Tag Archives: Caribbean cemetery

Death’s Garden: Martinique—an Island of Mystery

Martinique postcard

Photos and postcards of Martinique from K. R. Morrison.

by K. R. Morrison

Martinique was one of the stops on our 1996 cruise of the Caribbean, one that my husband and I were eager to explore. After all, this might be the only time we’d be here, and we wanted to make the most of it.

We did not book an excursion, deciding to nose about on our own. One of our favorite things to do when on a trip in foreign lands is to walk through areas that are not on the usual tourist agenda. We love to see and experience what the locals do. Tourist stuff is not really our cup of tea.

That morning, we filed off the ship with the rest of the sightseers and had a quick scan of the area. There were the usual booths wharfside that catered to the tourist trade, so we felt obliged to check those out. T-shirts, hats, the usual blah-blah-blah, all sold by charming, smiling natives. We made a quick pass and then plunged into the real world of the island.

Down a side street we blithely ambled, then turned a corner onto a sunlit square. In its center was a statue of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. I’m sure that it was lovely at one time; in fact, I have a postcard that attests to that fact.

Josephine postcardNot so much now. The statue’s head had been knocked off, the body splattered with red…paint, I hope…and there was some graffiti on it in French that was anything but warm and welcoming. I don’t recall the exact words, but I do remember that it was racist in nature—and Hubby and I were on the wrong side of the sentiment. I can tell you that the atmosphere chilled considerably after we read it.

However, we decided to keep going; after all, we figured, this was probably a fluke. We reasoned that, if graffiti in New York was taken seriously, there would be no tourist trade there at all. Same would apply here, we supposed.

We were, however, on our best behavior from there on. No  blades of grass were bent or stones kicked, at least not intentionally. I felt it best to not look at anyone directly—that dockside charm and warmth seemed distinctly missing in this area. To say we were conscious of every movement around us would be putting it mildly. I was starting to think that the better option for the day would have been to stay on the ship.

After a short eternity of walking, a building loomed ahead of us, the sight of which gave us great relief.

A church! Surely goodness and kindness would follow us…

We felt like refugees seeking sanctuary when we crossed the threshold into that holy place. All the familiar sights of home greeted us. We felt at home and at peace. For the first time since seeing the ill-used Josephine, we could let our guard down.

It was a pleasure to walk down the hushed aisles, breathing in the aromas of burning candles and old incense, craning our necks to see the arches that reached heavenward, hearing whispered prayers of people there with us. The place was simple, but held a beauty in its simplicity that delighted my soul.

At the opposite end of the building, a double door opened to the churchyard. We decided to explore the sacred grounds of the church, seeing as others were already there.

The yard was squared off by wrought-iron fencing, with a path that bisected it and met up with one that took the perimeter of grass. Massive trees shaded the yard and the church, adding to the serenity of the place. It was a beautiful, peaceful garden, and would have been perfect…

…except that someone had piled mounds of what looked like grey dirt everywhere. These piles were left on top of the grass in heaps only a few feet from each other. It seemed really odd to us.

Until, that is, we got a good look at what made up these mounds of “dirt.”

They were, in actuality, ashes. Human ashes. And when we looked closely, we could see bits of bone poking up here and there.

This was Martinique’s idea of a cemetery! Ashes were just piled on each other and left to blow away on the wind. We had been walking around on what used to be people for some time now.

The creeped-out factor hit its limit at that point. Honestly, I don’t remember anything from that realization until we were back on the ship. I’m sure, though, that I wiped my shoes really well before I left that churchyard.


Kay photoK. R. Morrison has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 25 years. She moved there from California, after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused her to rethink her stance on “never moving again.” At her first sight of Oregon, she never looked back.

She wrote her first book, Be Not Afraid, after a nightmare. A second book, UnHoly Trinity, launched this past January. The third and fourth in the series are being worked on now. She has also co-authored a book entitled Purify My Heart with Ruthie Madison. She edits for her publishing house, Linkville Press. Book reviewing and editing for indie authors take up a lot of her time as well.

Please check out her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1


Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes

Where is this lovely churchyard? All the epitaphs I can make out are in English.

Where is this lovely churchyard? All the epitaphs I can make out are in English. Photo by Blair Apperson.

Twenty years ago this week, my friend Blair got word that the liver surgery he’d undergone wasn’t successful and he had six months to live.  I can remember that, because he and his husband watched the Oscars after they got the news.

