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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 3691

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


In the village of Morne Rouge, I was frequently impressed by the singular beauty of young girls from the north-east coast-all porteuses, who passed almost daily on their way from Grande Anse to St. Pierre and back again-a total trip of thirty-five miles.... I knew they were from Grande Anse, because the village baker, at whose shop they were wont to make brief halts, told me a good deal about them: he knew each one by name. Whenever a remarkably attractive girl appeared, and I would inquire whence she came, the invariable reply (generally preceded by that peculiarly intoned French "Ah!" signifying, "Why, you certainly ought to know!") was "Grand Anse."...Ah! c'est de Grande Anse, ?a! And if any commonplace, uninteresting type showed itself it would be signalled as from somewhere else-Gros-Morne, Capote, Marigot, perhaps,-but never from Grand Anse. The Grande Anse girls were distinguished by their clear yellow or brown skins, lithe light figures and a particular grace in their way of dressing. Their short robes were always of bright and pleasing colors, perectly contrasting with the ripe fruit-tint of nude limbs and faces: I could discern a partiality for white stuffs with apricot-yellow stripes, for plaidings of blue and violet, and various patterns of pink and mauve. They had a graceful way of walking under their trays, with hands clasped behind their heads, and arms uplifted in the manner of caryatides. An artist would have been wild with delight for the chance to sketch some of them.... On the whole, they conveyed the impression that they belonged to a particular race, very different from that of the chief city or its environs.

"Are they all banana-colored at Grande Anse?" I asked,-"and all as pretty as these?"

"I was never at Grande Anse," the little baker answered, "although I have been forty years in Ma

rtinique; but I know there is a fine class of young girls there: il y a une belle jeunesse là, mon cher!"

Then I wondered why the youth of Grande Anse should be any finer than the youth of other places; and it seemed to me that the baker's own statement of his never having been there might possibly furnish a clew.... Out of the thirty-five thousand inhabitants of St. Pierre and its suburbs, there are at least twenty thousand who never have been there, and most probably never will be. Few dwellers of the west coast visit the east coast: in fact, except among the white creoles, who represent but a small percentage of the total population, there are few persons to be met with who are familiar with all parts of their native island. It is so mountainous, and travelling is so wearisome, that populations may live and die in adjacent valleys without climbing the intervening ranges to look at one another. Grande Anse is only about twenty miles from the principal city; but it requires some considerable inducement to make the journey on horseback; and only the professional carrier-girls, plantation messengers, and colored people of peculiarly tough constitution attempt it on foot. Except for the transportation of sugar and rum, there is practically no communication by sea between the west and the north-east coast-the sea is too dangerous-and thus the populations on either side of the island are more or less isolated from each other, besides being further subdivided and segregated by the lesser mountain chains crossing their respective territories.... In view of all these things I wondered whether a community so secluded might not assume special characteristics within two hundred years-might not develop into a population of some yellow, red, or brown type, according to the predominant element of the original race-crossing.

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