Emergence of the Martiniquan Gwan WÒb


Hélène Zamor


The Gwan Wòb, the national costume of Martinique, came into existence during colonial times.  It is the end-product of creolization.  In the past, it was worn for specific events such as church services, weddings and christenings and by women who were over fifty years old.  Although, the Gwan Wòb is not now worn daily, it has remained present in Martinique’s cultural tradition.  During Carnival, there  are contests in which both the Reines (Queens) and Mini-Reines (Mini-Queens) who are dressed in their Gwan Wòb parade on stage in front of judges.   The Madras Material which is usually used for the headpiece now makes dresses, shirts, blouses and other accessories such as bags or purses. Gwan (Grande) is the Creole for “large” or “big”. Wòb (Robe) is the French Creole word  for dress. Together the term Gwan Wòb may be described as the full dress, since the costume comprises of a full length skirt and a blouse or dress. Some costumes are made up of as many as five pieces, including headdress, underskirt and other layers of material that complete the outfit.  In nineteenth-century Trinidad, the Gwan Wòb was known as the “Martinican Dress”[1]


1.       Creolization

Anthropologists, historians, linguists and other researchers have expressed a strong interest in the concept of creolization over the years.  The word “Creole” initially referred to a person of French and Spanish ancestry (Bolland 2002, 15). Another definition of the word Creole was given by Roberts who writes: “From its beginning, the term “criollo” was once used primarily for differentiation rather than for identifying a place or a specific national, cultural or ethnic group” (Roberts 2008, 265).  The term was later applied to Africans and Europeans who were born in the New World.   In recent times, local products which originated from both the Old and New World elements have been perceived as “Creole” as well. 


The notion of creolization developed in the field of Linguistics around the mid-twentieth century.  Linguists suggest that Creole languages came from pidgins which arose during contacts between Europeans and non-Europeans outside Europe from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.   Creoles and pidgins are mostly associated with plantations and trades.  Linguists draw our attention to the differences existing between both Creoles and Pidgins.  The former owes its existence to European and African languages.  They draw the bulk of their lexicon from the European (English, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish) and present affinities with African dialects in terms of syntax, pronunciation and grammar.  In contrast to Creoles, pidgins have no native speakers because they arose in contact situations particularly during trade in the sixteenth century.   Creoles were spoken by slaves who were born in the colonies.


Kamau Brathwaite[2], a well-known Barbadian poet and writer, made a valuable contribution to the study of creolization of the Jamaican colonial society. He defines creolization as a “form of “cultural action based upon the stimulus/response of individuals within the society to their environment and-as White/Black, culturally discrete groups-to each other”.  He also argues that “the scope and quality of this response and interaction were dictated by the new circumstances of the society’s foundation and composition”.  We must bear in mind that the newcomers responded to changes in various ways to adjust to their new environment. Even though the slaves were forced into abandoning some of their customs they managed to preserve some aspects of their culture: music and dance.  The changes in the newcomers’ lifestyle were associated with the rigid laws of the plantation society where each group of individuals was granted a particular status.  For instance, the upper-class was composed of European settlers, priests, merchants and administrators. This group of individuals exerted socio-economic and political power over Free Coloured people[3] and African slaves.  The freemen class consisted of free blacks and manumitted Free Coloured people.  They were engaged in various entrepreneurial activities such as jewellery making, craft, trading and others[4]


Let us look at some of the changes that would have occurred in the newcomers’ customs.  Slaves were imported from various parts of Western Africa.  Therefore, they spoke a large number of dialects that were not necessarily mutually intelligible.   However, Brathwaite informs us that “the Creole language is not confined to the Negroes.  Many of the ladies who have not been educated in England, speak a sort of broken English[5]….  To reinforce Brathwaite’s argument, I must say that the French settlers living in colonial Martinique spoke various dialects of the French language. They also came from various parts of France:  Bittany, Gascony, Normandy [6]. The amalgamation of these languages gave birth to the French Creole language.  Two concepts called “acculturation” and “interculturation” are discussed by Brathwaite[7].  On the one hand, “acculturation” is the process leading a group of individuals to adopt the culture of another group. On the other hand, “interculturation” takes place when groups of individuals borrow from each other’s culture.

Creolization has recently appeared in the area of culture.  Around the nineties, the term “cultural creolization” was implemented in Anthropology by scholar Ulf Hannerz.  The term refers to the fusion of two or several distinct cultures and traditions (Eriksen 1999). Buisseret[8] views self-importance, material abundance, climate, environment and economic motives as vital elements in the process of creolization. 


Paraphrasing Mintz, Price and Trouillot, Palmie observes: “To be sure, it was in precisely such marginal social spaces that enslaved Africans transformed themselves from mere collectivities of deracinated individuals into viable communities integrated by cultural forms that, although selectively drawing on Old World resources, were nevertheless wholly the products of locally eventuating and locally inflected histories of struggle[9].”

