When the question of Guadeloupe's participation in the Colonial Exhibition arose, the circumstances were hardly favourable for the colony, which had just been ravaged by a terrible cyclone. However, from the outset, the General Council decided that Guadeloupe would be present at Vincennes.
It was therefore necessary for it to be worthily represented there.
The Minister of Colonies had first suggested the idea of bringing together the products of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in the same building under the name: Pavillon des Possessions d'Amérique. The aim of this project was to reduce construction, fitting out and maintenance expenses, but it also made it possible to build a building that would have been noticed for its importance, instead of multiplying the pavilions which, because of their modest size, would attract less attention, next to the grandiose designs realised by the great French and foreign possessions.
The Colonial Commission and then the Assembly refused to accept this suggestion; whatever the state of the colony might be when the Exhibition opened, they judged, with reason, that Guadeloupe should take advantage of this opportunity to realise in a distinct setting the broadest possible synthesis of its industrial and economic resources.
It was therefore decided that Guadeloupe would build a special pavilion at its own expense, for the construction and fitting out of which the Conseil Général has provided for an expenditure of i million spread over the financial years 1930 and 1931.
The plans for the pavilion were entrusted to a young architect from the Ministry of the Colonies, Mr. Tur, and it was Mr. Delord who was entrusted with the Commissariat of the participation.
The realisation is a marvel of its kind.
Mr. Tur recently told us: "Our pavilion represents the new and future face of Guadeloupe, the living antithesis of the temple of Angkor. Here is the future, Spanish-American style, reinforced concrete.
"Guadeloupe, even before the cyclone partially destroyed its cities and towns, had no architectural art of its own. The indigenous population, the Caribs, had disappeared a long time ago and the current population is made up of European and African immigrants.
"The latter were preoccupied with temporary shelter in wooden huts, originally covered with wooden tiles and now with corrugated iron sheets.
"These constructions, by their very fragility, were the cause of the extent of the disaster during the cyclone.
"At present, having been entrusted with the reconstruction of all the government buildings and almost all the communal buildings destroyed by the cyclone, I have endeavoured to produce an architecture that will suit local needs:
1° Hurricane-resistant constructions: reinforced cement that has proved its worth in America and Japan (materials that can be easily transported as they are carried in bags from the Metropolis);
2. Protection from the sun by means of awnings;
3° Fight against the heat by air currents: doors and windows with louvers allowing the sea breeze to reach the interior of the buildings, the air current being necessary in this country where the rather high degree of hygrometric saturation makes the temperature heavy to bear.
"For the Colonial Exhibition, rather than building wooden barracks covered with corrugated iron sheets, I found it preferable to construct a building with the characteristics of those currently under construction in Guadeloupe, which will perhaps be the origin of a local architecture. "
The Guadeloupe Pavilion stands on a plot of land 45 metres in front and 35 metres deep, adjoining the one assigned to the Indochinese participation and situated to the right of it.
It is built around the perimeter of the grounds, the central part of which is reserved for a colonial garden, and in the axis of the pavilion a covered portico joins the garden to a wooded area, sheltered by a macadamised track. The pavilion is flanked by a 23-metre high lighthouse, which stands as a symbol of French thought on the American frontier.
The main building is decorated with a colonnade and has three large exhibition halls reserved for Guadeloupean products. The first room, measuring 10 metres by 7.5 metres, summarises the entire life of the colony, from prehistory (which is evoked by objects from excavations) to modern artworks. A large place is given to the local craftsmen and their products, to the presentation of the fishing industry, and to the wood industry with its varied species. All the picturesque sights of the Emerald Isle underline its interest from a tourist point of view.
In a second room measuring 6 by 5 metres, the colony's basic products, sugar and rum, are presented.
We see the planters at work and at the same time graphics show the importance of the distillery industry.
In a third room, reserved for coffee, cocoa and banana plantations, a presentation that is as commercial as it is scientific catches the eye. And through periodic arrivals, visitors were able to admire and breathe in the scent of the admirable tropical fruits, especially the banana bunches which should be able to supply the entire French market.
Under the covered portico are stands selling Guadeloupean products, and free tasting counters that allow visitors to taste various local products, especially rum and coffee from Guadeloupe.
The public will be able to learn, for example, that the coffee currently sold under the name of Martinique coffee, actually comes from Guadeloupe, and that the rum under its original name, is not inferior in taste to that of Martinique.
It is to be hoped that the Colonial Exhibition will mark the end of these legends, dating from the time when the existence of a General Government of the West Indies residing in Martinique, had gradually created the impression, which still persists, that everything that came from the West Indies was of Martinican origin.
The attractive element has not been forgotten: a paved dance floor under the trees at the back of the pavilion allows the development of Creole dances in local costumes. There are orchestras playing accordions, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and drums, and local instruments such as the "onaka", which are the sound of the Creole people gathering on the island and accompanying the languorous and catchy songs of the country.
Guadeloupe's participation in the International Colonial Exhibition of 1931 was one of the most beautiful and instructive.
The colony will benefit from the Exhibition in all respects, both morally and materially. First of all, it will have been revealed in its true light to many French people and foreigners who were unaware, if not of its existence, at least of the abundance of its varied resources and its future possibilities.
It will then have shown that despite the worst disasters, when a country has the firm will to raise its ruins and move forward, it can. This must be a lesson for us and a lesson in moral energy.
©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale