From my earliest childhood, I have heard of this slave ancestor who had been killed after having buried the jewelry of his masters underground, at their request, at the foot of a cheese maker; and the one who was growing at the bottom of our property seemed to me to be the ever vigilant guardian of a treasure never found.
It was also the story of this family which had only been able to take a Caribbean basket full of jewelry during the eruption of Mount Pelee. When taking his place in one of the Compagnie Girard boats which was to take a crowd of victims to Fort-de-France, the captain gave the order to leave all the parcels ashore; only passengers could take place on board. One of the women, desperate to see her basket abandoned on the beach, offered fifty francs to one of the sailors if he brought it back. Half an hour later, she recovered her property, so as not to part with it … All the members of the family could not raise half of the sum promised, the sailor contented himself with twenty francs, but if he had the curiosity to open the basket, he would have discovered with amazement that he had in his hands what seemed to him to be the treasure of Ali Baba.
This is how for me, from childhood, the gold jewel represented not an element of adornment, but much more a security insurance, a remedy in case of need, an invaluable guarantee. I hardly wore them, apart from the Creole rings that Mr. Frido had put on me when he had pierced my ears. One day, I lost a side of it in the sea, during a swim; grandfather, seeing me arriving at his house with only one side, forbids me to come to see him until I have my two earrings. He even went so far as to give the money to my mother, and seeing that she was not buying them, he made the trip to Fort-de-France, to bring me a pair. When I was born, my father’s employers offered me a pair of “baby” pins and the little chain, with the Virgin’s medal that my godmother had given me, had been blessed by the parish priest. Mom put it on my neck, only on Sundays and holidays. She herself wore only her wedding ring, on the other hand my father was very attached to the beautiful watch chain and the cufflinks he had inherited from a grandfather. I can still see him again, taking the gold watch out of his pocket, placing it delicately in the palm of his hand to take note of the time and replacing it with gestures of infinite elegance. I looked with admiring eyes at the beautiful bracelets of my schoolmistress and especially the magnificent ring that her fiancé had given her before leaving in dissidence. Much later I learned that he had never returned because he had married his war godmother!
Madame Adée’s cabbage necklace went four to five times around her neck. It was said that she had bought grain after grain from a young age and that she had them threaded on a chain by a jeweler from Fort-de-France. In a giant medallion, adorned with birds and gold florets, were enclosed strands of hair. The father of her children disappeared at sea, she only wore her “creoles”, all black with the thread that she had patiently wound to cover the gold.
Zephirine’s honor was her brooches. She put them everywhere, in front of her dress, on her madras headdress, to hold on to her scarf; she was carrying on her arm a superb rush which she had found in a gutter, one day of great rain at Saint-Pierre. People said in a low voice that she had been a famous “matador”, she had a presence. The ring of Mister Totor frightened me, it was in the shape of an animal’s head, with black eyes which seemed to fix you badly. It was said that she had “gone up” 4 and that he had gone to do the work abroad. Also, no lady resisted him, and one could not count the number of children he had on the island. Her smile revealed two rows of gold teeth. He wore a ring in one ear and it was, it seems, to “remove moods” and also protect him from deafness. Regularly arrived, by boat, the jewelry merchant, an Italian, as there were many in the trade. He went from door to door, offering his precious merchandise. He traveled the countryside on foot, with his small suitcase. Everyone made their purchases in secret, and it was only on the occasion of communal or religious holidays that we discovered the novelties, and then it kept the conversations going for several days. We lived with the doors wide open, because there was no fear of thieves.
I thought the day when I could buy my first piece of jewelry would never come. Could it be a ring, earrings, or would I have enough money to pay for a pretty brooch? I always managed to be present when the jeweler passed, in order to admire in the velvet display these inaccessible wonders. Finally, I started to work, and after the Caisse d’Epargne book, it was the jewel, the big expense. I wanted to offer it to Mom, but she told me that I had to mark, in a way, with this purchase, my entry into the adult world. So I chose a “cinnamon apple” brooch. I couldn’t pay it all in one installment. The jeweler offered me three, without interest. He did not sign any paper and simply wrote the purchase down in a notebook.
Then came Carnival. Our group of friends decided to wear the traditional costume on Fat Sunday. At that time, we did not wear junk jewelry, people who had gold, willingly lent them, perhaps taking pride in seeing them worn by younger people, resplendent with freshness and cheerfulness. Wishing to surprise my parents, I said nothing about the project, carefully hiding clothes and jewelry, madras, stockings and shoes. In the greatest secrecy, a neighbor appeared to us and when I saw myself in the mirror, I was dazzled by so much beauty. This costume was going to delight my sapodilla complexion, a light vanilla fly gave me a naughty air; all the jewels, reflecting the light of this beautiful day, made my capresse eyes darker and deeper, and the smell … the peculiar smell of madras mixed with that of vanilla intoxicated me as an alcohol would. I imagined mom’s surprise, her joy at seeing her daughter so beautiful … Alas! It was a real disaster. My mother was neither scandalized, angry, nor severe. She was pained, an immense pain, going back from the bottom of the ages, without words, without gestures. I will never forget her eyes, I read everything that this madras, this typical dress represented for her pain, injured pride, restrained ambition and that even an excessive spread of jewelry could not erase. I rushed to my room to remove everything, and since then I have not wanted to wear the Creole costume or any sort of transvestite. Many years later, my mother told me that all her life, her grandmother had worked hard for her two daughters to wear hats and be civil servants. They admitted that his reaction had been excessive, but so sincere! I replied that these traditional costumes also bore the mark of creativity and optimism, never in default, of our ancestors, who, having at the beginning only two pieces of coarse fabric, came to design, these chefs- of work (skirted or cozy set with petticoat and shawl) that have made and will long admire all, highlighting our West Indian type so well.
Comments and anecdotes communicated to the Notebooks 1. They were called: Ruby, Topaz and Diamond. 2. In 1940, many West Indians joined the free French forces by going illegally to the English islands aboard the gum trees. 3. Matador: famous “courtesan” in Saint-Pierre, before the disaster. 4. “(…) IV- Protections: but we use just as much, if not more, what we call in the country of” protections “… But in most cases, protections are jewels , medals accompanied by chains of the same metal, that is to say that, if the chain is silver, the medal must be necessarily silver, etc. For men, we use kitten rings. The jewel whatever it is, is bought on the prescription of a wizard emeritus, a “Mentor”, to whom we have entrusted the intention for which we want to have a “protection”. When the jewel has been acquired, it is given to the Mentor, who “mounts” it according to the rules of his art and then returns it to his client. The protection can also consist of a sachet containing medals, amulets, dried herbs or various powders. The whole is wrapped in a blank sheet of parchment, on which has been written a prayer or any other formula frequently written in Macaronic Latin. The bag is suspended from the neck by a rope of “mahot”, because this plant is believed to ward off diseases. »Magical extract from the Antilles by Eugène Revert.