History, Language & Culture Martinique
Martinique was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage in 1502. The island was inhabited by indigenous Indians who called the Martinique “the island of flowers”. During the course of the 17thCentury Martinique was colonized by the “Compagnie des Iles d’Amerique”. Their encampment was on the north occidental coast on the site that was to become the historic capital Saint-Pierre. 31st October 1636, King Louis the 13th signed a decree authorizing the use of slaves in the French Antilles.
Thus began an intense period of colonization which would eventually bring the French into conflict with the Caribbean natives. Sugar Cane plantations were built further and further into the natives territory until the natives were eradicated in 1660. The English Empire occupied the island for almost the entire period from 1794 to 1815 during which time the French Revolution occurred. Amongst the more famous battles between the French and English in the Caribbean was the battle of Rocher du Diamant.
The Rocher du Diamant o Diamond Rock is a picturesque volcanic island, 176 metres high, off the southern point of Martinique facing the later named Diamond Beach. A sheltered habitat for many varieties of marine bird and renowned for its sea life it is above all remembered for events in its not too distant history.In 1804 landed 120 English sailors who constructed a rock fort, barracks and armory. They named the outpost after a famous British warship, “The Diamond Rock”.For almost a year and a half the English harassed the French navy with cannon fire and surprise attacks as the French attempted to traverse the passage.The situation eventually forced the French to resort to an unorthodox plan. The French Admiral for the Caribbean sent a Sloop laden with Rum to the island. The English sailors, their discipline eroded by time and their own isolation, consumed the rum and by default allowed the French to retake the strategic outpost.
The island was officially returned to the French in 1845, when after the Napoleonic War, the French Empire entered a period of relative stability. Throughout this period the trade in slaves had continued. Even during the revolutionary phase, when other island such as Guadeloupe abolished the practice, the influx continued resulting in several revolts, the most notable being in 1816 and 1848.
In 1848 Victor Schoelcher, French Minister for foreign territories, abolished slavery in the French Antilles, convincing the government to grant a Proclamation of Emancipation. Martinique has one other truly significant event in its history, the eruption of Mt Pelee on the 8th March 1902. The island’s capital and what was then the most advanced city of the Antilles ,Saint-Pierre, was entirely destroyed by one of the most devastating natural disasters to have occurred in the Caribbean, killing all of its 30 000 inhabitants. The capital was relocated to Fort De France where it remains today. In 1946 Martinique was granted the status of official French territory and has been considered a French Region since 1982.
As an overseas department of France, Martinique's culture is French and Caribbean. Its former capital, Saint-Pierre (destroyed by a volcanic eruption), was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. Following French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The official language is French, although many Martinicans speak a Creole patois. Based in French, Martinique's Creole also incorporates elements of English, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing.
Most of Martinique's population is descended from African slaves brought to work on sugar plantations during the colonial era, white slave owners or from Carib or Kalinago people. Today, the island enjoys a higher standard of living than most other Caribbean countries. The finest French products are easily available, from Chanel fashions to Limoges porcelain. Among young people, studying in France is common. For the French, Martinique has been a vacation hotspot for many years, attracting both the upper class and more budget-conscious travelers.