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#421
Madagascar
Keymaster

In his letter XII entitled “Of the Blacks”, Jacques Henri Bernardin of Saint-Pierre relates the daily slaves in Ile de France (present-day Mauritius). It is in Madagascar, he says, that we are going to look for blacks destined for the cultivation of land. “We buy a man for a barrel of powder, for rifles, paintings and especially piastres. The most expensive cost little more than 50 ECU. “Parents, friends, and couples are separated. “They are desperate; They imagine that the whites are going to eat them; That they make red wine with their blood and gunpowder with their bones. “
At dawn, three lashes call them to work. “Everyone goes with his pickaxe to the plantations where they work almost naked in the heat of the sun. They are given as food for ground corn, cooked in water, or bread of manioc; To wear a piece of canvas. At the slightest negligence, they are tied by the feet and hands on a ladder. The commander, armed with a post whip, gives them on the back bare 100 and up to 200 shots. Each shot removes a portion of the skin. Then the wretched man is detached; A necklace of iron with three points is put around his neck and he is brought back to work. There are some who are more than a month before being able to sit down. Women are punished in the same way. Returning to their huts at night, they must pray to the God of the Whites “for the prosperity of their masters” and before going to bed they must wish them a good night.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre also speaks of the Code Noir, the famous ordinance of 1685 bearing the legal status of slavery. “This favorable law commands that, at each punishment, they shall not receive more than thirty shots, that they shall not work on Sundays, that they shall be given meat every week, shirts every year; But the law is not followed. “And the attitude of the Creoles to their slaves rubbed off on their dogs. An engraving of the eighteenth century on the Malagasy slaves in Mauritius: “The latter have adopted the sentiments of their masters, and at the slightest signal they throw themselves furiously upon the slaves. “
The most unfortunate are the elderly slaves.
“Sometimes when they are old, they are sent to seek their life as best they can. One day I saw one who had only the skin and the bones, to cut the flesh of a dead horse to eat it. It was a skeleton that devoured another. When the Europeans are moved by their living conditions, the inhabitants (Creoles) tell them that they do not know the blacks. “They accuse them of being so greedy that at night they take food from neighboring dwellings; So lazy that they take no interest in the affairs of their masters; And that their wives are mothers of families so wretched that they prefer to have an abortion, rather than to bring children into the world, in order to be in their turn enslaved until their death!
According to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Malagasy slaves have a naturally playful character, “but after some time of slavery, they become melancholy. Love alone still seems to charm their sorrows (…) When they love, they fear neither fatigue nor punishment. When the slaves can no longer bear their fate, they react by desperate acts. “Some hang themselves or poison themselves; others put themselves in a canoe, and without sails, without provisions, without compass, venture to make a journey of 200 leagues of sea to return to Madagascar. They have been seen, taken up, and restored to their masters. “

But they usually take refuge in the woods where they are hunted with detachments of soldiers, blacks and dogs. “There are people who enjoy it. They are raised like wild beasts. When they can be reached, they are killed with a gun, their heads cut off, and carried in triumph to the town at the end of a stick. That’s what I see almost every week. It also happens that when one catches them, one cuts one ear and one whips them. But “at the second desertion, they are whipped, they cut off a hock, they are chained. At the third time, they are hanged; But then they are not denounced: the masters are afraid of losing their money. For some, moreover, it is a joy to die because death frees them from their sufferings.
“For it is not that religion does not seek to console them; From time to time they are baptized. They are told that they have become brothers of the whites and that they will go to heaven. But they can not believe that Europeans can never lead them to heaven. They say that they are the cause of all their evils on earth; That, before approaching them, they fought with sticks of iron; That we have taught them to kill themselves from afar with fire and bullets; That we excite among them war and discord in order to have cheap slaves; That they followed without fear the instinct of nature, that we poisoned them with provisions, and that they were beaten cruelly for no reason. A slave, almost white, came one day to throw herself at my feet; Made him rise early and watch very late; When she fell asleep, she rubbed her lips with rubbish; If she did not lick, she would have her flogged. She begged me to ask for her pardon, which I obtained. Often the masters grant it, and two days afterwards they double the punishment. “