Holy Yole

elsa Kostic



The yawls lean from one side to the other, their rectangular sail is violently inflated by the wind.Boats owe their balance only from the counterweight of their teammates, perched on woods erected from either side of the hull. They may capsize at any moment, they rise up with thestrength of their arms, sometimes brushing waves at several meters above the sea. They maintain the ship in its race over the swell.

“Ou ka pren’y, épi ou ka frapé canot’ la an volé konsi sété an chouval ou ka fé kouri.” (You take it and hit the canoe like if it was a racehorse.)

Resulting from fishing, the Yawl is a spectacular sport unique to Martinique. The first week of August takes place the Tour des Yoles, an annual competition that brings island society together on the sea and beaches. The most important event of the year, the Tour des Yoles gathers Martinicans together: the sea becomes a communal space to the Creole identity (1). Creolité was built in the tension between the struggle against the acculturation organized by the settlers and a deep desire for Westernization of modern society. My project focuses on these tensions, and more particularly about the demonstration of the magical and the religious.

“For me, he had sent the wave. We made an evil spell,

we said a prayer.”

Taboo, even denied, hidden at least, the practice of magic is everywhere in yawl races. As it was for fishing, magic and religious practices ensure the effectiveness and protection of crews. Teammates and supporters tell me about voodoo rituals, but none of them claim to practice any of them. Slipping into the space left by the unspoken, I created a series of still lifes from these dialogues. These narratives bring out images that reveal what has no form.

“Lè less la volé an lèw, difé ka pri en lèw, ka briléw.”

(When the tip comes on you, you feel the fire burning you.)


(1) Maguy Moravie, « La yole ronde, entre ethnicité et autochtonie », Hommes & migrations, 1289 | 2011, 106-114.

Sources : Quotes are the words of former fisherman, Gabriel Mélidor, who used to be a yawl owner. See Maguy Moravie’s thesis: Cultural and political anthropology of the round yawl in Martinique: identity challenges and assets for a policy of the Region. Comparative perspectives, under the direction of André Menaut and Jean-Paul Callède, University of Bordeaux, 2010.

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