ABSTRACT

This chapter situated the allegedly peripheral borderland in a global historical context. In a first step, I sketch the centuries-long struggle for land by taking into consideration not only the respective colonial powers but also the settlements and crossings of non-white individuals that have ultimately influenced Portugal’s and France’s chances of (not) gaining access and control over the territory around the Oyapock River. The second part of this chapter engages with the historical re-construction of the rarely known penal facility of Saint-Georges for convicts of colour. Built within the timeframe between the abolition of slavery in Guyane (1848) and the implementation of a whole system of penal facilities, this institution is a reminder of a silenced history that shows how Saint-Georges was established. In the third parts of this chapter, I also focus on transregionally interdependent processes that became manifest in the borderland: by revealing Oiapoque’s original name (Martinique) upon the village’s foundation in the late 19th century, I highlight that the emergence of the village can be traced back to disadvantaged migrants from the French Antilles in the post-slavery period. Despite its official demarcation in 1900, the French-Brazilian border was comparatively fluid, as was the borderland’s inhabitants’ belonging, and the borderland became the home for a new group of convicts in the 1920s, this time from Brazil. Cross-border belongings continued, as I will show in a fourth step, well after the 1940s, when Martinique received its current name (Oiapoque) and when French Guiana was turned into an overseas department of France (1946). Today, feelings of belonging in the borderland continue to be shaped across borders, defying simplistic attempts at ascribing fixed categories to individuals.