Fort-de-France, Martinique, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia
The title of this French colonial postcard “MARTINIQUE - Type et Costume créoles” exemplifies the standard naming structure that categorized “exotic” native subjects in the form of ethnic and occupational “types.” Presenting the image subjects in this way conveyed the perception of them as “tame” colonial subjects capable of assimilation into European ways of life. The colonial postcard, popular in the first two decades of the 20th century, came to represent both the technological triumphs of western photography – in printing and mass production – and the political triumphs of European conquest and expansion. These postcards also promoted tourism to the French Caribbean, painting the region as a safe, favorable, and exotic travel destination.
The woman in this image wears a Martiniquan bakoua hat, historically worn by the island’s enslaved population and later used by agricultural laborers, blanchisseuses, or laundrywomen, and others for protection from the sun. It is made from twisted dried bakoua or pandanus leaf fibers. The woman in this image appears to wear a patterned, possibly madras, headscarf beneath her bakoua hat, which was also a common practice.
Madras headscarves were originally produced in the Chennai region of southeast India and madras cloth became popular amongst Creole women in the 18th century and replaced the white cotton head kerchief which was associated with the dress codes of enslavement. In the early twentieth century, Guadeloupian and Martiniquan women reclaimed this head adornment as their own and many wore madras head scarves with other traditional garments.
A picture postcard of an unidentified woman from Martinique in traditional Creole dress. She is wearing a checker pattered long-sleeve dress with a knit scarf draped over her shoulders and a high conical straw bakoua hat. She is seated, resting her right forearm on the arm of a tasseled chair and her left hand is resting in her lap. The image has a stamp on the top right covering a portion of the hat. The stamp is green with an image of a woman in a madras head scarf and [MARTINIQUE] printed above in brown ink. A second circular ink stamp is placed on top stating, [MARTINIQUE FORT DE FRANCE / 25/2S [indecipherable]]. Beneath the image, black printed text reads [MARTINIQUE - Type et Costume Créole] and [Leboullanger éditeur, Fort-de-France]. The back of the postcard is unused and has [CARTE POSTALE] printed in black at the top. Below, are blank spaces for [CORRESPONDANCE] and [ADRESSE]. Four dark blank lines are below the Adresse. The first line begins with [M____].