The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 51, Issue 2

Article 2
“They Are Delighted to Dance for Themselves”: Deconstructing Intimacies – Moreau de Saint-Méry’s “Danse” and the Spectre of Black Female Sexuality in Colonial Saint Domingue

Sherri V. Cummings


At a time when Enlightenment ideology, European travel narratives and memoirs influenced racial discourses about African women and their daughters in the Americas, Mederic Elié Moreau de Saint-Méry, writing in 1796, composed the essay “Danse”. This paper translates and explores the prominent writer’s voyeuristic observations of the detailed preparations, festive gatherings and stylized body movements of free(d) and enslaved women on the island of Saint Domingue. Deconstructing Saint-Méry’s biased gaze, I argue that intimacy needs to be redefined considering the everyday lives of women of colour, especially in the port cities of Cap Français and Port-au-Prince, before the stirrings of revolution.