A "Mozambique", slave in Ile de France


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Title: Natural from the coast of Mozambique.

Author : LITTLE Nicolas-Martin (1777 - 1804)

Creation date : 1807

Date shown: 1807

Dimensions: Height 30 - Width 23.5

Technique and other indications: Engraved by Roger under the direction of J. G. Milbert.

Storage place: Natural history museum - Le Havre website

Contact copyright: © Natural history museum. Le Havre. Lesueur collection

Picture reference: Coll. Lesueur, n ° 19 050-2

Natural from the coast of Mozambique.

© Museum of Natural History. Lesueur collection

Publication date: December 2006

Historical context

Slavery in Ile de France (Mauritius)

The French settled in the 18th century, in the former Dutch colony of Mauritius, and baptized Ile-de-France this stopover which facilitates and protects the route of their boats to India. The adaptation of the Code Noir for use by the Mascarenes in 1723 encouraged the arrival of thousands of slaves, mostly from the island of Madagascar and East Africa. In 1796, when the French government expedition with the decree abolishing slavery of 1794 arrived, the government commissioners were forced to re-embark and the slavery system was maintained.

Image Analysis

Slaves of various ethnicities

This print was engraved from a drawing by Nicolas Martin Petit (1777-1804), one of the artists embarked by Captain Baudin for the expedition to the southern lands from France in 1800. In Ile-de- France was called "Mozambiques" the black slaves of Africa to distinguish them from Malagasy, Indians or even Creoles born on the island. But in reality, blacks transported from the east coast of Africa to become slaves in Ile-de-France could come from any ethnic group in East Africa.

Nicolas Petit made two stops in Ile-de-France with the Baudin expedition: in 1801, on the outward journey, and longer in 1803, on the return. The spectacular scarifications of this slave undoubtedly intrigued this young ethnographer, but he could not represent him in his natural environment as he did for the natives of Australia, Tasmania or Timor, according to the principles adopted by the nascent anthropology.

Petit has him strike a classic pose, leaning on a stump of stone, in the Antique style he practiced in David's studio. Thus stand out the plastic and the astonishing bodily decoration of the young black's face, neck and bust. But the gaze differs from the serene and smiling expression of the many natives that Petit painted during the expedition and lets a contained anguish filter through. No doubt the artist could not have known anything about the origin of this man or his history, but his drawing suggests an enigma.

Scarifications, widely practiced by primitive societies, form blisters obtained by inserting pieces of wood under the skin. The slave labor of Ile-de-France presented many examples. In 1809, a traveler, Epidarist Colin, noted that each ethnic group had its own characteristic body adornment and precisely described those of the various African ethnic groups present on the island. It is thus possible to locate the origin of the scarifications of this slave in the Yao people: "We recognize them with the help of the stars they make on the body and on the cheeks, as well as two or three horizontal bars below the temples. The Yao had established ancient relationships with the coastal peoples for trade; settled near Lake Nyassa, they transported ivory and slaves in exchange for cloth and guns.

From Yao territory, this man must have made a particularly grueling journey of a thousand kilometers on foot, before being transported by sea to Ile-de-France, during which many captives died exhausted.


The loss of identity

The portrait of this slave from an ethnic group settled a thousand kilometers from the coast of Mozambique testifies that in 1800, the slavery practiced in East Africa was already draining populations from the interior of the continent, even before its wide development in Nineteenth century.

If the scarifications of this slave prompted Nicolas Petit to paint his portrait, these marks specific to an ethnic group of black warriors are now only a derisory anecdotal, in the world of slave plantations in Ile-de-France. The owners report what they know about the ethnicities of their slaves in censuses carried out at the time, but this origin is of importance to them only to prejudge their qualities as workers. Just like this man referred to by a vague term of regroupment linked to transport from the coast, each captive, uprooted and marked by the horror of travel, loses his original identity.

Ultimately, this designation of "Mozambique" returns to a stage of creolization: this man carries in the pulpit of his face and his body the mark of his past Yao, he is identified on this date under the vague grouping of "Mozambique And, if he survives, his future will be that of a Mauritian Creole.

  • colonial history
  • slavery
  • portrait
  • planting
  • Australia
  • Mauritius


Reunion Island. Different perspectives on slaveryCatalog of the exhibition at the Léon-Dierx Museum, Saint-Denis de la Réunion, 1998-1999. Paris, Ed. Somogy, Saint-Denis de la Réunion, CNH, 1998.

Claude WANQUETFrance and the first abolition of slavery. The case of the eastern colonies Paris, Khartala, 1998.

Works by Nicolas Martin Petit, artist of the Voyage aux Terres australes (1800-1804)Exhibition at the Le Havre Natural History Museum. Lesueur collection. Le Havre, 1997.

Edward A. ALPERS,Becoming ‘Mozambique’: Diaspora and Identity in MauritiusUniversity of California, Los Angeles.

Read Epidarist COLINNotes on the physique and morale of the various black castes of the African coastin Annals of the Voyages of Geography and History. T IX, Paris, 1809. Pp. 320-321.

Read Guide to the sources of the slave trade, slavery and their abolitionDirectorate of Archives de France, La documentation française, Paris, 2007.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, “A“ Mozambique ”, a slave in the Ile de France”

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