Navigating the Sea of Alterity: Jean-Baptiste Labat’s Nouveau Voyage aux Iles

In 1694, after a voyage of several weeks on a ship sailing from La Rochelle, France, the Dominican priest Jean-Baptiste Labat arrived at the French colony of Martinique; some twenty-eight years later, he transformed his copiously detailed journals into a text that would become a veritable 18th century bestseller. This remarkable memoir, published in the 1720s, is replete with historical observations interspersed with ethnological, sociological, geographical, zoological, anthropological and gastronomical remarks (among others), this extraordinary text offers scholars a fascinatingly rich chronicle, both factual and, at times, fictional, of the author’s life and adventures in the Caribbean during the last years of the greater seventeenth century, including Labat’s myriad experiences as a spiritual and political leader on the island.