The Territory of Inini (Territoire de L’Inini) was an inland territory of French Guiana, administered separately between July 6, 1930, and March 19, 1946, after which all of French Guiana became a department of France. It covered 30,301 square miles (78 479 square kilometers) and its capital was Saint-Élie. The purpose for the separate territory was to develop the interior separately from the coastal area around Cayenne. The region was sparsely populated by Amerindian peoples and the Maroons — descendants of former slaves. The population is estimated to have been 3,000 to 5,000 in 1930. The most important activity in the region was gold mining. This was officially regulated through concessions, and as such the government had lost effective control. The government aimed to regain control through the construction of roads and railroads into the interior, which was hoped to attract French colonists to settle in the region.
The labor force consisted of 500 Annamite prisoners who had revolted against French rule in Indochina and were brought in 1931. The plan did not work out, owing to the difficulties of railroad construction in the interior and no significant improvements seem to have been made. In 1946, Inini was reintegrated in French Guiana. The ruins of the three prisons used may still be seen.
The history of French Guiana spans many centuries. Before the first Europeans arrived, there was no written history in the territory. It was originally inhabited by a number of Native American peoples, among them the Kalina (Caribs), Arawak, Emerillon, Galibi, Palikur, Wayampi (also known as Oyampi), and Wayana. The first Europeans arrived in the expeditions of Christopher Columbus, shortly before 1500.
In 1498 French Guiana was first visited by Europeans when Christopher Columbus sailed to the region on his third voyage and named it the “Land of pariahs”. In 1608 the Grand Duchy of Tuscany did an expedition to the area in order to create an Italian colony for the commerce of Amazonian products to Renaissance Italy, but the sudden death of Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany stopped it.
The French colonization of the Americas began in the sixteenth century, and continued on into the following centuries as France established a colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. France founded colonies in much of eastern North America, on a number of Caribbean islands, and in South America. Most colonies were developed to export products such as fish, sugar, and furs.
The first of the French colonies in South America was France Antarctique in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which existed between 1555 and 1567, and had control over the coast from Rio de Janeiro to Cabo Frio. The colony quickly became a haven for the Huguenots, and was ultimately destroyed by the Portuguese in 1567. On November 1, 1555, French vice-admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon (1510–1575), a Catholic knight of the Order of Malta, who later would help the Huguenots to find a refuge against persecution, led a small fleet of two ships and 600 soldiers and colonists, and took possession of the small island of Serigipe in the Guanabara Bay, in front of present-day Rio de Janeiro, where they built a fort named Fort Coligny. The fort was named in honor of Gaspard de Coligny (then a Catholic statesman, that about a year later would become a Huguenot), an admiral who supported the expedition and would use the colony in order to protect his co-religionists. To the still largely undeveloped mainland village, Villegaignon gave the name of Henriville, in honour of Henry II, the King of France, who also knew of and approved the expedition, and had provided the fleet for the trip. Villegaignon secured his position by making an alliance with the Tamoio and Tupinambá Indians of the region, who were fighting the Portuguese.
Unchallenged by the Portuguese, who initially took little notice of his landing, Villegaignon endeavored to expand the colony by calling for more colonists in 1556. He sent one of his ships, the Grande Roberge, to Honfleur, entrusted with letters to King Henry II, Gaspard de Coligny and according to some accounts, the Protestant leader John Calvin. After one ship was sent to France to ask for additional support, three ships were financed and prepared by the king of France and put under the command of Sieur De Bois le Comte, a nephew of Villegagnon. They were joined by 14 Calvinists from Geneva, led by Philippe de Corguilleray, including theologians Pierre Richier and Guillaume Chartrier.
The new colonists, numbering around 300, included five young women to be wed, 10 boys to be trained as translators, as well as 14 Calvinists sent by Calvin, and also Jean de Léry, who would later write an account of the colony. They arrived in March 1557. Doctrinal disputes arose between Villegagnon and the Calvinists, especially in relation to the Eucharist, and in October 1557 the Calvinists were banished from Coligny island as a result. They settled among the Tupinamba until January 1558, when some of them managed to return to France by ship together with Jean de Léry, and five others chose to return to Coligny island where three of them were drowned by Villegagnon for refusing to recant.
In 1560, Mem de Sá, the new Governor-General of Brazil, received from the Portuguese government the command to expel the French. On March 15, 1560, he attactked Fort Coligny with a fleet of 26 warships and 2,000 soldiers, destroying the fort within three days, but was unable to drive off their inhabitants and defenders because they escaped to the mainland with the help of the Native Brazilians. Admiral Villegaignon had returned to France in 1558, disgusted with the religious tension that existed between French Protestants and Catholics, who had come also with the second group. Urged by two influential Jesuit priests who had come to Brazil with him, Mem de Sá ordered his nephew, Estácio de Sá, to assemble a new attack force. Estácio de Sá founded the city of Rio de Janeiro on March 1, 1565, and fought the Frenchmen for two more years. Helped by a military reinforcement sent by his uncle, on January 20, 1567, he imposed final defeat on the French forces and decisively expelled them from Brazil, but died a month later from wounds inflicted in the battle. Coligny’s and Villegaignon’s dream had lasted a mere 12 years.