The International Migration Institute[10] at Oxford University recognizes that ‘Creolization’ is a “highly contested term, used in multiple contexts and in largely inconsistent ways.” The IMI notes: “While there is a general consensus among scholars that its utility can extend beyond the study of Creole languages and linguistics, there remains an unresolved debate around the extent to which creolization can be applied outside its initial associations with colonization, slavery and the plantation system in the New World. Indeed, for some, creolization refers specifically to the violent encounters between the cultures of colonizers, slaves and indigenous people in the New World – and more specifically the Caribbean – and to use the term beyond such contexts risks undervaluing or disregarding the highly politicized circumstances within which the terminology emerged.” (Palmie, 8)

Outside of its linguistic origins, Creolization was expressed in a variety of ways, beginning with the arrival in the New World of both Africans and Europeans who had to make adjustments to their lifestyle in order to adapt to their new environment. 

In the sixties, a literary and political movement called Antillanité was spearheaded by the late Martiniquan poet and writer Edouard Glissant.  Antillanité was created to redefine French Caribbean identity.  For Glissant, Martinique’s society is diversified because of the colonial experience of the island.  Martinique shares a common past with other islands in the Caribbean.

Two decades after the birth of Antillanité, Martiniquan writers Jean Bernabé, Raphaël Confiant and Patrick Chamoiseau established their Créolité School. Inspired by the late writer Edouard Glissant’s concept of Antillanité[11], the three authors of Eloge de la Créolité[12] also recognized that Martinique is multiracial. Martiniquans are descendants of Africans, Asians and Europeans.  Bernabé and his colleagues wrote: “Creoleness is an “interactional or transactional aggregate of Caribbean, European, African and Levantine cultural elements, united on the same soil by the yoke of history”[13].  The use of the French Creole is encouraged by the Créolité fathers: “Creole, our first language, we the Caribbeans, the Guyanese, the Mascarins, is the initial means of communication of deep self, or our collective unconscious, of our common genius, and it remains the river of our alluvial Creoleness.”[14] Emilia Melasuo[15] mentions that Patrick Chamoiseau has replaced some French words “serpent”[16] and “HML” by French equivalents “bête-longue” and “achélème.

Edouard Glissant[17] views the process of creolization as a dynamic phenomenon.   In today’s world, many cultures and regions are creolized because globalization, migration the media, tourism and economic forces.  Glissant mentions the case of Europe where many immigrants from various parts of the world have brought with them their culture. He explains that the continent hosts numerous regional dialects (Basque, Corsican, Catalan…) and other languages.  Creolization has been taking place in Arts, music, cinematography and Literature.


The Madras Material and the Code Noir

Buisseret’s views on creolization may be also relevant to understanding how the Gwan Wòb was created.  Economic prosperity was the main concern of the French who set up their trading posts in India in the early seventeenth century.   They purchased cotton, embroidery and Madras handkerchiefs.  Another source indicates that the Real Madras Handkerchief travelled to African countries including Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia. (Prasad, 158).  Some other sources point out a strong Senegalese influence in the use of Madras. It was also brought to London and auctioned either to the Royal Africa Company or private merchants. 


The Madras material was found on the Martiniquan shores when the first Frenchwomen settled in the island during the seventeenth century (Zamor 2014, 1).  Due to the tropical climate of Martinique, these women covered their heads with the material.  In addition to the climatic conditions of Martinique and the economic motives of the French, self-importance and social status accounted for the use of Madras in the Martiniquan society.  It is important to note that the life of the slaves was regimented by the Black Code also known as Le Code Noir in French.  This decree was passed by Louis XIV in 1685.  It dictated the conditions of slavery in all French colonies and imposed the Catholic religions upon the Blacks. Slaves in particular were not able to retain all their customs due to the pressure to which they were subjected under institutional instruments of control such as the Code Noir. 


Under the Code Noir, the dress code for slaves, Free Coloured and Emancipated individuals, that helped to symbolize class and race differences, were defined.  For example, female slaves were compelled to wear a white blouse, two skirts and silver jewellery.  Neither Free Coloured women nor the Affranchies (Emancipated women) were allowed to wear hats.   Therefore, they wore Madras headpieces for which they created an interesting language code.  Their headpieces were tied to four peaks.  One peak meant:  I am single.  Two peaks:  I am married.  Three peaks: I am a widow or divorced.  Four peaks: I accept everyone who tries[18]


2.       Self Identity and erotic Agency


I am of the opinion that both Free Coloured and Emancipated women were searching for self-identity since they were oppressed by the rigidity of the colonial power.  For them, wearing Madras headpieces were not merely symbols of beauty but also a search to assert themselves in a racially and socially divided society.  This is a language of symbolic resistance which Mimi Sheller[19] notes is an important frame of reference for unsilencing the practices of agency by the subaltern during colonialism. The literature reveals that a Matadore was a woman who dated several men for money and jewellery (Costumes Créoles, 3). Sheller describes this as erotic agency – a form of “embodied resistance” within structures dominated by bio power after Foucault, i.e. the use of the body as an agent of resistance. Paraphrasing Kempadoo, Sheller also notes that the sexual economy undergirds inequalities with “possibilities for agency.”[20] Agency for Foucault[21] is also a feature of the racialist relationship between state and individuals during the 19th and 20th centuries. In this regard, Foucault observes that the state was aware of citizens’ sex, and that sex was employed as an instrument of control. For instance, the citizens’ sex lives were tightly “scrutinized” as far as birth rates, death rates and illegitimate births[22] were concerned. 


