Martinique: “French Department. African Soul”

Anse Cafard Slave Memorial

In 1830, a ship anchored in Anse Cafard during a storm at night. The anchor failed, and the ship was driven onto a reef, where it was broken up and sank with a cargo of slaves chained on board. A few survived somehow, and the memorial is for the event.
Slavery had been officially ended on Martinique at that time, so the cargo was salvaged by sending them to Guyana, where slaves were still allowed, to be sold.

“Though the nationality is European and the official language is French, the deep roots of the Creole culture of Martinique come directly from Africa. Birthplace of the concept of Négritude, created by the island’s beloved poet and elder statesman Aimé Césaire, Martinique’s African heritage is the soul of its culture” (source:  Martinique’s “Heritage Trail brochure”)

History Repeats

As in other areas of the West Indies, Columbus both “discovered” and “destroyed”  a new island. Early in his exploration of mapthe New World, the Amerindian inhabitants of Cuba and Hispanola told Christopher Columbus about a smaller island which they called Martinino. Coming to the island in 1502, Columbus gave it the name Martinique. Indigenous Carib islanders called it Madiana or Madinina (“Island of Flowers”), designations still used informally in song and poetry. The Carib Indians of Martinique, however, were eradicated by the French in the seventeenth century and ensuing Martinican history and culture has been the result of creolization between French colonial and African slave societies. Martinicans are French citizens.  Read more:

Emergence of the Nation. The existence of a Martinican “nation” is a matter of dispute. After the definitive abolition of slavery in 1848 (an earlier emancipation act of the French Revolution was rescinded by Napoleon), the dominant colonial policy became assimilation: the full extension of French education, language, and civil rights to all those living under the French flag. This policy came to its apogee in 1946 when, at the urging of the representatives of the local populace (especially member of parliament Aimé Césaire), the National Assembly in Paris voted to make Martinique an overseas department of France. As full citizens of France, Martinicans are members of the European community.

flagNational Identity. Society is more like that of France than on other Caribbean islands. A relatively small group of nationalists demand outright independence for the island while others prefer autonomy within the French Republic. Most Martinicans, while preserving French West Indian cultural identity through Creole language, music, cuisine, and mores prefer not to sever their political ties with the French nation.

Ethnic Relations. The békés—white descendants of the original French settlers—have long constituted the local élite engendering varying Market in Martiniquedegrees of both envy and resentment. Residual racial preferences within the non-white populace (lighter is preferred to darker skin) still mark marital and other social choices. Metros (short for metropolitans , whites from France) are regarded as outsiders by all Martinicans. Metros often occupy visible positions in government, civil service, and education, which local nationalists periodically protest. Intermarriage between Martinicans and metropolitans is fairly common.Read more:


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