Equinoctial France (France Équinoxiale) was the contemporary name given to the colonization efforts of France in the seventeenth century in South America, around the line of Equator, before “tropical” had fully gained its modern meaning. Equinoctial means in Latin “of equal nights”, i.e., on the Equator, where the duration of days and nights is nearly the same year round. The French colonial empire in the New World also included New France (Nouvelle France) in North America, particularly in what is today the province of Quebec, Canada, and for a very short period (12 years) also Antarctic France (France Antarctique), in present-day Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. All of these settlements were in violation of the papal bull of 1493, which divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. This division was later defined more exactly by the Treaty of Tordesillas.
France Équinoxiale started in 1612, when a French expedition departed from Cancale, Brittany, France, under the command of Daniel de la Touche, Seigneur de la Ravardière, and François de Razilly, admiral. Carrying 500 colonists, it arrived in the northern coast of what is today the Brazilian state of Maranhão. De la Ravardière had discovered the region in 1604 but the death of the king postponed his plans to start its colonization. The colonists soon founded a village, which was named “Saint-Louis”, in honor of the French king Louis IX. This later became São Luís in Portuguese, the only Brazilian state capital founded by France. On September 8, 1604, Capuchin friars prayed the first mass, and the soldiers started building a fortress.
An important difference in relation to France Antarctique is that this new colony was not motivated by escape from religious persecutions to Protestants. The colony did not last long. A Portuguese army assembled in the Captaincy of Pernambuco, under the command of Alexandre de Moura, was able to mount a military expedition, which defeated and expelled the French colonists in 1615, less than four years after their arrival in the land. Thus, it repeated the disaster spelt for the colonists of France Antarctique, in 1567. A few years later, in 1620, Portuguese and Brazilian colonists arrived in number and São Luís started to develop, with an economy based mostly in sugar cane and slavery.
French traders and colonists tried again to settle a France Équinoxiale further north, in what is today French Guiana. This was first settled in 1624, although its earliest settlements were abandoned in the face of hostilities from the indigenous population and tropical diseases. The settlement of Cayenne was established in 1643, but was abandoned following Amerindian attacks. Twice a Compagnie de la France Équinoxiale was founded, in 1643 and 1645, but both foundered as a result of misfortune and mismanagement. In 1658, the Dutch West Indies Company seized French territory to establish the Dutch colony of Cayenne. The French returned once more in 1664, and founded a second settlement at Sinnamary which was attacked by the Dutch in 1665. In 1667 the English seized the area. Following the Treaty of Breda on July 31, 1667, the area was given back to France. It was only after 1674, when the colony came under the direct control of the French crown and a competent Governor took office, that France Équinoxiale became a reality.
After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which deprived France of almost all her possessions in the Americas other than Guiana and a few islands, Louis XV sent thousands of settlers to Guiana who were lured there with stories of plentiful gold and easy fortunes to be made. Instead they found a land filled with hostile natives and tropical diseases. One and a half years later only a few hundred survived. These fled to three small islands which could be seen off shore and named them the Iles de Salut (or “Islands of Salvation”). The largest was called Royal Island, another St. Joseph (after the patron saint of the expedition), and the smallest of the islands, surrounded by strong currents, Île du Diable (the infamous “Devil’s Island”). When the survivors of this ill-fated expedition returned home, the terrible stories they told of the colony left a lasting impression in France.
In 1794, after the death of Robespierre, 193 of his followers were sent to French Guiana. In 1797 the republican general Pichegru and many deputies and journalists were also sent to the colony. When they arrived they found that only 54 of the 193 deportées sent out three years earlier were left; 11 had escaped, and the rest had died of tropical fevers and other diseases. Pichegru managed to escape to the United States and then returned to France where he was eventually executed for plotting against Napoleon.
Later on, slaves were brought out from Africa and plantations were established along the more disease-free rivers. Exports of sugar, hardwood, Cayenne pepper and other spices brought a certain prosperity to the colony for the first time. Cayenne, the capital, was surrounded by plantations, some of which had several thousand slaves.
In 1809 an Anglo-Portuguese naval squadron took French Guiana (ousting governor Victor Hugues) and gave it to the Portuguese in Brazil. However, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814 the region was handed back to the French, though a Portuguese presence remained until 1817.
In 1848, France abolished slavery and the ex-slaves fled into the rainforest, setting up communities similar to the ones they had come from in Africa. Subsequently called Maroons, they formed a sort of buffer zone between the Europeans (who settled along the coast and main rivers) and the unconquered (and often hostile) Native American tribes of the inland regions. Deprived of slave labor the plantations were soon taken over by the jungle, and the planters ruined. In 1850, several shiploads of Indians, Malays and Chinese were brought out to work the plantations but instead they set up shops in Cayenne and other settlements.
In 1852 the first shiploads of chained convicts arrived from France. In 1885, to get rid of habitual criminals and to increase the number of colonists, the French Parliament passed a law that anyone, male or female, who had more than three sentences for theft of more than three months each, would be sent to French Guiana as a relégué. These relégués were to be kept in prison there for six months but then freed to become settlers in the colony. However, this experiment failed dismally. The ex-prisoners, unable to make a living off the land found themselves forced to revert to crime or to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence until they died. In fact, transportation to French Guiana as a relégué amounted to a life sentence, and usually a short life sentence, as most of the relégués died very quickly from disease and malnutrition.
The prisoners would arrive at St Laurent du Maroni before being transported to various camps throughout the country. The Iles du Salut were used to house political prisoners and for solitary confinement. The islands became notorious for the brutality of life there, centering on the notorious Devil’s Island. Famous figures sent to the islands included Alfred Dreyfus (in 1895) and Henri Charrière (in the 1930s). Charrière managed to escape and later wrote a best-selling book about his experiences called Papillon.
In 1853, gold was discovered in the interior, precipitating border disputes with Brazil and Suriname (these were later settled in 1891, 1899 and 1915, though a small region of the border with Suriname remains in dispute). The Republic of Independent Guyana (La République de la Guyane indépendante), commonly referred to by the name of the capital “Counani”, was created in the area which was disputed by France (as part of French Guyana) and Brazil in the late nineteenth century.
The territory of Inini, consisting of most of the interior of French Guiana, was created in 1930.
The first postage stamps produced for Inini was a long set of forty French Guiana stamps overprinted TERRITOIRE DE L’ININI in three different variations. These were unwatermarked and perforated 13½x14. With the low population that was largely illiterate, the stamp production for Inini would seem to have been mainly intended for the collectors market, serving as an extra source of income for the government. The omnibus issues for the Colonial Arts Exhibition in 1937 (souvenir sheet, Scott #41) and the New York World’s Fair in 1939 (Scott #42-43) were inscribed ININI.
During World War II the local government declared its allegiance to the Vichy government, despite widespread support for Charles de Gaulle. In 1941, stamps were prepared by the Vichy regime in France by overprinting two French Guiana definitives ININI in green or red (Scott #44=45) and three surcharged semi-postal stamps with ININI overprinted in blue or red (Scott #B6-B8). In 1942, the Vichy regime produced four stamps using designs from the 1932-1940 long definitive set but without “RF” (Scott #46-49) , as well as air post semi-postals beneitting the Native Children’s Welfare Fund (Scott #CB1-2) and the Colonial Education Fund (Scott #CB3). The Vichy government was removed on March 22, 1943, The final Vichy regime-issued stamps were additional semi-postals with the overprints and surcharges printed in black or red (Scott #B9-B10). These weren’t put on sale in Paris until 1944. As these stamps were never actually sold in Inini, only the mint specimens are listed in the catalogs.
The remaining stamps of Inini are five semi-postals of the common design type issued on July 5, 1939 (Scott #B1-B5), and ten postage due stamps issued on April 7, 1932, by overprinting French Guiana stamps of 1929 in black or red (Scott #J1-J10). This makes a total of 72 stamps released for the Territory of Inini between 1932 and 1944. Despite the limited audience, the stamps of Inini are commonly available at minimal prices today with less than ten stamps valued between US $5.00 and $20.00.
The territory of Inini was abolished on March 19, 1946, with French Guiana becoming an overseas département of France on that date. The stamps of Inini were superseded by those of French Guiana, those in turn being superseded by the stamps of metropolitan France from 1947.
The infamous penal colonies, including Devil’s Island, were gradually phased out and then formally closed in 1951. At first, only those freed prisoners who could raise the fare for their return passage to France were able to go home, so French Guiana was haunted after the official closing of the prisons by numerous freed convicts leading an aimless existence in the colony. Visitors to the site in December 1954 reported being deeply shocked by the conditions and the constant screams from the cell-block still in use for convicts who had gone insane and which had only tiny ventilation slots at the tops of the walls under the roof. Food was pushed in and bodies removed once a day.
In 1964 Kourou was chosen to be launch site for rockets, largely due to its favorable location near the equator. The Guiana Space Centre was built and became operational in 1968. This has provided some local employment and the mainly foreign technicians and hundreds of troops stationed in the region to prevent sabotage bring a little income to the local economy.
The 1970s saw the settlement of Hmong refugees from Laos in the county, primarily to the towns of Javouhey and Cacao. The Green Plan (Le Plan Vert) of 1976 aimed to improve production, though it had only limited success. A movement for increased autonomy from France gained momentum in the 70s and 80s, along with the increasing success of the Parti Socialiste Guyanais. Protests by those calling for more autonomy from France have become increasingly vocal. Protests in 1996, 1997 and 2000 all ended in violence. While many Guianese wish to see more autonomy, support for complete independence is low.
Scott #5 was released in 1932 — 5 centimes Prussian blue and red orange — overprinted TERRITOIRE DE L’ININI on French Guiana Scott #113, originally issued in 1929 portraying a Carib archer (design type A16).