The Matadore also made herself popular by wearing a sophisticated Madras headpiece.  The literature distinguishes between the Matadore du Nord and the Matadore du Sud.  The former lived in the northern town of Saint-Pierre in Martinique while the latter resided in the south of the island. The headpiece of the Matadore of Saint-Pierre comprised a small triangle at the front and a pleated tail at the back.  However, the headpiece of the Matadore du Sud was different.  It was shaped like a fan in the front and in the back[23].


The idea of the exotic valorization of particular regions of the world during the colonial period is stressed by Kempadoo[24] as a practice that imposes inferiority upon the culture. Paraphrasing Porter (Kempadoo, 426), Kempadoo notes that exotic lands provided Europeans with “paradigms of the exotic.” “Away from the repressive sexual mores of western Europe, strange cultures and particularly the women in them, became sex where sex “was neither penalized, nor pathologized nor exclusively procreative.” The Matadore is an exemplar of how white exoticism is mediated in Martinique and how perceptions of women as sexual and erotic objects, to follow Kempadoo, were consolidated in the period, with the mulatto woman being particularly exotic. (Kempadoo, 2012, /430-431)


In 1887, with France already a nation devastated by slave uprisings in Haiti to inaugurate the end of their colonial rule in the West Indies, Greek born international traveller, Lafcadio Hearn[25] notes how the fille de couleur[26] was compromised by the bankruptcy of the White béké[27]. Before the seizure of her property for debt, the fille de couleur “pours out her pain in song, like a bird.” The author includes one of these improvisations, in which the Madras, a stamp of elegance and security, become part of the legend of Martinique’s colonial sexual economy.  He speaks to what is now termed by scholars “erotic agency” and the undermining of the Matadore’s economic prospects by the prevailing circumstances of economic and social ruin in the colony for the béké.

“Yearly the number of failures increase; and more whites emigrate;—and with every bankruptcy or departure some fille-de-couleur is left almost destitute, to begin life over again. Many a one has been rich and poor several times in succession;—one day her property is seized for debt;—perhaps on the morrow she finds some one able and willing to give her a home again,... Whatever comes, she

does not die for grief, this daughter of the sun: she pours out her pain in song, like a bird.”

     —"Good-bye Madras!

     Good-bye foulard!

     Good-bye pretty calicoes!

     Good-bye collier-choux!

     That ship

     Which is there on the buoy,

     It is taking

     My doudoux away.


—"Adiéu Madras!

     Adiéu foulard!

     Adiéu dézinde!

     Adiéu collier-choux!


     Qui sou labouè-là,

     Li ka mennein

     Doudoux-à-moin allé.


[He (the béké) answers kindly in French: the békés are always kind to these gentle children.]

     —"My dear child,

     It is too late.

     The bills of lading

     Are already signed;

     The ship

     Is already on the buoy.

     In an hour from now

     They will be getting her under way."


—"Ma chère enfant

     Il est trop tard,

     Les connaissements

     Sont déjà signés,

     Est déjà sur la bouée;

     Dans une heure d'ici,

     Ils vont appareiller."


—"When the foulards came....

     I always had some;

     When the Madras-kerchiefs came,

     I always had some;

     When the printed calicoes came,

     I always had some.

     ... That second officer—Is such a kind man!


—"Foulard rivé,

     Moin té toujou tini;

     Madras rivé,

     Moin té toujou tini;

     Dézindes rivé,

     Moin té toujou tini.—Capitaine sougonde

C'est yon bon gàçon!”


3.      The Madras Headpiece

Needless to say the Madras headpiece[28] is obviously a product of creolization.   Both the Real Madras Handkerchief and its counterpart Imité Madras made inroads into the Martiniquan society.   A description of the Real Madras Handkerchief is provided by Devika (1999) who explains that the fabric is “36 inches wide and woven in lengths of 24 yards”.  Each yard is marked by a stripe in order to make the square handkerchief. Furthermore, it is a light and hand-woven fabric with squares.  In order to make Madras designs, manufactures resort to plain weaves also known as dobbies and carded yarns depending on the quality of the material[29]. Fabric historians note that the first Madras “was made of yarn from the tip-skin of old trees”[30]. According to Prasad, the Real Madras handkerchiefs were produced and exported from South India for more than 400 years. “The Portuguese were the earliest involved in the trade with West Africa and were followed by Dutch, French and English merchants.”  Prasad[31] states that the weavers in the Chirala area of the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh were trained in the Jacquard weaving from French traders. Sandra Lee Evanson[32] also states that the Kalahari people of Nigeria adopted the Real Indian Madras possibly since the 1400s for rituals and other ceremonies and for daily wear.  Also known as Injiri, Madras “was imported by Portuguese, Dutch, and English traders through the East India Companies to West Africa, possibly even from the earliest days of trade in the 1400's due to the Portuguese trading post empire.”[33] English, French and Portuguese traders loved this special material for various purposes.


In the early days, it was common to see the Martiniquan women brighten the colors of their Mouchoirs[34].  Thus, they borrowed the “calendage” technique from the Indian indentured workers who came to the French island around 1853. This technique consisted of painting all the pink squares of the Mouchoir with an Arabic gum and yellow chrome. If we follow Prasad’s argument, the possibility exists that Indian indentured servants in Martinique had also come to the colony with weaving techniques handed down by French traders living in India. This may be a part of the explanation for its high popularity within the French colonies.

