History, Language & Culture Saint Barthelemy
Christopher Columbus sighted the island on his second voyage in 1493, he named it after his older brother Bartolomeo. The first Europeans who attempted to settle the island, in 1648, were French colonists. They were soon killed by Caribs. Norman Huguenots gave it another try in 1659 and prospered, not due to farming (which was near impossible) or fishing, but by setting up a way station for French pirates plundering Spanish galleons.
In 1784, the French king Louis XVI gave St-Barth to the Swedish king Gustaf III in exchange for trading rights in Goteborg. There are still many reminders of Swedish rule on the island – such as the name Gustavia, St-Barth’s continuing duty-free status, and several buildings and forts. However, Sweden sold St-Barth back to France in 1878 after declining trade, increasing disease and a destructive fire affected the island.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, St-Barth wasn’t much more than a quaint French backwater, and life was tough for residents. Without the lush vegetation typical of the Caribbean, farming was difficult. Many former slaves emigrated to surrounding islands to find work, leaving St-Barth one of the only islands in the region without a substantial African population.
In 1946, St-Barth, as a member of Guadeloupe, was part of an overseas region and departement. By the 1950s tourists slowly started arriving at the tiny airport on small planes and private jets. The rugged island suddenly found new natural resources: beaches, sunsets, quiet. Quick-thinking islanders created laws limiting mass tourism to guard their hard-earned lifestyle; as a result, you won’t see casinos, high-rise hotels or fast-food chains, but you will pay for the unspoiled atmosphere.
An overwhelming 90% of St-Barth’s population voted in a referendum for more fiscal and political independence from France and Guadeloupe in 2003, which was achieved in 2007. After separation, the island became an ‘overseas collectivity’, which meant that the island gained a municipal council rather than having a single island-wide mayor. Despite the separation, the island has remained part of the EU, but retains its duty-free port status.
As with other Caribbean islands, several hurricanes did major damage to St-Barth, most notably humongous Hurricane Irma that roared through in 2017. But the island got on its feet remarkably quickly and has roared back with nary a trace of calamity still visible.
The culture of Puerto Rico is the result of a number of international and indigenous influences, both past and present. Modern cultural manifestations showcase the island's rich history and help to create an identity which is a melting pot of cultures - Taino (Aboriginal/First Nation/Indigenous), European (Spanish, Canary Island, Corsican and Irish), African (West African), Anglo American (U.S.A.), Latin American/Caribbean Asian, Hawaiian and other influences.