Raphaël Confiant attacked at a gas station

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Last Saturday Martinican writer Raphaël Confiant was the victim of an act of physical aggression at a service station in Martinique. Here’s his account of what happened:

Some days past, a friend had been telling me of his fears of what he called the “progressive Jamaicanization” of Martinican society and gave me the example of the wedding that was interrupted by six hoodlums with pump-action shotguns at hand. They stole all the jewelry from the women, including that of old women, even the bride’s! I paid him hardly any attention, just as I glance over the articles in France-Antilles about thefts, knifings, and shootings without giving them a second thought. It is, undoubtedly, a crime . . .

It is true that intellectuals, or those one considers as such, don’t waste time reading the papers intended for the hoi polloi. Until the day in which we come face to face with events that are like symptoms, revealing tidbits about society, especially in societies that are always in a state of quasi-permanent crisis like ours. And they don’t pertain exclusively to young people or those known to the police.

There is a growing aggressiveness at all levels of our society.

That is how I found myself last Saturday morning at the shop at the gas station at Case-Pilote buying a newspaper. I took my place in line to pay. There were three people ahead of me. The clerk took care of the first person on line and then announced that the register was closed because her shift had ended. Then she started to count fifty or so credit card receipts, at which point I became mildly irritated and mumbled a “humpf” so low that she couldn’t hear me.

But the customer ahead of me in line, a man I didn’t know from Adam, turned to me rudely:

« What would you be doing in her place?»

Surprised, I replied calmly :

« I have not said a word to you, sir. »

« People are always in a hurry in this country. To go where?» he started bawling.

«I don’t know you, sir. Epi man pa palé ba’w. » (I have not spoken to you.)

At that, he exploded :

« Bonda manman’w ! Ay koké manman’w, misié-a ! »

I replied in the same terms, my stock of insults in Creole not being inferior to his, even if he was a dark-skinned black while I am a light skinned Chabin. It was then that the jerk gave me a shove, to which I replied by grabbing him by the mouth. Stupefied, he called on the other customers as witnesses and cried out:

«You see ! You see ! He hit me . . . Good, I’m going to get something for him.» And he left the shop to go to his car, which was in the parking lot, but in a space I could not see from where I was, since in the meantime the pumps had become busy. I cried after him: «Well, if it’s going to be like that, I, too, will go get something from my car!»

I also left the shop and walked across the parking lot, having left my car quite far. It was then that I made a mistake that could have cost me my life. I didn’t take the trouble to look behind me, so I didn’t see that the jerk had returned from his car, brandishing a razor blade. He leapt onto me, hitting me hard on the back of my head. I had almost reached my car. A black veil clouded my eyes and I lost consciousness for about thirty seconds, falling like a log to the ground. When I regained consciousness, he was in the process of kicking my face, sides, shoulders, his razor ready to strike my heart. But since I was struggling, kicking back as best I could, still half-groggy on the ground, he could not get a good angle to stab me and kept on kicking me and insulting me, in a rage. It was then that the three pump attendants half-heartedly tried to intervene. One of them cried out :

« Pa pitjé’y ! » (Don’t stab him!)

Finally, the customers had to intervene to stop the jerk. When the police arrived, I had already left, but when I finally got to them, they said, literally: “the video shows that you hit him with your fist»

« Oh, yes ? And doesn’t it show him insulting me first and then shoving me?»

«Eh, no, the shove is not very visible in the video. Besides, the pump attendants have testified that there was no weapon. He has said himself that he had gone to the car to look for a weapon but had not found it.”

I choose to smile with my swollen lips before the two white gendarmes. Unfortunately, during the beating my wallet with my car registration documents, driver’s license and credit cards had fallen to the ground without my realizing it. When I went back to the station to get them an hour later, one of the pump attendants told me that he had seen a customer pick them up. To this day, that customer has not taken them to the police. I would say that the dozen or so customers who witnessed the scene without saying or doing anything, except for two among them, were not braided-haired youths of 16 to 18, but Martinicans between 30 and 60 years of age.

That ‘s what ‘s become of our Martinique at the beginning of the 21st century . . .

The original (in French) can be found at http://www.bondamanjak.com/martinique/28-a-la-une/7937-lecrivain-et-le-goncourt-de-circonstance.html

6 thoughts on “Raphaël Confiant attacked at a gas station

  1. The question of violence was on all the lips during the holidays, since it has been worst than ever (according to my own criteria and the amount of talks and discussions it aroused).
    I live in Guadeloupe and as a native Guadeloupean, I had absolutely never been scared to go out late, except for these past holidays!
    My biggest concern now is that our politicians don’t seem to be aware of it and for sure unwilling to tackle the issue.

  2. I can feel and understand your anger and frustration. But I do take some offense to your framing this incident as the “progressive Jamaicanization” of Martinique. I am sure embedded in this incident are other explanations and characterizations that you can find, without having to depreciate a country which many decent people call home, and love as dearly as you do Martinique.

    1. It is quite clear that the words are not Confiant’s but that he was quoting a friend when he talked about the “Jamaicanization” of society. It is, I agree, a problematic term.

  3. Very much so, and its use should be discontinued. Jamaica was not always what its reputation suggests. Yes we were the first to give in to the western media onslaught glorifying violence; but we are not the cause, which the terms suggests, of the systematic implosion of native cultural values. This is a global issue for western media/ culture consumers, and is best addressed as such.

  4. As an extreme outsider, although I love Martinique dearly, may I make a comment.

    After reading this account, what strikes me the most is the verbal escallation. I’ve seen another arguement such as this at the beach in St Anne.

    A local merchant who was driving down the beach access road had a faceoff with a tour bus going the other way. The merchant got out of his car and hollered insults at the driver who, hollered more back. I didn’t understand but it was heated. They finally had shown that they would stand up to the other and they finally left.

    Again what struck me most is that the arguement was over nothing but their pride. Yes the arguement in the store should have never turned violent, of that we should all agree. But it started out as nothing really, once a little bit of pride is taken out the equation.

    I hate, as well all do, to see our beloved Martinique become any less of a wonderful place, violence being an issue. But, there is some cultural element in having to show you are a man, machismo, that I haven’t seen to the same extreme in other places.

    May Martinique and Martiniquans live in peace, and may everyone learn to tolerate those who are stupid. Argueing with them doesn’t make them less stupid.

    “Owe no man anything but to love him”

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