On June 22, 1962, the Guadeloupean writer and politician Albert Béville, alias Paul Niger as a poet and novelist, disappeared in a plane crash in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. Back to a personality still poorly known who marked the history of the Antilles-Guyana and Africa.
Is it due to his premature death, at 46? In any case, Albert Béville certainly did not get the recognition he deserved from his contemporaries. Its route is worth the detour. Born on December 21, 1915 in Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe, the last child of eight siblings, his father was one of the first two lawyers in the archipelago. His mother, a white Creole, was said to be an accomplished pianist. Young Albert, alas, would become an orphan at the age of four.
This misfortune will not prevent him from tracing his path. He obtained his baccalaureate at the Lycée Carnot in Pointe-à-Pitre, then flew to France. In Paris, he studied law while preparing for the entrance examination for the National School of Overseas France (Enfom). Without a hitch in his studies, he became a doctor of law. In September 1939, Albert Béville was mobilized and took part in the French campaign of 1940. For his military achievements, he was awarded the Croix de guerre. He then graduated from Enfom in 1942.
During these years, he discovered the first writings of Aimé Césaire, including the famous Notebook of a return to the native land, finds his childhood friend, the Guadeloupean poet Guy Tirolien, and befriends the writer and future president of Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor, who gives him a taste for Africa. In a pan-African milieu in full intellectual and political effervescence, Albert Béville sharpened his anti-colonialist awareness.
In 1944, he left for French West Africa (AOF) as… administrator of the colonies. A paradox for those who have begun to slay imperialism. He will solve it by literature, by writing texts under the pseudonym of Paul Niger so as not to derogate from his duty of reserve, and by a commitment, within the framework of his perimeter, to the improvement of the living conditions of Africans. . With the Senegalese Alioune Diop and other African, West Indian and Guyanese intellectuals, he participated in 1946 in the creation of the review Présence africaine. His first collection of poetry, Initiationwith strongly anti-colonial overtones, was published by Seghers in 1954.
On the continent, Albert Béville joined the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA, of socialist and pan-African inspiration). There he meets the leaders who will later become presidents of their respective countries. In 1958 and 1959, he represented the Federation of Mali (ex-Sudan and Senegal) in France. At the end of 1959 and in 1960, he was appointed Inspector General of Administrative Affairs and Director of the Agricultural Marketing Office of Senegal. He does not forget his region of origin.
Thus, in 1961, he founded with the writer Edouard Glissant and the lawyer Marcel Manville (both from Martinique), among others, the Front des Antilles-Guyane pour l’Autonomie. In charge of the political report during the inaugural Congress of the Front in April, Béville wrote a document entitled The West Indies and Guyana at the time of decolonization. In July 1961, the brochures were seized by the police, the Front was dissolved and Albert Béville was severely demoted in his administration, going from the 1st to the 6th level! The French authorities also prevent him from returning to Africa and he is prohibited from staying in the West Indies.
This in no way undermined his determination and he continued to write, notably a pamphlet published in the journal Esprit in April 1962, Assimilation, the supreme form of colonialism (see excerpt below). On June 22, 1962, Albert Béville still manages to embark from Paris on a plane bound for Guadeloupe, in the company of Guyanese autonomist deputy Justin Catayée. But the Air France flight will crash just before landing, on the heights of the town of Deshaies. The exact circumstances of the accident, which killed 113 people, have to date never been clearly elucidated, fueling all sorts of speculation.
” Human companies are adept at covering themselves with words that are as colorful as they are false. The label “overseas departments” suggests I don’t know what physical palpitation of pieces of metropolitan flesh thriving under other skies with a perpetual nostalgia for the original belly; it covers a reality, a very concrete, very accountable, very commercial enterprise which, over the centuries, has not bothered with useless scruples, even if, at times, it has been dressed in attractive tinsel and deceptive masks. “Assimilation” was one of those marvelous political tricks created for the master’s needs, passed into fashion and accepted as truth by the very people he was responsible for putting to sleep, binding, annihilating. […] They were also made to understand, as their individual chains were unraveled, that their survival and social advancement were linked to their permeability to the ideas and behaviors of their masters. Everything was mobilized for this: the church, the school, the law. Thus was born cultural alienation. »