Memory of slavery

Celebrating the abolition of slavery

Celebrating the abolition of slavery
Jacqueline LEE FUNG KAI

Chief Territorial Curator of Libraries

Why are there different commemorative dates in France and in overseas departments?

In Reunion Island, the abolition of slavery is celebrated every 20th December. This corresponds to the date when the decree abolishing slavery (27th April 1848) was finally applied in Reunion Island, proclaimed by Commissioner of the Republic Sarda Garriga on 20th October, 1848. A period of two months after his arrival was given before this abolition decree would come into force, in order to give local administrations sufficient time to prepare for the change in status of the people concerned.

The law of 30th June 1983 establishing the commemoration of the abolition of slavery stipulated that commemorative dates were to be selected by each overseas department and approved by decree. Due to this, commemoration days differ from place to place, depending on their specific historical circumstances or the date when those entrusted with delivering the news arrived there.

This diversity of commemorative dates across France’s overseas departments gave rise to the idea of a single national commemorative date. In 2006, the date of 10th May was chosen, a reference to the Taubira law of 10th May 2001 which officially recognised slavery as a crime against humanity.

To this date one can add the 23rd of May, a day of commemoration for people of overseas origin who live in Mainland France. This day marks the protest march of 23rd May 1998, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Martinique and the event which resulted in the Taubira law.

The different commemorative dates

27th April

Anniversary of the enactment of the decree of 27th April 1848 which abolished slavery across France’s colonies and possessions, adopted by the provisional government of the Second Republic under the initiative of Victor Schoelcher.

27th April

Commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Mayotte. This date refers not to the enactment of the abolition decree of 27th April 1848, but to 27th April 1846, the date when slavery was abolished in Mayotte on an experimental basis by Baron Mackau, then Minister of the Navy and Colonies.

10th May

National Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade, Slavery and its Abolition, created in 2006 by President Jacques Chirac for the official commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Mainland France.
The date of 10th May was proposed by the National Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery (CNMHE), in reference to the adoption by Parliament on 10th May 2001 of the law which ‘recognised the transatlantic slave trade and slavery” on the initiative of Guyanese parliamentarian Christiane Taubira. This law sought to instil a duty to remember this past, also ensuring that history about the slave trade and slavery be taught in primary and secondary schools.
The ACTe Memorial in Guadeloupe was inaugurated by François Hollande on 10th May, 2015.

22nd May

Commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Martinique, which came into force on 23rd May 1848 by the governor, well before the official decree actually arrived. This was due to a slave uprising on 22nd May, 1848. 75,000 slaves were freed.

23rd May

National Day of Remembrance in tribute to the victims of colonial slavery, first established in 2008 by Prime Minister François Fillon, then removed from the commemorations list and re-established in October 2016 by the Equality Act for Overseas France.
This date commemorates the Silent Protest March organised in Paris on 23rd May 1998 by the CM98 (Committee for the Protest March of 1998 (CM98), an association of descendants of slaves seeking to honour the victims of colonial slavery.

27th May

Commemoration of the enactment of the abolition of slavery in Guadeloupe. On 27th May 1848, the governor of Guadeloupe freed 87,000 slaves.

10th June

Commemoration of the enactment of the abolition of slavery on 10th June 1848 in French Guyana. This abolition became effective on 10th August 1848, and 12,500 slaves were freed.

23rd August

International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, established by UNESCO in 1998. This date commemorates the insurrection of the slaves of Saint-Domingue on the night of 22nd-23rd August, 1791.
In Reunion Island, this date is celebrated by the Komité Eli at Ravine à Jacques in La Grande Chaloupe.

5th-8th November

Commemoration in Reunion of the slave revolt in Saint-Leu from 5th to 8th November, 1811. This insurrection took several months to prepare, with more than 300 slaves hoping to be freed from slavery with the support of the English who occupied the island at the time. However, the rebellion was quashed and the arrested slaves put on trial in Saint-Denis on 11th February, 1812.
Since 1999, the Komité Eli has organised a commemorative event in Saint-Leu every year.

2nd December

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. This date commemorates the adoption by the United Nations on 2nd December 1949 of an agreement to reduce and eradicate the trafficking of human beings and the exploitation or prostitution of others.

20th December

Commemoration of the date on which the decree abolishing slavery of 27th April 1848 came into force in Reunion Island. 20th December became a formal public holiday by decree on 23rd November, 1983 (law of 30th June, 1983).
Appointed Commissioner General of the Republic to replace Governor Graëb, Joseph Napoleon Sébastien Sarda Garriga enacted the decree for the abolition of slavery on 18th October 1848, which came into effect two months later. The formal proclamation was read on 20th October 1848 by Joseph Sarda Garriga in front of the prefecture of Saint-Denis. It is this scene that is depicted in Alphonse Garreau’s painting, ‘Emancipation in Reunion Island’, kept in the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. 62,000 slaves were thus freed on 20th December, 1848.

Memory of slavery
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Jacqueline LEE FUNG KAI

Chief Territorial Curator of Libraries