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Notes:
Article written in the mid-nineties for possible inclusion in the Baha'i Encyclopedia, posted with permission at bahaihistorycaribbean.info. See also photos and history.

Guadeloupe

by Daniel Caillaud

1995

    Population 331,932 (1 January 1985)
    1643 square kilometres
A French Antillean group of six islands: Iles des Saintes; Basse-Terre; Grand-Terre; Marie-Galante; St. Barthelemy; and Desirade Island. Inhabitants are mainly descendents of African slaves since 1640. In 1794 the first prohibition of slavery occurred during the French Revolution, 1789-1799. However, it was re-established by Napoleon Bonaparte 16 July 1802, after which it was permanently abolished 27 April 1848. In 1854-55 there was an immigration of East Indian workers which today represents 10% of the population, a minority referred to by the Universal House of Justice since 1977.

Catholicism is the most widespread denomination in Guadeloupe. Nevertheless, Guadeloupians adhere strongly to supernatural beliefs, despite warnings by the clergy against all pagan beliefs. During the past 20-30 years Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Evangelists have gained sizeable followings.

Early Bahá’í history. It is noteworthy that it was not the European or North American Bahá’ís who had opened and consolidated this area, but rather native near-by Caribbean’s who themselves descendents of slaves. Jean Desert, b. 1913 in Haiti, his wife, Ivanie, b. 1922 in Haiti and their children Sonia, Hilda and Milo were the first Bahá’ís to settle in Guadeloupe, arriving in February 1965. The Desert family returned to Haiti in 1968 [1]. The first two members of the Bahá’í community since the Deserts were Pierre Defoe and Franklin Bozor [4:#412:9], both of whom declared early in April 1965. Iles des Sainte was opened  to the Faith in April 1971 by Lea Nyss of Belgium with the enrollment of tw families [5:#38:8].

Institutional growth. The first Bahá’í groups formed in Capesterre Belle-Eau, Pointe a Pitre, Morne a l’Eau, Gosier, and Saint Louis on Marie Galante. Before 1977 Guadeloupe, with Martinique and St. Martin/St. Maarten, fell under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands with it’s seat in St. Thomas U.S. Virgin Islands. From 1967, even before that time the National Spiritual Assembly of the Leeward, Windward and Virgin Islands was responsible for Guadeloupe of which Jean Desert was a member [2]. The first Bahá’í governing body, the Spiritual Assembly of the French Antilles, with its seat in Pointe a Pitre in Guadeloupe was elected in April 1977 [3]. Its jurisdiction covered Guadeloupe and its dependencies, Iles des Saintes; Marie-Galante; St. Barthelemy; Desirade Island, St. Martin/St. Maarten (of which the entire island was relocated to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Leeward Islands in 1981, with its seat in Antigua), St. Barthelemy and Martinique. Since 1977 the composition of the Spiritual Assembly was made up of five Antilleans and five pioneers (???). In 1977 the Continental Board of Counsellors of Central America appointed Aurelien Andre, born 1948 in Guadeloupe, to the Auxiliary Board. In 1984 the Spiritual Assembly of the French Antilles was dissolved, giving way to the Spiritual Assembly of Martinique and to that of Guadeloupe. Today, 1986 Guadeloupe has 20 local Spiritual Assemblies.

Official recognition. The Spiritual Assembly of the French Antilles was incorporated on 8 January 1979 and the local Spiritual Assembly of Pointe a Pitre was incorporated on 6 April 1979. The purchase of the Bahá’í Centre of Guadeloupe occurred in July 1975. Further recognition was granted in January 1985 by the smaller Jewish and Islamic communities of Guadeloupe through their participation in World Religion Day sponsored by the Bahá’í Community. This event was reinforced immensely the prestige of the Bahá’í Faith, with assistance from the media, including many newspaper interviews before and after the event. Since the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran very favourable articles have appeared in the press.

Distinctive contributions of the Guadeloupe Bahá’í Community. The short obligatory prayer was translated in both Guadeloupian and Martiniquais Creole and published in BW: vol 18:854.

Sources

    [1] BW vol 13:152 for a photograph of Desert family.

    [2] BW vol 14: 542 carries a photo of Jean Desert, 2nd from left.

    [3] BW vol 17: 336, see photograph.

    [4] The author, Caillaud also mentions the names of Cassubi, and Agapel, and Miss Marianne Lunion, nee Balegant, Bahá’í News, Wilmette, Illinois.

    [5] Bahá’í International News Service, Bahá’í World Centre.

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