The Real Madras Handkerchief generates a spicy smell because of the use of turmeric powder and indigenous indigo[35]. The most common colours found in Madras include red, blue and black[36]. Both yellow and green are extracted from plants and minerals.  Madras producers soak their fabric in a mixture consisting of boiling water, soda, salt and stabilizers.   Research indicates that the colours of the Imité Madras are darker (navy blue, pink green sometimes red.) The material itself is woven out of fibres.  Prior to the calendage process, the calendeuse washes the madras with vinegar or sea water.  Afterwards, the fabric was starched with cassava flour.  The preparation of the starch required the use of castor oil, wax (candle) and a pinch of salt. Boiling water was also added to the mixture which had to cool for 24 hours. After soaking the Madras material in the mixture, the calendeuse put it to dry away from the sun and the light. Once, the material is dried, it is ironed.  Finally, the material was stretched across a wide piece of board and painted.   The Tête Calendée was the name given to the Mouchoir headpiece.  There seems to be a close connection between the Madras headpiece and the French provincial styles. In article entitled “Traditional Dress in Dominica[37]”, the Madras headpiece is described as follows: “a white kerchief was wrapped around the head or sometimes shaped into a bonnet…French provincial woman”. 


4.      The Gwan Wòb and Exotic

The Gwan Wòb deserves careful attentionOther names such as douillette, wòbor wòb agwan jipon or dwett are common in the French Creole-speaking islands of Dominica and St.  Lucia.   Before the Gwan Wòb came into existence, thechemise-jupe[38] was the first dress used by the Creole women.  Under the rigid laws of the Code Noir, slave women wore a white blouse, two skirts and silver jewellery.  The first skirt was usually colourful whereas the second one was made from cotton and muslin.  They covered their heads with a white piece of cotton. The chemise-jupe was comprised of a calf length skirt and a white cotton or poplin blouse.  Red ribbons were added to the collar and the sleeves. Both the Affranchies and Free Coloured women adopted the chemise-jupe. Additionally, they put a piece of Madras material around their waists[39].  Frenchwomen wore a wide flower-printed cotton or silk skirt.  The French civil servants’ wives adopted embroidered blouses and several satin and lace skirts.  A satin foulard completed the chemise-jupe style.  At the end of the seventeenth century, the Frenchwomen created a one-piece dress to which they added a long trail.  The new style was called Gaule.  Worthy of note are the similarities between the Watteau dress and the Gwan Wòb (Réache and Gargar, 2009, 225).   The Watteau dress or the sack-back gown made its appearance at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  It was described as an informal style but it gradually gained popularity in the French royal court[40].  The dress featured loose box pleats, a flounced corsage and three-quarter sleeves.  The Caraco, another French dress, became popular in the 1760’s.  It was open in the front and featured three-quarter sleeves.

 The Gwan Wòb is shaped the same way as both the Caraco and the Watteau dress.  Similarly to the Watteau dress, it features tight three-quarter sleeves and high-waisted and flounced top and a large petticoat.  Both the Watteau and Gwan Wòb present a string around the waist. Petticoats in crimson or lace came into fashion.  In the nineteenth century, the Gwan wòb “overthrew” the chemise-jupe (Hearn, chap. 9). Already in 1887, Hearn attempted to account for the gradual disappearance of the costumes, attributing new social conditions and changes in the colonies to their decline in usage in the post emancipation period. Hearn (2001, 242) writes: “Probably the question of health had something do with the almost universal abandonment in Martinique of the primitive slave-dress, chemise and jupe-which exposed its wearer to serious risks of pneumonia.”  He surmised that the “almost universal abandonment” of the chemise-jupe could have had more to do with the disappearance of the béké as a slave master since slavery was abolished in Martinique in May, 1848.  “For as far as economical reasons are concerned, there was no fault to find with it (the chemise-jupe) : six francs could purchase it when money was worth more than it is now. The douillette, a long trailing dress, one piece from neck to feet, has taken its place.


 Once women became free after Emancipation, the dress code would have changed. The chemise-jupe as a slave dress that was imposed upon women would have been put aside in favour of the douillette, which was a more elaborate and prestigious dress.  Up to then the douillette would have been worn especially by mulattas and free black women. Resistance now took a new shape as women were free from chains and no longer had to adhere to the restrictions of the Slave Code. The Béké, however, would not have completely disappeared from the society in which he was living because he was still in charge of the plantations. Money in scarce supply after Emancipation, the writer was convinced that an inability to purchase the more luxurious variants of dress would have equally contributed to the decline in its use.


“I refer to the celebrated attire of the pet slaves and belles affranchies of the old colonial days. A full costume,—including violet or crimson "petticoat" of silk or satin; chemise with half-sleeves, and much embroidery and lace; "trembling-pins" of gold (zépingue tremblant) to attach the folds of the brilliant Madras turban; the great necklace of three or four strings of gold beads bigger than peas (collier-choux); the ear-rings, immense but light as egg-shells (zanneaux-à-clous or zanneaux-chenilles); the bracelets (portes-bonheur); the studs (boutons-à-clous); the brooches, not only for the turban, but for the chemise, below the folds of the showy silken foulard or shoulder-scarf,—would sometimes represent over five thousand francs expenditure. This gorgeous attire is becoming less visible every year: it is now rarely worn except on very solemn occasions,—weddings, baptisms, first communions, confirmations.”

The writer did not conceal his attraction to the sensuality of the Martiniquan pet slave and the “da (nurse) or "porteuse-de-baptême" when decked out in such attire - who bears the baby to church holds it at the baptismal font, and afterwards carries it from house to house in order that all the friends of the family may kiss it.” 

“If tall, young, graceful, with a rich gold tone of skin, the effect of her costume is dazzling as that of a Byzantine Virgin. I saw one young da who, thus garbed, scarcely seemed of the earth and earthly;—there was an Oriental something in her appearance difficult to describe,—something that made you think of the Queen of Sheba going to visit Solomon. She had brought a merchant's baby, just christened, to receive the caresses of the family at whose house I was visiting; and when it came to my turn to kiss it, I confess I could not notice the child: I saw only the beautiful dark face, coiffed with orange and purple, bending over it, in an illumination of antique gold.... What a da!...She represented really the type of that belle affranchie of other days, against whose fascination special sumptuary laws were made; romantically she imaged for me the supernatural god-mothers and Cinderellas of the Creole fairy-tales.”

Clearly intrigued by the costume’s uniqueness, Hearn’s description is reminiscent of what Said refers to as: “ not an airy European fantasy”… but  a created body of theory and practice.” [41]

He compares the adaptation of the female to that of a West Indian Cinderella ‘a beautiful metisse” wearing the collier-choux, zépingues tremblants. Ça té ka baille ou mal zie!—(it would have given you a pain in your eyes to look at her!)”


He went on to express not only his most considered judgment on the shifting patterns of female fashion within the colony but to show up prejudices based on the racial beliefs and practices of the day to which Darwin and Gobineau lent their well known “scientific” ideologies that became Enlightenment rationales for racial inferiority constructs. The author did not deviate therefore from the then standard belief that racial characteristics were determinate. Reacting to the less worked patterns of the douillette, he remarked:


“…the every-day Martinique costume is slowly changing. Year by year the "calendeuses"—the women who paint and fold the turbans—have less work to do;—the colors of the douillette are becoming less vivid;—while more and more young coloured girls are being élevées en chapeau ("brought up in a hat")—i.e., dressed and educated like the daughters of the whites. These, it must be confessed, look far less attractive in the latest Paris fashion, unless white as the whites themselves: on the other hand, few white girls could look well in douillette and mouchoir,—not merely because of color contrast, but because they have not that amplitude of limb and particular cambering of the torso peculiar to the half-breed race, with its large bulk and stature. Attractive as certain coolie women are, I observed that all who have adopted the Martinique costume look badly in it: they are too slender of body to wear it to advantage.”


The likely relationship of the Gwan Wòb to the dress tradition of the Montpellier region of southern France has been discussed by Hearn. The dress is completed by elaborate coiffures that might have some association to French country fashions of the south and south west.[42] The departure in style from the French country fashion denotes modification based on the Creolization of Martinique – the interweaving of langue and behaviour to create a new local tradition. The tradition is influenced in no small measure by the capacity of the Madras cotton to retain brilliant dyes and colour on the one hand and by that of the calendeuses to create variations of French style. The inclusion of jewellery (what Hearn calls “semi barbaric”) was also a colonial invention by local goldsmiths.[43] The collier choux was purchased in beads overtime, after which they were strung and worn. Far more important than the origins of the douillette or the collier-choux:

“I found (…) the facts of that strange struggle between nature and interest, between love and law, between prejudice and passion, which forms the evolutional history of the mixed race.”


Hearn underscores the unification of disparate cultures into one singular tradition and does not apologize for lack of desire to fully understand or interpret the individual inherent strands of Creolité expressed in the Gwan Wòb. What appears to be valid is the uniqueness of the transformation and its place in the aesthetic world. In contrast, Mintz’ and Palmié, developed theories around the Afro-Caribbean context of the social practices derived from Creolité. The idea of the collective identity had been “unclaimed” so that the subaltern in the Afro-Caribbean official discourses held a predominant relationship to the scope and nature of African retentions. Even regionalisms became underrated in these post emancipation discourses. (Palmié: 440)



Even though the Gwan Wòb and its Madras headpieces are no longer worn by modern Martiniquan women, the Madras material has been used to make short dresses, pants, blouses, shorts, bags and purses.  The Gwan Wòb is no longer linked to social class and marital status.  It has indeed moved to the area of entertainment.  During Carnival, as mentioned earlier, some women participate in contests during which they must parade in their Gwan Wòb in front of the judges.  They are selected according to a number of criteria: good speech, beauty, choice of pieces of jewellery and good posture.  In other words, they must be able to walk confidently in their dress and shoes to become Miss Martinique.


Introduced into Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia in the eighteenth century, the Quadrille[44] won the hearts of the Free Coloureds, free Blacks and slaves.  In the mid-twentieth century, the dance gradually waned in popularity due to the invasion of musical genres including Dominican Kadans-lypso[45], Haitian Kompa[46], Disco[47] and others.  However, many cultural associations, artists and educators felt the need to preserve Quadrille.  For the past two decades, the revival of Quadrille has been taking place in Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia.  All four islands have chosen the Gwan Wòb and the Madras headpiece as the dress code for female Quadrille performers.  The males are required to wear black pants, white shirts, and a hat. 


