Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Papillon’s Devil’s Island of the Salvation Islands archipelago.

France abolished capital punishment in 1981 but for any convict who wasn’t going to have his head chopped of, incarceration at the penal colony on Devil’s Island must have seemed like a fate worse than that.
Ile Ste-Joseph - approaching the Iles du Salut arpichelago

Ile du Diable (Devil’s Island) is one of three islands that make up the Iles du Salut (Islands of Salvation), just off the coast of France Guiana. The other two being Ile Royale and Ile Ste-Jospeh.

Ile Royale and Ile Ste Joseph

In the mid-nineteenth century French Guiana became home to a string of prisons, the most notorious being on Devil’s Island. It takes a trick or two to get on the island because of it’s steep shore, and that’s why it was such a successful prison. Getting off was pretty much out of the question.

Ile Ste-Jospeh seen from Ile Royale

The isolated islands were also hard to govern, which lead to excesses in sadism by the guards, who were usually “reformed” prisoners themselves. The result was a true hell for those at the wrong end of the stick (although ethically speaking, a stick only has wrong ends). The total number of prisoners sent to the islands is about 80,000, and very few survived the ordeal.

On Ile Royale

The island’s most famous survivor, Papillon, is really just a fictional character. His creator Henri Charriere served time in penal colonies in French Guiana’s main land but, according to the island’s records, was never incarcerated at Devil’s Island.

The movie poster of Papillon

Now equipped with modest facilities, a natural harbor and recreational fishing companies, the Salvation archipelago receives about 50,000 visitors each year. That means that on any given day, you can find over a hundred fellow visitors looking either for paradise or else the errant ghosts of the men that were slowly murdered here.

Warning sign on Ile Royale

1 comment:

  1. Great photos…I felt like I was taking a walk right there with you!


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