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Lumina Sophie Illustration Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

On the traces of

September 1870 - The Southern Uprising

by Lumina

In September, the international community celebrates heritage (the material and cultural heritage that comes to us from our fathers) and here, we commemorate the Southern Uprising, one of the greatest revolts that Martinique has known (next to those of May 1848).


Faithful to our vocation to seek traces of women in our history and to study their participation in the construction of our society, we have decided to seize these opportunities to restore to our youth, at the same time as the Southern Uprising , the role played by women and, in particular, the most emblematic of them:


Lumina Sophie known as Surprise.


At the time, in Martinique, two types of landscapes coexisted:

The sugar country, located on the periphery of the island, in areas of plains, sites of relatively wide valleys and the first slopes away from the coast. This includes the Lau and Corn sugar refinery (where Lumina will be born) as well as the neighboring houses of Sigy, Paquemar, Coulée d'or ...

To this is opposed the "food country" installed in the high areas, on the edge of the woods, on the hills in the interior. On micro-plots, a peasant economy of self-subsistence is practiced on the fringes of the official economy. This is where Zulma, Lumina's mother, will settle with her children, at a place called Champfleury, on the steep heights of Vauclin, on the edge of the Josseaud district of Rivière-Pilote.

Zulma, mère de Lumina Sophie, Illustration Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

Illustration of Zulma, Lumina's mother, Bruno Dulthéo

Lumina sophie

Illustration by Lumina, Bruno Dulthéo

Reine Sophie Illustration Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

Queen Sophie, Bruno Dulthéo


Coming out of slavery, in May-June 1848, the slaves had wrested a series of conquests  essential: abolition of bonded labor; personal freedom; equality between blacks, whites, mulattoes; disappearance of professional prohibitions; primary education  free or low cost; right to vote for all men… There were therefore real hopes of personal promotion for the former slaves, but also for the former freedmen from before 1848 and their offspring.

All these achievements were quickly put back into  cause. The Second Empire of Napoleon III established, for 22 years, a regime of control of political and social life.  This means, for the new free: forced labor (association contracts, passports to travel around the country, discipline workshops, etc.); tax (only affecting former slaves) from 5 to 8 francs -  the equivalent of about 7 working days; competition from imported foreign labor (Indian, Chinese, African); closure of free schools created after 1848 ...

For the former free as well, social ascension is blocked by a racist society (inoperative Universal Suffrage, return of the ban on exercising many professions) as well as for the many small landless peasants.


Marie Sophie known as Zulma was born a slave in 1815, on the La Broue estate. She gave birth in Vauclin, on Saturday November 5, 1848, that is to say 5 months after the Abolition, of a girl, Marie Philomène Sophie, who would be nicknamed Lumina (diminutive of Philomène) and Surprise (perhaps because, conceived under the slavery, she was born free!) On April 9, 1849, Zulma acquired with the rest of her family the name of Roptus which also became that of her daughter. This is therefore, for civil status, Marie-Philomène Roptus. But all her life she will be called simply Lumina and even Surprise.

To survive, Lumina is all at the same time, like her mother, a farmer (on their jaden bo kay), a farm worker, a merchant and a seamstress. She rents a small room in the village of Rivière-Pilote which serves as a deposit for her sewing work and for her mother's agricultural products. She is recently the concubine of Emile Sydney, 26 years old.

She has a strong physical resistance, a strong personality, a powerful energy and a great freedom of pace ... In September 1870, aged 21, she was two months pregnant - which did not prevent her from being very active. .



In September 1870, 22 years after the abolition, the Southern Uprising broke out. Léopold Lubin, a young black craftsman from Le Marin, is insulted and mistreated by a “metropolitan official” who considers that the colored man did not give way quickly enough. Lubin files a complaint, but he is unsuccessful. A few days later, he does justice to himself.  He was then sentenced, for "assault and battery with premeditation and ambush", to 1,500 francs in damages (i.e. more than 1,500 days of pay for a cane cutter!) And to 7 years in prison in Guyana ( penalty applicable only to “Africans and Asians” in the colony).

