton University. If you visit Martinique, we recommend reading the monograph and visiting Morne Vert to see the changes wrought over fifty years.

We believe his study was done in the town of Morne Vert, which is about three kilometers from a town called Carbet. His description of Morne-Payson in the late Fifties has some small similarities to the current town, and he provides a few photographs, one of which is the local church, which still stands.

During Dr. Horowitz's time there Morne-Paysan was very isolated. There was only one vehicle in town (the mayor's jeep) and one bus that ran from the village to the coast. There were two roads, neither of which was paved. Few of the villagers had running water and electricity. Most of the residents of the community lived outside the village proper, and most of them lived in "wattle and daub" houses (called a case, pronounced something like kahz) constructed of bamboo lathing coated with mud, roofed with thatch. The interior might have been left as a single room with packed earth floor or divided into a sleeping room and living/eating area. Cooking was done in a shed outside the case.

Generally, any "stores" were shops run from a room attached to the family case. Most people eked out a subsistance living from farming the area they owned around their case. Its population in the late 1950s was about 1650 persons. (It has since swelled to 1838 inhabitants.)

Instead of dirt roads and cases, Morne-Vert now has paved roads (still only the two Dr. Horowitz traveled, though), and the population has moved into the village proper in multistory apartment buildings. Electric wires spoil all the views, street lights, TV antennas and satellite dishes sprout everywhere, and traffic and parking are problems.

Photos and videos at Morne-Vert.

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As always, if you have any objections, corrections, suggestions, or questions, drop us a line via Cyber Poste.

The Mraur Cyber Poste stamp is Copyright © 1995 by Jim Felter and is used with his kind permission. For more of his work, please drop by Jas' HomePage.

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