International Scientific Colloquium

Slavery: what is its impact on the psychology of populations ?

Martinique, October 26th ,27th

and Guadeloupe, October 28th



We wish to organise an international scientific symposium at the end of October 2016, in Martinique and in Guadeloupe, on the psychological consequences of slavery, an issue that was under examined.

The objective is to review scientific knowledge in this field, to formulate a set of concrete directions for further research and find new resilience lines. For the first time, historians, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and geneticists working on the actual stigmas of slavery, will meet. Guest experts are coming from the United States, Brazil, the Caribbean, Senegal, and Europe.  Given their lasting history and their on going work on this topic, Americans are in the majority with 11 guests. The geneticist expert in epigenetic of psycho trauma and trans-generational transmission comes from Geneva. We also have a guest expert from Portugal, the first and last country to conduct the slave trade, and three experts from Brazil.

The issue of slavery has settled into the public sphere. It has gained political, social, and cultural momentum and visibility, at a global level, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and even Asia. In 2001, at the Durban World Conference, the United Nations acknowledged slavery and the slave trade as “a dreadful tragedy in human history.” Events organised around these themes now flourish: symposiums, commemoration days, plays, films, historical books, and cartoons. In Europe and in the western Hemisphere, a gradually increasing number of history papers and theses are written on the topic. Amongst the many memorials (Nantes, Gorée, Atlanta, Manchester…) we must mention the United Nations’memorial inaugurated in New York on 25th March 2015, and more recently, the Memorial ACTe in Guadeloupe that the international media defined as “the world’s largest memorial devoted to the history of slavery in the western world.” French hip-hop artists and Jamaican rap singers refer directly to slavery, and claim back access to their “true past.”

Indeed, recent work, conducted by historians, revealed this other part of history that, up to now, was exclusively viewed from a western perspective, but that now moves away from it, and raises issues of power relationship and balance, this time from a slaves point of view, they want to be heard; historians have revealed their ability to take action. In this process, entire parts of the memory and of history are gradually being (re) built, and the obvious logic behind the claim for historical identity stands against the powerful logic of repression.

How then can we not look into the psychological dimension of the slave trade and black slavery consequences?  The trauma, this violence, “the collective action of the beast, this total contempt, massive insult, (…) non pervasive spit” cannot be without any psychological trauma consequences; recent genetic research demonstrates that psycho trauma leaves marks on DNA, and is passed down to future generations. In many countries, former land of slavery, psychiatrists diagnosed some of their patients’ symptoms as manifestations of the marks left by slavery; some of these people’s daily life patterns defined as “pathologies” require cross-disciplinary examination to be conducted both by humanities and social science experts.

Yet, interestingly, little research was conducted on how to overcome this psychological trauma caused by the slave trade and black slavery.

The actual consequences of slavery did not precisely stick to the initial trauma, and was altered by existential contingencies. Black people’s condition and status were different in the French, the English or the Spanish speaking Caribbean, in the United States, in Brazil, especially after the abolition of slavery. What was the impact? What did the enslaved people tell about their lives? Did some protection measures reduce transgenerational transmission? Conversely, does an overwhelming number of a damaging factor trigger the self-hatred cycle? Is it when internalized models are reproduced? Could there be common denominators to the psychic shaped by slavery? What are the mechanisms, which lead from slavery to racism? What impact has slavery had on today’s portrayal of Black people and on social relations within the Caribbean, in Europe, in the United States, in Brazil, and in Africa? Which way forward with regard to resilience? (by standing as far away as possible from any feelings of ‘victimhood,’ and by acquiring a better knowledge about these mechanisms, we should indeed be able to reduce this psychological burden).

Frantz Fanon raised several of these questions, especially the issue of internalized models that he placed under the term “alienation,” and that Americans call “internalized racism”. In October 2011 FIRST CARAIBES held an International Congress in Martinique, dedicated to Frantz Fanon legacy. Among other things, he showed that alienation required further research, and in that respect, this 2016 symposium is a follow up on the 2011 congress.

It appeared clear and essential to Aimé CHARLES-NICOLAS, psychiatrist (Martinique), to Benjamin BOWSER, sociologist (USA), to Myriam COTTIAS, historian (Martinique), to Hebe MATTOS, anthropologist (Brazil), and to Ali MOUSSA IYE political scientist, (Republic of Djibouti, UNESCO) that an international scientific symposium had to be organised during which historians, psychiatrists, geneticists, sociologists, and anthropologists will meet in order to review the consequences and the psychological marks of slavery today, in the form of cross-disciplinary exchanges during plenary sessions, round tables, and constant interaction with people in the room.

This shall be complemented by artistic performances. Across time, Art has been as well a collective factor as an individual fulfilment, with a powerful leverage impact on recognition and collective resilience; it opens up as a poetic version of our intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships and turns into a “poetic empowerment.” Above all Art is a way to transcend trauma, and should not simply be perceived as an interval or a way to accessorize our hard days work. Some video recorded testimonies shall also be presented.

This symposium, lead by FIRST CARAIBES Association, shall take place on 26th and 27th October 2016 in Martinique, at the Batelière Hotel, and on 28th October in Guadeloupe at the Mémorial ACTe, with its particularly relevant symbolic and universal power where this event will come to an end.

The work will be recorded in real time on the Internet, which will provide the opportunity for a large number of people to participate.

Conference interpreting of the presentations will also be available in French and English.

This symposium falls under the framework of the “United Nations decade for Afro-descent people 2015-2024,” and will be sponsored by UNESCO, by the World Psychiatric Association and by the World Health Organisation. It will be held under the high patronage of Misses Christiane TAUBIRA, former Custodian of the Seals, Minister of Justice, who introduced the law that acknowledges the slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity. She kindly agreed to be here and will be opening this Symposium. By the same token, Misses George PAU-LANGEVIN, Minister of the Overseas, agreed to grand her high patronage and will make an opening statement.

It is with great honour and pleasure that the First Lady Michelle Obama, who might honour us with her present, sponsors this symposium.

4 writers awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and known for their commitment to this cause, will sit on the Honorary Committee: M. Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize (he confirmed he will be there), Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison, and JMG Le Clézio, and also Patrick Chamoiseau (Goncourt Prize), Maryse Condé (Writer), Christiane Eda-Pierre (Opera singer). In this prestigious context of prominent personalities our aim is to add force to the conclusions of this scientific symposium that will widely be covered by the international press across the world (in partnership with American, European, and African television stations).

This is a large-scale scientific and cultural collaborative project, which addresses a major issue that involves human beings and the very basis and foundation of our society, and Martinique (Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon homeland) and Guadeloupe (where the Mémorial ACTe was recently inaugurated) are the iniators of this initiative. Slavery has taken a particularly heavy toll on the Caribbean with 10 million deported Africans; it seems therefore the right place to discuss this matter and develop expertise. This Symposium intends to:

Description of the psychological effects of slavery.

Identification of practitioners and researchers who can conduct research in this field.

Identification of potential collaborative surveys to be conducted among the various countries of the Caribbean on one hand, and between the Caribbean and North and South America on the other hand, in order to test hypotheses and outcomes of implemented actions.

Professor Aimé CHARLES-NICOLAS  

First Caraïbes President