The black population, indignant, launches a subscription to pay the heavy fine as well as the appeal in cassation. Very quickly, the merchants, easily in contact on the market with the women of the countryside, helped to circulate these subscription lists.

In addition to the Lubin affair, there is a Codé dispute. Indeed, the pilotine population reproaches Louis Codé, owner of the La Mauny house in Rivière-Pilote, for being arrogant towards his workers, for having remained nostalgic for slavery and for having hoisted on his home, since the beginning of the year, a white flag, a symbol of slavery for the black population. Finally, Louis Codé publicly boasts, as a member of an assize jury composed only of whites, of having had Lubin convicted, who dared to lay hands on a white man!


During this second half of the year 1870, France entered the war against Prussia. On Wednesday September 21, the liner La Louisiane confirms the surrender of Sedan, the deposition of the Emperor as well as the proclamation of the 3rd Republic. This will be the spark that will explode popular discontent more or less latent, until then ...

Thursday, September 22, in Rivière-Pilote, around three o'clock, the mayor Auguste Cornette de Venancourt, following the instructions received, proclaims the Republic. The women then demand the release of Lubin and shout their hatred of Codé and the other jurors and white judges. Numerous gatherings of the population of the village are formed, which are joined by people from the closest countryside.  

Louis Telga (ex-slave, small landowner and artisan butcher) made his entry into the town that day with an imposing crowd of around 700 people. He decides to go to Codé's house, five kilometers from the village.

The women are there, active, carrying flaming torches, or sticks by way of pikes. Lumina is reported among them, a large stone in her hand. In La Mauny, the crowd does not find Codé who has already fled. The rebels set fire to the bagasse huts and the cane fields. That same night from September 22 to 23, "Telga's army" ran up against the Marin garrison, at around 10 p.m., surreptitiously alerted by the mayor. There are 2 dead and 2 wounded among the rioters.

From that moment, the riot turns into an insurrection. The insurgency extends on Friday 23 and Saturday 24, by the formation of multiple groups in the countryside. These move very quickly and scatter in no time because these peasants know the tracks well (dirt roads). 

From Sunday 25, more and more government troops successfully chased the insurgents. On Monday the 26th the debacle began with the entry on the scene of volunteer militias (who received weapons from the Governor) and repressive troops who launched the offensive. Faced with troops armed with good hunting pots, the insurgents oppose only a few bad hunting rifles, cutlasses and bamboo pikes as well as stones and spicy water collected or composed by the women.

It's a real butcher's shop!

Terror settles in the population of the southern countryside. The whole of it flees, men, women, children, old people - even those who did not take part in the revolt. In addition to the massive arrests that are made, the militias, but also the regular troops arrive, shoot, loot, destroy crops and burn empty boxes! Also, on Friday September 30, the governor is obliged to proclaim an amnesty.


Women (usually very young) played an important role in the insurgency. We especially know the names of Lumina Sophie, Madeleine Clem and Rosanie Soleil (the latter was accused by a witness of having claimed to want to salt Codé's corpse “like a pig.” On the basis of this testimony alone, she will be sentenced to 5 years in prison) but there were many others.

Indeed, the participation of women was much greater than their minority number among the list of defendants suggests (15 women out of 114). This is because the dismissals were, in their great majority, granted to women in the (unrealized) hope of obtaining from them depositions against the "most compromised ringleaders".

Illustration des femmes en marche lors de l'insrrection du sud septembre 1870 de Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

Indeed, the participation of women was much greater than their minority number among the list of defendants suggests (15 women out of 114). This is because the dismissals were, in their great majority, granted to women in the (unrealized) hope of obtaining from them depositions against the "most compromised ringleaders".

The indictments, the testimonies for the prosecution almost all present them in the face of oil women and looters. However, the women did not only burn and loot: they had, of course, to take care of cooking for more than 600 people, but they also participated in the combat groups. 