 The Gwan Wob merits special attention for an additional reason.   In the Gwan Wòb lays a complex mix of fashion sense grounded in the foundations and evolution of Creolization – an evolved adaptation of symbols and language to mark a specific cultural tradition. It is the embodiment of the individual layers of local, regional and metropolitan influences. If the Creole and their variations are the expression of the development of a unique regional language then the Gwan Wòb can be said to be the maximum aesthetic expression of Creolization in the Caribbean region, worthy of preservation. In the ongoing evolution of the Creole language and culture, will also be continued adaptation of the Gwan Wòb to meet the demands of future shifts in aesthetics, culture and economy.

Hélène Zamor was born in Martinique. She is a native French speaker and also speaks French Creole and English. In 1993, she migrated to Barbados where she completed her studies at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.  She received her B.A in Linguistics in 1996 and graduated from the Master's degree programme in Applied Linguistics in 1996.  In the meantime, she also worked as Research Assistant for the Caribbean Multilingual Dictionary Project that was led by Dr Jeannette Allsopp. She earned her Ph.D in Linguistics/Lexicography in 2008. Her thesis was entitled Music and Dance from the French Caribbean from colonial times to present day.  At present, she is teaching French at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.




Bernabé, Confiant R. and Patrick Chamoiseau.  Eloge de la Créolité. Paris : Edition Gallimard, 1993.


Bolland, Nigel O. “Creolisation and Creole societies: A Cultural Nationalist View of Caribbean View of Caribbean Social History”.  In Questioning Creole, edited by Verene A. Shephered and Glen R. Richards, 15-39. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2002.

Bisnauth, Dale.  History of Religions in the Caribbean. Kingston: Kingston Publishers Limited, 1989.


Brathwaite, Kamau. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica. 1770-1820. Kingston: Ian Randle, 2005

Brathwaite, Kamau. Contradictory Omens: cultural diversity and integration in the Caribbean.  University of Texas: Savacou Publications, 1974.


Buisseret, David.  Creolization in the Americas., edited by David Buisseret and Steven G. Reinhardt. Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

“Caraco”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en Wikipedia.or/wiki/caraco.


“Costumes Créoles”. http:kmaniok.fr/merveille/merveille/htm

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 1999  “Tu Dimmun Pu Vini Kreol.  The Mauritian Creole and the Concept of Creolization”.  www.transcom.ox.ac.uk/.../eriksen.pdf

Désormeaux, E. Les Guides pratiques de la famille créole, 1980.

Devika, V.R.  “A piece of Injiri”.  The Hindu, June 20, 1999. Accessed 20 August 2014. http://www.thehindu.com/folio//fo9906/990603060.hlm.

Evanson, Sandra Lee.  n.d “The Role Of the Middleman in the Trade of Real Madras Handkerchief (Madras Plaids)”.  Digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article.

Folk Research Centre. “National Dress of Saint Lucia”. https://www.stluciafolk.org/outfits/view/18

“Free people of colour”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_people_of_color. last modified October 9, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_people_of_color.

Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality” in the Norton Anthology of Theory andCriticism.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company., 2001.

Foulcault, Michel.  “The History of Sexuality: an Introduction, Vol1 part Two”. www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/histofsex/section1


  Franco, Pamela R. “The Martinican Dress and politics in nineteenth-century Trinidad Carnival”.  In     Culture in Action-The Trinidad Experience, edited by Mill Cozart Riggio 65. New York” Routledge,     2004

Glissant, Edouard. 2011. « La créolisation du monde est irréversible ». Le Monde.fr, February 4. http://www.lemonde.fr./disparitions/article/2011/02/04/pour-l-ecrivain-edouard-glissant-la-creolisation-du-monde-était-irréversible-147923-3382.html


Hearn, Lafcardio. Two Years in the French West Indies. 1903 Project Gutenberg. www.gutenberg.org/files/6381-htm#link2HCH0606.


Indian Textiles: Trade and Production.www.metmuseum.org.toah/hd/intx/hd_intx.htm

Joignot, Frédéric. «Pour l’écrivain Edouard Glissant, la créolisatiion du monde est irréversible » http://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2011



Kempadoo, Kamala. “Theorizing Sexual Relations in the Caribbean”.  In Caribbean Cultural Thought, edited by Yanique Hume and Aaron Kamugisha.  Ian Randle Publishers, 2012


Melasuo, Emilia. “Paroles d’espoir.  Oralité de Patrick Chamoiseau”.  (2004). http://user.utu.fi/emjume/Senegal-projekti/Memoires/Texaco.htm



Palmié, Stephan. “Creolization and its discontents”

(2006). Isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic454352.files/creolization%20and%its%20c.


Phillip, Daryl. The Heritage Dances. University of Texas, 1998.


Prasad, Puttu Guru. “The forgotten Saga of Real Madras Handkerchief”.  www.scrib.com./doc/18382306/real-madras-handkerchiefs-theforgotten-saga-of RMHKfull paper-RMHK.


Réache, Nicole and Michelle Gargar.  La Gazette du costume créole. PLB Editions, 2009.

Roberts, Peter A. The Roots of Caribbean Identity.  Language, Race and Ecology. Cambridge: University Press, 2008.


Said, Edward.  “Orientalism”.  In the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. , edited by Leicht et al. W.W. Norton Company, 2001


Sheller, Mimi. Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom. Duke: University Press, 2012.

