When we think about Guadeloupe, we cannot ignore the sugar cane.
Originally from Asia, it was introduced to all of the Caribbean islands in the 17th century, and it arrived in Guadeloupe in 1674 thanks to Christopher Colombus’ travels. The island’s perfect climate and conditions for its cultivation allowed it to keep up with the world during the industrial revolution. At first, it was cultivated by slaves in terrible conditions, and although it has survived until our century, it is today one of the major economic resources of the island.
The sugar cane harvest generally starts from mid-February to June, and some 13,000 hectares are exploited for this use, which is 50% of all available farmland in Guadeloupe. With all the work it generates, 10,000 people are attached to its production. After being planted, the sugar cane takes 18 months to grow to maturity before it can be harvested. People used to do this by hand for many years, but machines do it today. The principle is simple: you have to cut the cane as close to the ground as possible, remove the leaves and the head of the plant, so you can only have the part of the cane that is full of sugar.
A technique that is banned today but still tolerated is to “burn” the farmland with a controlled fire so that it will eliminate all the weeds, burn the leaves, and scare the rats, so you can harvest it more easily. Before being cut, the cane is placed in huge trucks called “Titans,” which transport huge loads of cane across the island for several months, from the land to the factory. These travels are not safe because every year, some trucks fall on the road and can paralyze a part of the island while people clean up everything. The name “Titan” comes from the original brand of the truck that was imported to the island, even though the brands have changed today, the name has been kept.
Due to their heavy duty, the trucks and their drivers are celebrated at the end of the harvest season during their last ride to the factory. It’s called the “Night of the Titans,” and people come on the road to thank them during their trip.
Some numbers about the sugar cane in Guadeloupe (2018) :
- 700,000 tons are harvested every year
- 8,000,000 liters of pure alcohol of rum are made every year
- The sugar cane generates 70 million euros every year, which is 25% of all exports of the island.
Today, the sugar cane is an indispensable and inseparable tool of Guadeloupe.