Being a mother in Guadeloupe: the testimony of Morgane, Joséphine’s mother

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Morgane is from Guadeloupe. She is the mother of Joséphine, 3 years old. She tells us how she experiences her motherhood, rich in influences from her West Indian origins.

In Guadeloupe, we apply very strict hygiene

“Can you take off your shoes and wash your hands, please?” ” Hygiene is essential for me, especially since the birth of Joséphine. In the maternity ward, I saw red when the visitors didn’t bother to soap their hands before touching it. In Guadeloupe, the rules are clear. You can only do a little caress on the infant’s foot. I think my obsession grew when I came to live in Paris where the streets seem so dirty to me. It must be said that the “bacteria hunt” has always been an integral part of my education but, unlike my father who polished the house with ammonia, I find myself pretty cool. I remember he marinated meat and fish in lime to make them “pure”.

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Tips and remedies from Guadeloupe

  • Against teething pain, we massage the baby’s gums with a little honey.
  • At baptisms and communions, we offer the family and visitors the “chodo”, a sweet and spicy warm milk drink with cinnamon, nutmeg and lime. It is usually served at the breakfast of every big family celebration.

In the West Indies, food is mainly based on fruits and vegetables which are readily available. All you have to do is go pick them in the garden. Children, even toddlers, sip fresh homemade juices made from exotic fruits. Allergy questions do not arise. I followed the advice of the metropolitan medical authorities, and I must say that I regret it, because Joséphine did not eat

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everything very early. Today, unlike the children there, she balks at new tastes and that bothers me. On the other hand, to perpetuate certain habits, I have always prepared meals for my daughter using fresh produce. One day, for lack of time, I tried to give her a little jar which she refused outright. It doesn’t bother me, quite the contrary!

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Guadeloupe traditions

“The little ones should not look at themselves in a mirror for fear that they will always squint”, “We do not cut the baby’s hair before his third year, so as not to cut off his speech and his walk”… Beliefs in Guadeloupe are numerous, and even if mentalities evolve, certain traditions persist.

Birth is everyone’s business, and the whole family is involved. We go to each other, the grannies and the tatas come to lend a hand, and the young mother is never alone with her infant.

The first six months, the baby passes from arm to arm because it is impossible to let him cry, lest he cause an umbilical hernia. My grandma had 18 children, hard to imagine today and in Paris!

Strict upbringing in Guadeloupe families

Mamie, like many Guadeloupe women, has always had a very strong character. She was the one who ran the house, and beware of the one who disobeyed! Indeed, as much the toddlers are pampered, but as soon as they grow up, they are not immune to parental wrath. My grandparents instilled in their children a very strict education based on learning good manners, old. The children’s world was separated from that of the parents and there was little exchange. Even today, if adults argue, children must not cut them off, otherwise they are reprimanded. It has nothing to do with the love we have for them, it’s cultural. I remember my dad seeing me when he was angry! Surprisingly, I now see it with my daughter in a new light. She could walk on his head, he would still be grandpa cake …

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Guadeloupe: a traditional medicine

In Guadeloupe, herbal medicine is very widespread. It is common to use sulfur from the volcano to treat certain skin diseases. If the child has a little arched legs, two holes are dug on the beach in the wet sand. Thus, he stands up straight and the surf of the sea massages his lower limbs. I try to treat Josephine, when possible, in the most natural way possible. I give her a lot of massages to relax her. My father massaged us, my sister and I, by candlelight. He would melt wax which he kneaded in his hands and applied to our torsos when we were congested, with a little Bronchodermine ointment. This smell remains my “Proust madeleine”. 

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