Sheringham, Olivia and Robin Cohen. "Quotidian Creolization and Diasporic Echoes: Resistance and co-optation in Cape Verde and Louisiana. Paper 72 published as part of the Oxford Diasporas Programme.  http:www//www.migration.ox.ac.uk/odp/pdfs/WP72Quotidian%20Creolization%20and%20diasporic%20echoes.pdf.  July 2013


“Traditional Dress in Dominica”. http:www.avirtualdominica.com/trad_dress.htm.


“The History and Making of Plaid Madras”.  http://www.plaidmadras.com/plaid-madas/the-history-and-making-of-plaid-madras. 3d August 2009


Welch, Pedro L.V and Richard A. Goodridge.  eds.  “Red” & Black over White: Free coloured women in pre-emancipation Barbados.  Bridgetown: Carib Research & Publications Inc., 2000.

Zamor, Hélène. 2014. "Indian Heritage in the French-Creole speaking Caribbean: a reference to the Madras material".  International Journal of Humanities and Social Science.  www.ijhssnet.com/journals/vol_4_no 5_March_2014. pdf


[1]Pamela R. Franco. “The Martinican Dress and politics in nineteenth-century Trinidad Carnival”. In Culture in Action-The Trinidad Experience, ed. Milla Cozart Riggio (New York: Routledge Taylor&Francis Group, 2004), 65.  The dress was given the name of Martinican Dress because most of the immigrants who came to Trinidad were from Martinique. Various costly pieces of material such as scotch plaid, printed cotton, silk, damask, madras muslin and lace were used to make the Martinican Dress.

[2]Brathwaite, kamau.  The Development of Creole society in Jamaica 1770-1820.  (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2005), 296

[3]During the colonial times, many European masters had children with some of their slaves.  The term was extended to individuals who were children of a European master and an African slave woman and who were free.  When a Free Coloured child was enslaved like his mother, his White father would decide to free him or not. The term Free Coloureds or gens de couleur in French were used in the French colonies of Louisiane, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Sant-Domingue.  Http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_people_of_color

Children of mixed race (Black and White) were often referred as “mulattoes”. 

[4]Pedro L.V. Welch and Richard A “Red” and Black over White.  Free Coloured women in pre-emancipationBarbados. (Bridgetown: Carib Research& Publictions Inc., 2000), 10

[5]Kamau Brathwaite. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820.  (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2005), 302.

[6]Dale Bisnauth, History of Religions in the Caribbean. (Kingston Publishers Limited), 65.  Some of the French settlers also originated from the Ile-de-France and Saintonge.  See “Creole”. http:www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca/amsudant/creole.htm.


[7]Kamau Brathwaite. Contradictory Omens: cultural diversity and integration in the Caribbean. (University of Texas: Savacou Publications), 11

[8]Buisseret, David.  Creolization in the Americas.  (Texas A&M University Press, 2000), 8.

[9]Stephan Palmie. “Creolization and its discontents”. Isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic454352.files/creolization%20and%its%20c.

[10] Olivia Sheringham and Robin Cohen. Quotidian creolization and diaspora echoes: Resistance and co-optation in Cape Verde and Louisiana.  Working papers, July  2013. www.mi.ox.ae

[11]During the sixties, Edouard Glissant observed that Martiniquans’ cultural identity was under threat because of the dominant French culture and political power.    Most of the English-speaking Caribbean territories opted to become independent after the Second World War whereas Guadeloupe, French Guyana and Martinique have remained politically attached to France.  In other words, they are not independent and they were granted the status of French Overseas Departments in 1946.

The creation of both Antillanité and Créolité  Schools was a response to the Negritude founders (Aimé Césaire, Lépopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Gontran-Damas) who stressed more on Black identity.  According to Glissant and his colleagues,  the Négritude pioneers including Aimé Césaire (Martinique), failed to acknowledge the presence of Asians in Martinique.

During the thirties, Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Gontran-Damas who  were studying in Paris saw the need of revalorizing the African race and culture in the Black diaspora. According to them, Blacks from Africa, France and Antilles should be united.   Aimé Césaire used the term Négritude which derives from French “nègre” literally “Negro” in order to pay  tribute to Africa  in his book entitled Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Return to my Native Land). 


[12]Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant. Eloge de la Créolité. In Praise of Creoleness (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1993), 87


[13] Ibid

[14] ibid

[15] Emilia Melasuo. “Paroles d’Espoirs.  Oralité dans Texaco de Patrick Chamoiseau”. April 5, 2004. http://users.utu.fi/emjume/Senegal-projekti/Memoires/Texaco.htm.


[16] French words « serpent » and « HML » means « snake » and « Low-income housing ».  The abbreviation HLM stands for Habitation à Loyer Modéré.


[17]Frédéric Joignot, “Pour l’écrivain Edouard Glissant, la créolisation du monde est irréversible », Le Monde.fr. February 4, 2011, http://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2011

[18]National Dress of Saint Lucia. Folk Research Center-St Lucia Outfits. www.stluciafolk.org/outfits/view/18.

[19]Sheller, M. 2012.  Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom.. Duke University Press. pp 251.