Illustration of Women in March, Bruno Dulthéo

Very numerous in the Lacaille camp (landowner and quimboiseur, one of the leaders of the insurrection), they were part of Telga's army which had placed them in the front lines in order to throw the bottles of water in the eyes of the soldiers. spicy and assault them with stones. They were therefore sacrificed to save the men and their few bad guns.

Lumina Sophie known as Surprise has been remarkably active. Between Thursday, September 22 at 3 p.m. (when she was first reported) and her arrest on Monday morning 26 at around 7 a.m., in less than four days, therefore, she had walked approximately 100 kilometers while pregnant. He is accused of having set fire to at least 3 houses, not counting the bagasse huts.

The insurrection defeated, she was arrested on Monday, September 26 at Régale, on the home of Eugène Lacaille, and imprisoned at Fort Desaix on the heights of Fort-de-France. She was then less than two months pregnant. 


The general climate

The repression is terrible. From 300 to 500 people are arrested, a hundred will be tried. But the sole purpose of the instruction (entirely entrusted to the army) was to prove that the insurrection was the result of a plot that had to be severely repressed to avoid any recurrence.

It was therefore an odd trial in which many prosecution witnesses took turns withdrawing.  

Where the President of the court showed in his language the sharpest contempt for the accused, threatened them and hindered the defense. Where the defense itself did not get involved. It is true that the lawyers were whites or mulattoes who defended their class interests, also professed the greatest contempt for this rural population and had sometimes even participated in the repression as volunteers!

The masquerade achieved its goal - to justify severe verdicts (including for the accused women): the sentences ranged from the death penalty (8 executions at the Polygone de Desclieux, in Fort-de-France) to two years of simple imprisonment with a fine , through relegations to prison in Guyana (and for some in New Caledonia). However, several defendants, including those on whom the heaviest loads weighed them (Telga, Bolivard, Madeleine Clem, Sidney - Lumina's companion ...), managed to escape and were never caught - proof that, despite the fierce repression, solidarity remained.

Lumina's case

All the carelessness and carelessness at work in the insurgent trial are, of course, multiplied by N when it comes to the insurgent women, and in particular, the main one, Lumina.

Her trial will only be a charge: a witness designates her with some contempt as "the queen of the company" in the midst of looters and arsonists! The governor of the time, Menche de Loisne, presents it as "the flame of revolt". She is accused of looting and arson and blasphemy.

Illustration du procès de Lumina Sophie, Insrrection du sud septembre 1870 de Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

Illustration of the trial of Lumina, Bruno Dulthéo

In fact, the council of war blames this young woman for having taken an active part in the insurrection while she was 2 months pregnant, which proves that instead of being a woman and a mother, she is first a monster. She is punished above all for threatening and dominating men. She is a bad example to other women, a threat to family, religion, social order and established relationships between the sexes. In short, a real danger for colonial, patriarchal and class society!


She gave birth on April 28 in the central prison of Fort-de-France to a boy from whom she was separated and to whom the prison administration casually gave the name of Theodore Lumina.  

On June 8, 1871, she was judged among the "arsonists", "looters", "bloodthirsty" because of Codé's assassination, but also as a "blasphemer" and "leader". She was deported on December 22, 1871 to the penal colony of Saint-Laurent du Maroni. Her son died in prison 14 months later.

Illustration de Lumina Sophie au bagne de Guyane, Insrrection du sud septembre 1870 de Bruno Dulthéo pour Culture Égalité

There, she is married to a Breton peasant, a convict who has served his sentence, in the chimerical hope that she will participate in the “populating of Guyana”!


But she died on December 15, 1879 aged 31: the rigors of deportation, the atmosphere of the penal colony, isolation, remoteness from Martinique, malnutrition, endemic diseases got the better of her exceptional temperament. . 

