2 February: The church of St Ann’s in Martinique, a Jesuit legacy I believe, is very pretty. I liked the timber frames, the surprise of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and there was a deep sense of calm, inviting prayer and reflection - that is the design of churches after all, but not all of them do. The children and I took a pew and had some quiet time out taking stock. I was intrigued that the church name is without an “e”, the way my mother spells her name, while the namesake village adds one on. Maybe that is why it felt somehow familiar. Officially, around 90% of Martinique are estimated to be Roman Catholic, 5% are Hindu and 5% practice other faiths, including African belief systems. However the spirited paper maché carnival masks adorning trees in the square outside, building up to carnival and Mardi Gras, were a more prevalent reminder of the African heritage in Creole culture and I wondered how many rituals have been amalgamated into Catholic practices over the centuries, a resistance to colonialism, as evidenced in other cultures both in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. Or whether it is simply the residual small percentage of “African belief systems” that encompass the hybrid of Christian and African spirituality that define Cuban santería or Haitian voodoo.
Either way the hybrid juxtaposition of church and carnival is interesting, and it is a theme that we returned to a couple of weeks later when joining in Ash Wednesday carnival celebrations in Martinique’s capital, Fort de France.