[21]Foucault, M. 2000. 2001. “The History of Sexuality” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W. W. Norton and Company. New York. pp 1635

[22] The History of sexuality: an Introduction Vol 1 Part Two Chapter. www.sparkNotes.www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/histofofsex/Section1.html


[23]Costumes Créoles. http:kmaniok.fr/merveille/merveille.htm

[24]Kempadoo, K. 2013. “Theorizing Sexual Relations in the Caribbean” in Caribbean Cultural Thought. Ed. Hume, Yanique and Kamugisha, Aaron. pp 424-445

[25]Lafcardio Hearn. Two Years In The French West Indies. Project Gutenberg. August 2004. Last updated: November 17, 2012. Accessed August 20, 2014, http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/.


[26]The “fille de couleur” literally means “Coloured girl”.  The term was initially used by the French settlers to refer to both Black women and women of mixed-race (Black and White).

[27]The origins of the word Béké are not clear. However, it is said that it may have originated from Nigeria where it is used to refer to a White person or a European.  See article entitled Béké-Wikipedia. fr.widipediaorg/wiki/Béké. In the French Caribbean, a Béké is also a White person who is a descendant of a French colonizer and who was born in the French Caribbean (both Guadeloupe and Martinique).  During the colonial period and after Emancipation, the Béké ran his ancestors’ plantations in order to preserve his economic power and the sugar industry.  In modern times, Békés are still in control of the economy of Martinique. 

[28]The Madras headpiece was worn essentially by women who were eighteen and over.  The Martiniquan expression “prendre la tête” literally meaning “take the (new) head was commonly used to indicate that an eighteen-year old woman was no longer wearing a scarf to cover her head. Instead, she began to wear the Madras headpiece.  Pamela R. Franco. “The Martinican Dress and politics in nineteenth-century Trinidad Carnival”.  In Culture in Action-The Trinidad Experience, ed. Millia Cozart Riggio, (New York: Routledge, 2004, 70).

[29]The History and Making of Plaid Madras. http:www.plaidmadras.com/plaid-madras/the history-and-making-of-plaid-madras.


[31] Prasad Puttu Guru. “The forgotten Saga of Real Madras Handkerchief”.www.scrib.com/doc/18382306/real-madras-handkerchiefs-the-forgotten saga of Real Madras Handkerchief”.  www.scrib.com/doc/18382306/real-madras-handkerchiefs-the forgotten-saga-of RHMHKfull paper-RMHK


[32]Evanson, Sandra Lee.  n.d. “The Role Of The Middleman In The Trade Of Real Madras Handkerchief (Madras Plaids).”  Pp. 94-304. Available @ digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article.


[33] ibid

[34]The French word “mouchoir” means handkerchief.  It is also called “Imitation Madras” because it looks like the Real Madras Handkerchief.  However, it is a piece of material which is not as strong as the Real Madras Handkerchief.  Most the time, the dominant colours  of the Mouchoir include navy blue, pink and green

[35] The Handloom Export Promotion Council.http://www.hepcindia.com/handkerchief.php.


[36]Indian Textiles: Trade and Production. www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/intx/hd/_intx.htm. Accessed 20 August 2014.

[37]“Traditional dress in Dominica”. http:www.avirtualdominica.com/trad_dress.htm.

[38] The word “chemise-jupe’ means “blouse-skirt”. In colonial Trinidad, the chemise-jupe was called à la jupe or chemisette et jupe.  Pamela R. Franco. “The Martinican Dress and politics in nineteenth-century Trinidad Carnival”. In Culture in Action-The Trinidad Experience, edited by Milla Cozart Riggio (New York: Routledge, 2004), 65


[39]E. Désormeaux. Les guides pratiques de la famille créole (Désormeaux, 2009), 212.

[40]“Caraco” the free encyclopedia en Wikipedia.org/wiki/caraco

[41]Said, Edward. 2001. “Orientalism.” In The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Eds. Leitch et al. W. W Norton and  Company. pp 1995.


Release Date: August, 2004  [EBook #6381]

Last Updated: November 17, 2012


[44] Quadrille, a French square dance, was introduced to the slaves  in the eighteenth century.  This dance is performed by four couples.  In the early days, the French quadrille band features violins, harps and pianos.  In Martinique, the dance took the name of Haute-Taille because women used to wear high-waisted dresses.  The word Haute-Taille means “high posture”.  The French Quadrille consists of five dances: Le Pantalon, L’Eté, La Poule, La Pastourelle and Le Galop.  In Martinique, the Haute-Taille comprises dances such as Contredanse 1, Contredanse 2, Contredanse 3, Contredanse 4, L’Eté and L’Aimable.  A Haute-Taille band includes an accordion, a Dibas drum, a commandeur (caller) and a siyak.  Several steps are executed by the four couples who form a square.

The Guadeloupian Quadrille is made of seven dances: Biguine, Mazurka, Waltz, Le Pantalon, L’Eté, La Pastourelle and the Galop. Kwadril is the name of the St.Lucian versionSeveral Quadrille varieties in Dominica were presented by Daryl Phillip.  See Daryl Phillip.  The Heritage Dances of Dominica. (University of Texas), 1998.


[45]A mixture of cadence and Calypso that came into fashion during the seventies.  It featured electric guitars, synthetizers, drums, saxophones and a brass section. 

[46]Haitian Konpa became popular in the sixties.  The style comprised electric guitars, saxophones, a brass section, drums.

[47] A musical genre that originated in North America in the seventies.  It comprised a brass section, electric guitars, saxophones and synthesizers.


 Download the article