Guadeloupe, an image in the service of colonization

Guadeloupe, an image in the service of colonization

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Title: View of Bourg de la Guadeloupe

Author : PLUMIER Charles (1646 - 1704)

Creation date : 1689 -

Technique and other indications: In: Plants of Martinique and Guadeloupe (…) drawn, colored and described by Père Plumier.

Storage place: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: National Library of France

Picture reference: JD-18-FOL - Plants from Martinique and Guadeloupe

View of the Bourg de la Guadeloupe

© National Library of France

Publication date: February 2018

Documentary studies officer at the DAC Guadeloupe, Deputy curator of antiques and art objects of Guadeloupe

Historical context

Colonization of Guadeloupe

The history of the colonization of Guadeloupe by the Europeans begins with the second voyage of Christophe Colomb to the Americas, undertaken from 1493 to 1496 and which allows the exploration of the whole archipelago. However, the real occupation of the island did not occur until 1635, with the expedition led by the Lord of L'Olive. The latter is accompanied by a Dominican missionary, Father Breton, who devotes the twenty years of his stay to giving the first physical descriptions as well as establishing contact with the Amerindian populations whose language he is learning.

After him, other religious missionaries continued this descriptive work, more and more detailed as colonization progressed. Father Charles Plumier (1646-1704) is part of this journey. During his travels, the first in 1689, the second from 1693 to 1695, he devoted himself to the physical description of all the richness of the fauna and flora of the islands and to the collection of objects of natural history. His botanical plates are very precise and are accompanied by the creation of a hundred new genera. His interest also leads him to be interested in "natural" and their knowledge of the uses of plants, but also in cartography and landscape, as in this View of the village of Guadeloupe made in 1689.

Image Analysis

Birth of the urban landscape

Plumier's drawing is a compromise between landscape and cartographic representation. By the distortion of the perspective the author manages to position as on a plan the main constructions of the village of Basse-Terre, identified by a legend in a cartouche. The precision of the drawing is particularly significant in architectural descriptions and more schematic in plant descriptions, while allowing the identification of areas of cultivation. The vertical or horizontal lines probably correspond to food crops, the curvilinear lines to cane plantations. We can also identify more or less densely wooded areas, mainly deciduous but also some palm or coconut trees. The background is treated in atmospheric perspective but the reliefs are not very significant and even the silhouette of the Soufrière is difficult to recognize.

The objective of this representation is not to represent wild nature but on the contrary to show a domesticated nature, with its boundaries of plots, its fields, its regularly planted trees and the outline of what constitutes the urbanization of the main town of the colony, which was incorporated into a town around 1650. The administrative authority is represented by the fort (S) and the governor's house (Z); spiritual authority symbolized by several churches (Carmelites, Capuchins, Jesuits); while commercial and domestic activity is signified by warehouses and houses.


A description in the service of colonization

The cartographic precision of Father Plumier's drawing illustrates the progress of the colony in the second half of the 17th century.e century, almost exclusively in the south of the island, and the importance of the village of Basse-Terre around which other urban centers developed, notably in Baillif and Vieux-Habitants. However, the quality of the buildings, the readability of the organization of the urban space, the regular order of the plantations give the feeling of a controlled, domesticated nature, which is far from being the exact reflection of reality.

Physical, literary and illustrated descriptions of this type, such as that of Father Labat (published in 1722) a famous contemporary of Plumier, are essential to the development of colonization. They constitute incentives for future settlers and necessarily emphasize the exploitation potentials offered by nature. They must reassure and promise to guarantee a future for these lands governed by the principle of the Exclusive. This mercantile colonial system strictly linking the metropolis to its colonies, gradually imposes the monoculture of cane and favors large family farms, "sugar dwellings", where work, little mechanized, is based on a servile workforce, numerous and mistreated.

  • West Indies
  • colonial conquest
  • colonial history
  • Louis XIV
  • architecture
  • botanical


Jean-Baptiste LABAT, Voyage to the Isles, Adventurous Chronicle of the Caribbean 1693-1705. Paris, Phébus Libretto, 1993, 463 p. Reprint of Labat, New trips to the French isles of America, 1722.

Desmoulins (M.-E.), Bonnissent (D.), Peiré (J.-F.) .- Basse-Terre, heritage of a West Indian town. Pointe-à-Pitre: Éditions Jasor, 2006, 251 p.

Perotin-Dumont (A.), The city of islands. The city on the island. Basse-Terre and Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, 1650-1820. Paris, Karthala, 2000, 990 p.

To cite this article

Séverine LABORIE, "Guadeloupe, an image at the service of colonization"

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