Long before it became the first slavery memorial in the French West Indies, the Darboussier Sugar Factory powered France’s Caribbean empire. In the 19th century, the 77,000-square-foot factory, located in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city on the butterfly-shaped island of Guadeloupe, exported goods produced by slaves to mainland France. In the process, it transformed the Lesser Antilles from a forgotten tropic into an economic El Dorado. Today, the factory, which was abandoned after France officially abolished slavery in its colonies in 1848, is known as Memorial ACTe. Strings of quartz, meant to represent the lost souls of the slave trade, crawl up its black-box-like exterior, embodying what has become the memorial’s unofficial motto: Memory Inspires the Future.
Guadeloupe’s colonial history began when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island in 1493. It was passed from native Arawaks to Carib Indians to the Spanish until the French expelled them and slaughtered the local population, officially claiming Guadeloupe as a colony in 1635. In 1946, it became a French département, an ambiguous status giving the island a locally elected government that reports to the national government in Paris. The effort to build Memorial ACTe began 58 years later when Victorin Lurel, Guadeloupe’s representative in the French Assembly, announced that the island needed a slavery memorial so that “the children of Guadeloupe [could] create a new humanism based on reconciliation and fraternity.” The decision to build it on the site of the old factory was a symbolic gesture towards “rebirth,” as Lurel put it.