Blair went through a potlatch phase, where he gave his things away.  He gave me a box of cemetery photos that he had taken on his travels.  Nothing was labeled.  It felt weird to sit down with him, knowing that he was dying, and ask him to tell me about the graveyards he’d visited.  He told me some good stories, but he couldn’t remember where everything had been taken — and he’d made no notes.

All the same, I used a bunch of his photos in Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries, the first book I edited all by myself.  Blair didn’t live to see the book finished.  After it was done, after he was gone, I put his photos into sleeves and filed them away in a binder. I couldn’t look at them without thinking of him.

Kids playing football in the graveyard.

Kids playing football in the graveyard. Photo by Blair Apperson.

This month, I wanted to write about Black History for the Cemetery of the Week — and I remembered Blair’s photos.  I pulled them out again, but they remain just as mysterious to me as they did then.

If you can help me identify any of these graveyards, I would sure appreciate it.  I think they were taken in the Bahamas, maybe at Saba, but I don’t really know.  I know it’s a long shot, but I’m really hoping someone will recognize some of these images and be able to identify them for me at last.

Family plot in the backyard.

Family plot in the backyard. Photo by Blair Apperson.


Cemetery of the Week #124: the Cemetery of Marigot on Saint Martin

Palm trees and sailboat masks from the cemetery. Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Palm trees and sailboat masks from the cemetery. Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

The Cemetery of Marigot on Saint Martin
aka Cimetiere de Marigot-Saint Martin
Boulevard de France
Saint Martin Island
GPS coordinates: 18°3’54″N 63°5’18″W

Marigot, capital of the island of Saint Martin, has been called “the most French in spirit of all the cities of the Caribbean.” A steady influx of cruise ships supports everything from cafes to luxury boutiques, including Chanel and Lacoste.

The first people came to Saint Martin around 1800 BCE, when they arrived from South America. They left behind stone tools. Another wave of immigration happened after 500 BCE when more people arrived in 60-person canoes. Their presence was marked by polished stone tools, worked shells, painted pottery, and tombs. A replica of one stands in the city’s museum.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Life on the island remained pretty sedate until the French arrived in the 1760s. They built plantations and imported African slaves to grow sugar cane, which they exported back to Europe and the Americas. They also fermented the cane juice into rum.

Chevalier Jean de Durat, governor of the island and Saint Barths, oversaw the construction of Fort Louis (or Fort St. Louis, sources disagree) above Marigot Bay in 1767. The plans for the fort had been sent from the court of Louis XVI at Versailles. The fort was meant to defend the island’s warehouses full of salt, coffee, sugar cane, and run.

In 1772, de Durat married the heiress to the plantation of Saint Jean. Although he died in 1814, his children and grandchildren continued to run the plantation until slavery was abolished in 1848. Even after that, sugar production continued on the land until 1860, when the plantation was abandoned. The ruins still stand along the main road from Marigot toward Philipsburg.

Photo of grave decorations by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo of grave decorations by Kathleen Rhoads.

The Dutch occupied Fort Louis temporarily after the slave revolts on Guadeloupe in 1789. After the French regained the fort, the English attacked from their base on Antigua to loot the warehouses on a regular basis throughout the 19th century.

Martinique-born Francois-August Perrinon is Marigot’s most famous resident. As a shareholder in a company that produced salt from Saint Martin’s swamps, he experimented with paying slaves. He discovered, unsurprisingly, that slaves who were free — and paid — worked harder than those who were mistreated. He joined Victor Schoelcher’s Commission in Paris that lobbied to abolish slavery. Schoelcher announced the abolition of slavery throughout the French Colonies on April 27, 1848.

Afterward, Perrinon retired to Saint Martin to resume his salt harvesting. He died in 1861. His tomb still stands in the Marigot Cemetery.

These days, the cemetery stands between the bay and the marina. Grave plots are often surrounded by a poured concrete curb. Some are completely covered with slabs of imported granite or with ceramic tile. Epitaphs tend to be in French. Decorations range from ceramic or silk flowers to conch shells to hearts outlined with small stones.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Photo by Kathleen Rhoads.

Lately, dengue fever and chikungunya fever have grown to epidemics on Saint Martin. Wear long sleeves and pants or use DEET-based bug repellent when exploring the cemetery, where water might be standing in vases, giving a home to the mosquitoes who carry the disease.

Useful links:

Some history of the town of Marigot

Information on amenities in Marigot

A map to the cemetery

Center for Infectious Disease Research story on dengue fever and chikungunya