YESTERDAY, ON THE 10th MAY, on his last official outing as Président de la République, François Hollande attended an exhibition to mark the Journée nationale des mémoires de la traite, de l’esclavage et de leurs abolitions in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Accompanied by the new President-Elect, Emmanuel Macron, and the President of the French Senate, Gérard Larcher, Président Hollande laid a wreath and toured the exhibition.
Like Portugal, Spain and Britain, France has an inglorious past when it comes to the slave trade. Throughout the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century, French ships transported around 1,250,000 enslaved Africans to plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean.
France officially abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1826, although it did continue unofficially and sporadically for some time after, and slavery in the French colonies was finally abolished in 1848 with a general and unconditional emancipation.
In 2001, the French Senate passed a law recognising slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’ and in 2006, the then French Président, Jacques Chirac, called for the ‘indelible stain’ of slavery to be remembered on a national day of commemoration on the 10th May each year, the first of its kind in Europe.
After Président Hollande and his party left, I went to take a closer look at the exhibition.
Located in one of the iron pavilions in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the exhibition, which runs until the 9th June, comprises a series of explanatory panels tracing the history of the French involvement in slavery and the slave trade up to its eventual abolition. I found it both interesting and unsettling.
Having explored the exhibition and being in need of a change of scene, I walked the short distance from the exhibition pavilion to the Jardin de la Roseraie, an enclave set within the Jardin du Luxembourg – a garden within a garden so to speak.
Surrounded by a hedge and with the statue ‘La messagère’ by Gabriel Forestier (1889-1969) as its centerpiece, the Jardin de la Roseraie provides both relaxation for adults and a playground for small children.
Sounds in the Jardin de la Roseraie:
I found the contrast between the sun drenched Jardin de la Rosaraie and the slavery exhibition very stark indeed. In my imagination I couldn’t help juxtaposing the sounds of the gamboling children in front of me with the haunting sounds of African slaves entombed in slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Jacques Chirac’s ‘indelible stain’ barely begins to describe it!