Illustration of Lumina in prison, Bruno Dulthéo

In the aftermath of the insurrection and the proclamation of the Republic in France, the General Council with a Republican majority on which the mulattoes sit decides the secularization of schools and free primary education (i.e. 11 years before France), construction of a secular high school, the abolition of personal tax and that of constraint by body (prison in the event of non-payment of the tax), as well as the end of immigration (in1883).  


However, the end of the 19th century was marked by an aggravation of the exploitation and the misery of the working masses. But little by little an autonomous workers 'movement will be forged which will lead the great workers' strikes of the twentieth century.


Each year, the Culture Equality Association invites people to commemorate the uprising in the South and to celebrate in particular Lumina, which symbolizes the resistance of the Martinican population to oppression and the part that women have always played in it.

Huguette Emmanuel Bellemare

for Culture Equality,

according to the works of Gilbert Pago:

Lumina Sophie known as Surprise and The Insurrection of Martinique 1870-1871

Le 22 Septembre, nous célébrons l'Insurrection du Sud qui est un évènement historique pour les habitants de la commune de Rivière-Pilote en Martinique.

Nous vous présentons cette magnifique interprétation de Rita Ravier dans la peau de Lumina Sophie : Une femme qui fut très impliquée dans l'Insurrection de 1870 et qui a été condamnée pour cela, d'un texte écrit par Claudia Lecurieux.

en savoir plus sur...

Gilbert Pago, Conseiller Historique

Nous avons Rencontré Gilbert Pago, Conseiller Historique sur le projet "Sur les Traces de Lumina" et nous lui avons demandé :

  • Qui êtes-vous ?

  • Comment êtes-vous intervenu dans le projet ?

  • Comment êtes-vous arrivé à ce travail sur l’insurrection ? à ce sujet ?

Huguette Bellemare, Coordinatrice

Nous avons Rencontré Huguette Bellemare, Coordinatrice sur le projet "Sur les Traces de Lumina" et nous lui avons demandé :

  • Qui êtes-vous ?

  • Comment êtes-vous intervenu dans le projet ?

  • Qu’est ce que l'histoire de Lumina représente pour la lutte des femmes ?

  • Qu’est-ce que cela peut apporter aux luttes actuelles des femmes ?

Jean-François Beaunol, Maire de Rivière Pilote

Nous avons Rencontré Jean-François Beaunol, Maire de Rivière-Pilote et nous lui avons demandé :

  • Qui êtes-vous ?

  • Comment êtes-vous intervenu dans le projet ?

  • Pourquoi avez-vous été volontaire pour participer à ce projet ?

  • Que représente l’insurrection pour Rivière-Pilote ? Pour la Martinique ?

Murielle, Benévole

Nous avons Rencontré Murielle, Bénévoles sur le projet "Sur les Traces de Lumina" et nous lui avons demandé :

  • Qui êtes-vous ?

  • Comment êtes-vous intervenu dans le projet ?

  • En tant que jeune femme, qu'est ce que l'histoire de l’insurrection du sud représente pour toi ?

  • Qu’est ce que cela t'as fait de découvrir plus en détail cette histoire et surtout cette femme : Lumina Sophie  ?


Chivallon Christine: Space and identity in Martinique . Paysannerie des Mornes and collective reconquest 1840-1960, CNRS éditions, Paris, 1998. Quoted by G. Pago in Lumina Sophie.

Pago Gilbert: Lumina Sophie known as “Surprise” 1848-1879 Insurgent and convict. Ibis Rouge Éditions, 2009, 102 p.

Pago Gilbert: The Martinique Insurrection 1870-1871 . Paris, Syllepse Eds. 2011, 154p.


Historical advisor: Gilbert Pago

Voice: Mapie

Coordinators: Huguette Bellemare and George Arnauld

Assistant: Laurie Nirennold

Illustrations: Bruno Dulthéo

Production: Les Carots' are Cooked

© Culture Equality In Lumina's Footsteps August 2021

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