Martinique, Caribbean, Latin America, North and Central America
Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia
The colonial postcard, populat 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 safe, favorable, and exotic travel destination. The title of this French colonial postcard “MARTINIQUE - Type de Mulâtresse” exemplifies the standard naming structure that categorized “exotic” native subjects in the form of ethnic and occupational “types.” The term "mulatta/mulatta" was used to describe the population who was considered mixed race, or of having both European and African ancestry. Due to the growing influence of scientism and social Darwinism, the French in Martinique attempted to classify the island’s population into a racial hierarchy. Those who were considered mixed race, of having both European and African heritage, were labeled as mulatta/mulatto. By the late 19th century and entering the 20th century, this population made up 1/3 of the inhabitants of Martinique. Though not meant to be interchangeable, this language of racial difference was often times used to describe class divisions as well.
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 traditional, five-piece French Caribbean formal ensemble called a douillette, which is derived from the grand robe worn by early French settlers. Prior to Emancipation, dress codes required enslaved women to wear a chemise jupe, an informal bodice and skirt ensemble. Douillettes would have been worn by mulattas and free black women. Following Emancipation, black women resisted these old dress codes by donning elaborate douillettes that were previously forbidden. The douillette dress is made of colored or shiny fabric and is worn over a petticoat and accessorized with a satin foulard shawl over the shoulders.
The ensemble is finished with an ornately tied madras head scarf. Originally produced in the Chennai region of southeast India, 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 their douillette and chemise jupes. The square or rectangular piece of madras cloth was worn over the forehead and folded to display varying numbers of peaks. The head scarf can be tied in a ceremonial fashion or can be worn to show the availability of the woman in courtship, depending on the number of peaks tied into it. One peak represents that the woman is single, two that she is married, three that she is widowed or divorced, and four that she is available to any who tries.
A printed postcard of an unidentified woman from Martinique in a traditional Creole douillette ensemble consisting of a long dress cinched at the waist, with a dark foulard shawl wrapped around her shoulders and a madras headscarf. She has her hands folded in her lap. She is featured in the center of the image, seated on a white bench with a stone wall and forest behind. There is a white border around the image. Above the image, black printed text reads [Compagnie des Antilles. -- Propriétaire de la marque Rhum Chauvet]. Below the image, [26. - Type de Mulâtresse de la Martinique] is printed. The back of the postcard is unused and has [CARTE POSTALE] printed in black at the top and in smaller letters printed underneath [Tous les pays étrangers n'acceptent pas la correspondance au recto (Se renseigner à la Poste.)]. Below, are blank spaces for [CORRESPONDANCE] and [ADRESSE]. Four dark blank lines are below the Adresse. The first line begins with [M____]. Handwritten in the top left corner in pencil are the numbers, .