“It is a hecatomb” exclaims Francine-Julie Jean-Gilles, the host of the radio RCI (Radio Caraibes International) in Fort-de-France: she has finally finished, after 55 minutes, the reading on the air for funeral notices, a West Indian tradition which is now akin to “a barometer” of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“We regret to inform you of the deaths of …”: In a deep voice, Francine-Julie, known as “Julie” for the radio, lists, against a background of violins, the names of the deceased: first women, then men.

Then, it details their age, the places of the funeral, the vigils, the bereaved families and the wishes of the deceased. In his hands with purple nails, the bundle of leaves never seems to shrink.

For a few days now, Julie has seen this list grow: “Usually, we have a maximum of 30-35 opinions. Today I had 69, and two others have arrived in the meantime” in the middle of the broadcast, explains- she, in the studio of private radio, the first in terms of audience in the West Indies where the epidemic is soaring.

“We had to stop, because there are always more coming,” she says. The program, which usually lasts about half an hour, has been extended. Too bad for Emmanuel Macron’s presidential address on Afghanistan, funeral notices are a “priority”.

“A reality”

For Julie, this litany which has become “daily” leads “to reflect, to say that there is a reality to be taken into consideration”, analyzes the host, who learned in the morning of the death of her aunt, who died of the virus in CHU emergencies.

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She wants to believe that “everyone, through these opinions, realizes the situation in a more glaring way”. “I’m not saying that all the deaths are linked to Covid, but we think there are still a lot”.

The number of opinions “increased suddenly, it went from 20 to 40, and from 40 to 60, and from 60 to a little more, it’s disturbing”, adds Serge Battet, the director of RCI antenna, which sees in this program “a barometer of the number of deaths” in Martinique.

The show, which has existed since the birth of radio 60 years ago, is very popular, with more than 110,000 listeners at 6.30am, almost a third of the inhabitants of the island of about 370,000 inhabitants. It is also broadcast at 1:30 p.m. and in the evening.

Funeral notices are ordered by the funeral directors, at the request of families, who can choose one or more passages.

A competing radio station, Martinique La 1ere (public service) broadcasts a similar program.

“Whose grandmother”

Listening to the names of the deceased on the radio is part of “the culture of the Antilles: we want to know who died, whose family, whose child, whose grandmother. , which are very important in Martinique “, explains Serge Battet.

“It is our custom to listen to our funeral notices”, confirms Carmen Minoton, spice merchant at the large covered market in Fort-de-France. “This is how we know that such and such a person is gone”, she adds, but with the increase in opinions “it is psychologically hard”, admits the 66-year-old trader, who lost the day before a colleague, died of the Covid.

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The latter’s name was read by Julie.

Serge Battet hopes that the show will be able to “encourage people to be vaccinated”. But in Martinique, where the incidence rate was 1,153 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Monday, and where 224 people have already died from the virus, a large part of the population remains resistant to the vaccine.

This is confirmed by Suzy, 37, another saleswoman in the Fort-de-France market: “the list is long, but that does not encourage me to be vaccinated at all”, she asserts, even wondering “if not everyone dies from the vaccine. “


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