(Fort-de-France) “It’s a hecatomb”, exclaims Francine-Julie Jean-Gilles, the presenter of the radio station RCI (Radio Caraibes International) in Fort-de-France on the French island of Martinique: Finally it is ready 55 minutes, on-air reading of funeral notices, a West Indian tradition now resembling a “barometer” of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Posted on Aug 17, 2021 at 2:30 p.m.
Cécile AZZARO Agence France-Presse
“We regret to have to inform you of the death of …”: In a deep voice Francine-Julie, known as “Julie” on the radio, lists the names of the deceased in front of violin music. First that of the women, then that of the men.
Then their ages, the places of burial, the vigils, the bereaved and the wishes of the deceased are listed. In his hands with purple nails, the bundle of leaves never seems to shrink.
In the last few days Julie has even seen this list grow: “Usually we have a maximum of 30-35 opinions. I was 69 there today and two others have now arrived ”, in the middle of the broadcast, she explains in the private radio studio, the first in relation to the audience in the French West Indies, where the epidemic is on the rise.
“We had to stop because more and more are coming,” she says. The program, which usually lasts about half an hour, has been expanded. What a shame about President Emmanuel Macron’s speech in Afghanistan on Monday, obituaries are a “priority”.
This litany has become “daily” and leads “to reflection, to say that there is a reality to take into account,” analyzes the hostess, who learned of her aunt’s death from COVID-19 in the emergency room of the center of the university hospital that morning.
She would like to believe that “everyone sees the situation more blatantly through these opinions”. “I’m not saying all deaths are related to COVID-19, but we think there are still many.”
The number of opinions has “suddenly increased, it went from 20 to 40 and from 40 to 60 and from 60 to a little more, it is worrying,” adds Serge Battet, the antenna director of RCI, who sees in this program “one Barometer of the number of dead ”in Martinique.
The program, which has existed since the radio was born 60 years ago, is very popular, with more than 110,000 listeners at 6.30 a.m., almost a third of the population of this 370,000 island. It also airs at 1:30 p.m. and in the evening.
Obituaries are placed by the funeral directors at the request of the families, who can choose one or more passages.
A competing radio station, Martinique La 1re (public), broadcasts a similar program.
Hearing the names of the deceased on the radio is part of the “Antilles culture: We want to know who died, whose family, whose child, whose grandmother. And that makes it possible to go to vigils, which are very important in Martinique, ”explains Serge Bracht.
“It is our habit to hear our obituaries,” confirms Carmen Minoton, spice dealer in the great market hall in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. “We know that this person is gone,” she adds, but with the increase in opinions, “it’s mentally difficult,” admits the 66-year-old trader, who lost a colleague the day before. who died of Covid-19.
The latter’s name was read by Julie.
Serge Batten hopes the show can “encourage people to get vaccinated”. But in Martinique, where the incidence rate on Monday was 1153 cases per 100,000 population and where 224 people have already died from the virus, much of the population remains resistant to the vaccine.
What Suzy, 37, another saleswoman at the Fort-de-France market, confirms: “The list is long, but that doesn’t encourage me at all to get vaccinated,” she claims, even wondering “If it’s not the one Vaccine related “. that everyone dies ”.