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The Genesis of "Forget me not" Project

The very recent research that we are carrying out, with the association Objet Témoin, under the banner of the project Forget Me Not (declined as "oubli pas moin" in Reunionese Creole) is linked to a work carried out by a team of historians and volunteers on a former sugar factory in the south of Reunion Island.

This factory operated for almost a century, while belonging to the same family of wealthy owners, the

Le Coat de Kerveguen.

At the end of the 19th century, they owned a very large amount of land cultivated with sugar cane on the island, in competition with the Crédit Foncier Colonial. This banking establishment, managed from Paris and represented locally by a shareholder, had received a large stock of factories and land through bankruptcy from other landowners and industrialists. 

Focus on the Workers

The workers of these factories were immortalised in 1861 and 1866, for some of them, in a series of beautiful watercolours, preserved in the Departmental Archives of Reunion Island.

These watercolours were done by Hippolyte Charles Napoléon Mortier, who became Duke of Treviso.

Learn more about Duke of Trévise

He was the son-in-law of Gabriel Le Coat de Kerveguen whose daughter, Emma, he had married.

The Duke of Treviso was chamberlain to Napoleon III, and ambassador, while managing the colonial estates inherited from his father-in-law from 1860.

more information on Hippolyte Charles Napoléon Mortier, the Duke of Trevise

  • Bouchiana
  • Bouchiana dos
  • Victorine
  • Cafrine avec bébé
  • Citoyen
  • Travailleur sous la pluie

    Pictures : courtesy from Iconothèque Historique de l'Océan Indien (IHOI)

    In these watercolours, we were intrigued, and indeed seduced, by the blue cloth clothes worn by the farm and factory workers: they bear an uncanny resemblance to those worn by male and female slaves until the French abolition of slavery in 1848.

    Our question is the following:

    Where did these blue fabrics, known as "Toiles de Guinée", come from? 

    It is known that they were dyed with indigo, the trade of which partly contributed to the prosperity of the French trading post of Pondicherry. There were close links between India, Reunion Island and Mauritius, its neighbour in the Mascarene Islands.  In particular between 1852 and 1882, when the British stopped recruiting indentured labor.

    Reconstitution & Valorisation

    ForgetMeNot's project is to reconstitute, as far as possible, these workers' clothes identically, both to

    • bring to life the destiny of the "invisible" in history,
    • to make available techniques and knowledge about the modest craft of sewing and clothing manufacture,
    • to show how social hierarchies are expressed in clothing.

    The title of the project refers to this target:

    to put back in their right and important place:
    the workers, the men, the women, the children, who made the wealth of the colonies and of their "masters".

    And if this work resulted in beautiful exhibitions, we would be very proud!